Sean Danker is the author of the Admiral series, a science-fiction saga set in a universe at war. The newest installment in the series, Free Space, hits shelves Tuesday, May 2. In this short interview, we talk about heroism being a matter of perspective, balancing technology concerns with the needs of a story, and other things.
Unbound Worlds: It seems to me that there aren’t clear lines between good guys and bad guys in the Admiral series, both on an individual level and an institutional one. Your protagonist is a hero — to his own people. Usually! Am I reading this correctly?
Sean Danker: What’s good or bad depends on who you ask. Ultimately it’s up to the reader. What do you think? Do you see the Admiral’s actions as heroic? How sure are you that you know what really happened? After all, most of what we know about the events preceding Admiral comes from conclusions drawn by other characters. We’ve never really heard it directly from the Admiral. It’s usually other people who bring it up, and he lets them think whatever they think – but is he doing that because they’re right, or because it suits him? Even if he did explain himself, would you take him at his word?
UW: Speaking of heroes, your protagonist is sharing the spotlight with a very capable companion. What can you tell us about her?
SD: Tessa Salmagard comes from a good family, which means a lot in Evagardian society. She has good genes and good aptitudes, so she’s always been able to do anything that’s been asked of her. She’s been raised to see the Empress as the ultimate authority, and the Evagardian way of life as the ideal. She’s pretty cozy in her privileged, Evagardian bubble. Then she meets the Admiral.
Salmagard has no difficulty seeing him as a hero because she’s a soldier and an Evagardian. She’s not squeamish, and she’s been trained to believe that it’s only right and proper that enemies of the Empress be destroyed. But her interactions with the Admiral are also exposing her to things that her upbringing hasn’t prepared her for. She’s going to have to figure out how those things fit into her Evagardian worldview.
UW: Your last novel had a major plot twist. Should we expect some mysteries here, as well?
SD: Absolutely; the series is all about keeping the reader guessing. Nothing is what it seems, and we’re just getting warmed up. The Admiral knows what he’s doing, he won’t quit, and he’ll never stop surprising people.
UW: Is it possible that future books in your series will focus on other characters, or will they continue to follow the admiral? Any chance of this becoming an expanded universe?
SD: I did an Evagardian military science fiction novel that relates to the Admiral’s story, but doesn’t actually have him in it – that one’s scheduled to come out next year. I’ve also written a horror novel starring Deilani from Admiral, which takes place just before Free Space, though that hasn’t got a release date yet. I have a lot more material planned for the Evagardian universe that goes beyond the Admiral and his story, so I definitely hope I have the opportunity to make good on some of that.
UW: Technology and how it is depicted in science-fiction has fascinated me ever since I ran across this chart from the Traveller tabletop role-playing game. How do you go about establishing what is and isn’t appropriate for your setting?
SD: It’s situational; on the one hand I’d like to be somewhat realistic, but a truly realistic utopian future gets in the way of a lot of dramatic storytelling. A world where everything is tracked and guns can aim themselves doesn’t work for a lot of the stylistic stuff that I like – so I try to find a balance between sensible believability and technology that suits the story. In the future will people ever fly space ships by hand? Probably not – but in the military science fiction novel I mentioned above, we’ve got hotshot space pilots and their fighters and such. Is it realistic? No. Is it cool? Depends who you ask. For more insight into the nerdier details of the culture and technology of this future, you might want to check out Evagardian Fashion Week – there’s an entry up right now that talks about Evagardian miltiary uniforms, and it’ll go into other stuff as time goes by.
More about Free Space:
In the follow-up to Admiral, the intergalactic war has ended and hostilities between the Evagardian Empire and the Commonwealth are officially over, but the admiral is far from safe. . . .
I’d impersonated a prince, temporarily stopped a war, escaped a deadly planet, and survived more assassination attempts than I could conveniently count. After all that, there shouldn’t have been anything simpler than a nice weekend with a charming Evagardian girl.
However, some corners of the galaxy aren’t as genteel as the Empire, and Evagardians aren’t universally loved, which is how I ended up kidnapped to be traded as a commodity.
Their timing couldn’t have been worse. I’m not at my best, but these people have no idea whom they’re dealing with: a highly trained, genetically engineered soldier in the Imperial Service who happens to be my date.