James Young is a Missouri native who escaped small town life by attending the United States Military Academy. After being set free from the Hudson River Valley, Mr. Young spent the next six years of his life in the Army repaying his education the proverbial “nickel at a time.” Along the way he collected a loving, patient, beautiful spouse. . . and various animals that did not fit that description. Leaving the Republic’s employ, he returned to the Midwest to pursue his doctorate — a process which took twice the time planned but is finally concluded. Having now concluded two of the prerequisites to be a super villain, Dr. Young spends his time waiting for the inevitable origin story, winning writing awards (2016 United States Naval Institute Cyber Essay Contest Winner, among others), and writing an alternate history (Usurper’s War) and military space opera (Vergassy Chronicles) series. His latest book is Aries’ Red Sky, the first in a new Vergassy Universe trilogy.
You have a doctorate in history. What made you decide to branch out into fiction, especially science fiction books?
Ironically, I was a fiction writer well before I was a historian. Depending on who you ask (Mom claims 6, I claim 17 when I placed in my first story contest), I’ve been doing fiction for over 20 years.
Don’t get me wrong—I’ve always loved history. When I was little, I developed an interest in World War II that gradually branched out to other military history. When I left the Army, I had decided that I wanted to teach at the collegiate level, thus the entry into the Kansas State graduate program. Although teaching hasn’t happened for various reason, I am still glad that I finished the doctorate. The process taught me so much about writing, history, and different stories that lend themselves to flavoring the fiction.
Your dissertation is called Eagles, Ravens, and Other Birds of Prey. I’m curious how that applies to the field of history.
Please ignore the specter of my major advisor looming over me saying, “Told ya so!” My dissertation is on Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) doctrine, i.e., how the United States Air Force (USAF) planned to kick the proverbial door in after its experiences in Vietnam. The titular Eagle is the F-15 fighter, Raven the EF-111 electronic aircraft, and “other birds of prey” refers to the Air Force’s tendency to name air superiority fighters after raptors.
You write alternate history books, the Usurper’s War series, set just after the victory of Germany in the Second World War. For a historian, how much do you try to bring in accurate historical details to a fictional account of history?
I’ve always tried to keep the books as accurate as possible. For instance, even though the Germans are “winning” as Acts of War begins, as the universe progresses, certain historical factors will start to take hold just as they did in the original timeline. Numbers and production are things people can’t get away from in war.
What drew you to alternate history books in the first place?
I get this one a lot, and I really wish I could remember the first alternative history work I read. For most people, it’s Harry Turtledove, but the earliest I remember was Sir John Hackett’s World War: August 1985. Funny thing is, Hackett’s book was written more as a cautionary tale when it was published in 1979, but it was definitely “alternative history” by the time I read it in 1983 as it still referred to the Shah of Iran. Shortly thereafter, I happened upon the Cross Time Engineer-series and, given my love of history and the Mongols, ended up hooked.
Where does the name Usurper’s War come from?
Not to spoil too much, but Edward VIII ends up illegitimately on the English throne after Germany wins the Second Battle of Britain. The remainder of the Commonwealth considers him a Usurper, while the anti-Roosevelt American press uses this term as an epithet highlighting that the conflict is not the U.S.’s problem.
You served six years in the army after graduating from West Point. Did that have an effect on the details of your writing, particularly its military elements?
The benefit of the Army time was that I got exposed to a lot of leadership examples both good and bad. I also got to see how what Clausewitz dubbed “friction” occurs. I try to carry that over into my writing, along with the fact that one can do everything right and still get hosed.
Besides writing alternative fiction, you write a space opera series, the Vergassy Chronicles. Tell us about those books.
So far there are two books in the series, Aries’ Red Sky and An Unproven Concept. Chronologically, Aries’ (3035) comes before Concept (3050), but in order of publication it is Concept (2013) then Aries’ (2018).
Concept was my first full length novel, and was an expansion of a short story that received Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Science Fiction “Writers of the Future” contest. In effect, it’s a first contact gone wrong where the starliner Titanic (only the second vessel to have the name for obvious reasons) violates interstellar law to go into unexplored space. Surprise, there’s aliens, and what ensues is a 1000 meter dungeon crawl that’s a mix of Battlestar Galactica, Halo, Robotech, and Aliens in tone and concept.
Aries’ is what happens when an author mentions character backstory events in passing and his fans harass him for more information. About 100 pages in, I realized I was really starting a prequel trilogy, so Aries’ Red Sky will be followed by Pyre of the Stars and Though Our Hulls Burn. All three novels will cover the arc of how the Spartan Republic eventually became subsumed by the Confederation of Man, Humanity’s current ruling government, over a 14-year period. As the initial novel, Aries’ introduces the reader to the reasons the Spartans basically open communications with a hail of railgun fire. It’s got good reviews so far, with several folks basically pointing out they don’t know who to root for between the two sides because both of them have a point.
You turn to songs to help your writing. How do you do that?
I find that music helps inspire me to find a mood. For the most part, I either go with soundtracks or heavy metal. The percentage varies based on which series I’m writing in.
You have a bunch of “consumers” of your books at your own home. Tell us about these fur babies, and what books most appeal to them.
Heh. Well we have two dogs, with our eldest (a Newfoundland / Labrador mix) having a bit of a paper fetish. Her companion, a Shepherd-mix, just likes to lick the books for some reason. I don’t think either has a particular preferred genre, just “accessible” and “on the floor.”
What authors most influenced your own writing?
If I had to rank the authors that I find myself going back to mentally, Tom Clancy, David Weber, David Drake, and the group comprising the pseudonyms Richard Austin and Jack McKinney are the most similar. I was a huge fan of the Guardians, the 1980s post-apocalyptic fiction, as well as the Robotech novelizations. However, Pat Frank (Alas, Babylon) was one I read quite often as a kid, so he’s certainly in there as well.
Thanks for giving me a chance to interview!
To learn more about James, visit the following sites: