Buy F&SF • Read F&SF • Contact F&SF • Advertise In F&SF • Blog • Forum • RSS

Interview: Brian Trent on “The Monsters of Olympus Mons”

Author photo of Brian TrentF&SF: How do you describe this story to people?

BT: Three robots fashioned to resemble Martian cryptozoological legends get embroiled in a quest to remove a fascist flag from the cone summit of the largest volcano in the solar system. The story examines questions of consciousness, propaganda, and what a “monster” really is.

F&SF: What inspired or prompted you to write “The Monsters of Olympus Mons”?

BT: Some years back on a trip to Japan, I made a nighttime ascent of Mount Fuji. Once you’re above the tree-line, it’s a completely lifeless terrain of volcanic rock and scree. At certain points, you literally walk through clouds. I was several thousand feet up, stopping for a sip from my canteen, when I was struck with something like an enchantment: the barren volcanic slope illuminated by a pale moon, a lake of silver mist directly below me, and the sight of distant flashlights (from other hikers) slowly zig-zagging up the trail. In that moment, it was easy to imagine I was on another world; I immediately thought of Olympus Mons—itself a volcano—and how one day human colonists will attempt to scale it.

Flash forward to 2015. A conspiracy theory blows through the Internet (because that’s apparently what the Internet exists for) surrounding NASA photos of Mars. The Curiosity rover captured images of what could vaguely resemble a lizard… if you squint really hard and let imagination hijack your eyes. It’s not the first time Martian rocks have caused controversy—from the “face” at Cydonia to the Martian meteorites believed by some to contain fossilized bacteria. But I found the “lizard-or-pareidolia” debate particularly intriguing because it suggested the inception of a new folklore. I mean, here on Earth there are stories of trolls and dragons, which in the modern world became stories of Bigfoot and Ogopogo and the like. We have yet to set a human on the Red Planet, and that tradition is already continuing!

These inspirations fueled “The Monsters of Olympus Mons.” I created a folklore for the colonists of the story, including a Martian lizard-like creature and two other entities. Together, they took control of the story, and steered it into unusual places.

F&SF: How is this story personal for you?

“The Monsters of Olympus Mons” is some of the most fun I’ve had writing a story. It naturally unfurled into a large canvas that let me do a lot: it has a big cast (three main characters who are arguably six main characters, along with a villain) and so required a delicate balancing of narrative threads. It also demanded a careful approach to character development, as is the case with ensemble pieces: you want the reader to identify who is who, not only by descriptors but by language patterns. An additional challenge had to do with the villain, Commander Kleve. He’s a vicious individual and unquestionably the antagonist, but I needed to provide him the depth that all characters deserve.

The most enjoyable part of writing “The Monsters of Olympus Mons” was that I got to tackle a variety of topics: cryptozoology, artificial intelligence, propaganda, war, identity, and the future of myth.

And here’s a confession: when I was about ten-years-old, I wanted to be a cryptozoologist. Seriously. I read every book, article, and eyewitness report like a young Fox Mulder in training. This was before I discovered scientific rationalism, but the result was that I became intimately familiar with the subject, so I peppered “The Monsters of Olympus Mons” with lots of Easter Eggs that anyone with even a passing interest in cryptozoology will pick up on.

F&SF: You’ve published a lot of stories in F&SF (“Death on the Nefertem Express,” “Crash Site,” “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone,” “Last of the Sharkspeakers,” maybe even “The Memorybox Vultures”) that all seem to be part of the same richly imagined future? Can you give us a brief overview of that future and describe where “The Monsters of Olympus Mons” fits in?

BT: Those stories are part of my “War Hero” universe, which chronicle humanity’s gradual ascent to the stars. Even “The Memorybox Vultures”—which is set about twenty years from now—introduces technologies which grow and develop in later tales.

I liked the idea of writing individual stories that highlight different points of a future history. Robert E. Howard did this in a fantasy vein for his Conan stories—each story examines a different time in Conan’s life, so you see him as a hot-headed youth and then as an older, world-weary king, and plenty of times in between.

My “War Hero” universe takes a similar approach. The stories are written to stand entirely on their own—you can read “Death on the Nefertem Express” and enjoy it as a playful mystery. But the main character of “Death on the Nefertem Express” (Jolene Fort) is referenced in other stories, and some of her exploits appear as headlines in the newsfeeds we glimpse. For example, the events of “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone” are directly continued in “Crash-Site” and involve many of the same characters. At the end of “Crash-Site,” there’s a passing reference to a “high profile heist of an orbital vault”—it’s just a tiny detail, but the story of that heist is told in “Breaking News Involving Space Pirates,” which features Jolene Fort, and is referenced again in “Death on the Nefertem Express” when a character accuses Fort of “breaking into Bradley Winterfig’s vault.”

Again, a casual reader doesn’t have to be concerned with all that. But the connections are there, and they form a consistent chronology.

In that larger meta-narrative, “The Monsters of Olympus Mons” is a pivotal story. It is set near the end of the Partisan War, which is the very war being fought in “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone.”

F&SF: How do you keep track of all the stories in this universe when you’re writing?

BT: In developing the chronology, I outlined some major events. Some of these I’ve already tackled, and some I will get to eventually. But often a story I didn’t plan will grow naturally from this tree. For example, in one story a character mentions that she used to work on Venus but “had to leave.” At the time, I had no idea why she had to leave; it was just a bit of implied backstory. It was only months later when I started wondering, “Why did she have to leave Venus? What the hell was she doing there?” that I came up with the story of what happened on Venus at that time, to that character.

In another instance, a story’s character rattles off a few of the alien races that are known to exist, including “the Cloud Kings on Tempest.” They’re just a name on the list, but their story is told in “Karma Among the Cloud Kings.”

My novel Ten Thousand Thunders and its pending sequel are the central narratives of this universe. Many of the other stories occur before, during, or after. In certain cases, like with “Last of the Sharkspeakers,” it’s set much later.

F&SF: What are you working on now?

BT: I’ve started an entirely new series of fantasy stories, set in an alternate history. I don’t like to get bogged down in one subject or style, and like to mix things up. Since I’ve been spending so much time in a fictional future, I thought it would be fun to write in a fictional past.

And speaking of alternate history, I have a speculative Cold War thriller entitled “Shadow Rook Red” which will be featured in the Weird World War III anthology from Baen Books this October.

You can find Brian Trent’s blog at briantrent.com

“The Monsters of Olympus Mons” appears in the July/August 2020 issue of F&SF.

Order a copy of this issue…

  • Paper: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm
  • Ebook: https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-july-august-2020/
  •  
    …or subscribe and never miss a single story!

    Print edition: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

    Ebook editions:

  • Weightless Books (all formats and available worldwide): https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-6-issue-subscription/
  • Amazon US (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/
  • Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O
  •  

    comments

    Leave a Reply

    If this is your first time leaving a comment, your comment may enter the moderation queue. If it doesn't appear right away, don't panic; it should show up once site administrators verify you're not a spambot. After you successfully post a comment, future comments will no longer be moderated.

    You must be logged in to post a comment.

    Copyright © 2006–2020 The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction • All Rights Reserved Worldwide
    Powered by WordPress • Theme based on Whitespace theme by Brian Gardner
    If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to sitemaster@fandsf.com.

    Designed by Rodger Turner and Hosted by:
    SF Site spot art