Raymond Benson is perhaps best known as one of the few people to write original James Bond novels. As a Bond author he wrote six original novels and three movie novelizations. Today as well as his own thriller series set in the world of rock music, he is just as well known for writing media tie-in books, and as an ex- game designer he is particularly suited to video game related novels, having written works related to Metal Gear Solid and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell games.
His latest book is Homefront: The Voice of Freedom, a prelude to the events depicted in the upcoming Homefront game from THQ. Raymond was kind enough to take some time out to answer a few questions about the book, its premise and the workings of flushing toilets!
Alan J. Porter: It says right on the cover of Homefront that it is “set in the world of the epic new video game." Why should I as a non-gamer be interested in picking it up and reading it?
Raymond Benson: We were very conscious of making the book a "stand alone" novel so that readers unfamiliar with the game and non-gamers would enjoy it. Yes, it's set in the world of the
video game, but this is actually the public's first look at that world. The game takes place after the events of the novel, so you don't have to know the characters or story of the game. Anyone who likes speculative thrillers should have a good time with the book.
AJP: Can you give a brief synopsis of the story in the novel and how it fits in with the video game’s storyline?
RB: The story in the novel is told from the point of view of a hack reporter named Ben Walker. After the Korean strike against America (which is detailed in the novel's early chapters), he escapes Los Angeles and begins a road trip across country, documenting what he sees. He temporarily joins resistance groups along the way, meets and falls in love with a woman in a Las Vegas that is lit by candlelight, and eventually begins an underground radio network called "the voice of freedom." All the while, though, a Korean assassin is on his tail, for Walker's broadcasts are subversive and anathema to the Koreans.
The game story focuses on a small resistance group in Montrose, Colorado and its efforts to make a difference. In the novel, Walker meets and lives with this same group for a while. The game's characters all have cameo appearances in the book.
AJP: On the book you share credit with John Milius, perhaps best known as the writer of Apocalypse Now and the Conan movie as well as producer/ creator of TV series such as Rome. How did the work break down between you?
RB: Milius created the universe of the game and, in collaboration with THQ and Kaos Studios, came up with the game itself. I was brought in to flesh out a 2-page outline that served as the basis for the novel; I then wrote the book. Milius provided feedback on my first draft. It's his brand, so we share the credit. I'm quite honored to do so.
AJP: The book’s scenario paints a very bleak picture of an American near future. How much of this was based on research into current political and social trends?
RB: Much of the research into what would happen over the next 15 years in America and Korea was done prior to my involvement. Milius, THQ, and Kaos Studios did all that while creating the game. They needed to know the exposition -- the history -- to build into the game. When I came aboard, my job was to flesh it out into story form and integrate the history into the lives of the characters in the novel. Most of my research had to deal with military apparatus, the geography of certain American cities and roads,
and keeping up communication with the game developers to make sure neither of us contradicted each other.
AJP: In describing the circumstances that lead up to the invasion the book makes some pretty strong, and in some circumstances controversial, political statements. Were these
set up as plot elements to enable the back story, or are they a reflection of either your
or game creators / developers' viewpoint on the potential future of the United States' place in world politics?
RB: I wouldn't say they are personal viewpoints, although I can't speak for the rest of the team. From my point of view, they are merely plot elements, although we all thought them out carefully so that they could be feasible. I don't think any of us would like to see the USA come anywhere near what is portrayed in the novel or the game.
AJP: Why Montrose, Colorado? It seems an odd place to center a video game action. The novel places a lot of the action in LA and Vegas, which I would think would give the game designers more visual appeal.
RB: It's because of the shale mining operations that exist outside of Montrose. That's why the game developers chose that location for the story in the game. It's a resource which the enemy could conceivably target. This is a question more suited for THQ and Kaos Studios. For the novel, I spend a couple of chapters in Montrose and then move on.
AJP: The book pulls no punches in describing how an invading army might subdue a population, or in the description of the tactics of the Resistance. Did you base this on observations and accounts of any particular historical occupation? I must admit it reminded me of many tales of the French Resistance in WW2 that I’ve read over the
RB: It wasn't conscious, but I suppose you're right. I certainly drew upon the Holocaust for descriptions of how the Koreans dominate the American civilians. I once studied the resistance operations that occurred in Denmark during WW2 for a possible novel I wanted to write a long time ago but never did, so I'm well aware of how it worked. A lot of it is simply putting oneself in the position of having to defend one's neighborhood. What would it feel like? How would it look? Who would be involved? It wasn't too difficult to imagine.
AJP: The book is already a little bit prescient as you speculated on the succession of the North Korean leader by his youngest son, and then late last year he was named as a potential successor. What did that feel like?
RB: That was one of those moments when the soundtrack in your head goes "Oooo eeeee ooooh"! Everyone involved with the franchise got the shivers for a moment.
AJP: Your description of the effect that an EMP pulse would have on a major city was very effective, and more than a little scary; but one thing I didn't understand from a technical perspective: why would an EMP pulse stop a flush toilet working' There’s no electric circuits in that system.
RB: There's no electricity involved in actually flushing a toilet, but the entire plumbing and sewage systems in major cities ARE run by electricity. You could still flush it for a while, but pretty soon the water tank isn't going to fill up anymore.
AJP: You are well known for your work on various media tie-ins. Is there any particular differences in approaching a video-game novel, than say one based on a TV show or movie franchise?
RB: Not too much, especially if the book is an original story set in the franchise's universe rather than a strict novelization of the videogame's story. In the latter case, one must be careful to make sure there is a story that comes through and that it not just be action-action-action.
AJP: As a one-time game designer yourself, when working on these tie-in novelizations, do you find yourself calling on those skills and maybe making coding and game play suggestions?
RB: I didn't have that opportunity this time, but for the future, who knows? Frankly, I,
don't think it's my place or my job to make suggestions to the licensee whenever I'm hired to write a tie-in. I'm a hired gun and it's my job to do what I'm asked. That said, the working relationship between THQ/ Kaos/ Milius and me was the best it could be. I had a lot of free rein and was able to flesh out my own ideas for the book.
AJP: Do you find the video game crowd to be tougher critics? For instance, I recently saw a post that declared your first Metal Gear Solid novel as the second worst game tie-in
RB: At least it wasn't the first! You can't please everyone. That's true of any internationally-known franchise. James Bond, Star Wars, Star Trek, Metal Gear Solid, Buffy, Splinter Cell, whatever. These things have legions of hardcore fans who have very specific ideas of how they see their beloved franchise. If anyone deviates from what's in their heads, then it's automatically deemed atrocious. That said, there are plenty of fans who liked the Metal Gear Solid book. I still get letters and e-mails from
MGS fans who want to know if I'm going to do any more entries in the series.
But no, the video game crowd is no more a band of tougher critics than any other fan base.
AJP: Is there any intention to do more of these novels set before the main events of the game featuring your characters?
RB: It will depend upon sales of both the book and the game, but yes, everyone involved would like to do more. If there is a second book, it would most likely take place after the events of the first game but before the events of the second game. And so on.