Interviews With The Fantastic
InterGalactic Interview With John Hemry ("Jack Campbell")
by Darrell Schweitzer
John Hemry (who writes as Jack Campbell), is a retired Lieutenant Commander of the U.S. Navy
specializing in military science fiction, though he has also written many stories dealing with
alternate history, time travel, and the occasional fantasy. He is the author of the New York
Times bestselling series The Lost Fleet and two spin-offs from that series (The Lost Fleet -
Beyond the Frontier and The Lost Stars), as well as the Stark's War and Paul Sinclair ("JAG in
Space") series. He has also published about thirty short stories (many of them in Analog
Magazine), and recently the stand-alone alternate history novella The Last Full Measure.
SCHWEITZER: First, give me some idea of who you are and what your background is. How
did you get drawn into writing science fiction, before you became Jack Campbell?
HEMRY: My first efforts at writing SF were in high school. The less said about them the
better, though I did actually submit one short story to Analog and got a nice rejection letter from
Ben Bova. I'd been reading SF since stumbling across The Mastermind of Mars in my
Elementary School library (ERB has earned his reputation as a famous gateway drug to SF and
Fantasy for the young). But at that point I lacked enough experience with writing and with life
to put together any good stories.
I didn't have much free time for the next twenty years or so, as first the Naval Academy and then
the Navy itself did its best to keep me fully occupied. But I accumulated a tremendous amount
of varied experiences, met a lot of different sorts of people, learned a lot about things I never
would have pursued on my own, and even picked up useful experience doing things like writing
assessments, intelligence reports, exercise scenarios, and editing similar work from others. (It
was in such a position that I learned the importance of copy-editing and proofing when a report
summarizing events in the Middle East was supposed to end with "the situation is unclear" but a
coworker of mine let it go out with the first two letters of "unclear" transposed. I don't
recommend ever doing that sort of thing unless you really enjoy negative attention.)
Finally, with the end of my naval career looming, my wife urged me to make a real effort to
write fiction again. I didn't have any firm ideas for a novel, so I started working on short fiction
and submitting it to every short fiction market I could find (which, in the early 1990s, were not
very numerous since e-magazines had yet to spring into existence). Like most such writers, I
accumulated many rejection slips, but since I was working on short fiction I could always write
something else, try something else, explore some new methods and ideas, and so on. The only
real feedback I got was from Stanley Schmidt, who deserves immense credit for all of the new
writers he has encouraged and brought along. Ironically, I sold my second story to Stan. My
first sale was fantasy, to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, and was a frustrated
attempt to break through by breaking the rules. MZB told people not to send her dragon stories.
I sent her a dragon story. She bought it. Soon afterwards, Stan bought a story I had written
about Mars probes. Both of those stories were satirical. After a long gap, I eventually sold a
third story (a serious one), this one also to Stan, and promptly joined SFWA just in time for the
last Worldcon in Baltimore.
At the Worldcon, I met another writer who introduced me to an editor from Ace. Eventually, I
realized I could ask her what Ace was looking for, and when she told me I said "I can do that!"
She gave me her card, I sent her the first chapters of what became Stark's War, and she offered
me a contract that set me on a path to primarily write SF and to also write a lot of
military-themed work. But the Navy had helped put me on that track already by exposing me to
so much engineering and science. You could say I learned to write SF on the deckplates.
SCHWEITZER: What you must have really learned on the deckplates is what kind of people
are in the military, how they behave in both routine and non-routine situations, and what the
military culture is like. One reason I have not tried to write "military" fiction is that I have not
been there and don't know those things. So, what are some of the common errors writers make in
this area? What sends up a red flag right away and tells you that the writer doesn't know what
he's talking about?
HEMRY: The most common error is in relationships between different ranks and rates, how
officers of different ranks interact and how they relate to the senior and junior enlisted. If you
haven't been there, it's hard to grasp how the relationships are so close and yet maintain a
certain distance. From the outside, those relationships can appear old-fashioned and rigid, but
handling them right is one of the keys to getting the job done, and one of the keys to writing
authentic military fiction.
