This week, Alex Wells has agreed to join us for a few questions. You might recognise their name from around here: they’re the author of the excellent “Angel of the Blockade” as well as this year’s amazing desert-planet-mercenaries-and-magic science fiction novel Hunger Makes The Wolf. A sequel, Blood Binds The Pack, is coming early next year from Angry Robot, and I know that I’m excited.
LB: The setting for Hunger Makes the Wolf, Tanegawa’s World, is pretty much a company town, but it has a lot of, for lack of a better word, “weird” stuff going on with its natural resources. It has trains and lacks instant communication. Tell us a little bit about the decisions that led you to build the world in this way? (And what’s most fun about it?)
AW: I really wanted to capture a western mining town feel, because I’d been doing a lot of research on the Colorado Coal Field Wars. The isolation and disenfranchisement that comes from there being no instant communication or easy access to any kind of help really fed into the sort of story I wanted to tell. So of course, I had to come up with a good reason for it to be the future on a different planet—and a future with humanity being interstellar—but with such limited technology on this one, incredibly important world. I already knew there was something on the world that made interstellar travel possible, so I folded the weird technology issues into that, and it worked out pretty well. But of course, the most fun part is the motorcycles, because I love motorcycles and wanted to write about people riding around on them in the desert!
LB: This isolation on a planet that’s basically owned by a giant company means that labour rights are kind of awful there. Hunger Makes the Wolf includes a certain focus on labour organising. Will that continue in Blood Binds the Pack, and can the workers win out against the giant company?
AW: Labor rights definitely continues to be the focus in Blood Binds the Pack. Mag’s major character arc is about coming into her own as an organizer and leader, and some tough problems she faces while doing so. The odds are really not good when the company has all the guns and controls all the life necessities like food and water—there are some gaps no amount of witchiness is going to be able to close. As to whether the workers can win… to find out, you’re just going to have to read the book.
LB: You mentioned the Colorado Coal Field wars as an influence on Hunger Makes the Wolf. As a writer, what other writers or works in any media do you consider to have influenced you or your approach to writing?
AW: I tend to find the “what writers influenced you” question kind of difficult. I think every writer I’ve ever really enjoyed (and read a lot) has had an influence on me. I’d say I hope my favorites have had an affect on my writing and thus made it better: NK Jemisin and Lois McMaster Bujold. I know a lot of people have gotten a hint of Dune out of this book, and I think that’s fair—though not something I set out to do. I actually didn’t even realize the similarity with the whole “interstellar travel controlled by a monopoly and the only resource that allows it being found on only one world” thing until my mom pointed that out to me. It’s easier to see the influence for Hunger Makes the Wolf from other media, to be sure. Firefly definitely hit me aesthetically, as did Magnificent Seven (the original one; I wrote this before the remake, though I liked that too) along with some of the later more deconstructed western films. And I suppose my love of action movies generally has informed my approach to these books. There are gunfights and explosions and all that good stuff.
LB: Hobs’ and Mags’ friendship with each other is a large part of the emotional heart of Hunger Makes the Wolf. Did you set out to write it this way? What do you find interesting about friendship (and friendship between women) in narratives?
AW: I definitely set out to make Mag and Hob’s friendship the emotional core of the book, from the start. Even back when I started writing it, I was already sick of the mass media depiction of friendship between women—well, and friendship between woman and men too, come to that. It’s such a common, annoying trope that women are friends until
suddenly there’s This Guy and then it’s all about This Guy and the friendship falls apart. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real friendship between women that’s been so weak as that. Plus, I was really frustrated by the feeling that romance often gets privileged over
friendship in mass media, when ride or die friendships are really the things that get people through their toughest times. That’s why I find that kind of emotional connection so interesting to write about, and I get frustrated because it’s often just dismissed. My best female friend also had a huge influence on me, because we’ve been friends for years and we’re very different people, and that actually makes it easier for us to support each other when there’s a mess in someone’s life. So that’s why I knew immediately that Hob needed a best friend, and I wanted that best friend to be a woman because I wanted to show how powerful that kind of friendship is.
And I know one thing that got lost because I cut a ton of backstory off the front of Hunger Makes the Wolf is the conflict that gets sort of mentioned between Hob and Mag in relation to the preacher’s boy and Hob’s giant mistake—I think some people have misread that as being the same BS jealousy thing that I hate so much, because the detail is
lacking. But the conflict was that Hob was being really unsafe about this boy and Mag was worried about her in a way that Hob didn’t want to hear, and then Old Nick kind of manipulated that situation. Which is also something close to my own life experience, here you see your friend doing something that’s a really bad idea, and you try to tell them it’s a bad idea, and they don’t want to hear it.
LB: So, let’s wrap up with a couple more questions. Have you read anything lately that you’d recommend to readers of this column?
AW: I recently finished JY Yang’s novellas, The Red Threads of Fortune and The Black Tides of Heaven and they were excellent. (Full disclosure, J is one of my agent siblings.) I’ve also been on a real romance kick recently because I’ve needed something escapist, and I’ve been loving KJ Charles’s stuff. I just finished her Society of Gentlemen series and that was a lot of fun. Oh! And I’m finally reading James SA Corey’s Expanse series (I know) and I’m on the second book, Caliban’s War, which I’m enjoying a lot more than the first.
LB: What’s next for you after Blood Binds the Pack?
AW: I’m currently finishing up a rough draft for a scifi novel in a completely different world, so wish me luck on that. I’ve written a couple of virtual races for Six to Start’s Racelink and I’m incredibly excited to be working with them again. I think I’m allowed to talk about that since they’ve mentioned one of the races (it’s you vs a volcano) in email. :)
LB: Thank you, and absolutely good luck!
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.