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Author Spotlight: Jeremy Szal

Jeremy Szal Photo

Jeremy Szal was born in 1995 and was raised by wild dingoes, which should explain a lot. He spent his childhood exploring beaches, bookstores, and the limits of people’s patience. He’s the author of over forty science-fiction short stories. His debut novel, STORMBLOOD, a dark space opera about a drug made from the DNA of extinct aliens that makes users permanently addicted to adrenaline and aggression, is out now from Gollancz as the first of a trilogy. He was the editor for the Hugo-winning StarShipSofa until 2020 and has a BA in Film Studies and Creative Writing from UNSW. He carves out a living in Sydney, Australia with his family. He loves watching weird movies, collecting boutique gins, exploring cities, cold weather, and dark humour. Find him at or @JeremySzal

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Talking with Jeremy Szal

How long have you been writing for, and what did you start with?

Ever since I was a kid with too much time on his hands. Wasn’t until I entered my final years of highschool and picked up a few creative writing classes that I realised how much I wanted to take it seriously. That summer I wrote my first full length novel with the aim of getting it published.

What unique perspective do you feel you can bring to your chosen genre(s)?

I write in the space opera genre, but I keep scientific nomenclature to a minimum. The characters are the heart of my stories. I write in first-person, with the aim of filtering everything through the protagonist’s biases/point of view. When I describe a spaceship or a suit or a person, I’m not describing what it looks like. I’m describing what it looks like to him. Furthermore, the entire story is designed to be emotional-driven. The murders, the stakes, the losses, they’re all on the page because they mean something for my protagonist, and because it’s a slegdehammer to the gut for him. Character and voice and emotional texture comes first for me, always. And I feel that’s not something we see too often in space opera.

What are tropes that you are aiming to subvert in your writing for your latest book?

I don’t have much patience for the glamorizing of war and mass combat. I’m showing here how drugs and war and suffering are used to dehumanize, exploit, and ruin the very people who should be protected from them.

What do you look for in characters, whether it be writing or reading them?

Characters with heart. With real emotional texture. People I want to follow through every ache, twist and agonizing reveal. People I’ll follow to hell and back, knowing it’s going to hurt, but doing it anyway because I owe them that much.

Writers are heavily influenced by their surroundings, whether it be what they’ve read or watched. What have been some of your most *recent* influences?

Hmm. The Mass Effect series is probably my most obvious example. The wacky and weird aliens, bizarre worlds, and character beats have had a huge influence on my work. The Red Rising series by Pierce Brown, no question about it. Blade Runner 2049’s gloomy but colour-saturated world practically runs in my veins instead of blood, so I cannot in good conscience go without mentioning it.

If you could get one famous director behind the helm of your recent work to adapt it for the big screen, who would it be? Why?

Denis Villeneuve. Other than the aforementioned Blade Runner 2049, I’ve seen every film he’s made twice and loved them all. His slow and meticulous filming style, unafraid to drink in the scenery and character, slowly cranking up the dread until it rips into shocking outbursts of action, is my bread and butter. The man could film paint dry and he’d still make a masterpiece out of it. If by some miracle he did helm the director’s seat for STORMBLOOD, I know he’d capture the character-driven and visual essence of the book perfectly, while delivering some knockout scenes of gut-wrenching action.

If you enjoy fancasting, feel free to fancast your latest work here. Bonus points for reasons why you chose *those* particularly actors/actresses.

I’m less interested in those on camera than the ones behind it! But as for the protagonist, Vakov Fukasawa, he’s half Russian, half Japanese, so getting a white American to play him would be absolutely out of the question. In terms of features and skill, I’d love Steven Yeun to step into his shoes. But Vak is a big guy, so in physical terms he’s probably more in Dave Bautista’s ballpark.

What is the theme of your most recent release? Was it something you consciously thought about prior to starting writing, or did it develop as your story did? (IE: Discovery writer or Plotter?!)

