Gearbox’s Chief Creative Champion Mikey Neumann makes everyone’s version of looking busy look like a stroll in the park. On September 18th, the much anticipated ‘Borderlands 2’ will be hitting the shelves, and coming on February 12, 2013 is the canonical sequel in the Aliens series, ‘Aliens: Colonial Marines’. If the pressure wasn’t enough from those two things, Neumann amped up further by creating BozPublishing.com, an experiment in science fiction novelization. From his website you can read for free ‘The Returners’, a science fiction novel that will blow your mind.
It is called an experiment because of the way it is written. The story had started out on Neumann’s personal blog before he had moved to Bozpublishing.com, where it is now formatted so that you can read it as an ebook. It is updated chapter by chapter, broken down into seasons much like a television show. What has just been published is Season 1 Part 2. Fans can follow Neumann on Twitter (@mikeyface), where he frequently posts statuses of when the next chapter will arrive for eagerly awaiting fans. From there, to read the book on the go, or if you would just rather read it in bulk, you can purchase each Part on Amazon for Kindle.
Aside from the unique way it is brought to the fans, ‘The Returners’ sets itself above the rest of science fiction novels for several reasons. First off, it brings in notable historic characters, ones people don’t think of once they leave their history classrooms. Secondly, with the way that it is written, it is fast paced and, while that can get confusing at times, the pace pays off in the long run. Thirdly, you feel you already know these characters, which in a sense you do, so you really feel for them when bad things happen.
Part One begins following Alex Heaton and Chloe Friemont, a seemingly normal couple until a gunfight in a fast food taco joint sends them running. We learn quickly that the couple isn’t who they say they are but are two of The Returners, historic figures of the past who are now in our present day. Part of the fun of Part One is learning who each Returner is; the guessing game of who is it going to turn out to be. Some are easier to figure out than others, while some will give you a chance to brush up on your history lessons. Part One is really about the establishment of characters, which is done well, leaving most characters really well rounded. I originally had thought that the character Janey was lacking until I had gotten into Part Two, which I will talk about below. The fast pace both helps and hurts in this case, because it does leave you wanting more, but at the same time you feel it can be slowed down just a bit so that you can really get your bearings with each character. It does keep moving and there is no stalling points, which leaves room to read multiple times to possibly pick up on something you missed out on the first time. I know I have read it several times not just for reviewing purposes, but because it is just that good.
Part Two is where the story itself starts to really develop. It picks up three hours later than where Part One left off, which was a huge cliffhanger and those of us reading during development times were really left hanging for more. The plot is thickened more, and it actually feels like it slows down a bit. Not slows down in a bad way, but in a way that gives you time to really think about what is happening. As I’ve said, I’ve been reading the book during the development process, waiting for chapters and being automatically hooked on the series. Those who are reading the completed version on Kindle will not have that type of anticipation until they finish. The characters who I felt lacking, namely Janey and John in my opinion were rounded out and what felt to be up to par with the rest of the characters.
To put it completely blunt, ‘The Returners’ is a work of art. A harmonious blend of science fiction, humor, action, history, and a hint of romance. The faults lie in the a mixed pacing, but its nothing that cannot be overlooked in favor of story. Reading in development is my preferred way to read it, but like with some television shows sometimes you just need to read it in completion.
I was able to talk with author Mikey Neumann about the development of ‘The Returners’, and to pick his brain a little. We didn’t go completely spoiler free in talking though, so if you don’t want to be spoiled I would recommend holding off on reading this part just in case!
MN: I think the best way to write characters is to find some way to relate to them. Even the bad ones. Actually, the best villains are always the ones you find yourself relating to in different ways. Sometimes the villain isn’t wrong, and although we haven’t delved far enough into the story of all of the villains, the basic ideas in play are relate-able.
Good and Evil are less concrete ideas in the story and ideas I’m trying to convey. The chapters where Albert is explaining the “moral imperative” in Season One Part Two explain this the best. Complex moral dilemmas are just that. Evil might exist in the world I’m creating, but it doesn’t make every issue clean and tidy. It’s actually quite messy when everything starts to fall apart in the Fish Stick Factory.
Having said all that nonsense. 13-year-old Albert is my favorite character to write. He’s so conflicted. There’s so much data inside his brain, but he hasn’t developed enough to remember it. He gets frustrated for knowing he knows things, but can’t understand the concepts.
MN: Opinions differ on how to enjoy it in the best way. Some people like reading it live; some people like waiting for the novellas to come out on Amazon. I don’t think there’s a right way or anything, but there’s certainly a free way to enjoy it.
I like the challenge of putting out a story in the serialized format; that goes all the back to Charles Dickens for me – that’s why it’s called “BOZ” Publishing because Oliver Twist was serialized in a magazine under the pseudonym “BOZ.” I like that the big fans are always clamoring for more and more. That’s gives me drive to go home after a full day at work and put out content in my free time. It’s a blessing having fans this dedicated.
Conversely, I think there is a slight negative to reading it in big chunks. It’s purposely a little soap-opera-y, and it’s purposely got a lot of cliffhangers that I wouldn’t necessarily put in if I was only releasing it in regular novel form. I’ve heard some comments like that on Good Reads and Amazon and I can’t say I disagree with them. But the style of ‘The Returners’ is certainly a nod to older storytelling ideas. I like that people don’t know where the hell I’m going with it but they are excited to take that journey with me.
I’m doing something different, for better and for worse, and people are taking notice of that.
MN: Oh yes. I am a maniac when it comes to structure over the long term. Not everything is set in stone, but I have major concepts for five seasons and a definitive ending. It won’t go on forever just because it’s serialized.
I have changed things on the fly, or in one crazy case, purposely left something open ended so I could make the decision when I was living in the emotions of the moment when I was writing.
(SPOILER ALERT) In the chapter “Nature Vs. Nurture,” the killer explains to the two people he had kidnapped that he would only kill one of them, but he hadn’t decided yet. That was me speaking through the villain. I love doing stuff like that. I set that up in my notes by taking both characters and plotting out WAY into the future of what that character would do in the story. I wanted that power in the moment. I had the knowledge that I was actively destroying value from my universe and I had to make a choice. And if you read the end of that chapter, you know I changed my mind.
MN: The universe is larger than that. There are obviously other dangerous forces in play that are not necessarily directly connected to the killer. Every season, I’m going to peel back the curtain more and more as to what is actually going on here. Season One is about discovering each other and trying to stop a crazed killer from ending their lives before they understand why they’ve returned in the first place. The end of Season One is a direct set up for Season Two (and beyond.)
I just answered this question with something else because we got a really solid look into how I write the killer in the last question. Writing a villain like that is awesome. There! Answered it.
MN: They have, but I follow Whedon’s law (not to be confused by Wheaton’s Law). A book is just about the only format where you are free to do whatever you have to, to tell the story you want to tell. On television, killing a character means firing an actor and possibly losing a close friend you have at your job.
Joss Whedon has never hesitated to sacrifice a character to tell a better story. I feel the same way.
When my editor read THE chapter towards the end of S1 Part Two, the first message I got back from him was, “You just killed my favorite character.”
And I was like: