Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Getting to Know... Ulysses King (and Mark Beaulieu)

Tell us a bit about the creation of Ulysses King.

I started watching the classic Doctor Who serials and I began with Hartnell to see the beginning of the series.  I really liked the big ideas they had in those stories.  The special effects would often let the stories down, but if you could see past the low budget, you could see they had some really great ideas.  While working my way through Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, and Baker I started to really want to write those kinds of stories.  This was the impetus for Ulysses King.  However, I didn’t want to deal with time travel.  It could get too messy.  I also wanted a set of companions closer to what Hartnell had with Ian, Barbara, and Susan. I didn’t want to have those specific characters types, but I thought it was a pretty good starting point to have 4 people who served different roles. The know-it-all, a fighter, a scientist, and then Jake is along for the ride to be the guy that needs everything explained to him. 

Since I had ruled out time travel, I figured it could be more fun to go with alternate realities. This allows us to see any type of world the writer wants. For example, I’ve written 3 stories where the characters have traveled to a world that has lizard men, another where the Japanese took over the world after World War II, and an old west where the Aztecs are fighting a war in North America against the United States of America.   For the last two, I wanted to have a Godzilla-like creature fight Dr. Who and in the second I wanted werewolves in the old west.

I should mention I’m a big fan of alternate history literature.  I really liked Eric Flint’s 1632 and his 1812 books.  And even though I think the 1632 series loses something as it progresses, that first book is a great read. I’ve also enjoyed a number of Harry Turtledove’s books.  Thus, bringing in alternate realities plays to one of my interests.

Once I got to the alternate realities idea, I needed to flesh things out. The characters were set pretty quickly, and I’ll discuss that for question 2.  The toughest part was creating a ship like the TARDIS. How were they going to travel from reality to reality?  I had asked some friends what would be inconspicuous in today’s world and initially their ship was going to be an ATM or vending machine, but that never really grabbed me.  Ian Watson (who writes the great “Absolute Control” story in volume 1) recommended an antique store.  That seemed perfect to me. We could switch the knick knacks out based on what world they were on.  And it’s quirky. 

 Can you please fill us in on King's cast and crew?

Ulysses King is an Olympian. Olympus is the original Earth. He’s a professor from Olympus that ran the dissertation projects where students would study the effects of various factors on different worlds.  In simpler terms, each of the alternate realities is really a dissertation project.  Ulysses King created many of these worlds himself.  He’s currently on the run from Olympus because he has created a device, NotTA, that can carry more than one person at a time through foldspace to any point on any world.  Prior to NotTA’s creation, the Olympians either had to use Ascension Gates that can only connect one point of each reality to another and require large amounts of power or PDAs (Personal Delivery through Ascension) to travel from one world to another.  PDAs can only carry one person and some technologies don’t travel well through this method.

Ulysses also carries a green glass tuning fork that allows him to transfer commands between his mind and his PDA.  PDAs can do much more than simply help you travel and they look like electronic tablets (think iPad).

Pandora is our fighter.  While working out this character, I wanted someone like Emma Peel from the BBC Avengers.  She’s cold and has a dark sense of humor.  I’ve also thought Steed and Peel were sociopaths since they joke around the dead bodies of their former friends.  While Pandora isn’t a sociopath, having been brought up on an arena world she knows life is short and intends to fully enjoy it.  She has a sense of humor that the other characters don’t always get and is often times inappropriate.  She considers herself King’s bodyguard. Pandora feels she owes Ulysses a debt that needs to be repaid.  Ulysses is just happy to have her around, but doesn’t argue with her about her motivations.

Crystal was targeted for assassination in the first story (“Fire From Above’) by another Olympian named Darwin.  She gets saved, but due to the invention she had created, with the help of Darwin, she can’t go back to her original world for fear of being killed.  She’s a reluctant traveler.  She’ll lose herself in the moment and while working on technology, but she can be a bit petulant.  She’s also a prude as is very evident in Mark Bousquet’s story. 

Jake is a reporter that was going to interview Crystal about her invention.  He comes along because his life basically sucks and he sees this as his chance to do something worthwhile.  He’s a bit of an irritant to Ulysses and often questions Professor King concerning his attitudes toward other realities.  Crystal does this too, but Jake does it more.  Jake goes from schmuck to heroic and back to schmuck. 