I’ve got many themes! War, sacrifice, drugs, human exploitation, forgiveness and redemption, brotherhood – both familial and found, relationships, always looking for a way to do better, and broken characters searching for hope in dark worlds. I did a little plotting, a little discovery. I had the broad strokes of my book outlined, but the themes and subplots took a life of their own as I wrote the book.

I like to give authors a chance to shout out other up and coming authors that they want to support. Who else should people be reading along with you?

Nicholas Eames! Nick Martell. Essa Hansen. Luke Arnold. Justin Call. Mike Shackle. Gareth Henrehen. Gavin Smith (but we’re rivals, so don’t tell him I said so).

Ask and answer! Is there a question I didn’t ask here that you wish I did? Feel free to ask and answer that question now.

Well, I’m writing the sequel, BLINDSPACE, now and having a hell of a struggle doing so. So I’ll ask what I’ve learned in the process. And that, at least for me, is that sometimes you have to go where the story takes you. I thought my ironclad outline would let me have a likewise ironclad grip over where I wanted the story to go. But in doing so, I sometimes lost the magic of the story. That indefinable “spark” that can’t be predetermined or forced. That subplot that jumped to mind, that crazy idea you just had, that wacky alien character that just strutted onto the page? Run with it! Go nuts. Don’t think about it too hard. It sounds trite, but letting the story evolve organically is where the real magic of writing happens, and I aim to never loose sight of that.

Thank you again and we look forward to working with you.

Vakov Fukasawa used to be a Reaper: a bio-enhanced soldier fighting for the Harmony, against a brutal invading empire. He’s still fighting now, on a different battlefield: taking on stormtech. To make him a perfect soldier, Harmony injected him with the DNA of an extinct alien race, altering his body chemistry and leaving him permanently addicted to adrenaline and aggression. But although they meant to create soldiers, at the same time Harmony created a new drug market that has millions hopelessly addicted to their own body chemistry.

Vakov may have walked away from Harmony, but they still know where to find him, and his former Reaper colleagues are being murdered by someone, or something – and Vakov is appalled to learn his estranged brother is involved. Suddenly it’s an investigation he can’t turn down . . . but the closer he comes to the truth, the more addicted to stormtech he becomes.

And it’s possible the war isn’t over, after all . . .

I realised this was a bad idea at around the time the alien biotech started pulsing with dark pleasure under my ribs.

Not that it had ever been a good idea, of course. When you boil it down, there’s two types of plans: the ones that get you killed, and the ones that don’t. When you’re in the business of stealing illegal goods from dangerous people and selling them to other dangerous people, risk is part of the deal. But it was only since I’d been injected with stormtech that I’d started enjoying it. The rush of adrenaline. The thrill of danger. The heat of aggression.

The polymer atrium of the spaceport with its recycled oxygen and pallid lighting was freezing, but my skin was flushed and prickling with fresh sweat, my breathing shallow, my hands twitching by my sides. I think I was even salivating for some action. Moist, sticky saliva filling my mouth like treacle. I grimaced. I hated when my body did that. Twitchy hands were acceptable and sweaty skin I could handle, but I was never going to get used to a sudden mouthful of saliva. The stormtech only got this keyed up when I was walking into something no sane person would consider.

Nothing for it but to press on, keeping a watch on my body and my surroundings. Breathing hard, sweat snaking down my spine, I stepped into the spaceport terminal. It was frantic in the way only spaceports can be: people wandering around and clutching e-tickets, queuing for zero-gravity nausea meds, whirling to meet flight schedules, all while drones jostled overhead. I cut a path through the crowded chaos. No easy feat for a guy my size, though folks tended to edge out of my way, especially since I was wearing heavy armour, my face concealed behind a helmet with a wide, mirrored visor.

The humid, hot stench clung to every surface of the spaceport like a bad reputation. The stormtech had elevated my senses, letting me smell the difference between the spicy, gunpowdery stink of a suit lined with asteroid dust and the greasy odour of a suit worn by an engine-room worker. Between the familiar smell of a human and unfamiliar one of some alien species. The smells all tumbling and blending together and oozing into every pore. Didn’t matter which planets or outposts or habitats you went to in the universe, all spaceports smelled like this. I’d visited enough of them, back when I was a soldier.

