Kevin Ikenberry is a new up and coming military science fiction author from Colorado, U.S. with his first major book release this year with Sleeper Protocol. He is a former manager with the U.S. Space Camp program in Huntsville, Alabama, and a former executive of two Challenger Learning Centres,
DAVID: Why do you write military science fiction?
KEVIN: Military science fiction comes naturally. I’m in the process of retiring from a military career that’s given me much more than leadership experiences and institutional training. For me, the essence of being in the military is what I could not leave behind when I started writing fiction. Blending the experiences I’ve had, even the stories I’ve heard, has been a unique way to breathe life into a story or a character. The essence of serving is being there for those around you and accomplishing the mission together. Mission first, people always — as I learned while a wet-behind-the-ears cadet. Those are the kinds of stories I want to tell.
DAVID: Tell us about your recently released first novel, Sleeper Protocol, and what kind of readers would it appeal to.
KEVIN: Sleeper Protocol is the story of a 21st century soldier who wakes up on the shore of Sydney Harbor in the year 2305 without a clue to who he is or who he was. Given a year to recover his identity, he first has to decide if the future is worth saving. There is a touch of cyberpunk, a smidgen of romance, a dystopian future setting, and intrigue. I think there’s something for everyone, but centring on a soldier who died in the service of his country once and may have to do so again, definitely bends this novel to military science fiction.
DAVID: Sleeper Protocol, while it is military SF, it focuses more on the nature of soldiering than war action. Why did you adopt this approach?
KEVIN: Being a soldier is about more than weapons, missions, and technology. It’s about the man or woman at your side. Don’t get me wrong, action is a huge component of military science fiction but the bond that soldiers have is something very different. For me, that has always been what kept me serving. I understood early in my career that shared values and ideals draw soldiers together and create bonds that last well beyond our individual service. A soldier who doesn’t understand what they are fighting for is not going to soldier long. Having Kieran Roark (ed. the protagonists of Sleeper Protocol) look deep within himself to find that and realize the future is up to him, seemed natural.
DAVID: In Sleeper Protocol, you presented a collapsed and dysfunctional North America. What made you choose this future for your homeland?
KEVIN: I wish I knew. As I wrote the original short story, the concept of an American frontier resonated with me. Building a future around a War for Space and the destruction/dismantling of America came easier than I suspected it would. There are other areas of this future world that fared similarly, but I focused on North America to give Kieran a challenge and prove to him just how different things really were. The world of Sleeper Protocol is very different than ours and I’ve barely scratched the surface there so far.
DAVID: Your descriptions of military activities is very realistic. Tell us about your military experience and how this translated into the detail in Sleeper Protocol?
KEVIN: I’ve served for over twenty years as an officer in the United States Army Reserve, much of the last decade on active status as both an instructor and a space operations officer. I was commissioned as an armor officer and trained on the M1 Abrams series of tanks. I’ve jumped out of airplanes (on purpose!) and led some of the best soldiers in the Army. While I’m not a combat veteran, many of my good friends are and their experiences have helped me add to the realism. I’ve trained for combat like every other soldier, so that experience definitely finds its way into the realism of Sleeper Protocol, particularly in Kieran’s memories.
DAVID: Much of Sleeper Protocol is set in Australia. What was the appeal of writing about the Land Down Under, and have you been there?
KEVIN: At seventeen, I had the opportunity to travel to Australia and New Zealand for the World Scout Jamboree in 1988. When I tell people about that experience, I always say that I left a piece of my heart there. Australia was a beautiful place filled with friendly people. When I wrote the opening of the book, it made perfect sense to have that scene at Sydney Harbour and later at Manly Beach.
Where the real work came in was Esperance. I did not travel that far west in my journey, but I knew that surfing would play a role for Kieran’s recovery and I wanted him away from Manly/Bondi/Gold Coast to really find himself, and that’s when I discovered Cyclops and Esperance. With many thanks to Google Maps, I could put myself into Esperance and visualize it in 2305. I hope I’ve done it justice.
DAVID: What is the appeal of military SF?
KEVIN: I recently moderated a panel on military sf at MileHiCon in Denver, Colorado and asked that same question to the participants! I think that the appeal of military SF is two-fold. The action involved and the technologies explored are tremendous draws to the genre. I also think that the appeal is a very human curiosity. A drastically small percentage of humans have served in a military organization and perhaps they wonder about what it would have been like to serve? Or maybe what it takes to be a soldier or a pilot? The action and the humanity (good and bad) of warfare are the places where good stories are forged. I think that’s why military sf will continue to flourish in the years to come.
DAVID: You’ve written a novella set in Hugh Howey’s Wool series. How did that opportunity come about and can you describe your experience in writing in a shared world environment?
KEVIN: Hugh released his works through Amazon’s Kindle Worlds program, meaning that anyone can write in that universe and sell their story exclusively through Kindle Worlds. I met Hugh at WorldCon in 2013 and came up with the idea for my novella “Vessel” shortly thereafter. Not being absolutely sure about it, I emailed Hugh and told him what I wanted to do, which he supported. The story reached #3 in Kindle Worlds/Science Fiction and Fantasy and has become my highest grossing title so far. I’ve gone on to write another bestseller in the G.I.JOE cartoon universe through Kindle Worlds. The experience of shared world writing is surprisingly easy. Without the worries or world-building, it’s easier for me to follow a character and tell their story. I highly recommended checking out Kindle Worlds and the universes available there. I plan to return there soon.
DAVID: You work in the U.S. space industry. What does your role entail and how did you get into that line of work?
KEVIN: For most of the last twenty years, I’ve worked with space. Much of that has been in education. I managed the U.S. Space Camp program and worked as an executive with two Challenger Learning Centres before returning to active duty as a space operations officer. I love to teach and I love space – it was a natural combination that manifested when I applied to work at Space Camp as a counsellor. Within a couple of months, I was appointed a program manager and responsible for hundreds of kids every week and I loved every minute of it. From there, I’ve loved teaching about all aspects of space flight to groups of all ages. It’s been a tremendous experience to have.
DAVID: What is next for Kevin Ikenberry?
KEVIN: As if Sleeper Protocol wasn’t enough, my military sf novel Runs In The Family will be published in late January 2016. Set in the same universe, though many years earlier during The Great War, it’s a very action-oriented book that explores a young imprinted girl who must blossom into the warrior her ancestor should have been. I’ve also just finished the first draft of Vendetta Protocol, the sequel to Sleeper Protocol, and I’m working on an alternate-history novel set during the American Revolution. Things are very busy, and that’s a good thing.
Read a review of Sleeper Protocol here.