I loved Invasive Species and I’m reading Slavemakers now, and let me tell you, SF thrillers don’t get much better than this. It’s why I’m thrilled to have Joseph Wallace on the blog today! He was kind enough to answer a few questions about the new book, and more!
Invasive Species scared the crap out of me, and now Slavemakers takes things almost 20 years from those events. Obviously you can’t do spoilers, but will you give us a teaser as to what fans can expect from Slavemakers?
Sure! Even though it can be read as a stand-alone, Slavemakers’ story begins the day after Invasive Species ends, with the onset of the first great expedition to explore the post-apocalyptic earth. What the explorers find is, in many ways, a recovering planet…and one big, dreadful surprise. (Remember how old maps would have blank spaces on them, marked with the legend “Here Be Monsters”? It’s kind of like that.)
You have a background in medical writing. Did it help when researching Invasive Species and Slavemakers? Will you tell us one of the most interesting things you learned when researching it?
It helped a huge amount. My parents were both doctors, so I grew up fascinated both by medicine and by nature (the creepier the better). Those subjects were also my specialties during my early career writing for magazines and newspapers. It felt like a natural step to use the strange, even mind-boggling things I learned in my fiction.
In researching the novels, I was blown away to find out how much slave-making behavior actually takes place in our world. Wasps, ants, fungi—they all have the ability to control other species’ behavior. Think about it: There are wasps that not only enslave their prey…they enslave a virus and force it to do their bidding. Even we humans can’t do that.
Kait—and Aisha Rose, a character in Slavemakers born just after the apocalypse—are inspired by a bunch of tough, smart young women I’ve met, from my own daughter and niece to students I’ve worked with over the years. Those characters in my fiction are kind of role models to me: No matter what challenges they face, they never stop trying to figure out how to overcome them.
You’ve been writing for a long time. What’s one of the first pieces of fiction that you remember writing?
I’ve been writing stories since I was about ten, but I especially remember an end-of-the-world trilogy I started when I was around fifteen. (I think what caused that apocalypse was a plague of some kind.) I ran out of steam way before I finished—a common occurrence for me back then—but I guess ending the world (in a book) has been floating around inside my brain for a long time.
What authors have inspired you the most, in writing, and in life?
So many! I grew up reading mostly mysteries and sf, with a special love for Raymond Chandler (I wanted to be Philip Marlowe!); early Robert Heinlein (growing up in Brooklyn, I desperately wanted to accompany his heroes on their interstellar adventures); Ray Bradbury (for the depths of emotion he could put into his stories); Ursula K. LeGuin (such a thought-provoking builder of worlds); and…countless others.
For Invasive Species and Slavemakers, though, there are two authors who especially influenced me: The nonfiction science writer Gordon Grice, whose book The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators taught me so much about the natural world and its bizarre inhabitants, and John Wyndham, whose subtle, moving The Day of the Triffids is still my favorite example of a “soft” apocalypse, one that leaves much of the earth untouched.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Probably The Lord of the Rings trilogy! I first read it as a teenager, and felt for weeks like I was living inside that magical world. (Of course, I’d have to read it again for the first time in a world where the movies also didn’t exist.)
Or maybe (to throw a curveball), Pride and Prejudice, one of my favorite books of all time. Though I really don’t have to experience it anew: As it is, every time I re-read it, I still worry that Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy won’t end up together.
When I’m deepest into writing fiction, I read a lot of nonfiction. I recently read Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, a riveting true-life spy story featuring appearances by everyone from Ian Fleming to John Le Carre to Graham Greene. Macintyre is brilliant at making history read like a novel, and this book is eye-opening.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
My next project is actually a return to my earlier career: I’ll be doing the text for a nonfiction book on evolution, built around the stunning photographs of National Geographic photographer Robert Clark. Given the themes of Invasive Species and Slavemakers (where does the human species fit in a fast-changing world?) it feels like a fulfilling next move.
And then I do have the germ of an idea for one more novel set in the world of Slavemakers…. We’ll see!
IT’S THEIR TERRITORY NOW.
Twenty years ago, venomous parasitic wasps known as “thieves” staged a massive, apocalyptic attack on another species—Homo sapiens—putting them on the brink of extinction.
But some humans did survive. The colony called Refugia is home to a population of 281, including scientists, a pilot, and a tough young woman named Kait. In the African wilderness, there’s Aisha Rose, nearly feral, born at the end of the old world. And in the ruins of New York City, there’s a mysterious, powerful boy, a skilled hunter, isolated and living by his wits.
As the survivors journey through the wastelands, they will find that they are not the only humans left on earth. Not by a long shot.
But they may be the only ones left who are not under the thieves’ control…