- How would you pitch Cluster?
It is hard to describe the main storyline without spoiling the secrets of this book, but I can say that in this stunning and intricate conspiracy SF novel, the main characters find themselves in the cluster of a Solar System-wide epidemic, while even more powerful physical and spiritual forces are pulling the strings of their lives behind the scenes. The readers follow the main characters (Alexei Sverlov and Noah Simpson) as these forces push them towards their destinies. They think they’re in the driver’s seat of their lives as we see them traveling through cultures, worlds, colonies—but they are nothing more than pawns of the big game. They imagine that they will have immense power and can work day and night without sleeping, but in reality they’re struggling to stay alive. Like a mosaic, we can put the bits together to uncover those driving forces (new emerging countries, new powers, politicians, the Solar System-wide economic crisis), but can we really find the root cause of human aggression, political and egoistic interests, manipulation, and terror? These people, caught in the middle of the clusters, search for the answers to these question in their own way.
- There’s sf here, of course, but it’s also an expansive outbreak story. Was it exciting to blend the genres and was that always the idea?
Yes, like many authors, I’ve written a lot of short stories, and some of them I think make good candidates for novel-length stories. The scale of this short was big enough to place into a Solar System-wide biological experiment that makes the colonies (Mars, Moon, and Europa) vulnerable to epidemics as we are now on Earth, as the epidemic travels with the scheduled fights. It was exciting to see how the authorities might react on the different planets, how they would try to stop the epidemic from spreading. But, as this book is not a simple epidemic novel, there is always something behind the scenes, more than you can see on the surface; on Earth, the Mother Colony, a new empire is emerging: the New-China Empire, occupying all of Asia and preparing for the inauguration of the new emperor. So you can clearly see something more is happening in the background …
- With such a broad scope, is it a challenge to keep the reader invested in the central characters?
As an epidemic novel, Cluster needed to have a big cast of characters, especially since the action is happening on all the colonies. It also means as the writer, I have possibilities to follow multiple central characters to describe the events. From this chain of events, we can clearly see those characters in the middle of each cluster (where the epidemic spreads from), but it is also interesting to use the side characters to root the story back to find the alpha person (the starting point of the whole outbreak). This structure also allows for major turning points. Many of the readers enjoyed this aspect of having new discoveries in each chapter; it kept them engaged in the unfolding investigation. So, while it can be challenging to juggle so many characters, I find it actually helps to fuel the action of the story.
- Similarly, how did you root the characters in relatable reality given the setting?
Though they may be in the future and living their lives on other planets, the main characters still have Earthlike, contemporary problems—addictions and desires that make them vulnerable and bent on chasing a better life, just as many of us struggle with our own desires and shortcomings. They also have very solid cultural identities (which helps the readers to place them into the actual Earthlike environment, though that has changed a lot 400 years after Moon landing). They also evolve in front of us in their simple way, despite their difficulties, which we all would like to do. One interesting fact: The main characters have very little physical description. I intentionally left this aspect open, as I wanted to let the readers imagine them in their own ways. This experiment has worked well so far: 89% of the Hungarian readers gave the same character description after reading the book (agreeing on which actor would play the role).
- Was it a challenge envisioning the various cultures?
As I’m a history teacher by my original profession, it was my ultimate task to include culture and history (but not to go so deep that the readers would get bored, just to put them into the setting and give them a balanced view). This is one factor of the book that has earned a lot of good comments from readers; many have said they could clearly see that the events could really happen based on extrapolating present historical facts. The cultural challenge really came at the end with the Senninbari, the Japanese Thousand Stiches Belt became so real—I recreated one (the one inserted into the book and that was the main motive of the book) in real life. That was a challenge for me, but a Japanese person who saw it thought it was a real war artifact. That was the biggest recognition for the work, that I was heading in the right direction.
- Have you always been drawn to sci-fi?
I’ve been writing since childhood, typing stories on my mother’s typewriter. But I also write novels other than SF (my next one is about the spiritual war; it’s currently getting ready for Hungarian publishing, and under translation into English). But I have more than 300 poems as well, some translated to English. I have been working as an animator for years, making 3D and 2D stop motion animation, so my range is wide, thanks God. I make my covers myself as well.
- Do you have any particular inspirations?
This book was inspired by the present political situation in the Far East and Asia. China is growing, buying weapons, and trying to dominate the South Pacific, and at the same time they’ve launched their own space programs. We can foresee the birth of a new space nation. This made me think of the possible demographic composition of the future colonies, which certainly will be surprising for many of us thinking only the US or Europe can launch a rocket into space. My other motivation is human behavior and psychology; I’m fascinated to watch how people become acclimated to their environment.
- What advice would you give to a first time author?
Write for at least one hour per day – I do two (in my case sometimes translate my own books to English, as I’m Hungarian). If you don’t do that, you’ll never finish your book. (I’ve spoken to many other authors who have many half-written books.) And the most important thing: Don’t give up and … don’t give up.