A thrilling conversation with new writer Andrew Wales
“My name is Andrew Wales, like the country, not the animal.” New to the writing community, Andrew Wales has begun his writing career with a strong science fiction debut titled Neosol: Maelstrom. The plot focuses on Jon Enger, a slacking college student and shopping mall security guard who finds himself drafted into the Galactic Federation’s “Neosol Program,” an elite combat unit of super soldiers, and learns of their never ending war against the Brotherhood, a brutal race of reptilian warlords bent on enslaving the universe. Armed with devastating weaponry and the powers of the symbiotic Neosol armor, Jon must spend his last weeks on Earth training his new abilities while also confronting the reality of leaving his old life — and the people he cares about — behind. Meanwhile, a mysterious organization has set its sights on Jon, intent on using his new powers for their own sinister purposes. Full of super heroics, government conspiracies, and full-scale interstellar war, Wales’ debut is a promising start to a saga he has spent years planning and developing.
The idea for Neosol came to Wales in his early high school years. He had wanted to go to college to become a game designer, and intended Neosol to be his break-out hit. “The whole plot was, ‘Oh, it’s Jon’s birthday and his girlfriend is coming to visit him. Oh, no! His girlfriend has been kidnapped by someone who knows his secret identity! Jon must fight through a fictional city to save her!” Wales said. It wasn’t until a few years after the idea was born that Wales came to a sudden realization: programming is extremely hard. This lead to another realization: he liked drawing and he liked writing. And so, Neosol was adapted to become a graphic novel. After a brief stint as a graphic designer, another realization came to Wales: while he did enjoy drawing, he found himself enjoying writing more. So, his final decision was to reimagine his story in book form, a medium that he believed could get more story and character development across more effectively than as a video game or graphic novel.
After many drafts and revisions, the story finally became what it is today. Jon Enger was created to be like every anime protagonist out there: cocky and with an “I fight for my friends!” personality. While he still embodies some of those tropes (surely, the creator watched way too much Dragonball Z), he has also evolved into what he is today, and with him, the setting itself. “It’s really just a universe where everything you’ve heard about the alien agenda is real. Area 51, Roswell, Ancient Aliens, all that stuff is real,” Wales said. “All that stuff happened in this universe.”
Wales was inspired by many things when writing Neosol: Maelstrom. He grew up watching cheesy action movies, anime, and shows like Power Rangers and X-Files. Each of these influenced him in their own unique ways, but what fascinated him the most was the study of extraterrestrial life and UFOs. “I was always a huge fan, growing up, of UFO stuff,” Wales said. “I had an interest in paranormal stuff, but I was geared more towards the alien stuff mainly because it terrified me.” Wales first learned about aliens when he was nine years old. He had gone to the library and checked out a children’s book designed to be an introduction to aliens, a UFO guidebook, of sorts. It was even illustrated with an art style similar to those on the Airborne packages, featuring cute and colorful characters designed to entertain children. Alas, the book took a dark turn when covering the topic of Alien Abductions. The illustrations showed a man, strapped naked to a table, and screaming in terror as two aliens loomed over him, brandishing surgical tools. “It was probably the most terrifying book ever, and it was intended for children,” Wales said. “It was something that terrified me, but also kept me interested enough to read more on the subject. It was all so fascinating to me.”
Even though it terrified him, he pursued his research on extraterrestrials. Whenever his family would take him to the library, he would always check out books that had information on UFOs and aliens. “It built up in my mind and festered over time and, at some point, I was like, ‘You know what? No one has ever made a superhero origin that involved alien abductions. There have been superhero origins where aliens abduct a person, but it’s never been the classic alien abduction,” Wales said. “It’s never been someone driving home from work one night and, suddenly, they look at their watch one second and it is 4:45 and then they look at their watch the next second and it’s 9 o’ clock at night. It’s never been that before. Or a person waking up in bed one night and seeing the aliens looking down on them and, suddenly, the are waking up encased in a suit of power.’”
Neosol: Maelstrom has been seven years in the making and Wales has done the research to make the first in his science fiction saga as accurate as possible when it comes to UFOs. He even referenced actual alien abduction case files such as the Travis Walton Abduction. Movies like The McPherson Tape pushed him even further. “I think [The McPherson Tape] scared me enough to come up with the concept of my story as a coping mechanism,” Wales said.
