I always thought this was a fun post. This was an interview I conducted several years ago with Jeff VanderMeer, who has always written incredible novels and stories, but has since seen one of them made into the film Annihilation (which doesn’t resemble the book much but I do like the film). I talked previously to Jeff (and at length) about his own fiction but this interview below was a topic-specific and short feature we started, and in this case was about Predator because Jeff was about to write a novel in that franchise. Check it out below but first I also want to note that Jeff released a new novel last month (that I’m currently reading).
I have always conducted interviews that tend to be — or have become — lengthy and comprehensive features. Now we love doing these and will continue to do them, but I felt like they had become something that limited my ability to communicate with various creators and personalities on specific subjects only.
For instance, if I just interviewed somebody at length and something new pops up that interests me a few months later in their career, I can hardly justify conducting another long feature. We also wanted to have a feature that while still informative was a bit more lighthearted and looser — a feature I could work on while waiting on/conducting my much more time consuming features
The first participant is Jeff VanderMeer and we are talking Predator.
Jeff has been tabbed to write a Predator novel South China Sea.
To some of your readers may seem odd seeing you on an established franchise book — how did you come to find yourself in the Dark Horse stable?
Jeff VanderMeer — Brian Evenson was doing an Aliens novel, and he and I go way back. We both were supposed to have our first collections published by an outfit called Pyx Press, and since then we’ve been friends. Anyway, he told me they had a Predator slot open and I told him I’d be interested.
I pitched an idea to Victoria Blake, the editor there at the time, and she loved it, and that’s how it happened. It’s been great because Victoria then formed her own publishing house, Underland, and both Brian and I are publishing original novels through that press. And my “new” editor Rob Simpson, who’s the senior editor at Dark Horse, has been great, too. I fully expect to do more work for them.
Predator the movie — run as far away from it as possible or Science fiction cult classic film?
Jeff VanderMeer — I’d run away from the opening with its kind of nauseating boys-bonding dialogue. After that, I think Predator is a very effective action-adventure movie — very high-level stuff. And I like Predator 2 very much. The problem with Predator 2 is all of the fashions are outdated now, and so it looks too cheesy. Underneath that cheesy look is a nicely plotted movie, however.
What did you use for research to write South China Sea?
Jeff VanderMeer — I re-watched the movies, read all of the Predator novels. I already knew a lot about Southeast Asia. And then I forgot pretty much everything in the other Predator novels — only because I’d decided I would think of my novel as the third-Pred-movie-never-made-that-I-would-like-to-see-made-with-Peckinpah-directing.
In an interview at Flames Rising you said something I thought was so true with:
“WHILE FOR MY ORIGINAL NOVELS, THE BEST WAY TO SERVE MY AUDIENCE IS TO IGNORE THEM IN A SENSE.”
You say this while saying your are conscious of the established fan wants. Could you briefly touch on what you think that is, perhaps in a Hollywood pitch style?
Jeff VanderMeer — If you’re working in an established series, I think you want to think about what the fan of that series would want. To do otherwise is just…rude. For me, as a fan of the movies, I love the solid action-adventure aspect. I also have always felt that the movies failed to give us enough interesting stuff about Predators (or, for that matter, Aliens). So I wanted to write an old-fashioned action-adventure with smart characters that don’t do stupid things and give fans the thrill of revealing new things about the Predators.
The Hollywood pitch would’ve been “It’s the Most Dangerous Game inverted, but it’s also a shoot-out in a temple complex, a cat-and-mouse with a huge crocodile, a revenge story, a spy story, with a bizarre SF element thrown in for good measure.” You see, Jay, I believe the Predator is a sloppy carnivore. I believe it brings invasive species with it from other worlds because it doesn’t clean under its fingernails…and I wanted an Easter egg hunt. That, I thought, would be pivotal to the characterization.
In some fashion has working on a Predator novel challenged you as a writer — I read what you wrote about ‘tools in your arsenal’?
Jeff VanderMeer — One thing I haven’t done is write a book with true cliffhangers. I admired Martin’s first three A Song of Ice and Fire books because of his really wonderful cliffhangers. So I worked hard on how to cut scenes. I cut scenes/chapters differently than in my other novels. Usually with a tag-line of some kind. Each chapter ends on a kind of rising tension, for the most part. I learned, too, that sometimes the best way to create tension is to cut a scene right in the middle — this is part of what Martin does so effectively — without that seeming like what’s being done.
And I also got to write a novel from multiple interwoven points of view, which I hadn’t done before. So it was kind of a controlled environment for all of that. Some of it has informed my next novel, Finch, and some of it will be useful down the road.
Above you mention your knowledge of what is wanted — what do you think you are bringing to the Predator line that may be something they haven’t seen . What — in your mind — is your contribution, or what you consciously tried to lay down?
Jeff VanderMeer — The sole Predator kicking ass is, oddly enough, something a few of the books have gone away from. So the cat-and-mouse between a single Predator versus several opponents appealed to me as a way of going back to the formula that made the first movie so suspenseful. And, like I said, I wanted to add some little details about the Predator that fans would appreciate. I am most proud of my use of an invasive species, though, as it allowed me to form a link to my own books without it in any way derailing the Predator novel.
You’re everywhere these days and in the process got your name synonymous with Steampunk what do you think of Steampunk Predator?
Jeff VanderMeer — Obviously, we need to combine this with cyberpunk and New Weird..
Your Predator versus Brian Evenson’s Aliens to the death — who’s walking out with heads?
Jeff VanderMeer — Ha ha ha. Both. I think the sheer numbers of those extraterrestrial rats known as Aliens would probably overwhelm my single Predator over time. Of course, if Brian wrote that novel, it would be in the form of a Kafkaesque Predator diary. “Day 2 of the Hunt. Am trapped in the lunchroom of this bizarre complex. My plasma rifle is out of charges and I have had to tear spines out with my bare hands.
I will need a manicure if I ever get of here. O the loneliness. O the loneliness. Is that my reflection in the mirror or a doppelganger speaking to me in some unknown language? The eggs are nice, though. You just pick them up off their suction-cup bases and put them on the burner, and it’s just like breakfast at home — so long as you cook them before they start that face-hugging routine.” Etc.
Predator shows up in Ambergris. Who/what is it hunting?
Jeff VanderMeer — It is hunting gray caps, of course. What greater sport than that? Unfortunately, I’m afraid he probably wouldn’t last more than a couple of minutes underground. Not much you can do against spores.
On a creative level has your experience with South China Sea made you want to work in more established franchises again?
Jeff VanderMeer — Only the ones that, like Predator don’t have thousand-page bibles. I don’t know how Star Wars writers do it, frankly. Here it was just like, “Don’t show the Predator doing soft-shoe, eating ice cream, or reading the newspaper.”