From the Desk of G. T. Almasi
One of my favorite things about books like Eye of the Needle, Hunt for Red October, and Snow Crash is that they contain enough factual material that I take on a bit of new knowledge when I read them. Writing Blades of Winter gave me an even greater respect for the research that went into these fantastic books, because as soon as I said, “I’m gonna write a sci-fi espionage alt-history novel,” I unwittingly set myself up for two big things.
The first big thing was a heap of historical atlases, war memoirs, and English-to-Not-English dictionaries threatening to crush my desk as I researched everything I never thought I’d need to know about the 20th century.
How many people tried to assassinate Hitler? How many Jewish people were in Europe in February of 1942? If JFK had lost in 1960 would Jackie have dumped him for being such a skirt-chaser?Every answer brought up two more questions, but I eventually felt like I’d generated a lattice of alt-history strong enough to support a story. Whenever possible, I drew my inspiration from history. For example, my alt-history has an American hostage crisis like the one that really happened in Tehran in 1979, except the hostages are taken in Berlin in 1968, the year of the real-life Prague Spring.
What took the most research was finding the hinge, or point of deviation, from real history. I knew I didn’t want something spectacular, like the admittedly awesome emergence of subterranean monsters in Epic’s Gears of War, or the equally fantastic invasion by interstellar aliens from Harry Turtledove’s In The Balance. I wanted something akin to Philip K. Dick’s Man In the High Castle, where a single moment in one person’s life changes everything.
In the end I chose Hermann Goering’s real-life decision to switch from bombing British air force bases to bombing civilian centers during the Battle of Britain. I have his Luftwaffe continue to attack the Royal Air Force until British air power has been eliminated. I felt that this change would allow the Germans to execute their planned cross-Channel invasion of England.
An often-voiced opinion is that, even with the British air force eliminated, the British Royal Navy would have sunk the ships of Germany’s Kriegsmarine in nothing flat. My research into WW2-era air power — especially in the Pacific — led me to think otherwise. After much reading and many lively discussions with my fellow history-geek friends, I concluded that air superiority could have given the Germans’ Operation Sea Lion the same 50-50 odds that Eisenhower gave to Operation Overlord.
So I went with it, and came to the second big thing I’d set myself up for. As I plunged into the nitty-gritty of writing Blades of Winter, the many gaps in my knowledge of social affairs, foreign languages, and all the sciences turned into yawning abysses.
I became a menace at parties. Heaven help someone if I found out they were a [insert specialty here]. I’d corner them and Vulcan mind-meld all their knowledge about [said specialty] right out of their head.
What’s that liquid you can breathe called? How fast would drugs get to your brain if you injected them into your carotid artery? How much kick would you get from a shoulder-fired 50mm grenade-launcher?Fortunately, people are very generous to aspiring authors. Everyone was incredibly patient, even as I drilled them for the tiniest details.
How does the FBI label an unknown suspect? What exact sensations are experienced by gunshot victims? What does a coma patient feel like the moment they wake up?My best-loved books are filled with this sort of granularity. A tight weave of fact and fiction put me right in the story, noticing all the little things I would in real life. Fictional characters and events become firmly rooted in a solid-feeling, realistic foundation, and the plot — no matter how implausible — gains an immense amount of believability.
This factual foundation allowed me to go crazy with everything else. I had a blast creating the over-the-top action sequences, installing the biotic modifications into my super-spies, and dreaming up the video-game style gadgets and weaponry. The result is the book I’ve always wanted to read, and the positive attention the book has received here at Del Rey has been terrific.
I can’t wait for the book to come out. Sometimes I catch myself imagining readers will share Del Rey’s enthusiasm, and what it might be like for me to be a full-time novelist. Then something falls off my self-sustaining To-Do pile. I get back to writing, and of course, researching.