Jaimie Duncan and Holly Scott are the authors of Stargate SG-1: Hydra, the latest official SG-1 tie-in novel from Fandemonium. GateWorld’s Shaun Farrell recently chatted with the authors from across the pond about their collaboration on this project!
We also touched on their previous novel, Stargate SG-1: Siren Song, and we discussed the evil side of Daniel Jackson, Colonel Maybourne, writing action scenes, and much more. Beware of some spoilers for both novels.
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net I am Shaun Farrell, and I’m joined by Holly Scott and Jaimie Duncan, authors of the Stargate SG-1: Hydra, a novel recently published by Fandemonium. Holly, Jaimie, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview!
Hydra is actually your second Stargate novel, your previous being Stargate SG-1: Siren Song. What lessons did you learn in writing the first book together, and how did those lessons change your approach to Hydra?
Holly Scott: Because Siren Song was a first novel for both of us, we learned several things from that process, and the most important was to not to be afraid of revising the draft. This came in very handy on the second book, since the rough draft of Hydra required quite a bit of restructuring. We had to learn to whack scenes that just didn’t work.
I think we also learned that we can get through even the most tedious tasks or scenes if we just support and rely on each other. Jaimie was patient and organized and encouraging at just the right times, and I try to do the same for her. This time around, I think she did much more of the encouraging and organizing, and I was very grateful for it.
Jaimie Duncan: Leapfrog. We learned to leapfrog our way through the synopsis so that we didn’t have to wait on one or the other of us to churn out pages. This was tough for me at first, because I’m a very linear worker. I start at page one and work my way to the end. I learned from Holly how to break out of that a bit, for strategic reasons. A really solid synopsis is essential there, although there’s always wiggle room and productive surprises.
I learned to label my files better. I learned to wrangle my gerunds. I also learned that Holly is the collaborator after my own heart. We’ve got a good system, I think.
GW: Siren Song deals with events from the SG-1 episode “Deadman Switch,” while Hydra explores repercussions from episodes like “Tin Man” and “Shades of Grey.” What was special about these episodes? Why did they stand out to you?
JD: Hmmm. Insert swirly flashback effect here as I try to remember back to Siren Song … “Deadman Switch” is a nice, relatively stand-alone episode that offered us a fun secondary character to work with in Aris Boch. And, for me in particular, it gave us a little keyhole-view of a culture that didn’t get explored much in the series.
So that was a great jumping-off point. I’m kind of a geek for the possibilities of building worlds and cultures, so I liked the opportunities that episode offered for that kind of playing in the Stargate universe — the kind of playing that is hooked into canon, but which opens out into something I can get mucky with in the imagination.
HS: There were a few characters in the run of the series I desperately wanted more of, and Aris was at the top of the list. We had a remarkable opportunity to create back-story for him, and to have the characters — particularly Jack and Daniel — interact with him. He was enormously fun to write, and creating his world and his culture, writing some secondary book canon as adjunct to the series canon, was a wonderful challenge.
Jaimie does phenomenal world-building, and her vision about how the planet looked, what it was like, was the foundation for everything we wrote.
JD: Hydra spins out from all the unanswered questions in “Tin Man” and the N.I.D. episodes. I’ve always been fascinated by the tin team, what their life must have been like, how they dealt with their new state of being.
The “Tin Man” episode poked a pointy stick at the thing I love most about science fiction, which is the ways that it encourages us to consider not just who and what we are but how we are — that is, how the “I” is constructed at the nexus of consciousness, embodiment and environment. Which is really just a complicated way of saying: robots are really, really cool.
HS: What appealed to me about the robot versions of SG-1 was the fact that they conceptualize their existence as being Jack, Daniel, Sam and Teal’c, and yet they know they are not. How do beings with complete consciousness of self cope with the fact that they can’t live the lives they remember as their own — that they are not who they in fact feel they are? This sort of existential paradox led to other questions about morality, duty, and — as Jaimie mentioned — what core traits are essential to personality, and how drastically a twist to the right or the left can change the entirety of who we are and what we perceive to be true of ourselves.
