Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Interview: Chris Nuttall (Part 3)

Welcome to what has become a tradition of The Update: the annual Chris Nuttall interview. Lets find out what is new with Chris:

Hello again, Chris. What have you been up to in your life since we last talked in 2014?

I’ve been very busy, really.  I’ve written three new Schooled In Magic books (Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings meets Lest Darkness Fall), a complete second trilogy of Ark Royal books (Warspite, A Savage War of Peace, A Small Colonial War) and several others.

And I’ve had a son <grin>.  Eric is approaching his first birthday now.

Congrats on becoming a Dad. How do you balance writing and your responsibilities as a parent?

With great difficultly.  I still try to write 9000 words a day, but I also try to spend time with him and managing the house.  I’m very glad I work from home.

What is your new book, Storm Front (Twilight Of The Gods I), about?

A Nazi Civil War.

Basically, in this universe, Hitler never declared war on the United States.  By now (1985), we have a cold war between the North Atlantic Alliance (a NATO-analogue) and the Third Reich, which stretches from Dunkirk to Kamchatka.  There hasn't been a second war because it would turn nuclear and destroy the world.  But cracks are appearing in the Reich and the economy is starting to collapse, leading to an eventual civil war.

What inspired you to write Storm Front?

The original idea came from an outline of Hitler’s war aims in Visions of Victory.  Many of his concepts were frankly absurd - he thought New Zealanders lived in trees - but he did have a fairly solid (and hellish) plan for what he intended to do in Europe after winning the war.  Entire nations would be crushed and erased from existence, or turned into nothing better than labour camps for the Reich.  I was curious enough to read further and started outlining what would have happened if Hitler had actually won control of the continent.  The sheer level of horror the Nazis would have unleashed is hard to imagine.

Not just, I should add, in terms of the holocaust and slavery.  The Nazis didn't quite see women as being only fit for cooking, cleaning and child-bearing, but they certainly got very close to it.  A young girl growing up in the Reich would have marginally more freedom than a girl growing up under the Taliban.  She certainly wouldn't be expected to do more than marry a German man (of the right bloodlines, naturally) and have his children.  The children themselves, meanwhile, would be taught Nazi propaganda instead of how to actually think.  They’d be brutalised if they dared show a flicker of independent thought.  And these kids would grow up absorbing the lesson that might made right - hell, they’d see Hitler’s nutty racial theories as being proven by the outcome of the war.

Midway through the plotting, I realised that the Reich would run into economic trouble very quickly.  Yes, the Germans had an unsurpassed reputation for technological innovation during the war, but most of their scientists and engineers were trained during the years prior to 1933, when Hitler assumed power.  I suspect a decade of being forced to swallow and regurgitate Nazi theories on science and suchlike (they originally dismissed nuclear research as Jewish science) would destroy their future great minds and the United States would race ahead, as it did in OTL.  Indeed, there would be more impetus for the US to race ahead because the Nazis would look far more threatening than the Russians.

So I reasoned, eventually, that something would have to break.

Historically, of course, the closest analogue would be the Fall of the Soviet Union, a comparison Turtledove makes in one of his books.  However, I have a feeling that the Reich would not collapse so easily.  Hard-liners would insist they could tighten their belts and carry on, while soft-liners would see the need to make political reforms ... which the hard-liners would see as threatening to their power.  So any counterpart of the attempted coup in Moscow might end very badly.

In the book, of course, this would lead directly to civil war.

Does Storm Front have a lot of parallels with how the Soviet Union fell in our timeline?

Not that many, I think - there’s a strong similarity in how the economy simply couldn't keep up with the demands of the cold war (and an Afghanistan analogue in South Africa) but there’s no slow erosion of the ruling class’s confidence that led to Gorbachov and eventually Yeltsin.  It actually has more in common with Libya, although Nazi Germany is a very different kettle of fish.

What was the greatest challenge in writing the book?

Making the characters sympathetic, even though they’re German Nazis.

Think about it.  Anyone raised in that sort of environment is going to be a little unpleasant by our standards.  They’re raised to hate Jews, for example, although their mental image of Jews bears no relationship at all to reality.  (Turtledove’s concept of a group of Jews surviving in the middle of Berlin is actually quite possible, as long as they’re careful.)  They see Untermensch (Subhumans) as ... well, Subhumans.  Even the most progressive of them doesn't treat any unfortunate ‘guest-worker’ any better than black slaves were treated in the CSA.  The men, in particular, are taught to protect German women, but not to consider them equals.  The idea that a woman should control her own destiny is alien to them.

Gudrun, our heroine, is pretty much a rebel by their standards.  Her policeman father, by contrast, genuinely loves her (and the rest of his family) but he doesn't understand her and doesn't see anything wrong with organising her marriage to someone of his choice.  He was reluctant to allow her to attend the university - he argues that no one would hire a woman for anything serious and he does have a point -  and could withdraw her at any moment ... and no one would object.  He’s the master of the house, as far as the Reich is concerned.  To us, he would be a monster; to them, he’s actually a far more tolerant father than many others.

One might argue that Gudrun, Horst and the other heroes are a little self-centered.  There’s some truth in that, because even the brightest amongst them have been shaped by the Reich.  But when they open their eyes, they start seeing their world in all its horror.

Who designed the cover?

Brad Fraunfelter (www.BFillustration.com).  He’s also responsible for the Schooled in Magic covers.

Any new projects in the works?

I’m currently planning the start of a third Ark Royal trilogy, starting with Vanguard.  After that, I have a fourth Royal Sorceress book to write (steampunk meets alternate history) and a twelfth The Empire’s Corps book.  And there are two more Twilight of the Gods being planned.

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