There's also often a misunderstanding of the different roles and specialization. A lot of fiction
creates the idea that the senior officers are technical specialists who can run and fix the gear best
of anyone on the ship. Enlisted either don't exist or are just red shirts. The truth is that the
officers are (for the most part) generalists. Their job is to provide direction and coordination and
leadership. The technical specialists are the enlisted, and without the senior enlisted and their
wealth of knowledge and experience the military can't function. The original Star Trek mostly
got that right, with clear delineations between what Kirk, Spock and McCoy did, but still
over-emphasized those officers because it was a TV series. Later Treks completely lost it.
Logistics is a big issue than mainly gets noticed when it's not there. In the real world, things like
fuel and food and ammo drive a lot of decisions. Get rid of them, toss in magic technology that
eliminates the need to worry about them, and it warps (if you'll forgive the term) the story.
Civil/military relations can be presented in a cartoonish fashion rather than the realistic back and
forth and clashing of professional ethos that actually happens. Seven Days in May took
American civil/military relations to the extreme and did it right. Too much fiction handles
day-to-day civil/military relationships in ways that don't match reality.
And, if you haven't been there, it's hard to grasp just how mind-numbingly stupid the military
can be on a daily basis. Ridiculous rules, tossing out hard-earned lessons, commanders
obsessing over trivial issues, and so on. The Caine Mutiny got a lot of that right.
The last big mistake is when everything works. Nothing breaks just when you need it, no one
misunderstands an order, no one goofs off, the enemy does exactly what your plan calls for, and
you have just what you need. Murphy has a long and painful relationship with the military. Or,
as Clausewitz called it, friction. It's all simple, but all of the simple stuff is complicated.
SCHWEITZER: How do you avoid making such a story merely a transplanted navy story, set
HEMRY: I don't worry too much about a story seeming too maritime because when I do a
story, I'm placing it in the environment of the story. Space has a lot in common with the sea in
terms of being a hostile medium in which small ships cross great distances. It's different in that
while the sea actively tries to kill you, space is passive, waiting for the mistake that will doom
you. I think sailors will remain sailors, and many of the customs and systems developed for sea
travel will translate into space travel. Commanding officers (whatever they are called) will have
to wield a lot of power. Ships will have to be as self-sufficient as possible. Engineers will still
be engineers and think like engineers. When I wrote Lady Be Good, I was thinking of those old
movies about tramp freighters in the South Pacific in the 1920s or 1930s. A lot of things
translated well into space, because it's still about keeping old equipment running and trying to
assemble enough crew members by hook or by crook and trying to get enough profit off the
cargo to keep the ship going. Andre Norton did that, too, in her Solar Queen stories. But it will
still be different. I never use any historical situation as a direct import into a story set in space,
because space isn't like the sea or the air. Different traditions will evolve. Different ways of
thinking to deal with new situations. To use a silly example, in my Sinclair/JAG in space books,
there's a tradition of the New Year's fruitcake. On New Year's Day, every ship loads a fruitcake
into a firing tube and launches it into deep space, accompanied by solemn speeches and
ceremony. Nobody does that today, but it's the sort of thing you find in militaries, a counterpart
and a relief to the strain and formalities of day-to-day life.
SCHWEITZER: You sound very much like the late A. Bertram Chandler on this point, when he
said that a submarine is basically a spaceship, and that you can't write about life on a spaceship
without understanding sea-going ships and their routines. Have you read much of Chandler's
HEMRY: I have read a lot of Chandler's work, though it has been quite a while now. I think it
is true that the closest thing we have today to a long duration spaceship is a nuclear-powered
submarine. The designs of spaceships with engines jutting off on pylons (the stuff introduced by
Star Trek The Original Series) don't make a lot of sense in terms of engineering. Imagine the
stress on those pylons! Neither do the great big compartments. One irony of space travel is
likely to be that while space outside is infinite, space inside the ship is cramped. In that design
aspect, spaceships are very likely to be ships. More significantly, spaceships will be doing
exactly what ships have done for thousands of years - going out into a medium hostile to human
life, on their own for months and even years on long journeys where help may be very far away.
