Author Glenn Smith grew up on the original Star Trek TV series, which inspired him to read science fiction. Other popular franchises like Starship Troopers and Dune had also sparked his desire to tell his own stories, so he first created fan fiction set in the Star Trek universe. After the Star Trek version of this book was rejected, however, he decided to turn it into something of his creation: The Solfleet series, and the first book is called The Call of Duty.
Here's the synopsis:
In the late 22nd century, Earth is part of a Coalition of planets at war with an alien empire thathas been sweeping across the galaxy for many decades. The war is not going well at all for theCoalition and the time for desperate measures is at hand. One possible way of avoidinginevitable defeat lies in an ancient and mysterious alien device known as a Portal—an ancientalien relic that an Earth vessel discovered on the surface of a far-off world many years earlier.This Portal, one of many that have been discovered throughout Coalition space, is a doorwayinto Earth’s past. The Earth Security Council believes that if one particular key event in Earth’spast can be prevented from ever occurring, then the perhaps the ultimate outcome of the war can be changed in the Coalition’s favor. With no way to predict the results of such a mission with any certainty, Admiral Icarus Hansen, chief of Solfleet Intelligence, a man haunted by actions hehas taken in the past, must decide whether or not to go forward with the mission anyway,knowing that whoever travels back in time might never be able to return home.
How would you describe the societies in the alien Coalition?
I haven’t spent a lot of time doing that so far, and what description I have provided has almost always been from the point of view of one or more human characters. After all, all of my readers are humans from Earth, so humans from Earth are the characters to whom they best relate. I say ‘almost always’ because I do provide a few brief glimpses into the Veshtonn—the antagonists aliens who are sweeping across the galaxy. Just enough to wet the readers’ appetites. At some point in some future book in this series, there will be a major payoff. Other than that, I have created several societies and made copious notes, so that if and when further descriptions of one or more of those societies become necessary for the ongoing story, I’ll be ready.
Did you fictionalize a lot of experiences you've had while serving the military in Solfleet?
I wouldn’t say “a lot” of experiences, but some, yes...to the point where I have hopefully made them unrecognizable. To begin with, the character of Dylan Graves and I share some of the same background. He started his military career in the Military Police and earned what I refer to in the story as a Security Forces identifier. I served in both the U.S. Army Military Police and the U.S. Air Force/Air National Guard Security Forces. Dylan spent a relatively short period of time serving as a C.I.D. Special Agent. So did I in my Army days. However, when Dylan left the C.I.D. he transferred to the Solfleet Marines and Special Operations. When I left C.I.D. I returned to the Military Police. Some of Dylan’s experiences and encounters are based on my own, but others are completely made up.
Do you think your readers will find a lot of similarities to Star Trek?
A lot of similarities? I don’t think so. I mean, similarities are there, but for the most part they’re just the same similarities that most every military science-fiction property shares with others – interstellar travel, heavily-armed starships, a military rank structure, aliens, conflict, and so forth. Devoted Star Trek fans might spot a few extra similarities that more fair-weather fans might not, but generally speaking Solfleet is a darker and less optimistic look at the future.
What is the future like in your novel? And do you think we're heading to the kind of future that you portray?
I tried to create a future to which readers of today could relate, so it’s bleak but not without hope. Maybe that’s another similarity to Star Trek that I hadn’t really considered as such before. Star Trek often addressed current societal issues in a science-fiction setting – the danger of a single individual amassing too much power in “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the dangers of becoming obsessed with something in “Obsession,” the ugliness and utter ridiculousness of racism in “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” just to name a few. In my case, I tried to push our current society ahead along a logical course of progression. Men and women are equally capable of doing any job and receive equal recognition for it, race no longer matters, same-sex marriage is accepted and viewed as a normal aspect of society, and cyber-clones – humans who were bred for specific purposes and enhanced with technological implants – long considered to be soulless second-class citizens at best, had to fight for and eventually were granted equal rights and protections under the law. On the darker side, the real world has known conflict and war large and small almost non-stop for decades – just look at the past century – and sadly, things aren’t showing any signs of changing for the better any time soon. Sometimes it seems like we, the human race, have been involved in one great big ongoing conflict ever since Cain slew Abel. So, that’s what I created for my world – one great big ongoing conflict – a fight for our very existence.
As to the second part of your question, all I can say is that I hope so...and I hope not. I would love for us to finally learn to love and accept people for who they are regardless of gender, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, etcetera. If you’ll pardon another Star Trek reference, while I’ve never bought into Gene Roddenberry’s level of humanism, I do like to believe that sooner or later we will learn to accept and even relish our diversity. If we ever do encounter beings from another world, I hope that war will not be the result. I hope that any such encounter will be a peaceful one.
