Christopher is a British author who’s previously written the Elite audio fan-series Escape Velocity and is perhaps best known for his voice role in the series as Commander Thane and as one of the hosts of Lave Radio, the Elite: Dangerous podcast. His short story, Children of Zeus, included in the Tales from the Frontier Elite anthology, travels to the furthest reaches of space to spin a yarn of the loneliest of Elite professions, the explorer.
Christopher, what is your favourite past Elite title and is there a ship in the originals that you especially liked and would love to see in Elite: Dangerous?
I wasn't quite old enough to appreciate the original Elite. We had a Spectrum. I have hazy memories of spinning black and white letterboxes and market screens I didn't fully understand. Frontier was the biggest experience for me. I played Frontier for hours and hours and it definitely captured my imagination. I was a die-hard Amiga user in my teens and it would have been a betrayal to the Amiga clan by getting a PC, so I missed out on First Encounters as well. I think my favourite ship was the Imperial Trader, because I was a huge fan of Blake's 7 repeats at the same time and it was the ship that mostly closely matched the Liberator. Realistically, though, the Viper was the ship I had the most fun flying.
How about the upcoming Elite: Dangerous? What do you consider to be the most exciting part of it, based on what you’ve seen so far?
In keeping with the theme of my story, I think the Explorer class sounds fascinating. There have been a few hints here and there about the mechanics of this aspect of the game and I think that a rewarding way of travelling around with no fixed agenda and finding new and exciting things could be an amazing experience. In real life I love Scuba Diving and going for walks in places I've never been before, so I suppose it's an extension of my curiosity to see things I haven't yet encountered.
Christopher, your story has been read and commented on by your fellow authors and it has gone to Fantastic Books Publishing for the professional editing rounds. How do you feel about the story now?
I was very pleased when other people came back and said it had a good Elite vibe. Given that Elite is a game that takes place mainly in the cockpit of a spaceship, there's always a challenge when writing a story set anywhere else and a good portion of Children of Zeus is ground-based action. My main aim was to write an entertaining story that stayed faithful to the source material.
What kinds of problems did you encounter during the writing process that you did not foresee?
My original characters were flawed, in a bad way. The concept was, you had this deep exploration ship owned and crewed by a married couple who just wanted to explore unhindered. But, to payroll the trip they have to take along this obnoxious Corporate Rep. In my head it worked, but in reality the scenes between husband and wife were really dull. There was too much consensus of opinion; more than in a real marriage! In my second draft I changed that relationship totally and in doing so, gave the Commander's crew a character of her own and at the same time created tension and drama. After that I was much happier with it. I've found – in my own writing, at least – that in my first pass I tend towards the main characters getting along too well. I had the same problem with Escape Velocity and almost everything I've written before. One of the lessons I have to learn again and again is that it's a much more interesting story if the characters don't see completely eye to eye.
The game is not out yet, so we must ask you if you have had much (or enough) information about the game universe. Are there many open questions still remaining?
My experience wasn't too bad, because as a storyteller I tend to stay away from technical and procedural detail. I think if you live in a time where this technology is commonplace, you tend not to comment on it. For example, if I were to write a present-day story, my characters wouldn't focus on the detail of driving a car – it's just an everyday occurrence – but there might be aspects of the journey or the driving experience that stand out in that moment. There are probably some descriptive passages that will change slightly once I've got hands-on with the game. As with most other writers in this process, the biggest question mark is over the star chart and the location of the story. I know what parameters my story location needs to fit, so once the game map is released, I'll be poring over the charts to find a suitable system.
Have you written before and if you have, what’s different about writing a piece of fiction based on a game compared to your previous work?
I like having constraints, particularly when writing science fiction. When you create your own world for a story, there's a tendency to create technology which supports your plot in various ways. You don't get it with present-day or historical stories, because the constraints are set by reality. However, writing in someone else's world – especially one where so many creative minds are collaborating – is that you have to work within constraints again. I find it much more helpful. It forces you to be creative with your characters, storyline and events; like contemporary fiction, you can't just invent a piece of technology to get over a problem. I think the story ends up stronger for that. If I didn't have the game world provided for me, I'd have to impose my own constraints, just to keep my writing tight.
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?
Hard to say, without spoilers! I think like any author I'd like to be able to find the planet I've written about, in-game. If there's a description or a landmark that directly relates to the story, that would be just perfect.
What are the next steps in your writing process until your story is delivered onto the readers’ hands?
The big push right now is for the hardback and audiobook Kickstarter at http://tinyurl.com/fantasticaudio. We're really keen to see this get over the finish-line; really the fund-raiser is a kind of stretch goal for four of the Elite novels, including the anthology. Physical books and audio adaptations would be a massive win for this project. Plus as a reader/listener there are some fantastic exclusives you'll only be able to get as Kickstarter rewards.
As for the stories, I think all the writers will want to make a few changes, once they've played something that comes closer to the finished game. There'll be little details, here and there, that it will be easy to recognise as not matching with the game experience. That's a positive thing. I think if our book – and all the others – are successful there will be a symbiotic relationship between fiction and game. Reading a story should make you want to fire up the game and playing the game should make you want to delve into the fiction.
Thank you, Christopher, for participating in this interview series! If the readers want to learn more about the story and the anthology that it is a part of check out the Tales from the Frontier site.