The customs and organization and systems which evolved to meet that challenge on ships will, I
think, also work to a great extent in space, though the exact technologies available will also have
SCHWEITZER: Another thought: The whole genre of military SF seems to carry a very
pessimistic assumption with it, that human nature will not change, and there will always be war.
It furthermore suggests that alien intelligences will have this in common with us. Would it be too
subversive to suggest, within the context of military SF, that there could be alternatives?
HEMRY: I guess I do buy into the concept that basic human nature won't change. It's
commented on in my writing, where characters will note (despairingly or resignedly or
occasionally laughingly) that humans never seem to learn from our mistakes. Certainly history
up to this point suggests that we have a very slow learning curve when it comes to armed
conflict. Yet we also have the ability to back away from going too far. From the 50s through the
80s one of the common features of future history was the imminence of a major nuclear war that
would at a minimum cause horrendous loss and possibly drive humanity to extinction. If not
nuclear, then someone would unleash some form of biowarfare that would annihilate humanity.
Yet we've stepped back from that. We've cut back drastically on nuclear weapons. We dodged
some serious crises, including one in the 1980s, without the nukes flying. I personally believe
that SF (and what is now called military SF) played a role in that. The official line during much
of that period was that nuclear war was survivable and possibly winnable. I've read official
studies from the 50s and 60s which treated nukes as simply bigger bombs, without regard to
fallout, EMP and other effects. But, in popular media, there was a drumbeat of alternative
visions. SF portrayed the impact of nuclear war in the starkest terms, giving mass audiences a
look at what could happen. On the Beach (and if that isn't military SF with its US nuclear sub
and all, what is?) is still an extremely powerful book and movie. The ending of Planet of the
Apes is now a cliché which is mocked, but in the late 60s it was a shocker. And in the 1980s,
when Reagan viewed The Day After it led him to resolve to pursue big reductions in nuclear
weapons, and even propose to Gorbachev that they be eliminated altogether. By presenting these
pessimistic views, SF made people think about what could happen, what might happen, and what
alternatives might exist. In official reality, everything always works as expected and no
problems appear. In good SF and military SF, reality intrudes in a way it often does not in real
military planning (and I can speak to that authoritatively). You could argue that military SF
provides a means of anticipating problems that can be foreseen. This is what could happen. Do
you really want to go there? My Stark's War series is my clearest example of that, written after
my last active duty tour, which was in the Pentagon. It looks at what trends in communications
and politicization of the military officer corps could cause in the way of extreme
micro-management and promotion of the well-connected rather than the competent. Maybe
there won't be wars a century from now. But if there are, it is a good thing that nonofficial
minds are considering what might happen.
For aliens, I think there are two general possibilities. One is that, like humans, something about
survival of the species and the development of intelligence also hardwires in some form of
organized aggression. It wouldn't necessarily be in the form that humans use. My alien race
called the Kicks, for example, are herbivore herd animals who take the reasonable-to-them
position that nothing must compete with the herd for resources, and any predator must be
eliminated before it can kill and eat members of the herd. My enigma race is motivated by what
seems to humans to be an irrational fear of anyone learning anything about them. The Dancers,
on the other hand, don't appear to be aggressive but have developed some extremely nasty
weapons to keep away species which are aggressive. That's the second possibility, that as long
as some species are aggressive, other species must at least prepare to defend themselves. Even a
pacifist wants to be able to lock their doors at night.
