Interview with Cold Forge author, Alex White by David Gogel

My love for Aliens: Cold Forge is no secret by now. I hope a good portion of you have found the time to read it. Alex White was kind enough to set aside some time and answer a wide variety of questions. I threw just about everything at him, and his answers (and fortunately, my questions) did not disappoint. This was a huge treat for me as I’ve spent many hours reading Alien novels throughout the years. On to the good stuff!

This is always one of my favorite questions: How did you first become a fan of Aliens?

The first action movie I was allowed to watch was Terminator 2, because it won an Oscar for special effects. A friend of the family, who is an ex-Marine sniper, found out the moratorium on action movies was over, and he sent me a bunch of VHS tapes of: Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Predator, Predator 2 and Warlock. I LOVED all of them, but the Alien franchise really stuck with me. Ridley Scott’s dark portraiture and James Cameron’s cocaine action sequences turned out to be the perfect point of entry into the franchise for a 10-year-old kid.

What is your favorite Alien movie?

Alien. Hands down. I love the corporate dystopia and extreme tension present throughout the entire movie. I tried to mimic that feeling the most in The Cold Forge.

How did you get approached to write the book?

I’d just sold my debut novel, Every Mountain Made Low, to Solaris, and my agent used that as a springboard to start talking to Titan. Tie-in publishers like to know you’re a reliable writer who can deliver on tight deadlines, so a previously-published novel is a must. I had a few random pitch meetings over 2 years, and then I got the contract.

What do you think of Prometheus and Covenant?

They’re both gorgeous trainwrecks, and the characters’ actions don’t hold up to even surface-level scrutiny. However, the questions they pose and the additions they make to the universe are captivating. I found it frustrating that the genius worldbuilding was overshadowed by shoddy plot work, and I have to wonder how much of that was due to factors I’ll never know. Still, it hasn’t stopped me from watching both movies quite a few times and dissecting each individual element. They’re loving films, and I’m glad we have them, regardless of the problematic aspects.

Is Rook, Bishop’s brother, from the Bug Hunt short story?

He isn’t! But, I mean, he could be if you want him to be. I just wanted to pick a name that fit with Ash and Bishop.

Was Dorian a nod to Dorian Grey? (I know you answered that, but feel free to expand here if you’d like)

Oh, absolutely. It’s a beautiful name, and I’ve always loved it since I first read the Oscar Wilde story. I wanted to portray someone who was a carefully-controlled hedonist and manipulator, with a disgusting sinful side hidden away. When I first named him, I was worried it was a bit on-the-nose. A subtle manipulator named Dorian Sudler? I think Dorian would’ve named himself something more innocuous, like Roger Smith.

On that subject, I named Blue Marsalis after Wynton Marsalis, because they’re both geniuses and masters of improvisation.

Sicilian, Deep dish or Neapolitan pizza?

I can’t digest pizza, and it can cause me intense pain for days after. That being said, sometimes I hate myself enough to eat one, and when I do, I fucking go to town. Truly, honestly, the best pizza is the one I’m eating. (Those last words are words to live by – Dave)

Is “Plagiarus praepotens” the Xenovirus/black goo?

Yep! It essentially means “mighty imitator,” as a reference to the fact that the Xenomorphs steal some of the features of their hosts. I worked with several biologists and a virologist to try and create a Linnean taxonomy for the various states, and that created massive problems. We know that the Xenomorphs should share some Earth biology (they’re probably carbon-based, for example), because the Engineers created both them and humans. The Facehugger was easy–eight jointed legs, whiplike tail, acid for blood–that put it pretty soundly in the vicinity of the vinegaroon (look them up, they’re gross as hell). The Xenomorph presented the most unique challenge possible: it changes, depending on its host. How can you properly classify a creature that doesn’t have a set morphology/DNA? The solution was to not bother, and only classify the bacterial state of the creature.

In the original draft of the novel, Blue (being obsessed with technical correctness) referred to the adults as Plagiarus praepotens, as well. That became both confusing and cumbersome, which is where the term “snatchers” was born.

Do you have any background in science and military, your attention to detail is outstanding. (Yes, this stuff is easily Googled, but humor me here)

My time working on classified projects was a major driver in Titan’s decision to hire me. Steve Saffel was fascinated by my experience and wanted to know everything I could tell him about the culture of weapons development. My old coworkers get a real laugh out of the book.

