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Blogs From Exile

Q&A from the BFI Voyager Sci-Fi Film Festival

Tell us about yourself

I’m Vincent H. O’Neil, and I’m the author of the new mil sci-fi “Sim War” series (Glory Main and Orphan Brigade) from HarperVoyager, writing as Henry V. O’Neil. I’m also the author of a four-novel murder mystery series from St. Martin’s Press (Murder in Exile, Reduced Circumstances, Exile Trust, and Contest of Wills) as well as a theatre-themed mystery entitled Death Troupe and a horror novel called Interlands.

I’m a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and spent nine years in the light and airborne infantry after graduation. I base a lot of my mil sci-fi work on my military experiences, including the demanding Ranger Course (sleep deprivation, short rations, long walks carrying heavy loads, and harassment from the instructors) and my service in various parts of North, Central, and South America.

Tell us about your latest book

Glory Main was just released by Voyager, and the sequel, Orphan Brigade, will be released in January of 2015. Glory Main is a gritty tale of survival in which four strangers awake to find themselves marooned on a barren planet with no water, food, or weapons. Set against a decades-long war for survival between mankind and the humanoid Sims, the story follows the survivors as they seek to overcome a steadily worsening series of obstacles.

Orphan Brigade picks up right at the end of Glory Main, but its scope is much larger. It introduces characters ranging from the top levels of the not-always-trustworthy human government all the way to the soldiers of the “Orphan” Brigade, an independent brigade that is used as a stop-gap force in emergencies. The Orphans are sometimes committed to situations that are far beyond the capabilities of most units their size, and the climactic battle sequence is one of those times.

What sparked your love of Sci-Fi?

Books, TV, and movies. I read Starship Troopers and Dune as a teenager, and that really put the hook in me. I prefer my mil sci-fi a little on the gritty side, so I absolutely love John Steakley’s Armor and Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War.

I’m old enough to remember the original Star Trek series, which I greatly enjoyed, and over the years I’ve watched so many fantastic sci-fi movies that it’s hard to name the ones I like best.

Your favorite Sci-Fi film (s) and why?

I guess I’m not going to be able to avoid this after all. Here are a few:

2001: A Space Odyssey, because of HAL. Blade Runner, because it combined action and detective work with a tremendously vivid future society. Alien and Aliens, because they blended sci-fi and horror so well and because they gave us Ellen Ripley. The Fifth Element, because it had everything from suspense to comedy to action.12 Monkeys, because it was so gritty and because Brad Pitt played such a convincing lunatic. Edge of Tomorrow, because it had fantastic action sequences and nailed the humor and camaraderie of soldiers. And finally Gattaca, because the main character was a short, near-sighted guy named Vincent who was just looking for a chance to prove himself to himself.

Book v film?

I hate to do it, but I have to say film just because it lets us actually see the worlds and spaceships and beings. I have to include sci-fi art in this answer as well, because I draw a huge amount of inspiration and motivation just from perusing the marvelous work out there.

Greatest Sci-Fi book character?

Felix from John Steakley’s Armor. He’s so abundantly human, first as a damaged individual fleeing his past and then as a veteran soldier utterly astounded by his survival, certain his luck is going to run out in an ugly way sometime soon.

Greatest Sci-Fi film moment?

The battle between Ellen Ripley (in the powered loader suit) and the alien queen in Aliens.
It was so satisfying to see her slug it out with that thing, even more than when she was cutting loose with the automatic weapon / flamethrower / grenade launcher in the queen’s nesting area.

Sci-fi or Science Fiction?

Sci-fi, for no better reason than it’s easier to type.

Is there a Sci-Fi book you’d like to see made into a film?

I would LOVE to see a good adaptation of Armor. By now you probably realize I really, really enjoyed that book. I also love William Gibson’s work and, even though it would be hard to do, would really like to see Neuromancer turned into a good movie.

Which fictional planet would you like to live on, and why?

There was an extremely fun planet from the original Star Trek series that was basically a fantasy vacation world. Whatever you wanted to do, the experience was available—and if it killed you, they just patched you up and put you back into play.

Favorite technology from science fiction that you wish had happened?

The time travel device from the movie Looper, even if discussing time travel “fries your brain like an egg” or ends up with us sitting “here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws” as we were warned by two of the film’s characters.

Advice for any young people starting their Sci-Fi journey – essential viewing/reading?

I’m sure they’ve already read a lot of great sci-fi, so I’ll paraphrase something I read in Ben Bova’s non-fiction Space Travel: A Writer's Guide to the Science of Interplanetary and Interstellar Travel. The book is loaded with fundamental information, but he eventually says that you can make up anything you want as long as it’s not completely unbelievable—and even then, it’s all in the way you present it.

I also recommend The Complete Idiot’s Guide series, regardless of the topic. I’ve learned a lot from those books, even though I will admit that I read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Einstein cover-to-cover, and I am not smart enough for that book.

Have you ever met anyone who has been abducted by aliens?

No, but I have met several people who encountered the ghost in one of the barracks at West Point. I spent my upper-class years in one of the older sets of barracks, and apparently it’s inhabited by at least one ghost. During one reunion weekend years later, I was touring those barracks with some of my classmates and a cadet who lived there confirmed that the ghost was still evident. I think that’s pretty cool.

Your 3 dream dinner dates from the world of Sci-Fi (alive or dead)

Ellen Ripley, River Tam, and Lee-Loo from The Fifth Element.
We were talking about sci-fi characters, right?

Outside of literature and film, what inspires your writing?

I already mentioned that I draw considerable inspiration and motivation from viewing the different kinds of sci-fi art that you can find by just searching the web. I also enjoy checking out the art galleries at various sci-fi conventions; Boskone (February timeframe in Boston) attracts a particularly talented group of artists.
In my theatre-themed murder mystery Death Troupe, the director advises his playwright to listen to emotive music as a form of inspiration, something to get him in the mood to write the kind of play that the troupe needs. I definitely have a music mix that contains songs like those.
Finally, I get a lot of my ideas from reading historical non-fiction. I think a lot of fiction is restricted by the concern that “no one will believe that”, but the most preposterous stories I’ve ever read were all true.

Are you on social media?

Yes indeed. I have a website, www.vincenthoneil.com and I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/vincenthoneil. I’m very good about maintaining my author pages and book pages on Amazon, Shelfari, and Goodreads, and you can read my sporadic blog entries on Amazon, Goodreads, and my personal website.

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