James K. Decker’s sci-fi novel, The Burn Zone, just came out yesterday, and he’s also the author of the Revivors series under the name James Knapp. James was kind enough to answer my questions about the new book, and more!
As James Knapp, you already have the Revivers Trilogy under your belt (and a Philip K. Dick Award nominee for State of Decay, to boot!), and The Burn Zone is your first book under James K. Decker. Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to start the new series?
It started with an imagining of Hangfei, the fictitious city where The Burn Zone takes place, and the idea of what happens when a highly advanced culture finds itself sharing space with a much less advanced one – in this case, survivors of an alien race called the haan are stranded on our planet. The plot of The Burn Zone is fast moving and full of action, but this idea underlies everything – the human race is technologically very advanced in the novel, more so than we are now, but is still far behind the haan. The haan are vastly outnumbered though, and how they make their way, and find their place in the world they find themselves marooned on is one of the keys to the overall story.
The Burn Zone takes place in a world devastated by overpopulation and disease. Why do you think books (and movies) about dystopian futures have become so popular recently?
A lot of science fiction examines current trends and kind of extrapolates from there. If you look at rising populations, and the increasing effect those populations have on the planet, I think a lot of readers (and writers) don’t find a future like that too hard to imagine. Rising temperatures get the most air-time but the more people there are, the more people will need food, water, and fuel. It’s not hard to envision a tipping point where there is no longer enough to go around, so I think a lot of these are sort of cautionary tales.
Do you already have a certain number of books planned for the new series, or will you just see where it takes you?
There are two contracted…if those do well, then there will likely be more. Unlike the Revivors trilogy where I only ever planned three, this one is more open ended. I’ve got a big, overarching plot in mind so if they get a good response there could easily be more. It’s a fun world to write in, so I certainly hope there are.
What (or who) are some of the biggest influences on your writing?
Music plays a big part in my writing. I come up with a lot of ideas when listening to music. It’s such a part of it that I actually have playlists attached to each project I work on, and they tend to be pretty eclectic. Some of my best ideas have come while listening to them.
The cover art for The Burn Zone is gorgeous! Do you think it captures the spirit of the book?
Isn’t it great? That’s Dave Seeley’s work – I really hit the jackpot there. I was asked to provide a few paragraphs describing the world the novel takes place in and the main character so he’d have something to work with, and just from that he totally nailed it. The city of Hangfei has an ugly side to it, and that side can be very ugly, but it isn’t an ugly place. It has so far, with the help of the haan, been able to isolate itself from the decline that surrounds it. To save her father, Sam has to delve into its underbelly but she doesn’t start there. Hangfei is a bright, vibrant urban jungle full of neon lights and flying cars. Sam Shao is a street-smart denizen who knows its many ins and outs, and is comfortable there. I think he captured it very well.
What would you like readers to take away from this book?
That not everything is always as it seems. Often, deeper currents run underneath what we see on the surface and sometimes people from humble beginnings can step up to do great things when they have to. Underneath the driving action there’s a subtler point which is that things are never black or white. We like to try and make them that way in real life, but they never are. Good people do bad things, and bad people do good things. That extends to aliens, in this story, as well. There are both humans and haan who do great things in this story, while other humans and other haan both do great evil.
If someone were dipping their toes into the sci-fi genre for the first time, where would you suggest they start (other than Burn Zone, of course)?
For someone just getting into science fiction, they could do a lot worse than Octavia Butler. Try the Xenogenesis series, or, a personal favorite, Mind of My Mind. Read stuff like Dune by Frank Herbert and Foundation by Isaac Asimov eventually, but for newcomers I’d say maybe start with something a little less epic – unless you want to dispense with the toe-dipping and just cannonball in. For what it’s worth, as a kid biking to my local library, the science fiction story that first made me love science fiction was The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov.
What are some of your favorite novels?
Mind of My Mind by Octavia Butler, Hellstrom’s Hive by Frank Herbert, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, Neuromancer by William Gibson, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, and Lamb by Christopher Moore. Actually pretty much anything by Christopher Moore.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Reading, pen and ink artwork, writing side projects so strange I may have to be famous before anyone would publish them, and I must admit a weakness for killing bandits in Borderlands 2.
What’s next for you?
I’m developing a new series – it never hurts to have your eggs in a few different baskets, and I’m constantly coming up with new stuff I want to do. I’ve got a few side projects which are nearly complete as well, including a YA novel that’s on my agent’s desk.
Keep up with James: Website | Twitter
About THE BURN ZONE:
Plagued by overpopulation, disease, and starvation, humanity was headed for extinction—until an alien race called the haan arrived. And then the real trouble began.
It’s been a rough day for Sam Shao. As part of a program that requires humans to act as surrogates to haan infants, Sam has been genetically enhanced to bond with them. So when three soldiers invade her apartment and arrest her guardian for smuggling a dangerous weapon into the country, Sam can sense that something isn’t right. One of his abductors is a haan masquerading as a human, and the supposedly fragile haan seems to be anything but.
Racing through the city slums, trying to stay one step ahead of the mysterious haan soldier, Sam tries to find the man who, in her twenty years, has been the only father she’s ever known. Could he truly have done what he is accused of? Or did he witness something both human and haan would kill to keep hidden? The only thing certain is that the weapon is real—and lost now somewhere in a city of millions.
Fighting the clock, Sam finds an ally in Nix, a haan envoy devoted to coexisting with humans, or so it seems. But what she really needs are answers. Fast. Or else everything she knows—and everyone she loves—will burn.