SCHWEITZER: Of course space war changes a lot of the usual assumptions. How do you
make the conflict plausible? If there is an infinity of planets, why fight over one? What resources
could possibly be worth the effort of interstellar warfare, or interstellar pillaging?
HEMRY: I think the plausibility of space war depends partly on the tech available, but only
partly. The sad truth of humanity is that we bow to few barriers when it comes to waging war.
World War I might be the best/worst example, a horrible conflict with millions dead which
started for not much of any reason and kept going because neither side would quit. We don't
need good reasons to fight, and as long as one side is determined to fight, the other side is stuck
with fighting back. But there are also plausible reasons for war. One is simply real estate, the
tendency to fight for territory even if it is not needed. But good real estate might be rare in
space. An earth-type planet might be worth a great deal. Sure, you might be able to terraform
another planet to earth-standards for the same amount of effort and cost you're putting into
trying to conquer an earth-type planet, but since when has that logic stopped us? Even if there
are plentiful habitable worlds and means of transportation that make them reachable, people are
likely to fight over them in the same way that we fight over everything. It might be about
resources, or politics, or religion, or "science" (since both the major threats of the 20th Century,
the Nazis and the Communists, claimed to have systems operating purely on the basis of
scientific principles). The questions will be what limits we place on ourselves in such fighting.
Will we destroy planets in order to save them? Or will we refrain from orbital bombardments so
as to keep the world intact while we try to wipe out our enemies upon it?
Or, will someone write stories that make us think about whether we want to fight such battles?
About what the consequences of such policies and such conflicts might be? And, if we're stuck
in one, do we keep mindlessly plowing ahead with another Big Push, or do we consider
SCHWEITZER: As for Star Trek design, presumably the pylons are made of balonium or
surrounded by a balonium field, which can stand the stresses. "Balonium" being defined as that
substance or field effect which suspends the laws of nature as needed for the plot. Otherwise I
think the idea is that if the engines blow, the saucer section of the Enterprise might survive. By
Next Generation, we are shown that the saucer section can actually separate under some
circumstances. Of course if the issue is radiation from the engines, one wonders about the health
and reproductive prowess of the engineering crew. One might be better off as a red shirt!
This does raise a serious question. Balonium. How do you write your way around things you
know to be impossible?
HEMRY: What's impossible? Seriously. I've had experts tell me that it was impossible to
weld titanium. The experts forgot to tell the Russians, though, so the Russians went ahead and
found out how to do it. I had a character say "everything is impossible if you don't do it right."
Once you start digging into things, a lot of stuff declared to be impossible was never actually
established as such, and many impossible things in the past are now standard practice. The
impossible is even enshrined in current physics, as in tunneling and entanglement. Finding out
how to do things once considered impossible is the trick.
That said, I try to keep the impossible to a minimum. Both FTL systems used in the Lost Fleet
books are consistent with current theory. Neither may actually work, but both could work based
on current assumptions. (And since Einstein never actually said FTL was impossible, and one
system is based on quantum entanglement which is inconsistent with Relativity anyway, there's
nothing impossible here.) That gives me FTL capability, but because of the nature of the
systems they only work between stars and isolate the ships from real space during the trip.
Inside star systems, everybody is limited to light speed for communications and all of their
sensors, and subject to escalating relativistic effects if they go up past a small fraction of light
speed. All of that reality doesn't just provide "mere corroborative detail intended to give artistic
verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative" by making the other stuff sound
more plausible, it also makes me write better by preventing me from resorting to technical deus
ex machina, and it brings home the vastness of space in ways that mere numbers of kilometers
could not. I do assume some things to simplify the story. For example, artificial gravity on the
ships. I wrote a series (the Sinclair/JAG in Space books) in which everyone was in freefall
except when thrusters and drives fired, and it's a major pain in the neck. Having everyone in
freefall requires a lot more writing just because no one simply walks or runs or stands there.
