Interview with Kevin Anderson

SFFWorld was given the chance to talk to the phenomenally busy Kevin Anderson on the rerelease of his book Captain Nemo. (SFFWorld review HERE.) We talked Verne, pulps, Wells and Dune!

SFFWORLD: Hi Kevin. Many thanks for joining us. 

Captain Nemo is your take on the Young Adventures of Jules Verne and his friend Andre Nemo, with many characters and events related to Verne’s own ‘Extraordinary Voyages’. Why did you want to write in Verne’s universe?

Kevin: I grew up enamored with the imagination and wonder of Jules Verne, first through the films of 20,000 Leagues Under the SeaThe Mysterious IslandJourney to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in Eighty Days, and as I grew older I read the classic books. I loved all of those marvels, and the idea to write the fictional life story of the Nautilus’s Captain Nemo hit me like a thunderbolt.

Of course, there are lots of other characters in there as well, including real people such as Florence Nightingale, Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo, amongst others. This suggests that a lot of preliminary work was required. How much research was involved before writing this one? And what are the pitfalls (if any) of integrating real and fictional characters in writing?

I spent about three years rereading Verne’s novels, reading biographies of his life, studying the history and culture of the period.  The events as described in Verne’s life are as accurate as I could make them, and Andre Nemo’s adventures in major historical events (the opening of the Suez Canal, the Crimean War, the Charge of the Light Brigade, etc.) are part of the story, but I also tried to get the history right.  Of course, it’s much easier if a writer can just make everything up, but this novel was very special to me and I wanted it to feel “real.”

You’ve also taken an interesting step by including aspects of Jules Verne’s real life in the tale as well. How much did you know about Verne before writing this book?  

There’s a seminal, and accurate (if you believe Verne’s own anecdotes), scene in the novel where Jules Verne runs away from home to see the world, but his father races to the dock, intercepts him on the ship before it can sail, and drags him home. Verne’s father beat him severely and made him swear to travel only in his imagination from that day forward.  It’s a great story, and Jules Verne—the author of all those famous “Extraordinary Voyages”—really did travel very little in his lifetime.

In your tale Verne acts as the teller of Nemo’s story: a John Watson, if you like, to Sherlock Holmes.  Sometimes such narratives can be, intentionally or not, unreliable. As a writer of the character Nemo, how would you summarise Nemo? Should we sympathise with him? Should we trust him?

I think Nemo is the true hero of the story, the doer, the man who is a swashbuckling daredevil who suffers tragedies, sees the world, and is driven with his own quest for justice. Verne, on the other hand, is jealous and resentful. I would be less inclined to trust Verne’s descriptions of his hero.

How important was it for you to be faithful to the spirit of Verne when writing this one? How did you manage to do that?

This was an homage to those Extraordinary Voyages, and I very much wanted readers to get the same “feel” that I remembered experiencing when I was first exposed to Jules Verne.  The way I managed it was to immerse myself in the “Verniverse”—rereading all the books, watching all the movies, and picking up on the magic and imagination of the period.

Would you say that Captain Nemo is different to the books that you may be better known for? Dune, or Terra Incognita, for example?

CAPTAIN NEMO is what I call a “fantastic historical,” a different sort of novel from the giant SF/F epics that I usually do—The Saga of Seven Suns, Terra Incognita, or the Dune books with Brian Herbert.  I have also written a similar novel, MR WELLS AND THE MARTIANS, about a young HG Wells and his teacher TH Huxley going to Mars to stop the impending War of the Worlds invasion.  I also edited an anthology, WAR OF THE WORLDS: GLOBAL DISPATCHES, stories from other famous figures of the period about the Martian invasion. Titan Books will be publishing both of those books. Even though I wrote those books a few years before the current steampunk craze, the readership is very interested.

What do you enjoy about writing in other peoples universes? You’ve written using AE van Vogt’s Slan, and in the Star Wars, Superman and perhaps most obviously, Dune, universes.

I’m a fan, pure and simple. My life has been greatly influenced by some of the most popular SF novels, movies, and TV series, and I am thrilled to have the chance to tell more stories with some of my favorite characters.  Working with Star WarsX-FilesStar Trek, and especially Dune is like a dream come true.

Captain Nemo is a real rip-roaring tale with a great sense of the classic ‘pulps’, that I loved. It also suggests that you know a fair bit of this genre background yourself. Some of your recent books, like those previously mentioned, show a respectful regard for the older genre works. How much of a fan are you of such SF backhistory?

I think HUGE FAN probably sums it up! I read them by the truckload from the time I was just a kid.

The book was first published in 2002. Since then, metafiction and indeed steampunk have become very popular.  Do you see Nemo as part of that movement?

I think I predated the surge, and I wrote one of my best novels before the audience was there, but I am very excited to have Titan there to give CAPTAIN NEMO—not to mention MR WELLS & THE MARTIANS and WAR OF THE WORLDS: GLOBAL DISPATCHES—a second chance.

Looking back, what are you personally proudest of in this book?  

A big question: I think I’m personally proudest of this book over most of my other titles because everything just *worked*—the Verne background, the historical detail, and the adventures of Nemo, all the plot threads tying together.

I’ve been told that Captain Nemo led to you writing the novelisation for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003. Is that true?

The original editor was working with me on CAPTAIN NEMO when he got the opportunity for the novelization of LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, and he thought I would be the perfect pick. I had already read the original Alan Moore graphic novels and loved them (I think Alan Moore has just as much a love of classic adventure as I do!). The movie was a little different from the graphic novels, though.

Lastly: You can keep one author’s work, but only one. If you had to: Wells or Verne?

Verne had a lot of terrific ideas, but if I had to choose only one, I think Wells would be my favorite!


Many thanks, Kevin.

Mark Yon –

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