My Favorite Bit: Jeremy Szal talks about Stormblood
Jeremy Szal is joining us today with Stormblood. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Vakov Fukasawa used to be a Reaper: a bio-enhanced soldier fighting for the Harmony, against a brutal invading empire. He’s still fighting now, on a different battlefield: taking on stormtech. To make him a perfect soldier, Harmony injected him with the DNA of an extinct alien race, altering his body chemistry and leaving him permanently addicted to adrenaline and aggression. But although they meant to create soldiers, at the same time Harmony created a new drug market that has millions hopelessly addicted to their own body chemistry.
Vakov may have walked away from Harmony, but they still know where to find him, and his former Reaper colleagues are being murdered by someone, or something – and Vakov is appalled to learn his estranged brother is involved. Suddenly it’s an investigation he can’t turn down . . . but the closer he comes to the truth, the more addicted to stormtech he becomes.
And it’s possible the war isn’t over, after all . . .
What’s Jeremy Szal’s favorite bit?
For this book, character is everything. And for me, character is voice. I write exclusively in first-person, so I try to make the prose as close a reflection of the character’s personality and mindset as possible. But I also love writing about aliens. They can be so weird and wonderful and bizarre, and meeting them just throws you into a, well, alien world. So, naturally, I put alien DNA inside the protagonist’s body. And, for me, the opening paragraph tells you the exact nature of this alien DNA.
“I realised this was a bad idea at around the time the alien biotech started pulsing with dark pleasure under my ribs.
Not that it had ever been a good idea, of course. When you boil it down, there’s two types of plans: the ones that get you killed, and the ones that don’t. When you’re in the business of stealing illegal goods from dangerous people and selling them to other dangerous people, risk is part of the deal. But it was only since I’d been injected with stormtech that I’d started enjoying it. The rush of adrenaline. The thrill of danger. The heat of aggression.
The polymer atrium of the spaceport with its recycled oxygen and pallid lighting was freezing, but my skin was flushed and prickling with fresh sweat, my breathing shallow, my hands twitching by my sides. I think I was even salivating for some action. Moist, sticky saliva filling my mouth like treacle. I grimaced. I hated when my body did that. Twitchy hands were acceptable and sweaty skin I could handle, but I was never going to get used to a sudden mouthful of saliva. The stormtech only got this keyed up when I was walking into something no sane person would consider.
Nothing for it but to press on, keeping a watch on my body and my surroundings. Breathing hard, sweat snaking down my spine, I stepped into the spaceport terminal. It was frantic in the way only spaceports can be: people wandering around and clutching e-tickets, queuing for zero-gravity nausea meds, whirling to meet flight schedules. I cut a path through the crowded chaos. No easy feat for a guy my size, though folks tended to edge out of my way, especially since I was wearing heavy armour.
The humid, hot stench clung to every surface of the spaceport like a bad reputation. The stormtech had elevated my senses, letting me smell the difference between the spicy, gunpowdery stink of a suit lined with asteroid dust and the greasy odour of a suit worn by an engine-room worker. Between the familiar smell of a human and unfamiliar one of some alien species. The smells all tumbling and blending together and oozing into every pore.”
I wanted to grab the reader by the throat, to have the opening be up close and in your face, because that’s the style of the book, and that’s the sort of character we’re going to be spending our time with. If we’re going to spend 500+ pages inside a character head, I want to be as up close and personal as possible. I want you to feel what he’s feeling, to get that sense of your own guts being tugged on. So I didn’t waste anytime letting you know who Vakov Fukasawa is. Someone who’s cynical, world-weary, and knows he’s about to do something risky. Someone all too aware he’s got this glowing alien organism sniffing up his backbone and into his brain, altering his sweat, his saliva, his muscles. It’s pretty gross and sticky, but it’s a cool and wacky kind of gross, which is what I’m going for.
If we’re going to write about how alien DNA is injected into humans like a drug, we might as well go the full mile, right? The fact that Vakov Fukasawa actually enjoys the feeling of this alien DNA twitching inside him and altering his biochemistry so he gets a kick out of being in danger makes it all the more wacky. I basically spent five hundred pages thinking up new ways for the alien DNA to screw with his body, and loved every page of it. It’s made him addicted to chilli and spices (he also has to eat twice as much as the average human, to feed the stormtech), it renders alcohol redundant so he can’t get drunk, it makes him sweat twice as hard. It enhances his hearing, strength, reaction time, all the good stuff.
And it also turns him into a hair-trigger weapon. In the next chapter, he confesses that there’s no such thing as a fantasy for him. If he considers doing something, no matter how suicidal or stupid, he’ll convince himself to act on it.
Which makes the inevitable encounters with drug dealers, soldiers, cult leaders, and snarky aliens, all the more interesting.
But, of course, the stormtech also wants to survive. It’s made Vakov’s body its home, nice and warm and wet and filled with tasty hormones, and it doesn’t want to lose that anytime soon. So whenever it leads him into danger, it’ll help him find a way out of it.
Jeremy Szal was born in 1995 and was raised by wild dingoes, which should explain a lot. He spent his childhood exploring beaches, bookstores, and the limits of people’s patience. He’s the author of over forty science-fiction short stories. His debut novel, Stormblood, is a dark space opera forthcoming from Gollancz in June 2020, and is the first of a trilogy. He was the editor for the Hugo-winning StarShipSofa until 2020 and has a BA in Film Studies and Creative Writing from UNSW. He carves out a living in Sydney, Australia with his family. He loves watching weird movies, collecting boutique gins, exploring cities, cold weather, and dark humour.