This is why writing all the various teams — the insane betas, the depressed and rebellious epsilons, the courageous alphas, the conscience-free thetas — was such an interesting proposition. We had an opportunity to put the focus on SG-1 and the alpha team — all team, all the time — and then to explore all their shades of grey with the other versions.
GW: Hydra explores what SG-1 might be like if the team was completely devoid of their heroic qualities. It was fun, if not somewhat disturbing, to see what evil they were capable of. And it surprised me that Teal’c, the great warrior, was the most benign of the bunch.
HS: Teal’c had lived over a hundred years by the time he was duplicated in “Tin Man,” and was Apophis’s First Prime for many years, a warrior with scruples and doubts who was committing heinous acts at Apophis’s command. One assumes he learned a thing or two about the judicious use of power, so it would stand to reason that he’s already learned to assert his own power and be brutal when he feels it’s necessary and useful, rather than being indiscriminately violent, in order to be an effective First Prime.
This understanding would be layered into any robot iteration of Teal’c as well, provided that the duplicate wasn’t insane (as the original was, due to Harlan’s program flaw regarding the symbiote), since it’s the experiential learning of a long-time warrior and leader, not personality per se. With the possible exception of Jack — who functions with the same military strategic precision even when “evil” — the others don’t have these lessons to draw on, and with the restraints of conscience and morality off, they are running a bit amok.
JD: What she said. We talked a lot about what each iteration of the team represented in the overall dynamic of team relations, and Holly always had a really good take on the Teal’cs. I wish that we could have explored his iterations more. For instance, I would love to follow the life of epsilon Teal’c, whose response to his situation is really interesting and tantalizing for me.
I feel like there are lots of stories folded up on phantom pages in this book. I don’t know that I really see Teal’c in any iteration as the most benign. Maybe the most restrained, as Holly says, or pragmatic in his use of violence. The thing about the duplicates that we wanted to keep in sight is that, however changed, they are in key ways still themselves. The duplicate Teal’cs are very much in line with the Teal’c we see in the series, I think, as Holly’s explained. He may be standing still, but that doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous.
GW: The novel is told from multiple view points, and it jumps back and forth in time. It creates a somewhat fractured narrative that I thought effectively conveyed the fractured perspectives of the various SG-1 teams. Can you talk about your strategy in how you structured the novel?
JD: This is me laughing and laughing, because … wow. Come, let me show you our charts. Our many, many charts. The ones breaking down the action by planet. The ones breaking down the action in real time (yes, down to the minute, because we’re on the clock, teams! Tick-tock!) and the ones breaking it down in novelistic structural time, chapter by chapter, section by section, with the multiple time-lines woven together. Let us walk through the multiple time-frames, the flash-backs, the reminiscences to make sure that all the time stamps are correctly lined up. Allow me to extol the virtues of highlighter pens of many colors. Witness the authors looking at each other and saying, “Weren’t we going to keep it simple this time?!”
The point is, though, that the story couldn’t be told in a linear fashion if we wanted to achieve certain effects, if we wanted to build (hopefully) the kind of attachments and emotional arcs we were aiming for. The non-linear structure is predicated in some ways on setting up through juxtaposition certain resonances between the backstory and the present-day story.
HS: Some of the scenes simply could not be told from the perspective of any of the SG-1 team members because it would be too confusing. As it was, there were places we feared the POV would be hard to track, so we needed a device to lend outside perspective to the various personalities and issues with the robot teams.
Piper was that necessary outside perspective. He started out as a listening post character whose sole function was to relay information between teams and write mission reports, but we realized quickly that this wouldn’t work. Piper had to have a heart and soul and a connection to the teams, a personal stake in what takes place. Once we fleshed him out and got him chatting with alpha Daniel, we had a character who could bridge the emotional arcs of the robot teams.
