This week we welcome author Joe Zieja to Geek Speaks…Fiction! Barnes and Noble has compared Joe’s new novel, Mechanical Failure, to Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a fun mix of science fiction and humor. Be sure to check it out!
God I love being a geek. This doesn’t really have any bearing on the rest of this article; I just wanted to get it out in the open. If there’s one thing that gives you license to explore your imagination in unconventional and interesting ways, it’s being a geek. And there’s no better time to be a geek than when writing a science fiction novel.
But geeking out can mean a lot of different things. While I was writing Mechanical Failure, I have to admit that there wasn’t a whole lot of research involved. First of all, it tap-dances on the fine line between satire and farce; I wasn’t particularly concerned with astrophysics and quantum theory. I just made up faster-than-light travel and called it “Un Space” because it was funny. I called large explosive warheads “boominite” because it’s fun to say out loud. So despite these things being very interesting to me, I didn’t actually get to “geek out” that much over the scientific particulars.
In book 3 of the trilogy, which I’m currently plotting, I did have to do a bunch of really geeky research on supermassive black holes to see how plausible it was to blow one up.
It’s not. Will that prevent me from doing it? Probably not.
I can’t even say that I really geeked out over military stuff. Having been in the military for most of my adult life–and having spent a lot of that adult life trying to find something else to do–it’s hard for me to really get super excited about bureaucracy. Yay for staff summary sheets and chains of command! Oooh, a Powerpoint presentation? ONE THAT HAS ANIMATED WORD BUILDS?! I can die happy!
Yeah, no. But what was incredibly satisfying was loading a bunch of jokes into a cannon and firing them indiscriminately at all of those things. I finally got a chance to be silly and ridiculous. I got to take all of those jokes that make my wife roll her eyes and yell “WHY, GOD, WHY?” and put them on paper for public consumption.
I didn’t really think you could geek out over humor until I wrote a humor book. I’m still not 100% sure you can; I can’t tell if what I was doing was geeking out or just catharsis after being involved in the machinations of the government for so long. But to me, part of geeking out is throwing away all the things that tell you you should be doing something else (like washing the dog or philanthropy) and focusing on what brings you an irrational amount of joy. For some people, at some times, that could be reading about WWII airplanes or painting wargaming miniatures. For me, that was making fun of my former colleagues and writing down every kind of joke I could think of.
It wasn’t just about trying to be funny; it was about breaking conventions, doing things that I wasn’t supposed to do because it doesn’t sell books. It was about doing something that brought me an irrational amount of joy and then hoping my agent/editor liked it too. It was about using a pun or two and not caring that I’ll probably have to change my name and move to Argentina because people will want to kill me for them. It was about modulating my voice while I was narrating the droid portions of audiobook–and not selling the audio rights until I found a company willing to allow me to do it–because it was funnier.
It was geeking out over doing whatever I thought would make a person giggle here or there. I had spent so much of my (pre-published) writing career drafting these massive, dark tomes of epic fantasy that were derivative and unimaginative, because I was refusing to allow myself to geek out over something I’ve always loved–laughing, and making other people laugh in unexpected ways.
I mean, please buy my epic fantasy books if/when I write them in the future, because I promise they’ll be good.
But I also promise there’ll be a joke or two in there that will make you laugh. Because, sometimes, that’s how I geek out.
About Mechanical Failure:
A smooth-talking ex-sergeant, accustomed to an easygoing peacetime military, unexpectedly re-joins the fleet and finds soldiers preparing for the strangest thing—war.
The two hundred years’ (and counting) peace is a time of tranquility that hasn’t been seen since…well, never. Mankind in the Galactic Age had finally conquered war, so what was left for the military to do but drink and barbecue? That’s the kind of military that Sergeant R. Wilson Rogers lived in before he left the fleet to become a smuggler.
But it turns out that smuggling is hard. Like getting-arrested-for-dealing-with-pirates-and-forced-back-into-service kind of hard. It doesn’t seem so bad—the military was a perpetual tiki party anyway—but when Rogers returns after only a year away, something has changed. These are soldiers—actual soldiers doing actual soldier things like preparing for a war that Rogers is sure doesn’t exist. Rogers vows to put a stop to all this nonsense—even if it means doing actual work.
With an experienced ear for military double-speak, Zieja has created a remarkable and sarcastic adventure.
About Joe Zieja:
Joe Zieja is an author with a long history of doing things that have almost nothing to do with writing at all. A graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, Joe dedicated over a decade of his life to wearing The Uniform, marching around in circles and shouting commands at people while in turn having commands shouted at him. It was both a great deal of fun and a great nuisance, and he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Joe’s also a commercial voiceover artist and a composer of music for video games and commercials. He’s probably interrupted your Spotify playlist at least once to encourage you to click on the banner below and isn’t the least bit upset that you ignored him.