SCHWEITZER: At the very least, interstellar war would require very cheap and plentiful
interstellar travel, and almost infinite energy. Which brings us back to the question of what is
worth fighting for. World War I may have been pointless, but at least the armies could walk or
take the train a short distance to the front. It seems to me that a space war might be more like Fiji
Islanders in outriggers declaring war on Eskimos in kayaks.
HEMRY: Whenever anyone brings up the "how can that work?" question about interstellar
trade or war, my answer is always "apples." If you went back a thousand years and told the most
learned people in Europe that someday it would not only be possible to ship fresh apples and
other fruit from Australia and New Zealand to North America, but it would also be profitable to
do so, the first thing they would do is ask where all those places are. Once the geography was
explained, they would laugh at you. Journeys of that distance across open water? The voyages
would take years, they would require fleets of ships and thousands of sailors and soldiers, and
the losses of men and materiel would be huge. A round trip would be simply impossible even if
some ships survived the initial voyage. How could it be done at all? And apples? Can't they
grow apples in North America? Then how could anyone possibly make money by bringing
apples across such distances even if it were possible? And they would have been right in that
assessment given the technology, knowledge, industrial base, population and other factors in
existence a thousand years ago.
But today it is so routine to have fresh fruit from those places for sale in North American
supermarkets that it doesn't draw a second glance. And people do make money at it. No one
thing, no one invention, made that possible. It was centuries of progress and growth, hundreds
of different inventions and discoveries, the creation of markets and means that would have been
literally inconceivable a thousand years ago. Discussing instantaneously sending a message and
reply halfway around the world would have been consigned to fantasy and witchcraft.
Who knows what future centuries will bring? It took a long time for the advancement of science,
technology, nation-states, and so on to make open-ocean voyaging routine and fairly safe. For
thousands of years before that, sailors stuck to the coastal waters. Right now, we're pretty much
stuck in Near-Earth Orbit. Someday we'll have the means to go a lot farther, and come back,
and not break the bank doing it. It might take a few centuries yet, but history tells us that
scenario is plausible and maybe even probable.
And if we can trade, we can fight. If we can trade, history tells us we probably will fight.
SCHWEITZER: Isn't there some element in such fiction that we really do it for the spectacle of
planets blowing up and vast fleets of spaceships clashing - as in Doc Smith's day - and we come
up with a rationale after the fact? That is to say that "military SF" is driven by genre concerns,
not extrapolative ones?
HEMRY: All of that said, yes, part of military SF's allure is things blowing up. But the
bestseller lists are devoted to things blowing up. Criminal thrillers, near-future thrillers,
paranormal thrillers, legal thrillers, zombie thrillers. All you need to add is romance.
In truth, one of the main reasons I write military SF is because of those who serve and those who
haven't. A smaller and smaller percentage of Americans and other Westerners have ever served.
I don't want them getting their ideas of what the military is like from comics and cartoons. I
want them to know, as best as I can show it, what the people are like and what the life is like and
how it really is. I do that for those who serve as well, because from all I hear they appreciate it a
lot when someone gets it right and tells others.
Which is another one of those real things.
SCHWEITZER: Well if you write to give people a better idea of what the military is like,
wouldn't it be more effective to do it in fiction about the real, contemporary military? Why do it
in science fiction?
HEMRY: There are two basic reasons why I write it as SF. The first is that I believe there are
certain attributes of the military (and humanity) that stay relatively constant. There's a tendency,
more pronounced in recent decades, to declare the some new technology has "changed
everything." The new tech may alter tactics or strategy, but it doesn't change the basics. Our
soldiers in Afghanistan are doing tasks that would be familiar to members of the Roman legions
- patrolling roads, garrisoning lonely outposts, watching for ambushes, spending long hours
bored in between moments of terror, complaining about the food, etc. I've read a great many
first-hand accounts from history, and it convinces me that for every difference there is a
similarity. I want to explore how that works out in futuristic environments, showing how certain
aspects of the military will probably remain the same. The second reason is the classic SF
advantage, that it can address modern, contentious issues in a way that divorces them from
new-jerk reactions to current events. Gene Roddenberry said that Star Trek could do stories
about Vietnam at a time when no other program could, because the stories weren't set in
Vietnam but on other planets. To use a mixed metaphor, if you do a story about Iraq right now,
every potential reader automatically raises their shields based on their own experiences,
perceptions, politics and so on. But if you explore some of the issues about Iraq set in a different
place with different players, readers can approach it without those automatic reactions. I'm
looking at current issues, but by setting them elsewhere and elsewhen I can hopefully give a
fresh look at things readers may not have considered. I'm not interested in political polemics. I
just want to look at the role of certain things I consider important, things like a real sense of
honor (based not on how others treat you but on how you treat others) or how easy it is for a
person or a society to lose their moral bearings in a war, and do it in a way that both entertains
and maybe sometimes causes someone to think about things.
SCHWEITZER: You can raise some of the issues about Iraq in a story set on another planet,
but surely the most transient sort of SF story is the one which is really about the present only the
Somalis or Afghans or Vietnamese or whatever are green and have tails. This strikes me as
neither good political writing nor good science fiction. Would you agree or disagree?
HEMRY: I agree with you. If all you do is change the names, but the situation is otherwise
identical and easily recognized, then it is going to quickly be dated. (As in Clarke's 2010:
Odyssey Two, written in the 1980s, which opens with the US and the Soviet Union having a
confrontation over surrogates in Central America in 2010.) But that's true of any SF and any
literature. It is often painfully easy to identify a book written in the 1970s. The themes and
ways of writing are as dated as double-knit polyester leisure suits. Good writing addresses
current (and enduring) themes in ways that aren't obvious, which allows them to remain relevant
past the specific circumstances of the books' genesis. The Forever War is about Vietnam and
the draft-era US Army, but it's not just about those things. Starship Troopers is Heinlein's
Utopian vision of a society and a military that was written in reaction to social trends in the 60s
and the draft-era US Army, but it is still read and debated, and arouses strong feelings today.
(There are, come to think of it, an awful lot of books and stories written in negative reaction to
the draft-era US Army. I wonder how many people will recognize that another half-century
So, starting about eight years ago, I began a series about things like a war that has lasted decade
after decade, and the corrosive effects that has had on the military and the society it serves. I
discuss how over time previously unacceptable practices get adopted in the name of "winning"
or "defense" even though those practices don't seem to produce victory or safety, and may
undermine the very society they are supposedly defending. I write about good people who make
bad decisions for what they think are good reasons, and bad people who don't care about the
impact of their decisions on others. I write about leadership. It's about what has happened in the
past, and about what's happening, and it's about what may happen.
SCHWEITZER: So what happens if you want to write a book that is not about the military and
war? Is "military SF" now a ghetto within SF? Would your publishers let you get away with, say
futuristic domestic comedy? Or would you need yet another pseudonym?
HEMRY: Military SF is something of a ghetto, and oddly one that is perceived to lean right
even though military SF books span the political spectrum. I personally think it is an artificial
category, part marketing and part ghettoizing. No one ever talks about "military Westerns" or
"military fantasy" or "military romance" no matter how many battles are involved. Why is She
Wore a Yellow Ribbon just a Western while The Forever War is military SF? But, like space
opera but even more so, military SF is not considered quite respectable. I think that's ridiculous,
because I believe space opera in all its forms has always been the bread and butter of SF.
Literary SF may look down on it, but space opera sales are what subsidize the literary stuff.
I do have a series I am trying to sell which is not military SF. I call it steampunk with dragons,
which was a more revolutionary concept when I started trying to sell it than it now is. But, still,
it's not military SF, and it has been hard to find a publisher for it even though Jack Campbell has
been selling pretty well. I do think publishers (and readers) want to see their writers creating a
consistent body of work, regardless of genre, and writers tend to favor certain styles and stories.