JD: Yeah, as Holly says, Piper turned out to be a key element because of his function in articulating the emotional arc. Ultimately, we concluded that all the characters need to be people if the story is to have any impact at all. They can’t just be drones or bugs (or bug-eyed monsters) that come in battalions to be destroyed without a sense of consequence. The outcome of that decision was multiple points of view and timelines that situate each team in its own motivational structure.
That said, the original model for the novel was much more complex in terms of those narrative points of view and we had to make some tough decisions to pare things down a lot for the sake of clarity. This is where the folks who read early drafts became really essential. We needed them for the reality check, to make sure that everything tracked for someone who didn’t have all our multi-colored charts.
GW: I was particularly pleased by the appearance of Colonel Maybourne. The dynamic between him and Jack must have been really fun to play.
HS: Maybourne is the man! I really can’t imagine how we could write a novel involving the N.I.D. without bringing him in somehow, with his snark and his appearing/disappearing act, since the mere fact of his continuing free existence drives Jack totally bonkers.
I think Harry lives to annoy Jack; he has made it his special project. But he also was a true believer in saving Earth — as long as it didn’t conflict with saving his own butt — and so his odd loyalty to Jack, and the way he passes information to him from time to time, really isn’t all that odd, from a character perspective. Both Jaimie and I had a hand in writing that scene, and it was such a riot to let them banter and bicker. I wish there had been room for more of it.
JD: Yes! Poor, long-suffering Jack. Maybourne actually fits into the overall structure thematically as well, since I think in a way he’s as much Jack’s alter-ego as the theta O’Neill is. I think that Maybourne is what Jack might have been, in some way — what he could be if he’s not careful, if he didn’t have his team. Because, yeah, he shares Jack’s commitment to Earth but he doesn’t have Daniel and Sam to tie him to it in a concrete, emotional way, or Teal’c to remind him that Earth’s interests are not insular but situated in a broader galactic context. Maybourne’s perspective is narrow; Jack’s is broader, less self-interested, more compassionate.
Maybourne also functions to tie the action in the S.G.C. and offworld to a real world, Earth-bound context. And, yeah, he’s the man.
GW: What parts of the book came easily for you, and what sections presented the most challenge?
JD: Challenge? Other than the whole twisty timeline thing: ACTION SCENES. Next book, everybody is tied to their chairs in the briefing room for the duration!
Action scenes are always difficult and each scenario offers up its own kind of creative torments. In Siren Song it was the Escape of Endless Locked Doors. I swore after that book was done there wouldn’t be a single locked door in the next book. In Hydra it was the problem of orchestrating action scenes featuring multiple versions of the same people. Just keeping the names straight, that is, coming up with a reasonable system of nomenclature that would distinguish, say, three different versions of Jack while not becoming ponderous, was hard enough, without even getting into mapping the action so that it makes sense, and describing it so that it feels immediate. It’s easy to get so focused in moving the pieces around on the board that you forget that they are supposed to be people.
HS: Yes, exactly. For me, the biggest challenge was making Mendez human and Piper believable. They are not the characters most fans will come to the book to interact with, but I didn’t want a one-dimensional N.I.D. villain in a dark suit that no one can relate to. Mendez had a family and a purpose in life that were important to him, and he sets this dreadful chain of events in motion with good intentions, and horrifying consequences, proving that the N.I.D. can’t learn from its mistakes. In the end, he goes off the deep end and gets what he deserves, but in a different organization, he might have been seen as an honorable man, doing what was right for Earth. As Teal’c points out in the book, one man’s traitor is another man’s hero.
The easiest bits were probably the sections with the various teams relating to one another. I have a special fondness for alpha SG-1 sprawled in the grass, having escaped briefly from the N.I.D. lab to enjoy the sunshine. That was my favorite scene. Well, that, and theta Daniel carving on Jack’s neck. It was enjoyable to put a knife in evil Daniel’s hand, give him a dose of contempt for Jack, and see what would happen.
Writing with Jaimie makes everything seem easier and more fun, because we can laugh about the difficult parts and whine and complain to each other when things aren’t working. And then we get through it somehow, and all the struggles seem worth it.
