We love a whole lot of books! Not all of which have hit full-on fandom levels yet, but we think they should! Therefore, we’re making it our goal to introduce you to these books and their authors. Check out our exclusive interview with Dan Wells, author of the dystopian science fiction novel, PARTIALS.
1. You don’t see many thrillers or science fiction books geared toward Young Adult audiences, so what made you decide to take that route?
I’ve been reading thrillers and science fiction since I was kid, back before YA was a thing–libraries had “childrens” and “everything else,” and I didn’t want to read kids books so I found the next best thing, which was science fiction. That was I grew up with, and I’ve always loved it, so when I started writing that’s naturally what I tended to write. Also, I’ve always thought that “you don’t see much of X” is the best possible reason to make more X.
2. We love the use of science in PARTIALS. Were you ever given any flack from people who worried younger audiences wouldn’t care for that element of the story?
Never, which is great. The publisher, and my agent and editors, were behind the idea from the beginning; they were actually excited that I was making it so much more science-y than a lot of other YA books out there. And the response from readers has been excellent: people who aren’t as interested in the science still like the book for the story and the characters. We really tried hard to make sure there was something for everyone.
3. How much research was involved in the creation of PARTIALS?
A lot–I had to research genetics, virology, pheromones, geography, and decay. Most of my research time was spent on the last one: what happens to the world when we’re not around to take care of all the stuff we’ve built? What would fall apart, and in what ways? What would happen to our houses, cars, and buildings? Where could people find food? It was a lot of fun to figure out what the world would look like, and how people could survive in it.
4. There’s a strong political undertone throughout the story. Were you inspired by any real political movements while designing the political forces?
Not so much political movements as my own political questions. We’re going through a lot of very real, very scary political things right now in America, with a government that’s making what I consider some incredibly questionable decisions, and the politics in PARTIALS was my chance to work through those, from both sides of the issue. How do you respond to a government that lies to you? Is violent revolution ever justified? Most of us would say no, but our nation BEGAN with a revolution; it’s a part of our heritage. And from the governments point of view, is a lying to the people ever justified? When you’re dealing with the very real threat of human extinction, a lot of things we’d consider immoral–deception, oppression, and more–might very well become not only moral but necessary. The mantra my editor and I kept in the back of our heads throughout the process was “there are no mustache-twirling villains.” Nobody in PARTIALS is evil, they just have different, and sometimes very contradictory, ways of dealing with their problems.
5. What made you decide to write a story with a strong female protagonist in a genre that is typically dominated by male characters?
Like I said earlier, sometimes not seeing much of something is the best possible reason to do more of it. Being a guy, I grew up surrounded by heroes and role models: Luke and Han, Batman and Spider-man, Frodo and Sam, Indiana Jones, and on and on and on. I could see myself as the hero in any story I wanted. Now that I’m married to a wonderful wife and have two amazing daughters, I can recognize that they don’t have it quite as easy. Yes, there are plenty of great female role models in fiction–Hermione, Leia, Katniss, and more–but they’re not as prevalent, and I could tell that the difference was having an impact. One day I was watching an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, the one with a female captain, and my daughter laughed and said “that’s silly, girls can’t be captains.” I knew that I had to do something to change that attitude, and the best way to do it was to give my daughter the best female role model I could.
6. Were any of your characters based off a popular icon or someone you know?
There are two minor characters in the Manhattan sequence of the book named Nick and Steve–or Skinny and Scruffy, as Kira calls them. Nick and Steve are friends of mine, and I put them into every book I write: Steve always lives and Nick always dies. I don’t know why, it just amuses me.
7. In your book, medical science and robot-based technology have both advanced so much that it actually destroys human society. Do you think there’s a possibility that at least one of these things could happen in the distant future?
On one hand, scientists are bending over backwards to find new ways of destroying the world. There was a very high-profile story just this year about a group of scientists studying flu viruses, who created a strain of flu so deadly and contagious the government initially prohibited them from even publishing their study. (Another great example, by the way, of a government using oppression in what it feels is a necessary and moral way.) On the other hand, people have been terrified of doomsday science for centuries, and we’ve always come through just fine. Before it was plagues it was nuclear bombs, and before that it was a hundred other things–people literally used to believe that trains would move so fast they would strip the skin from passengers’ bones. We’re always afraid of whatever’s new, and then we always manage to wrestle it down and control it, and we move on to the next scary new thing. Part of science fiction’s job is to show us how bad the future can be when we use our intelligence poorly, and how great the future can be when we use it right.
8. Was it difficult to create characters that feel and act like humans, but aren’t exactly human?
There’s a great scene in Star Trek VI where Kirk tells Spock that “everybody’s human,” because humanity is defined not by our biology but by our emotions, are hopes, and our ability to work together and make the universe better. The Partials aren’t human beings, but they are intrinsically human in the same way that Spock is, or Frodo, or Pinocchio: they hold up a mirror to our own struggles, and show usthat we are better and stronger than we ever thought we were. We’re going to see a lot more of the Partials in the upcoming books, and in this fall’s Partials novella, ISOLATION, and no matter how different they are we’ll always be able to find that little piece of ourselves and say “that’s what I want to do. That’s who I want to be.”