These are just two of the countless stories from the human side of the Vyptellian War. To those on the frontlines and their families at home, why the war began is unimportant, forgotten when the first shot was fired. What matters is the survival of the species.
But after years of bloody conflict, the war’s end is closer than anyone realizes.
The Story Behind Green Zulu Five One
When I was briefly a sportswriter my favorite stories to write were profiles. The last question I always asked the person I was interviewing was this: What question do you wish I’d asked but didn’t. This gave them the chance to talk about their sponsors, coaches, teammates, or a cause they supported.
So, when preparing material to support the launch of Green Zulu Five One (and other stories from the Vyptellian War), I decided to interview myself and ask me the questions I’d hope someone would ask.
Where did the idea for Green Zulu Five One come from?
In August last year I was asked by writer and editor Tara Maya to contribute to the Space Jockey anthology, and I submitted a story about Tyko, a fifteen-year-old pilot whose call sign is Green Zulu Five One and who is fighting in a war against an alien race that started before he was born. The first reviewer of the anthology mentioned the story favorably and said he thought it would make a great opening chapter to a longer work. That got me to thinking about where Tyko’s story may lead.
But the book isn’t just about Tyko, is it?
No, Tyko’s story is just one of many, hence the subtitle “and other stories from the Vyptellian War.” Each chapter is essentially a short story about some event or aspect of the war; some characters appear in more than one chapter and some are one-offs. Tyko’s story arc is told over several chapters and is the longest, with that of battle-hardened Platoon Sergeant Siengha the second longest. Tyko and Siengha represent space and ground operations of humanity’s war against the Vyptellians.
I’ve read a couple books using this connected vignette format, most notably 3024AD: Short Stories Series One by DES Richard and Planks by SC Harrison, and wanted to try it for myself. It was fun but challenging because I was determined to keep the book short, less than 50,000 words, while still exploring as many aspects of the war as possible.
Tyko’s story arc has some similarities with Orson Scott Card’s Ender novels. Were they an influence?
No, I’ve actually never read any of Card’s work or seen the movie. There are a lot of influences on the stories, including some books and movies, but not those.
Okay, so what would you say influenced you in writing these stories?
For starters, a lot of real-world events. Growing up in the 1960s the war in Vietnam was never far from my consciousness, through hearing my parents talk about it to movies and the nightly news on TV. For the longest time as a kid I did not realize being at “peace” was an option and that’s something Tyko realizes at one point. We’re right back in that state of perpetual war, too.
I served twenty years in the U. S. Navy, starting out as an enlisted Sailor and then being commissioned as an officer, so certainly that is an influence in everything I do, not just writing. I was never in combat, but I was in uniform for the end of the Cold War, Bosnia, Desert Shield/Storm, 9/11 and the beginnings of Iraq II and Afghanistan.
Other influences on my writing are books like The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and Dispatches by Michael Herr; movies like Zulu, Three Kings, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket; and TV shows like Battlestar Galactica and Space: Above and Beyond — among others.
The cover is striking. How did it come to be?
I asked Norman Dixon Jr., who is the author of several excellent novels, to beta read the rough draft. In addition to giving me great feedback he offered to do the cover. Norm created the covers for his own books and is interested in branching out, doing cover work for hire. Working with him was wonderful and he created a very cool cover.
Your favorite character? Favorite chapter?
Ah, that’s a tough one — like which of your kids do you prefer? I like Tyko a lot but honestly Sergeant Siengha is probably my favorite. She was going to just be a one-off character, too, but after introducing her I realized there was more of her story I wanted to tell.
The people I asked to beta read the rough draft really liked the final chapter, “A Promise Kept,” which is good because it’s one of my favorite, too. “Three Minutes Out” is another chapter I like a lot; it was actually written after getting comments back from my awesome beta readers because I felt the book needed something with a little more action in the early chapters.
Any chance there will be more stories told from this sandbox?
I would never say never, but for now my thinking is probably not. My goals starting out were to do something fairly short that was a thought-provoking look at war, character-driven but with action sequences, too. I believe Green Zulu Five One (and other stories from the Vyptellian War) checks all those boxes.
But … if readers really like this book and ask for more, I know there are more stories to be told about this part of the galaxy, the war, and at least a few of these characters. So, again, never say never.