|Interview conducted by Stefan Blitz|
Initially studying law, John Birmingham found himself working as a researcher at the Australian Department of Defence and for the television program A Current Affair, before finding success as an author.
In 1994 he wrote the memoir He Died with a Felafel in His Hand, which was alter adapted into several different mediums, as well as several other non-fiction works including Leviathan: The Unauthorised Biography of Sydney, which in 2002 won Australia’s National Prize For Non-Fiction.
He then started writing fiction, writing the alternate history techno thrillers, the Axis of Time series. Birmingham followed this up with a new property, The Disappearance series, which focused on an energy wave that causes much of the United States to disappear and the ramifications of this across the globe.
In this series, Dave Hooper, an overweight, balding safety manager is transformed by a demon into a foul-mouthed, beer-loving monster slayer.
John took some time to discuss the series with Forces of Geek.
My ignorant and bigoted hatred of fantasy novels. I was an SF guy. I loved big honking space guns and the grizzled space marines who used them to turn space lizards into gumbo. I think it was the tech that appealed. All those lovely plasma cannons and gauss rifles. When I saw a dragon or an elf I just wanted to nuke them from orbit.
I was a dick, of course. Eventually I read some fantasy that I really liked. Some Peter V Brett. Steve Stirling’s Emberverse series. Even Peter F Hamilton’s cunning fantasy intrusions into the high sci-fi world of the Intersolar Commonwealth.
I’ve done given up on my ignorant ways now, and I’m happy to read across genres, but that desire to “nuke ‘em from orbit” has stayed with me. Dave Vs The Monsters is a sandlot where I get to play with it. Especially with dragons. I still sort of hate them. But that’s why God invented heat seeking missiles.
The main character, Dave Hooper is pretty much your blue-collar everyman in the John McClane/Jack Burton vein. Why is he the most qualified to save the world?
Hahaha. He’s totally not. In fact, Dave is probably the last guy you want to turn to for anything other than another bucket of buffalo wings to soak up that last bucket of beer. That’s why he’s such fun to write. Although he looks like a Bruce Willis character – he has a Chris Farley soul. Resistance, the second book in the series, was really all about letting that side of his personality off the leash. He could save the world, or he could use his magic monster pheromones to party with Jennifer Aniston.
He’s Dave. He parties.
The series features monsters galore. Do you have a favorite monster whether in the books or not?
Threshy is a fan fave, and I’m right there with them. He’s almost as much fun to write as Dave, and his double act with Lord Guyuk ended up being a hell of a lot more important to the story than the simple comic relief I first imagined. If you look at what he does through the series, Threshy is a literal monster. But unlike Dave, he grows. More monstrous and funnier, mostly, but it’s growth of a sort. Guyuk is more your towering Shakespearean villain. And he’s more than a match intellectually for his human enemies. But there’s just something about that little threshrend demon shaking his big ass in a victory twerk that warms the heart. Even though he’s twerking to celebrate the enslavement of the human race.
When designing a series like this, do you know from the moment you begin where the story will take you in each book and how the characters and world will evolve?
Across the big arc, yes. I knew where I was headed from the first page. But individual characters come to life and insist, inconveniently at times, on having their own way. This was especially so with the monsters, who were always surprising me. Threshy in particular. There’s something happens to him towards the end of Ascendance that I didn’t see coming, but I can see spinning out across whole new narrative arcs. Dave I knew inside and out when I started. There were details of his personal and family history I held back because I wanted them to feel like a genuine revelation in Ascendance. But his Scooby Gang, Heath, Emmeline, Igor and Zach, they often went their own way on the page.
I’m doing a couple of ebooks from their points of view just to see how different the story is when Dave, a very unreliable narrator, isn’t in the driver’s seat.
Who or what have been the biggest influences on your work?
I was a big Stephen King fan as a kid. I’m still bit of a hopeless fanboy for his stuff and it’s been really, really satisfying to see him start to get the respect he deserves as one of the great American novelists of the last half century. I was drawn into fantasy by S.M. Stirling, whose Emberverse series I liked so much I recently wrote a novella in it. And Michael Herr, who wrote the definitive book of reportage from the Vietnam War, that guy taught me you could do things with the English language that definitely weren’t in the user manual.
Ascendance is the latest, and perhaps last of the Dave Hooper series. Any possibilities that you might return to the character?
Oh yeah. Dave is that guy who just won’t leave the party. He’ll be around a while yet.
What else do you have coming up?
As I said, I wrote a couple of ebooks just to let some of the other characters have their moment in the spotlight, but also to shine that light into parts of the story Dave never sees. Karin Varatchevsky gets a whole origin story in Soul Full of Guns, and we learn all sorts of stuff from her that Dave is too busy being a jackass to find out. There’s another ebook, A Protocol For Monsters, that follows Heath, Em and Compton through Emergence, explaining a little more about the work of The Office.
Heath, for instance told Dave he lost his leg to a roadside bomb. He didn’t.
What are you currently geeking out over?
Oh. My. God.
Daredevil on Netflix. I had no expectations of this show, having over-invested in Agents of SHIELD, but allow me to say again.
Oh. My. God.
I finish every episode wrung out and amazed that TV storytelling can be this good.
I’m reading S.M. Stirling’s anthology The Change, and not just because I have a story in it. It’s awesome to peek into the far off corners of a story-world I’ve been living in for years now. When I drive my son to school in the morning we’re listening to the audiobook of Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, and loving it. My current comic indulgence is Brubaker and Epting’s 60s spy homage, Velvet. I love that one so much I can barely bring myself to open a new edition and read it, because then I have to wait for the next one to come out. And it hurts! It hurts so much.
Why can’t I just have an infinite supply of all the things I want when I want them forever?