JD: So true. Collaboration makes even the most difficult challenges manageable. It helps a lot to have someone to send an e-mail to when you need some cheerleading, or to take over or to kick you in the butt when you’ve run out of steam. And the cool part about collaborating is that we think very much alike in some ways and really differently in others, so there’s always something surprising and delightful turning up that gives us new impetus, opens new avenues.
The grass scene Holly mentions was one of those. When I read that, a key aspect of the work took on new clarity for me that helped me immeasurably in the scenes I was responsible for, particularly those featuring interaction among the thetas.
The interweaving of influences and possibilities in the process of collaboration is really fascinating. The carving on Jack that Holly mentions is another case in point. There, Holly built a whole psychological and thematic context out of a tiny passing reference in one of my sections. It’s so exciting when that happens. Collaboration is not always easy but it’s always the thing for me that makes the labor worthwhile.
In terms of Hydra in particular, for me, the most fun part to write was the shattered glass world, Gauss. I had to do some lay-person’s research into parallel universes, M-theory, and so on. Of course, my idea of fun is not necessarily a standard one; there were tears involved, because action scenes are hard enough without throwing in a little space-warping while you’re at it. So, I guess, looking back at this answer, I’d say that the most difficult aspects of writing the book were also the most fun for me.
HS: Most of the brain-twisty science Jaimie is talking about here was a result of her copious research and hard work, because to move beyond the basic concepts, there had to be some solid science behind what was described.
GW: Who are your favorite characters to write for?
HS: Jack and Daniel are my favorites, hands-down. I love the Jack of the first five seasons, who is so much more complicated than he appears on the surface. He uses humor and makes dumb cracks to deflect away from himself, but the man beneath is dangerous and intelligent and full of moral/ethical complexities and secrets. And that’s what makes him interesting. In this particular novel, delving down into the dark depths of both Daniel and Jack was exciting. Jack is a bit of a known quantity in that area, because we know he was special ops and has probably done some morally questionable things.
Daniel without a conscience, however, was challenging, since his conscience defines his character throughout the series. Conscience is the role that human Daniel and alpha Daniel both fill in this novel as the plot rolls along, to counterbalance the coldness of the theta versions of SG-1.
I also love writing Teal’c, because there is so much richness of character to explore in his long life.
JD: Sam is a favorite of mine because I think she has a very rich inner life that she doesn’t get to share very often. I like her discipline, her flashes of humor. I enjoyed writing her theta counterpart, who is on the verge of exasperated insubordination most of the time. Jack is always fun. Holly puts it best when she says he’s a wise-cracker with all kinds of intelligence and danger underneath. Writing those two levels — surface and depth — without reducing him to one or the other is an exciting challenge.
Daniel thinks a lot like I do (not the genius linguist part, which is not me, thanks, but the “ooh, let’s drop everything and check out these cool engravings” part), which means I have to be careful not to just turn him into a chance to do a lot of sightseeing. I have such a soft-spot for him, particularly early-seasons Daniel who still very much represents an outsider’s point of view.
Teal’c is one I’m most interested in working on more. I would love to write something very Teal’c-centric someday, because, as Holly says, there is so very much there that could be explored. He’s a lot like Jack in some ways, in the sense that he’s fairly straightforward on the surface, but understanding him is a bit like dropping a stone down a well: you have to listen for a long time before you hear the stone hit bottom.
GW: Are there any plans for you two to pen more novels in the Stargate universe?
JD: If Holly will have me, I am so there!
HS: It would really be up to Fandemonium, but I love writing with Jaimie, and would be there with bells on.
GW: Are you working on any other projects you would like to tell us about?
JD: Er … mumble mumble … hey, look! Over there! Is that pie?
HS: I’m working on a contemporary fantasy novel, which is coming along very slowly. At this rate, it’ll be done in another decade or so. Give or take.
Interview by Shaun Farrell (Adventures In Sci-Fi Publishing)