What kind of sci-fi tech can we find in your Solfleet series? And how are they important to the story?
Solfleet is first and foremost about the characters, so I spend very little time explaining any of the technology. When I do, I try to do so in a way that will enriches the readers’ experience – help them to paint a mental picture of what they are reading. The capital ships are equipped with three types of propulsion: thrusters for maneuvering, fusion-drive engines for sub-light travel, and what are referred to as jump nacelles, which generate an energy field that surrounds the vessel and reacts with an energy field generated by a jump ring, thus propelling the vessel into faster-than-light travel through jumpspace. Some military small arms can look around corners and project images of what they see to the soldiers’ heads-up displays and even talk to the soldiers, providing an analysis of what is being seen. Biotronics (think bionics, i.e. the Six Million Dollar Man) are used regularly to replace lost limbs and organs. All of this tech is important to the story in that it is part of the world in which the characters live and work, but the story is not about the tech. It is about people.
How would you describe the space battles in Solfleet?
Very difficult to write. Really, I found space battles significantly more difficult to write than I expected them to be. It’s easy to show a space battle on film. One simply hires about a thousand visual effects artists to slave away in front of their computers for a hundred years or so and voila! You have a space battle. But to write a space battle and keep it interesting...to avoid falling into the trap of simply describing what the readers would see if they were watching a film...that’s not easy. I found that the best way to do it, at least for me, was to write it from a human perspective, just like every other scene in the story. I didn’t write “exterior shots” in which I describe the missiles being fired from the ship. I wrote “interior shots” in which I describe a character or characters watching on the screen as the missiles are fired. I wrote from characters’ perspectives to keep the story about the characters and not about the hardware.
You said that authors Asimov and Clarke influenced your writing style in a negative way. Why is that?
Please don’t misunderstand. In no way did I mean that as an insult to their writing prowess. Both gentlemen are obviously very talented and successful writers, not to mention highly intelligent and well educated. I simply meant that I found their work to be of a style that would not work well for me. I first tried to read Asimov when I was a young teenager. Granted, it might have been due to my age at the time, but I found his work to be so highly intellectual that I could focus on it long enough to understand it and follow the story. I don’t remember what book it was, but I do recall that I read less than half of it before I gave up. Perhaps, if I were to try reading Asimov again now, I might have a different experience. Clarke, on the other hand, routinely does what I consider to be a big mistake in much of his work. This is just my opinion and I realize that others may disagree. He’ll be writing about a crew of astronauts landing their spacecraft on the surface of a new world, for example, and then suddenly launch into a detailed multi-page explanation and description of that world’s history and the evolution of indigenous life there—things that the characters could obviously not know anything about. Sidebars like that, in which the author pauses the story to spend some time talking directly to me, the reader, yank me right out of the story, so I try never to do that.
Name some authors who have influenced your writing style
Oh boy. Well, before I list the names, I guess I should point out that some of these influences had a negative effect on me. That is to say, their style was of a type that I chose not to allow to alter my own. That’s not to say they are or were not good writers or successful authors. I’m just saying that something about their particular style would not have worked for me. Anyway, two of the biggest positives were Frank Herbert and J.R.R. Tolkien. Big, epic tales. Herbert’s Dune series is perhaps my favorite science-fiction book series of all time. Heinlein, who I mentioned earlier—“Starship Troopers” in particular. Ray Bradbury, who was actually a very distant relative—my maternal grandmother was a Bradbury—not that he or his more immediate family would ever have heard of me. H.G. Wells—older, classic tales, but a lot of fun. Two of the negatives, and obviously very successful authors, are Asimov and Clarke. I have no problem with their body of work, but their style is very different than mine.
Tell us about an interesting character or group of characters in your novel.
As with any book, or television show, or film, the most interesting characters are going to be the main characters. Admiral Icarus Hansen, this book’s first main character, is a combination of perhaps four or five officers with whom I became acquainted while serving in the military. He is, for the most part, a professional and a stand-up guy who accepts responsibility for his actions, but he’s not beyond bending the rules if he feels his actions are justified. Dylan Graves is about 80% me. He’s more hardcore “Hoo-ah!” soldier than I ever was, but a lot of his underlying personality comes from me. The story of his father, while different in its details, is based directly on that of my own. Elizabeth Royer is a combination of two female officers under whom I served while I was in the Army. I’ll leave that at that and hope that they don’t recognize themselves. One more character I want to mention is Heather Hansen, the admiral’s daughter. Heather is based on a real teenage girl—well, she was a teenager when I created this character—whose father is a long-time friend. There are very specific real-world reasons why this character is the way she is. She knows who she is, her father knows who she is, and I know who she is. No one else, including my other friends and even my own family, ever will. I gave her and her father my word on that.