18 October 2016 | Android Fiction

The War Continues

An Interview with Monster Slayer Author Dan Clark

Fans of the Android universe and its runners, megacorps, and cybercrime are in for a treat next week when the limited edition hardcover version of Monster Slayer becomes available. The second of our Android novellas, Monster Slayer was written by Dan Clark, the setting's co-creator, and it follows the life of one of the Android universe's most popular criminals, the runner who calls herself Reina Roja, the "Red Queen."

As was the case with Leigh Alexander's novella, Monitor, Monster Slayer offers readers a rich and detailed trip into the not-too-distant future. It's a place where a handful of megacorporations control the vast majority of the world's wealth and resources. Clones and artificially intelligent bioroids look and think like humans. And just about everything that happens is recorded somewhere and transferred to the Network of data that spans the solar system.

   "…It became harder and harder to identify the enemy as time went on."

The ubiquity of this Network means that, for the megacorps, it is simultaneously a tremendous asset and a unique vulnerability. The corps invest tremendous time and energy into the defense of their information, and they are wary, above all, of those criminals who are capable of jacking into the Network, ripping through their defenses, and stealing their data. Reina Roja is one of these criminals, and in Monster Slayer, we see how she exploits the Network and uses the data she gains to continue her ongoing, personal war with the Weyland Consortium.

Why is Reina at war with the Weyland Consortium? How do you visualize the runner's experience on the Net? And how do you hack into the headspace of an Ecuadorian Martian War veteran who refuses to admit the War has ended? To get these answers—and others—we sat down for an interview with Monster Slayer author Dan Clark.

//Interview with Dan Clark

Fantasy Flight Games: You're the co-creator of the Android universe and, presumably, could have chosen any of its characters to serve as your protagonist. So why did you choose Reina Roja? What drew you to her?

Reina Roja as depicted by Matt Zeilinger.

Dan Clark: I’ve always thought she was cool. She has a great look, she has a dedication and a drive that I admire, and—like her—I’m kind of an Anarch at heart.

But there's a more prosaic side to the story, as well. I literally went around and did a highly-scientific poll of everyone I could find in the FFG offices, asking them which characters from Android they wanted to know more about. Reina tied for first with Noise, so I sat down and wrote pitches for both of them. My editor chose the one that became Monster Slayer.

FFG: Interesting. Other than Reina and Noise, were there other characters who rated highly?

DC: Geist hadn't been introduced yet, but he polled highly. People didn't even know his name, but his art had been featured on the office monitors. People just knew that he looked totally sweet.

I guess what I'm saying is that Matt Zeilinger deserves a lot of the credit for Reina getting her own novella. His character art was so strong that people love her.

FFG: Her chess-themed breaker suite is pretty cool, too. That was Damon Stone's touch, wasn't it?

DC: Yes, I believe so. My pitch was for an Ecuadorian freedom fighter, and Damon added just about everything else that made her who she is.

FFG: The whole idea that Reina sees running as a chess game leads us to our next question. Monster Slayer goes much deeper into the virtual world and the runner's experience of it than either Monitor or Exodus. Why is this the case, and what should readers understand about the nature of the Network when experienced via brain machine interface (BMI)?

The chessboard rushed in from nowhere and the darkness of the black zone fell away. Her red pieces surrounded her, knights and rooks and bishops and pawns. There were no white pieces.
     She advanced a pawn. It was destroyed almost immediately, and a white knight flickered into existence where it had been. Another pawn, another white piece. She probed carefully but with an eye on the clock…

DC: At the time we were—and here I have to reach back into my notoriously dusty memory banks, so I might have the sequence a little out of order—in the early stages of the Android world books. We were spending a lot of time internally talking about what the Net looks like and feels like from the point of view of a runner.

So part of what I was doing in Monster Slayer was trying to make running—and the interface with the Network—both make sense and link up with how we'd shown it in the art. What we didn't want was either a 90's movie-hacker "lines of code" look nor an MMO or Matrix-style copy of the real world.

It seemed to me that we'd shown the Net look a lot of different ways in our art, but we also had some "suites" of programs that looked similar. So I riffed on this idea that the Network looks different based on who is looking at it. And what makes runners special is that they can find a way to see the Network that is useful, either on a subconscious or unconscious level, due to their specialized hardware, software, and training.

The "chess piece" suite of programs became Reina's personal "style sheet" that she overlays on the Network when she runs. There's some scenes about this in the book that I had a lot of fun envisioning and writing.

FFG: So, if I entered the Network completely untrained and unprepared, what would I be likely to see? A swirling chaos of lights and colors? Or something more subconscious and menacing or tempting?

DC: Probably the default view that the architect of that piece of the Net wanted you to see. Something tame and consumer-friendly in most cases—and also pretty useless from the point of view of a runner. (Unless your BMI isn't calibrated right, in which case all bets are off!)

FFG: The idea that Damon was responsible for much of Reina's invention is interesting. People always talk about writing what you know. So when you're handed a character devised primarily by someone else—and whose existence differs so much from your own—how did you go about getting yourself into her headspace?

