Authors Creating the Universe of Elite: Dangerous: John Harper

Authors Creating the Universe of Elite: Dangerous: John Harper


In our quest to visit all the licensed authors breathing life into the upcoming Elite: Dangerous, we visit John Harper about his novel, And Here the Wheel.

Last week, we began our quest to visit and interview all the authors who will be adding their voices to the upcoming Elite: Dangerous. Our goal? To find out what attracted them to the Elite Universe and what they want to add to it. This is especially interesting now that Frontier Developments have revealed that they are taking full advantage of the creativity of the authors who are writing the official fiction. In an exciting turn of events, they will be including aspects of the novels and stories in the game, so that the gamers can experience the locations or even parts of the stories while they play.

Bringing international voice to the otherwise relatively British cast of authors, John Harper is an author from New Zealand. He has previously written fan fiction and sci-fi short stories and was working on a novel when Elite: Dangerous put all that on hold. The name of his upcoming novel is rather poetic, And Here the Wheel, and we simply had to meet the man behind those words.

First things first, which Elite game was your favourite? Which ship(s) featured in the original games would you love to fly again in Elite: Dangerous?

That's a hard question because I was at different stages of my life when I played the three games. I was seven or so when I played Elite. It was amazing, engrossing, I blew up the computer because I played it for too long in one stretch. It opened my mind to science fiction and I know I wouldn't be the person I am without that game.

I played Frontier as a young teenager (before I started chasing wheels and skirts) and it took this thing that I had loved and it made it so much bigger. The possibilities were out of this world. I loved flying around the solar systems, seeing sunrises, slingshotting around gas giants, watching city clock towers keep real time. The whole experience was just so much deeper and amazing.

If you asked me which game I would rather play right now I would pick First Encounters.
I want my Cobra Mk III and that is about that. Having played the 68000 processor version of the game I am quite partial to the Wolf Mk II as well. I'd much rather face a Thargoid than a Wolk Mk II.

Hooray, another Wolf Mk II fan! How about the upcomingElite: Dangerous? What do you consider to be the most exciting part of it, based on what you’ve seen so far?

Definitely the narrative. Sure, things will look cooler and you can do more things, but for me the story options that are opening up are what are excite me. Reputations, repercussions, decisions that will affect your entire in-game life. Sell a free man as a slave and when he gets free he might try and find you. Find a new dark system, sell the coordinates to pay for a bigger explorer ship and see what you can find on the edge of tomorrow.

John, you have recently finished the first draft of your story. Could you tell us a bit of how you feel about it now?

I feel pretty pleased with it. I'm editing it for the second time so its about my third re-read of it. At the same time I am sending it through to my publisher five chapters at a time for their first review. I think it reads pretty well, has some really good rising tension, and even as the writer the story still makes my heart race.

There is still room for improvement though. I need to tighten up on my word count and generally optimise it with the help of the my publisher.

What kinds of problems did you encounter during the writing process that you did not foresee?

I guess the time that I have had to dedicate to it. It's been a very very productive year. Four newsletters, 10 podcast episodes and a 120-130k story that is going through a second edit. I'm not prepared to sacrifice family time either so my nights have been fully utilised. Its fair to say I've given up following sports or anything this year. I'll still watch Bathurst though!

The game is not out yet, so we must ask you if you have had much (or enough) insider information about the game. Are there many open questions still remaining?

Yes, we've received several writers’ guides and we have an open forum to ask questions and get them answered. Its been totally invaluable and aligning my story with Frontier’s vision has resulted in a few rewrites, but nothing too major. In the initial stages I was emailing Frontier almost daily. I imagine its been quite some work for Michael Brookes to deal with it all but he's done a stellar job.

The one last thing I'm waiting for is the galactic map. This is pretty much the last piece of the puzzle to help me lay out where my novel happens and what the planetary systems look like.

What’s different about writing a novel based on a game compared to your previous books?

The rules of the universe. In one of them I make the rules, in the other I don't and I have to wait for answers. In the last novel I was writing for my own universe I had spent a lot of time 'world building' the universe. So I had set up all the rules, locations, concepts etc, so by the time I started writing I had my own rules in place that I couldn't violate. In writing And Here The Wheel I've had the same situation, I just didn't make the rules.

In saying that I've played all the games alot over the years and I've written alot of Elite fan fiction (the most famous of which is contributing to the Huge Plasma Accerelator Saga) so I'm pretty down with what is and is – not legit for the Elite universe. No anti-gravity took me by surprise however and I'd already written a few scenes using anti-gravity. Cue re-write!

Frontier is planning to include aspects of the fiction into the game. Do you have many ideas of what details of your novel you might want to see in the game? Are you willing to reveal some of them at this point?

I've talked to Michael Brookes quite a bit early on about a few special things that will be included in the game. I can't reveal them to you but I'm pretty stoked about what we discussed. Having aspects of the novel, or even just places, name references, technologies etc. in the game will be so amazing. Read the book, then play the book. Utterly amazing and never done before. I can't wait to see what happens.

Michael will be talking to all the writers at a later stage to improve the blending of game and fiction. I'm looking forward to that conversation!

What are the next steps in your writing process until the book is delivered onto the readers’ hands?

The first step is actually two steps in one. I am incorporating alpha reader feedback into the novel and at the same time sending updated sections of the novel off to my publisher, Fantastic Books Publishing. Absolute cracker of a team to work with. I'm in love already. I've received some great feedback from them already with some excellent comments to work with.

Once Fantastic Books have reviewed the whole novel I'll need to re-edit the whole thing again and send it back in one piece. There will be another couple of editing rounds with Fantastic Books, then cover design, reviews, backcopy, typesetting and then March 2014 rolls around and we launch!

Thank you, John, for taking the time to answer some of our questions. For more information about John's novel, please visit the official site at: And Here The Wheel