Alex Acks (aka Alex Wells) is a writer, geologist, In addition to short stories published in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Daily Science Fiction, Shimmer, Tor.com, and more, they released their first novel earlier this year—the space biker corporate thriller Hunger Makes the Wolf, which was as intriguing as it sounds.
Next February sees the release of the sequel to that book, Blood Binds the Pack, and today we’re showing off the cover art, featuring the work of Ignacio Lazcano. You can see it below the official summary, then stay with us for an interview with Alex, in which they discuss writing book one, the sequel, and the controversy over a certain article on the geological faults of the map of Middle Earth.
Join the fight for the people and power of Tanegawa’s World, in this exhilarating sequel to Hunger Makes the Wolf.
War is coming to Hob Ravani’s world. The company that holds it in monopoly, TransRift Inc, has at last found what they’re looking for–the source of the power that enables their Weathermen to rip holes in space and time, allowing the interstellar travel all of human society now takes for granted. And they will mine every last grain of it from Tanegawa’s World no matter the cost.
Since Hob Ravani used her witchy powers to pull a massive train job and destroy TransRift Inc’s control on this part of the planet, the Ghost Wolves aren’t just outlaws, they’re the resistance. Mag’s miner collective grows restless as TransRift pushes them ever harder to strip the world of its strange, blue mineral. Now Shige Rollins has returned with a new charge–Mr Yellow, the most advanced model of Weatherman, infused with the recovered mineral samples and made into something stranger, stronger, and deadlier than before. And Mr Yellow is very, very hungry.
And here is our Q&A with the author…
After a slate of shorter fiction, Hunger Makes the Wolf is your first novel. What was its genesis?
The novel started as a series of what I thought were short stories, about 7 years ago. I wrote the story that Mothership Zeta eventually published as “Fire in the Belly” in 2010, and then several more stories about Hob’s childhood after that… at which point my friends gently broke it to me that most of these weren’t really short stories. They were chapters of a novel, and I really just needed to sit down and write the damn novel already. I was a little resistant to the idea at first, mostly because I was stuck on the old, not-really-useful-any-more advice that the key to breaking into publishing was short stories… so I thought I had to write short stories, even though my heart’s always belonged to a much longer format. But after that, I finally gave in and wrote the whole thing over about a year and a half, and then spent the next four years editing it, refining it, and trying to sell it.
Your heart, as you say, was for longer formats. How was the adjustment to going to a full blown novel, given that your stories were really chapters? What else did you have to learn to write an entire book as book?
To a certain extent, going from writing short stories to writing novels is really difficult. I went from writing 10+ stories a year to finishing one novel, if I was lucky. (I’ve ramped my writing speed up enough to finish two a year now, which still doesn’t feel like much.) Everything takes longer with a novel. So when you’re used to the gratification of feeling like you’ve finished something, that can be difficult – and at times it feels like you’re running as fast as you can and going nowhere. The more technical side of it is learning how to string a plot together so that the chapters are all pieces of a coherent whole and you’re setting up things that will have a payoff a long time down the road. In a way, that was a much easier adjustment for me since I have always liked writing longer works. It was like being able to take a proper breath after being constrained for so long.
The novel had for me a distinctly science fantasy feel with Hob’s powers, and some revelations. What drew you to work in that blend of genres?
I can probably blame my love for space magic on Star Wars, though that’s a bit more space magical than Hunger Makes the Wolf, I think. In all honesty, I don’t particularly care for most really “hard” science fiction – look, I took two semesters of physics in college (plus intro to geophysics) because I had to for my major, and I really didn’t enjoy it at all. I don’t care that much about the nitty gritty details, and most of the hard scifi I tried to read growing up bored me to tears. But I love the aesthetic of science fiction, and the possibilities within it, and combining that with the sort of mysterious factor of magic is something I enjoy. This probably also explains my adoration for the video game Destiny, since that’s all space magic, all the time.
There is a strong theme of corporate control and the tension between corporations and workers. How did the history of unions influence your plotting and worldbuilding?
Well, to see why I have so many feelings about business interests versus workers, we don’t even have to look into the past – just see what’s happening to day with the class system we like to pretend doesn’t exist in the US. But I grew up in a union household, and to me a lot of our current problems can be traced to the unions being attacked and weakened severely from the 1950s onwards. Which then takes me back into the history of the labor movement, particularly the Gilded Age, because we see the repetition of that history in the modern. I also have an interest in local labor history, such as the Colorado Coal Field Wars of 1913 and 1914. You can see the influence of that in the book, because I’ve set up a situation where the workers are pretty much out of sight, out of mind to the vast majority of the population, and they’re completely in the power of the company. The history of unions doesn’t so much seem to be forgotten as willfully erased in this country, and it’s something we need to remind ourselves about. It’s important to continue to tell stories about the power that working people have when they can speak with one voice; we need to be reminded that it doesn’t have to be like this. The fight continues.
You made Tanegawa’s World a desert planet. Why an all desert planet and not, say, a planet that is forest from pole to pole? Why deserts?
I might have written a post about that for Tor.com… But beyond that, deserts are my favorite landforms. There’s a lot more variation to them than most people realize… and it’s a very different environment to grow up in. I remember explaining to an artist friend once how sunset in a desert looks really different from sunset in a humid environment. Everything feels different.
What real-world deserts did you use as geological and biome models for the land of Hunger Makes the Wolf?
I had a lot of environments we see in the western US in mind – particularly in Moab, Death Valley, the Bonneville Salt Flats, and Great Sand Dunes. I also looked at a lot of pictures of the Simpson Desert in Australia, when I realized that since I’d made my rocks black, the sands really ought to be orange due to the iron minerals.
Speaking of geology, you got a bit of internet notoriety for your takedown of the mountain geology of Tolkien’s world on Tor.com. What other well known fantasy worlds would you similarly tackle, if given a chance?
Oh lord. Well, I can tell you that all of the maps in World of Warcraft drive me batty, mostly because I played in those for years and I hate the random, player-funneling mountain ranges with a burning passion. But honestly, I couldn’t give you anything else off the top of my head for a couple of reasons. First, I generally don’t like fantasy maps, so I just don’t look at them any more. What I don’t look at can’t bother the crap out of me. And second, there’s a very specific reason I chose to talk about Tolkien’s map, and it’s not just the right angles of Mordor. Tolkien’s dead, and beyond caring if I don’t like the map that fronts all of his books. So I’d much rather talk about the problems I see there (which have been repeated and repeated and repeated in many other fantasy maps) than go after the map of someone who’s alive and can have their feelings hurt by my loving criticism. It’s become evident to me that no matter what tone I take in nitpicking something I love, some people are going to get offended or feel like I’m personally attacking them. With that in mind, I’d rather it not be a fellow writer, because man, I know how it is.
Let’s flip cartography around to a positive. Are there any maps you can think of where the geology and landscapes look like the author did their homework?
I actually love the map that N.K. Jemisin put at the beginning of The Stone Sky because she’s got all of her tectonic plate boundaries marked. There’s also a lovely map of the northern hemisphere of Arrakis [in Dune] where all the distances are noted by how many thumpers are needed, and I like that one very much as well.
What’s next up for you, in terms of novels and anything else. Any more provocative articles in the works?
For novels, I’ve got Blood Binds the Pack, the sequel to Hunger Makes the Wolf, coming out at the beginning of February. I’m pretty excited because I just finished the copy edits on it, and I am in love with this book. Article-wise, I did say I was going to talk about Tolkien’s rivers, and I’m still going to do that once I get my asbestos undergarments back from the dry cleaners. (Or, in reality, once I’ve turned in all of the deadline-sensitive writing stuff that suddenly fell on my plate in September.)
Well that answer anticipates a question I had regarding any more provocations of Tolkenian cartography. I will certainly look forward to that, and very much so for Blood Binds the Pack. Thank you, Alex!