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Ian Douglas: On Telling the Truth in Science Fiction

New York Times bestselling author Ian Douglas discusses how he incorporated implausible conspiracy theories to uncover the truth in his new science fiction novel, Alien Hostiles.

Ian Douglas is one of the many pseudonyms for writer William H. Keith, New York Times bestselling author of the popular military science fiction series The Heritage Trilogy, The Legacy Trilogy, The Inheritance Trilogy, The Star Corpsman series, The Star Carrier series, and The Andromedan Dark series. A former Navy Hospital Corpsman, he lives in Pennsylvania.

Ian Douglas: On Telling the Truth in Science Fiction

Ian Douglas

In this post, Ian discusses how he incorporated implausible conspiracy theories to uncover the truth in his new science fiction novel, Alien Hostiles, his writing advice for other writers, and more!

Name: Ian Douglas
Literary agent: Ethan Ellenberg
Book title: Alien Hostiles
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release date: November 30, 2021
Genre/category: Sci-Fi
Previous titles: About 140 published titles so far. Series include The Heritage Trilogy, The Legacy Trilogy, The Inheritance Trilogy, The Star Corpsman series, The Star Carrier series, and The Andromedan Dark series.
Elevator pitch for the book: New York Times bestselling author Ian Douglas delivers the action-packed second military sci-fi adventure in his Solar Warden series, set in a wildly imaginative alternate present where conspiracy theories are terrifying realities and reptilian aliens team up with Nazis in space.

Ian Douglas: On Telling the Truth in Science Fiction

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What prompted you to write this book?

Alien Hostiles is the second entry in a three-book series, picking up where Book One—Alien Agendas—leaves off and continuing with plot elements introduced there ... though it can also be read as a stand-alone work.

My reason for writing the entire series was, I suppose, prompted by my distaste for the extremely bad science and logic behind so many current UFO conspiracy theories, most of which read like very bad B-movie sci-fi. I was at particular pains to weave those theories—those I chose to include, of course—into a seamless whole, a plausible story with at least some reasonable science behind it.

Probably the one idea that was the most important in shaping the entire series has to do with the ubiquitous alien Grays, those big-headed guys with big black eyes and spindly bodies we seem to see everywhere nowadays. It is my contention that the Grays are far, far too human to literally be alien life forms. At several points throughout each of the books, I introduce real aliens, and try to show how different they would be in anatomy, biochemistry, and psychology.

In this way I suppose I follow in the sandal-prints of Poo-Bah, in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, as I provide "corroborative detail intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative."

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

I'd been kicking around the idea of a story revolving around UFO conspiracy theories being true, and trying to meld them all together in a realistic way for some time ... perhaps two years before I actually started writing Alien Agendas. I had to wait to begin, though, because I was still finishing up the previous SF book for Harper Voyager. Once I completed Agendas I moved straight into Hostiles, since I already had a clear idea of where the story was going.

My ideas almost always change considerably during the writing, but that wasn't the case this time. Doing research revealed new ideas that I was able to incorporate, of course, but the overall plot did not change.

Currently, Harper Voyager is graciously publishing my books at the rate of about one per year.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

Not really. With 140-plus books already published, it's pretty hard to surprise me now.

Ian Douglas: On Telling the Truth in Science Fiction

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

Again, not really.

I did have a bit of a scramble when research into Nazi interest in the occult turned up information about a mystic named Maria Orsic who had a profound effect on some of the Reich's leaders. What started as incidental background exposition quickly became the basis for one of the book's major characters, and helped make the particular theory that pre-war Germany was in contact with aliens somewhat more... um... plausible.

Somewhat.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope they'll be entertained.

Beyond that, I hope they'll accept my observation that not every conspiracy theory out there is even distantly related to truth. In the course of this series, I brought out numerous stories from the UFO literature ... and some I rather savagely debunked. I imagine some True Believers will be outraged at what they'll see as my denial of some UFO dogma.

Throughout the series, I put forward numerous bits drawn from that literature as essentially true: the recovery of alien wreckage at Roswell, a secret alliance with aliens during the 1950s, and others. Other bits, though, I dissected and discarded. Probably the biggest was revealing that the Grays can't be truly alien. They're ... something else, something related to us.

I do the same thing with the supposedly alien Reptilians.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

Well, first let me share my all-time favorite piece of writerly advice, from well-known writer, poet, and screenwriter Dorothy Parker: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

I can't entirely agree with the sentiment, though I understand and appreciate it. My own writing career has kept me quite happy.

My own personal advice would be ... write.

Write every day. Write all day. Write what you know and what you imagine. Don't be sidetracked by books on how to be a writer or by classes or workshops. These can be useful, but the only way to learn the craft is by rolling up to the keyboard and doing it. Above all, don't be dissuaded by well-meaning loved ones or acquaintances or critics or by the inevitable rejection slips. You are the only one who can tell this tale as it's meant to be told.

So tell it. Get writing and stick to it.

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