DC: Writing an Android novella is different from writing fiction that is mine alone, even though I'm a co-creator of the setting, because it's a shared universe. I was always going to be touching on things that other people made or did. Most of what has been created for Android has been collaborative, either with or without my input.

So I already had some idea of who Reina was when I sat down to write the pitch, and the more I wrote, the more I explored. Part of that exploration was research. Part was talking to the various collaborators.

          …The next file was labeled simply “Project Vulcan Threat Assessment, Feasibility, and Casualty Analysis.”

Ultimately, the fact that the character was co-created and had so much of her concept defined by someone else was less of a challenge than the fact that she's a character who is totally unlike me. I mean, I'm male, I'm white, I speak no Spanish, and I'm terrible at chess.

I don't have any simple answers for how to approach a challenge like writing a character like Reina. It's something writers, actors, and others have been struggling with for as long as we've had literature. I hope I did a decent job.

FFG: As co-creator of the Android universe, what was the most exciting part of getting to continue developing the setting in novella form?

“I heard a story that we used to believe the stars were the souls of the dead. People died and went up into the heavens to be a star.”
     “Do you see ten million new stars up there?” she asked.

DC: For me, it's getting to drill down and explore stuff that you never see in a game. I love the normal, boring, slice-of-life stuff in fantastic settings. I want to see what people eat, figure out how they commute to work, how the average person just does average things.

But our games are by definition about exceptional people in exceptional circumstances, so we never point the camera at the ordinary. And in our games, we probably shouldn't; that's not what people are there for, after all.

On the other hand, in the novella, a little bit of ordinary makes the story feel more grounded and the setting more believable, so I get to go there.

FFG: What were some of the things you discovered about Reina Roja as you searched for her "slice of normal?" She is a person, after all, whose life is pretty far from what we'd consider "normal."

DC: Right? She's definitely exceptional. But it turns out that even exceptional people come from something real. She has a dad who loves her, and he's a normal guy. Her relationship is flawed and human. She has a very human tendency toward self-deception. I almost used the word "normal," but I think her personal demons in that arena are all tied up with what makes her exceptional.

FFG: Let's talk about the Weyland Consortium for a moment. You and the other members of the Android story team have gone on record numerous times to point out that the Android universe isn't one where megacorps are evil and runners are heroic, yet Weyland gets a pretty bad rap in the book. Monster Slayer definitely focuses more on the aspects of Weyland that fans might associate with terms like "coverup," "cleaners," "punitive counterstrike," and "scorched earth" than it does on the sort of ingenuity that Jack Weyland demonstrated in developing the Beanstalk and in his pursuit of continued space exploration.

How does this decision line up with what we know about the moral ambiguity of the Android universe?

She returned to her body in pieces, as she’d been trained. First, sound. The buzz and rush of hoppers outside, dulled by the thick concrete of the walls. She heard her own breathing. The drip of water from her makeshift plumbing. Then smell, the echoing damp cave-scent of her temporary home. She smelled a bitter tang of coffee and knew that she’d spent longer than she’d planned on this run. Then touch, her fingers running along the contours of her skinsuit and up to the port at the back of her neck…

DC: Monster Slayer is Reina's story, and it's told from Reina's perspective. To her, GRNDL and Weyland in general are villains. If I'd been writing this story from the point of view of Jack Weyland, it would have looked pretty different. But I wasn't likely to do that because I was raised by hippies in the granola-littered forests of Vermont.

Jack is actually pretty disillusioned with the Consortium right now, too. A Jack Weyland-focused novella might still have the Consortium as villains—it would just be more of a courtroom or boardroom drama with less murder and explosions… Well, there's actually plenty of room for murder and explosions in that story, too.

FFG: What books, authors, and other materials inspired you while you were working on the story?

DC: I pull from all over. Neuromancer and Snow Crash are obvious inspirations, but I also dug back to Beowulf, Camus, and The Stranger. My own life, too, of course—shout out to my dad's boat, which makes a cameo, and Chimborazo on Central Avenue in Minneapolis.

I'd also like to say that Android fans are the best fans—we can't get anything past them. And look for the Princess Space Kitten cameo!

Dig Deeper and Get the Full Story

A little preparation can get you a long way, so it's time to start weighing all the variables. The limited edition hardbound version of Monster Slayer goes on sale next Monday, and if you're serious about rooting through Weyland's servers to get the full story, you'll want to be sure to peruse its sixteen pages of bonus, full-color setting details and backstory.

Although Monster Slayer will be made available as a digital download at a later date, fans who order the limited edition hardbound version will not only receive their copies before the download becomes available but will uncover pieces of information about GRNDL, the First Mars Expeditionary Brigade, and military-grade drones that exist only in analog form.

Care to join Reina Roja on her anti-Weyland crusade? Want to learn more about her time in the Electronic Warfare Service? Curious about the activist groups looking for an early end to the Quito Accord? These things—and more—become available to you when you order your limited edition hardcover copy of Monster Slayer.

Supplies are limited, so mark your calendar. Monster Slayer becomes available through our webstore next Monday!

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