No one would pick up a Dashiell Hammett book expecting a regency romance, and publishers
would probably shy away from such a product. But it can be frustrating to be typecast as a
writer, no matter the genre. But it's also a nice problem to have because it means you are
recognizable as a certain writer instead of a "who's that?" writer. In my case, my writing style is
consistent enough that I will try to stick to the recognizable name in any new work rather than
adopting extra sub-genre specific pen-names. My short fiction has covered a wide variety of
topics, including humor, fantasy and time travel.
SCHWEITZER: Do you see actual generic conventions in military SF, i.e. things which seem
to be in the books because readers expect them to be in that kind of book?
HEMRY: Because military SF covers such a wide range of works, I'm not sure many generic
conventions exist. There are plenty of stories with the officer who doesn't follow the rules but
works for a by-the-book superior (same as in lots and lots of police and detective stories), and
there are those in which the civilians are clueless and naive. After Vietnam, there were a lot of
stories about how wonderfully professional and superior mercenaries were compared to regular
military forces. The love affair with mercenaries was definitely a generic convention for a while,
a backlash against the draft-era US Army. If anything, I've deliberately gone against that
particular convention in my writing. One other convention that I think is fairly common is a
distrust of authority in general and the government in particular. That seems kind of odd in a
sub-genre dealing with militaries, but it is consistent with the usual American attitude toward
authority and the government, and anyone who has served knows what amazing stupidity higher
authority is capable of. I suppose another convention in military SF would be an individual
struggling against the system, but that's actually a convention in SF as a whole.
SCHWEITZER: On another subject, how did you suddenly turn into Jack Campbell?
HEMRY: Jack Campbell was born of the mid-list death spiral with which all too many writers
are familiar. My first series sold okay. My second series (the Sinclair/JAG in space books) was
well received by those who read them, but too few people gave the first couple of books a try.
By the time the last two came out the big chain bookstores were ordering practically no copies,
and the books were doomed before release. Both my editor and my agent said I needed a new
name to give my next series a chance. It worked. Dauntless sold alright, then better, and has
kept growing, as have the rest of the books. Without the name change, I probably wouldn't have
gotten published again.
SCHWEITZER: As for the Barnes & Noble death-spiral, effectively you changed your byline
to fool, not even a human buyer, but a computer. Suppose they'd just repackaged your books
differently, but retained your byline and it had been gone through a system run by actual
humans? If your books are not ordered, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, is it not? Suppose
Dauntless had been published under your real name, but an actual human being had been able to
make a decision, "This looks different. It is packaged differently. It should do well. Let's order a
lot of these and promote them."
HEMRY: Back when I shifted to the Jack Campbell name it was Borders as well as B&N ("but
that was yesterday, and yesterday's gone" along with Borders). The odd thing was that all of the
people knew that Jack Campbell was John G. Hemry. B&N did a company review of Dauntless
in which the reviewer noted that. Humans were aware, but despite knowing the faults of the
software it was still allowed to do its thing, and instead of fixing the software people just worked
around it ("we know who you are and why you need to do this, wink, wink, nudge, nudge").
That was people overriding the software indirectly by being participants in the deception, even
though they couldn't directly overrule the software because of company policy. I agree that was
extra steps and inefficient and all, but any human organization seems to sooner or later reach a
point where it continues to function only because knowledgeable people are deliberately
subverting the imposed-from-on-high rules and regulations that would otherwise strangle it.
SCHWEITZER: So, what are you working on now?
HEMRY: Right now I'm working on the next Lost Stars book, since I just finished the next Lost
Fleet - Beyond the Frontier book (Steadfast). Lost Stars - Perilous Shield comes out in early
October. My alternate history American Civil War novella The Last Full Measure was just
published by Subterranean. And, as mentioned above, I have a steampunk series which my
agent is shopping around.
SCHWEITZER: Thanks, John.