J.S. Morin, former engineer turned full-time science fiction/fantasy author, claims the title of “a creator of worlds and a destroyer of words.” He has loved exploring speculative fiction since childhood and now hopes his own stories will help influence a new generation of fantasy readers. After publishing his first book in 2013, he has gone on to complete three series on his own (sci-fi, epic fantasy, sci/fantasy) and one in collaboration with M.A. Larkin (sci-fi) for a total of 34 novels. Another collaboration with M.A. Larkin has produced four books in a new spinoff. Human Phase (April, 2018) is Jeff’s newest novel, which concludes the six-book science fiction Robot Geneticists series. You’ll find Jeff on JSMorin.com and on Facebook. Visit his Amazon author page where most of his first in series are free on Kindle.
In the post-apocalyptic world of the Robot Geneticists books, robots have been reconstructing life on Earth for 1000 years after an alien virus decimated the planet. They’re even close to successfully recreating humans… This is a unique take on the apocalyptic premise. What came first for you in developing the series: a character, a setting, the story idea?
It’s funny, because it’s nothing to do with the story I ended up telling. The original idea was a fully robotic society with an underground human-worshiping cult. They were going to successfully clone a baby but be clueless how to raise it. I’d have played the idea for comedy. But the more I tugged and fluffed the idea, it became clear that I didn’t like incompetent robots, I wanted an older human child, someone with some agency to humanize the story. The experimental escapee Eve14 was born from there. I backfilled the world to get to that point.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The biggest challenge was to convey humanity through robots that no longer had the normal human sensations or biological reactions. Hearts no longer quickened, sweat didn’t bead on brows. These were computerized minds with human memories, and those reactions that the reader needed to relate to had to be both completely electro-mechanical and relatable to similar human reactions. Pain became error warnings, worry a loop of worst-case simulations, etc.
Tell us a little about your main characters.
Let me start with the counter-example. Charlie7, as the 1(a) main character, was meant to be enigmatic, awe-inspiring, and aspirational. As a reader, you’re meant to step back and look at Charlie7 as something humanity might once have feared. Turned loose in a fully populated Earth, he had the power to be a bigger threat than SkyNet. Eve14, as protagonist 1(b), wasn’t quite a blank slate, but she was close. Everything outside her lab was new and both fascinating and slightly frightening. You get to see her smell her first wildflowers, taste her first fresh fruit, scan computer entries of her species’ history that had been concealed from her—our history, the legacy of extinct humans.
What was the most difficult aspect of world building for the series?
I needed to build a society from scratch considering the raw materials my setting provided. Dictatorship seemed trite. Monarchy inappropriate. Charlie7 wasn’t the most democratic-minded of men when he was Charles Truman. That’s when I realized that a coven of scientists would most likely devolve into an academic bureaucracy of committees, authority via reputation, and back-door favor trading combined with crony favoritism.
You published all six of the Robot Geneticists books during a 12-month period from 2017-2018. How did you accomplish such a potentially overwhelming task?
I took a bit longer in the planning phase for this series. I spent a full month on preparation and outlining. From there, though, it was downhill. I was never not writing or editing, so as a full-time writer, the number of words over that period wasn’t so daunting. In fact, I was working in parallel on Black Ocean at the time, writing the last few missions of that series. Editing, cover design, and all the background work goes on in parallel. If I’m writing book 4 of a series, book 3 is probably in my editor’s hands.
In a recent blogpost, you mention you’re hoping for an on-screen adaptation of your 16-book Black Ocean space opera/fantasy series. What is it about the series that would make for a great adaptation? When you write, does the story play out in your mind like scenes in a movie?
The concept for Black Ocean was born out of a re-watching of Firefly. I got to the end (again) and was thinking “why hasn’t anyone else filled this gap?” Small ship. Small crew. Wrong side of the law. Since I asked that question, we’ve seen Dark Matter and The Expanse, but at the time, a light went on in my head. I could write the series I wanted. I came up with my own cobbled ship and scoundrel crew and turned them loose in a brand new universe where the softer side of sci-fi (FTL, universal translators, artificial gravity) was unapologetically just magic. But as I was writing Black Ocean, I was writing it to also keep the pacing and vibe of a serialized TV drama. It was written to feel like novelized television, so adapting it back to its spiritual origins seemed like a natural progression. As for how I envision scenes when I write, it’s slapdash. Sometimes I have a great sense for the visuals going in, other times it’s snippets of conversation that I build around. It would be a hell of a lot easier if I had it nailed down to one method, but that’s just not how it works for me.
M.A. Larkin collaborated with you on the five-book Sins of Angels series. Now books three and four of another collaboration with Matt (Astral Prime, a Black Ocean spinoff) are ready for pre-order. How do you split the “duties” of putting the books together? What strengths do you each bring to the projects?
It starts with planning sessions on video chat. Kick ideas back and forth. Come up with concepts, plot, characters. Refine. Outline. Then when it’s time for the writing, we divide up the POV characters. Matt injects a lot of gravitas and epic scope into his writing, while I lean more toward the lighter, snarkier side. With my background in engineering, I do the technical editing for both of us, though. If there’s convoluted technobabble, chances are I either wrote or tweaked it.
You write in several speculative fiction genres including hard science fiction, space opera, epic fantasy, and one of the newest—sci-fantasy. Is there one genre you’re drawn to most when you write or read? Is there one you’d like to try writing but haven’t yet?
I’m one of the ones waiting (im)patiently for George R.R. Martin’s Winds of Winter and Patrick Rothfuss’s Doors of Stone. Epic fantasy was always my reading love. Big, meaty tomes that you can get into and read for weeks. I also love the sci-fi classics like Asimov and Niven. So pretty much hard sci-fi and epic fantasy. My space opera work is almost entirely inspired by TV and movie viewing as opposed to book series I’ve read. One of these days I’d like to write something purely comedic; maybe a spoof of some popular genre. I’ll get around to it, I’m sure, but I tend to pander to my fans since they pay my bills. Until I see evidence that it would sell, the comedy would just be for personal amusement.
Of the 35+ books you’ve written, which one did you enjoy writing the most, and which was the most challenging?
Throughout the first four Black Ocean missions, you hear about how great a pilot Carl is, but he only has a couple of opportunities to show it. In the fifth mission, Alien Racer, the crew essentially calls him out on his bragging and goad him into entering a reality holovid racing contest—think American Idol meets NASCAR in space. Between the racing scenes and the heist planned around the finale, I had a blast with it. As for most challenging, it has to be Firehurler (book one of the epic fantasy Twinborn Chronicles). I think everyone’s first book is going to be their biggest challenge. I set Firehurler aside (partially written) for 12 years before my wife read the early chapters and suggested I finish it. It was like uncorking a dam after that.
What writing projects are you working on now?
My current project is a Black Ocean spinoff featuring two characters from the original series, Esper and Kubu, who weren’t quite ready to ride off into the sunset. They form a mercenary duo of do-gooders trying to make the galaxy a better place. They’re the good thing that happens to bad people.