David D. Levine is joining us today to talk about his novel, The Kuiper Belt Job Here’s the publisher’s description:
Once upon a time in the Solar System, there was a gang called The Cannibal Club. Strange, the man with the plan; Max, the muscle; Damien, the pilot; Alicia, the thief; Tai, the hacker; Shweta, the grifter; and Kane, the new kid. They would break into banks, hack systems, swindle the rich and powerful, run guns… whatever it took. Then came the Orca Job, the job that would set them all up for life… and it didn’t go well. They lost the money, they lost their ship, and some of them lost their lives. The survivors scattered in a storm of recriminations.
Now it’s ten years later, and Cayce — Strange’s son, whom no one knew even existed — shows up at Kane’s door with a story: Strange is being held captive, and Cayce is putting the gang back together to break him out. But after ten years, no one is who they were… and some are not what they seem.
What’s David’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit in my latest novel started, as they usually do for me, with research.
The Kuiper Belt Job, which the publisher describes as “Ocean’s 11 meets The Expanse,” is the story of a gang called the Cannibal Club, which broke up after a job gone disastrously wrong. Now, ten years later, the son of the gang’s leader — whom no one even knew existed — appears out of nowhere and says “dad’s in jail, and I’m putting the gang back together to break him out.” My favorite bit appears at the point where two members of the reconstituting gang (Cayce, the former leader’s son, and Kane, the muscle) recruit the third (Alicia, the thief).
I knew that Alicia would likely be found at one of Jupiter’s moons, and she had mobility issues and would tend to choose a smaller, lower-gravity one. So I picked Amalthea almost at random. But when I started to research it, I found it was fascinating. Amalthea might be Jupiter’s fifth largest moon — the next biggest after the four Galilean moons — but it is a tiny, potato-shaped body, only 250 by 125 kilometers, and has a surface gravity just 0.2 percent of Earth’s. This was actually perfect for Alicia, who uses a walker in gravity. But Amalthea is also soaking in Jupiter’s radiation, which makes it a poor choice for habitation. So I decided that it was rich in valuable minerals like molybdenum, to justify its history as an inhabited body. And because the novel takes place in a well settled solar system, I had it be already pretty much played out, with the minerals largely mined away and the spaces they had been now filled by casinos and other businesses catering to miners.
Amalthea’s radiation also provided me an important plot point. Because people who work at Amalthea tend to get sick, the big businesses that run the casinos offer fabulous health benefits… which naturally they steal right back from the workers. So my main characters, con artists who help ordinary people get back what’s been taken from them by rich folks and big corporations, are all “let’s go steal ourselves a pension!” (In case you can’t tell, Leverage was a big inspiration for me, as was Firefly.)
So my main characters had to swindle a zero-gee casino. I had fun coming up with the con and designing the casino, including a system of guidelines to help the customers get around the cavernous space, and the zero-gravity roulette game “spherette.” But as Kane, the viewpoint character for this section, is the gang’s muscle, of course there had to be a climactic fight… and I needed help. I knew the character, and I knew the physics (I have actually experienced free fall, on one of the “Vomit Comet” flights from gozerog.com), but I’m no martial artist. So I turned to my friend Lee Godfrey, now Lee Aubrey, who is.
It took many hours of discussions over a couple of weeks to design the fight, which in real time would take less than a minute. Lee was the one who suggested that the casino guards would carry lassos — half-meter sticks with a loop of tough cord on the end, which pull closed at the press of a button — to help them manage unruly guests, how these would be used by the guards, and how Kane would use the lassos against them. She also pointed out that, due to the requirement to have something to back up one’s kicks, zero-gravity martial artists would have to be really good at the splits. Together we came up with a fight that was plausible, exciting, and had just enough description to engage the reader. Here’s a sample:
“The one on my left, a beefy bald white woman, reached me first. Before she could mouth whatever comforting platitude she’d prepared to get me to go quietly, I reached cross-body with my right arm, grabbed her right shoulder, spun her around across my body, and grabbed both her shoulders, putting her directly in front of me. Then I planted my right foot on the guideline beside me and kicked her in the butt with the left, sending her tumbling feet-first into the guy on my right.”
I’m really happy with how the fight scene turned out, but there was one more bit of work to be done. When my agent looked over the finished first draft, he suggested that the scene — which initially included the whole fight, the surprising conclusion, and the aftermath — should be cut at the point when all seems lost, and that the conclusion and aftermath should be handled from Alicia’s point of view in the following section. He was right, and the change helps the pacing and tension of the novel dramatically.
The Kuiper Belt Job will be published by Caezik SF & Fantasy on November 7. I hope you enjoy it!
David D. Levine is the author of Andre Norton Nebula Award winning novel Arabella of Mars, sequels Arabella and the Battle of Venus and Arabella the Traitor of Mars, and over fifty SF and fantasy stories. His story “Tk’Tk’Tk” won the Hugo, and he has been shortlisted for awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, and Sturgeon. Stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, Clarkesworld, F&SF, Tor.com, numerous Year’s Best anthologies, and his award-winning collection Space Magic. His latest novel is The Kuiper Belt Job.