What would be your vision for how King fits into the pantheon of pulp sci-fi?

This is a tough question for me since I’ve not read a ton of pulp.  Barry Reese’s The Rook got me reading new pulp.  While I’ve read John Carter, Conan, and Tarzan books, I haven’t read a ton of old pulp.  Though as a kid, Tarzan of the Apes changed the way I read books.  I only wanted good action stories. 

The above is an attempt to bail me out if I word this wrong. I’d say it fits in nicely with old style science fiction stories.  I think the plot drives most of the stories, but character development does happen.  This is particularly true for Crystal who doesn’t yet realize she’s not the first Crystal Lee to travel with Ulysses King. 

I also think Dr. Who and Sliders (though I’ve only seen a few episodes of Sliders and when they aired so I’m going by very limited memory here) have pulp elements and these stories fit nicely into a combo of those two genres.  

How did you pick the writers for the book?

Ian Watson and Mark Bousquet are people I’ve known for about 2 decades and they helped me create the concept.  They were both no brainers.  I was happy they were both interested.  While I’m supposed to be shilling my book here, if you haven’t read Mark Bousquet’s DREAMER’S SYNDROME, get it.  It’s excellent.  Now let me get back on topic, both are Dr. Who fans so having them write stories was a blessing.

Sean Taylor came along out of the blue.  I had answered some questions about my Blackthorn (White Rocket Books, e-book only) story and I mentioned I was in the early stages of this project and Sean said he wanted in.  I said yes. 

What can you tell us about the stories in this first volume?

“Fire From Above” by me introduces the characters and starts with the assassination attempt on Crystal Lee.  After that we get our first glimpse of Chancellor Darwin who believes in a survival of the fittest strategy.  He’s dropping asteroids on a lizard man planet.  I wanted to start with lizard men since it would immediately show the readers that we weren’t limited to human history.  Plus, The Silurians is the best Pertwee serial.  So this is my nod to that serial though the stories have nothing to do with each other.

“Her Troy to Burn” by Sean Taylor revolves around a civil war between two Olympian factions: the Darwinists and the Helpers.  It’s a really fun story where we get our first glimpse of how the different factions fight things out on other worlds (using what they consider to be lesser beings to do their dirty work of course). The characters get caught between two factions and meet a princess and a rebel that want to change the world.  There’s something special about the princess, but I’ll let you read the story.

“Absolute Control” by I.A. Watson introduces a faction that the Olympians don’t know exists.  The Controllers are basically our Daleks, but they’re undead, robotic, insect men.  Their mad creator wants to use them to control all of reality.  Ulysses King and company aren’t aware of this faction and thus are caught off guard by their appearance.  This story also provides some nice backstory for Pandora and Jake.  This was the first Ulysses King story I saw that wasn’t written by me and it blew me away. 

“The Nesting Dolls of Nova 6” by Mark Bousquet brings in the Hedonists.  This is a tougher one to explain without ruining it, but the Hedonists have set themselves up as gods on this planet and have set up a warped set of commandments.  This is the only story that doesn’t take place on an alternate Earth.  Nova 6 is another planet, thus it’s more advanced than the Earth Jake and Crystal come from.  I think the strength of this story is the dialogue between the characters and there’s some really important material for volume 2 in this story.  The plot is great, but Mark really nails the fun you can have with the interactions between the characters.  A very good job by Mark Bousquet.

What does the future hold for Ulysses King and his traveling companions?

In the more immediate future, Pro Se should be publishing the story “Dinosaurs and Nukes Don’t Mix” as a single shot.  This is basically my attempt to write a Godzilla vs Dr. Who story. 
In the fall, my story “Monsters in the Monastery” should be coming out in a werewolf anthology from Metahuman Press.  This is the story with the werewolves in the old west.

2015 will see the second volume of Ulysses King.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

Since I don’t have any of my own stuff to plug except the e-book version of Blackthorn ( I figure I’ll use this to shill books for my co-authors:

Ian Watson (who writes as I.A. Watson) has done a number of things, but I think I’ll push his Robin Hood books since that’s the first thing that comes to mind.  Here’s the link to the first one:

Sean Taylor’s done a number of things and here’s one I think of first when I think of his work: