Risingshadow has had honour of interviewing the debut science fiction author James Starling.

James Starling is, by any definition of the word, a gamer. From the mean inhospitable streets of a lovely little community nestled deep within the Devon coastline, James finds himself caught between two distant generations. Dragged along with the modern and the technological, he revels in the virtual environments and endless community entertainment of this millennium's gaming scene. However you view it, he's certainly caught up in the rush of gaming to the point where it’s become a bit of an obsession.

Bridging the chasm-like void between literature and gaming, James brings together both the disturbingly amusing black humour of the gaming community and the focus, scope and monumental scale possible within modern literature.

He's quite fond of the end result... Of course, he's also been heard to furiously defend the potential virtues of chocolate-coated bacon, so his opinion might be somewhat invalid.

(Cartoon photo by Hannah B. Farrell.)


- Hi, James!

Why hello there. You’re looking well, have you lost weight?

- Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?

Oh, certainly! Well, to start off with, I’m a writer. I’m fairly sure you knew that part already though, so...

Hmm. This is harder than I thought it’d be. Oh, I know!

I am a gamer. Long before I approached Elsewhen Press with the first of the Arteess series, I was staying up far, far too late for a youngster, delving into everything I could get my hands on, from Morrowind to San Andreas and Auraxis. Some of my earliest memories are of playing around in the back of a computer hobby shop my parents used to own,, cutting my teeth on old classics like Cannon Fodder and the original Lemmings. Good times.

Anyway, in all the time since now and then, nothing’s really changed. The graphics are prettier and gameplay mechanics are more polished and developed nowadays, but I still feel like that little child, frustratedly attempting to get through the Tricky levels without using too many blockers.

- You're an enthusiastic gamer. How did you become excited about games? What kind of games do you play?

Heh, that’s a good way to put it. ‘Enthusiastic’. Sounds a lot better than ‘Obsessive’! Either way, as I said before: I grew up alongside games. The earliest console generation I really have firm memories of is the PSOne, and it was playing things like Wip3out and the original Gran Turismo... You know, technological wonders for the time... That’s what really set it in my mind that games could, and would, be far more than a square-textured ball rolling across single-colour platforms on a dusty old Amiga in a dark room. It was about that time I realised that as graphics evolved and we went from Crash Bandicoot to Final Fantasy X, all the other aspects of gaming that seemed to get overlooked at times; Gameplay, narrative and even multiplayer... Those were going to evolve too.

Of course, it was a couple more years before the internet really appeared. Hoo boy, that was a game changer, if you’ll pardon the pun.

- Your debut novel, Arteess: Conflict, was published this year. How would you describe it to readers who haven't read it yet?

Arteess: Conflict, in a nutshell, is the first in a series that explores a vision of what the future of gaming might look like. With a healthy mixture of modern ‘gamer’ military and sci-fi, all peppered quite liberally with the dark/black comedy that we of the digital persuasion love so much, (Tell me you don’t love GLADoS: I will call you a liar.) Arteess represents what I think the future of our community will look like when ‘immersion’ becomes more than just a buzzword used to spice up a game preview.

To put it simply: Arteess is a series set within a digital world, featuring full-body immersion. Virtual Reality.

- What inspired you to write this novel? For how long did you work on it?

You know... I have no idea.

No, really. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking when I suddenly decided one day while I was at school, “You know what? I’m sitting here, I’m bored... I’m going to write a book!” It just sort of happened.

I suppose it might have had something to do with me just wanting to explore the concept of a ‘perfect’ game. A game that had everything players could ever want... Of course, I was fairly young at the time, and so I ended up writing about half a chapter worth of fairly awful drivel... I think the first version of Arteess opened in a WWII setting with a squad of dozens of central characters... Day of Defeat style, really. But I scrapped that fairly sharpish and started again. Arteess went through some pretty serious modifications over the next few years, but finally I hit on a concept that really ‘clicked’ for me and I slowly worked my way through the chapters, writing whenever I could find a moment’s respite within my school...  Breaktimes, lunchtimes... I even wrote a fairly substantial chunk of the early chapters in the back of my Maths book!

So it took a while... But here I am now... A twenty-one year old with one book down and three remaining to complete. It’s gonna be fun.

- Have your gaming experiences influenced your writing style?

Almost certainly. From a young age, I’ve always been told that I have a certain flair for writing, despite having no real specialist instruction or teaching. Maybe it comes from reading a little bit too much at a young age, maybe it comes from being an obsessive autistic... Either way, I’ve always had my own peculiar style, though developing it took quite a while.

What this means is that past a certain point, I had no real need to draw grammar and vocabulary from other writers... Instead, I was able to draw on my experiences within the digital realms. Everyone I’ve ever met online, everything I’ve seen happen within FPS, MMO... Even MOBAs, all of those events have shaped me as a person, and by extension, my writing. There are dozens of examples within Arteess: Conflict, but in a general sense, almost all of the characters possess what I like to call ‘gamer’s logic’. A tendency towards objectives and cost/reward. One of the most prominent examples is that, since Arteess has a built-in respawn mechanic, the central characters are more inclined to risk their own lives rather than risk failure. In a very real way, no one fears death within Arteess, because death is little more than an inconvenience...

Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t worse fates than death... But to say anymore than that would be a bit of a spoiler, I fear.

- Do you read science fiction? Have any sci-fi books been a source of inspiration to you?

Honestly, I probably haven’t read as much sci-fi as I should have, considering that I am a sci-fi author at this point... Though in a way, I suppose that what little I have read has directly inspired Arteess. For instance, I once read a compilation of six authors I had never heard of, each telling a collection of stories set within the same futuristic vision of the internet... But every time gaming came up within those stories, it was always absurdly outdated or twisted far beyond the original parameters of what gaming is. For instance, one of the stories actually used the concept of points in a first person shooter game... In a virtual reality setting far, far in the future, which is where that concept really belongs. Any real gamer would recognise that, even though points exist nowadays (Bulletstorm is a rather good example, I think), they are rarely the central focus... And certainly not in a competitive multiplayer environment!

Sorry, I’m rambling again. My point there is that from the admittedly limited selection I had looked at, no one really seemed to want to emulate gaming in it’s current form... No sci-fi authors had the knowledge and desire to truly tell a story set within a virtual world that contained the recognisable tropes and elements of modern gaming... So I decided to just do it myself while writing about my perfect game.

Truth be told, I draw far more from both modern games and certain types of anime... But it’s embarrassing to talk about the latter, so shh!

- There will three sequels to Arteess: Conflict. What can readers expect from them? Will you reveal more things about the gaming world etc to readers?

Oh, and now I have to navigate a spoiler-free minefield. You evil, evil man.

Alright, I’ll try. Within the next few books, we’ll continue to follow Splint, Visor, Padd and Duke as they continue to explore Arteess alongside a few additional characters introduced at various points throughout Arteess: Conflict. With the introductions all but over, the focus will shift more towards the world of Arteess; What it is, how the mechanics that support the world and the players work and who inhabits it besides the major players already introduced.

We’ll ascend towards the urban skyscape of Shell City and learn far more about the shifty Lambda faction and it’s operatives. Oh, and at least one of the main squad will die again in yet another horrible, unpleasant manner. But they’ll respawn after twenty minutes or so, so who cares, right?

And yes, she will be found.

- Is there anything you'd like to add?

Hmm... At this point, I’d like to take a moment to mention Elsewhen Press, the publishing house that had the stones to agree to publish a book about a fake game. I love those guys. I’d like to encourage anyone reading this to take a moment to check out Elsewhen’s selection... I am but one author amongst many... And every one of my peers at Elsewhen I’ve had the pleasure of meeting is either extremely talented, an insane genius or a little of both.

Oh, and please take the time to read the first few pages of Arteess: Conflict, available for free on Amazon! Whether you’re a gamer or not, I’m certain you’ll get a chuckle or two out of the Shard squad and their cohorts.

That looks like it’s all for me though. Thanks for listening, and stay safe.

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