This spaceport was in the bottom floor of Compass, a colossal, hollowed-out asteroid. I’d never been to anything like this asteroid, and it was hard to believe, even standing in the flight terminal and seeing the geometries of chiselled rock gouged out high above, hollows sparkling with metals and threaded with girderwork and support struts like the ribcage of some giant, celestial creature.

Golden lights glistened down on tiles shiny with engine grease as I stepped into the tumultuous streets. Only now did my body-heat drop, my breathing returning to normal. Slowly, I started to think more clearly as my focus unclouded. Eyes on the corners. Ears open. Mapping escape routes and points of interest. Scanning the crowd for weapons and possible assailants.

Paranoid, perhaps. But paranoia is always preferable to a bullet in the face. I had to assume the Jackal had look-outs and was packing surveillance gear. You don’t become one of the most notorious crimelords on an asteroid of half a billion people without your own healthy dose of paranoia.

People clustered around a hexagonal viewport to watch a kilometre-long chainship soaring by, blue starlight glinting off its silver flank. Highrises towered above the spaceport, radiant with blinking lights. Multilevel shop readouts advertised ship parts, engine repairs, navsystem charts, spacesuits, cheap flights and cheaper booze in English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish and a smattering of alien and offworld dialects, bleeding stains of neon green and crimson like angry mist into the air.

A crackle echoed from the spaceport. A busted chainship engine, probably. I was the only one on the street who turned towards it. Without the stormtech bolstering their senses like mine, the average human wouldn’t have heard it, or the distant warble of engines entering and exiting the spaceport, or see the guy in a high window shooting a needle of synthsilver into his arm. Thanks to the organic blue matter shimmying down my throat, wrapped around my bones, slithering down my ribs like ladder rungs, and fused into the fibres of my organs and muscles, I could.

A sudden commslink burst filled my eardrums. ‘Grim! Turn the frequency down,’ I managed to growl.

The intense static quietened until it disappeared entirely. ‘Sorry, Vakov,’ Grim said.

‘I thought we agreed you’d wait for my signal,’ I said, ears still ringing.

‘Yeah, well.’ I could practically hear the ear-splitting grin in his voice. My friend’s face popped into the bottom right corner of my heads-up display. He was short and weedy where I was tall and broad, pale with a shock of red hair that was the opposite of my tanned skin and black hair. We were opposites in many ways. But I’ve found  friends to occasionally be like magnets: opposing forces attract. With the emphasis on occasionally. Grim was snacking away, every crunch amplified in my ear. But telling him to stop eating would be like telling me to stop drinking. ‘Everything else is ready . . . and I got bored. You know how it is, big guy.’

Unfortunately, I did.

‘Please tell me you’re not watching me through street cams again,’ I said as I brought my waypoint up. ‘If they backtrace—’

‘You worry too much. My tech’s airtight, always has been,’ came the hacker’s easy drawl. Grim was my best friend,  but in moments like these I wanted to wring his scrawny neck. ‘Just making sure you don’t do anything stupid. Like on Kaddus Station.’

I winced. ‘You and I remember Kaddus very differently.’

Grim gave a knowing mhm. I changed the subject. ‘Make yourself useful and watch for nasty surprises at the waypoint.’

That was our deal. I handled the physical end of the business, while he worked his tech magic from twenty floors above. Grim grumbled but eventually settled down to work. He might whine about it, but he always comes around in the end. If I need him at my side he’ll be there, though sometimes the convincing gave me a headache.

He reminded me of my little brother.

Support Jeremy by buying Stormblood at one of the locations below.

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Published inInterviews


  1. Awesome interview. Such a great writer, and I loved to hear the insights!

  2. I’ve watched a few documentaries lately on WWII and how the Wehrmacht soldiers were given Methamphetamine before the Polish, French and Russian blitzkriegs. First, just the SS, in Poland and France would consider the populace as sub-human, but by the time Germany invaded Russia, the entire Wehrmacht had been indoctrinated to dehumanizing the Russian people and slaughter ensued.

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