Normally, writers will always have a character they grow very fond of writing. For Wales, his favorite was Jon’s best friend, Nicole. “It’s really fun to write really snarky, really sarcastic, but fun characters,” Wales said. “I have huge plans for Nicole in the future, [though I won’t say what those plans are yet].” Wales also loved writing any scene that had Jon and Nicole in it together. When it came to writing Jon, one of Wales’ goals was to make him a machine, but not entirely a machine. “Originally, Jon was too much of an action hero, I think. He had a lot of one liners, especially whenever he had to fight people. The scene where he first discovered his powers went through dramatic rewrites,” Wales said. “I had my friends read the first draft and say to me, ‘You might want to change this because he’s kind of a psychopath in this scene.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re right.’ I ultimately decided to characterize Jon as someone who really just wants to make it through the day. He’s a millennial: he really doesn’t want any part of what’s going on. He’ll do his job, but he really doesn’t want to be part of it. He just wants to go home and sleep. And then he finds out that he gets drafted into this alien military, and the fate of the world is suddenly on his shoulders. He’ll do it because the world’s at stake and he doesn’t want his friends to die, but he doesn’t like it.”
Thanks to all of his research, writing the science fiction aspects of the story was very easy for Wales. His original antagonist race, however, went through some dramatic changes. Originally, the race was going to be a race of vicious insects, like locusts: multiplying and swarming. Coincidentally, having an antagonist like that sounded much like the alien race in Ender’s Game, though Wales had not read Card’s book when coming up with the original idea. Not only that, but a race of insects is not very intimidating when one considers that one’s protagonist is loaded out like a space marine. He needed an enemy that relied on brutality, as opposed to strength in numbers. “Less ‘Space Invaders,’ more ‘Warhammer 40k,’” was a design philosophy Wales utilized when developing his antagonists. Wales again looked to UFO folklore for inspiration, and discovered something truly terrifying: the Babylonian Brotherhood. Much more intimidating than bug people, these lizard-like creatures stand ten feet tall, live much longer than any race in the galaxy, and are bred for war, having at least decades (if not centuries) worth of more battle experience than anyone they come against. Wales took this concept and based his antagonist race, the Brotherhood, on that, resulting in a foe far more formidable, a perfect match for his cyborg protagonist to face.
For his first book, Wales chose to self-publish through Amazon for he knew how stressful it could be going through a publisher and he just wanted his story out in the world. Beginning by releasing Neosol: Maelstrom for the Amazon Kindle, he also wanted to release his book in print form. “When you do Kindle, it’s easy,” Wales said. “All you have to do is upload the files and make sure they look nice. But, for the print version, you have to make sure there is no text at the bottom inch and top inch of the screen, you have to make sure that there are no graphical hiccups, and it has to be a certain file type and the file type is, of course, different from the file type Kindle wanted. So you have to completely rework it. It’s a lot of work.”
As soon as his book was published, Wales said he was “really, really, really, really ecstatic” and said even being ecstatic was an understatement. “When I was younger, I always had ideas for games and stories and I would start them, but never finish them. And this was the first big project that I started that I actually completed. I did it all the way to completion and this is something I can actually see myself doing every day,” Wales said. He had submitted his story for publication at midnight and had woken up to 12 different text messages telling him his book was on Amazon and he was thrilled. “I could not have done a lot of this without my friends. It’s kind of cheesy to say, but it’s a testament to how crazy things can get in life. You meet someone in high school, and years down the line, they end up being your scientific advisor. You meet someone in college and years later you are best friends with them and they have influenced your writing skills and encourage you so much that you actually wrote and published a book,” Wales said. “I was just in the right places at the right times and I kept meeting amazing people who happened to be writers themselves. All I can say is, I really couldn’t have done this without the people in my life. It is funny how things work out. I am very grateful for all the people in my life.”
With his debut slowly gaining momentum, future readers will be fascinated and intrigued by Neosol: Maelstrom and will be curious to learn what the next books in his saga will hold. He gave only a single hint for the future of the series: No two books will be the same. Expect each book to be different from the last. “While I love superhero films, they are always the same,” Wales said. “In most cases, the films end in an all-or-nothing finale where the hero shoots a nuke through a wormhole, or pushes the magical artifact into the evil robots chest at the last second, thus saving the day. While I do intend to do similar things, because I’ll admit they are awesome spectacles, I don’t want to do that for every story I write. I want to keep it interesting and new every time.” Wales would love to see the Neosol Saga take on other mediums as well, such as video games, a live-action TV series, or even an animated one. For now, he is just happy that his story is out there for the world to read. “If you’re like me and you grew up watching anime and cheesy action movies or if you just have an obsession with paranormal things, like I do, then this will be right up your alley,” Wales said.
Originally published at www.examiner.com on February 26, 2016.