In addition to real world experience, I’m blessed with a battery of brilliant science friends. If you look at the acknowledgements, you can see all of the folks who helped out. It would’ve been a much more abstract book without them.

Are there any characters in the Alien universe you’d love to write about?

Yeah! I want to write about Carter J Burke, because he’s just about the worst character in the series in terms of development. What the fuck was he thinking, personally showing up on a mission when he knew there was a problem with a bioweapon? Why would anyone do that? It’s one of the story’s only gaping plot holes, and I’d love to come close it up. Aside from him, who doesn’t love Amanda Ripley? (My take on Burke: He tagged along because 1) To prove to his bosses he was correct 2) If correct, to assure a sample came home. Succeed where Ash failed. – Dave)

How does it feel seeing such positive feedback from the fandom?

INCREDIBLE! More than anything, I wanted to write a book for my fellow fans. I felt like I was taking a huge risk, departing from the military SF trajectory of the modern books, but I didn’t want to write that kind of stuff. You’ve already got so much of it. Right up until the day of the release, I was on pins and needles.

I’d seen a couple of comments (understandably) dogging the synopsis, and I sympathized. Keeping my mouth shut was the hardest part. I wanted to yell, “I promise the book isn’t like that!” but it’s the publisher’s purview to control the release of information, not mine. The last thing I wanted was to get dinged for a leak. (But mother of god, I was so tempted.)

If you drink, favorite beer and/or liquor? (I almost always have a drink when I write. Loosens up the brain)

I’ve rarely met a cocktail I disliked, but I’m too lazy to make them. Most of the time, if I’m going to drink, it’s going to be Old Grand-Dad, sometimes right out of the bottle if I don’t feel like fetching a glass. It’s a bottom shelf bourbon, but it’s barrel-aged and smooth as hell. I like it better than Blanton’s, Makers or any of those. I don’t drink half as much as I once did, because of the antidepressants. (Makes note to add to shopping list. -Dave)

What made you decide to write such glourious assholes?

My spouse has multiple sclerosis and my son is nonverbal autistic, which means you often see a harsher side of society than a lot of people. At one time, I lived below the poverty line in rural Alabama, and I have known some desperate folks. People in bad situations only have a few options, and most of them aren’t the forthright, valiant ones. Sure, the characters in The Cold Forge are mean, but they’re not doing anything I necessarily disagree with (DORIAN TOTALLY EXCLUDED FROM THAT STATEMENT).

Everyone likes to cleave to their morality when they read books, because they’re not in there fighting. But in a real survival scenario, you don’t get to do that and live. A heroic death is just as dead as a cowardly one. Think about the choices Blue has to make, after losing her youth and beauty, and suffering in the extreme for a decade:

If you were dying and you could rip off an amoral megacorporation for a cure, would you do it?

If the person standing in your way was susceptible to blackmail because of his own moral turpitude, would you blackmail him?

Anything about Dorian you can tell us that is not in the book?

Dorian makes several oblique references to his father, and I left it deliberately ambiguous. Did his dad abuse him? Is he right to be so deeply damaged?

The answer is no. Dorian’s father was a hardcore academic with a PhD in Physics from Princeton University. He believed that raising all of humanity with unlimited clean energy would lead to a new utopia, and tried to instill those values in Dorian. When Dorian excelled in business and joined Weyland-Yutani, he and his father had a falling out, because his father believed Dorian was wasting his mind on craven capitalism.

And in Dorian’s book, his father committed the ultimate sin–he judged his motives unworth. That’s part of why Dorian hates Blue so much during their introductions to one another–she’s an academic and shows him clear disdain.

What would you like to see in future Alien movies?

Tighter plot and motivation-driven characters.

Do you read the Alien comics? If you do, what is your favorite?

Labyrinth. It’s been awhile. Maybe if they let me write a comic, that one will be my favorite 😉

Avengers: Infinity War, are you #TeamThanos or #TeamAvengers? 

I think Thanos’s plan sounds like the sort of thing a child might suggest to fix global shortages when they don’t understand advanced factors like GDP. He has all of the intelligence and resources to make interdimensional leaps, but food shortages are beyond him. Couple that with the fact that he kills indiscriminately, which will result in the deaths of some of the most prolific producers in the galaxy, and it’s probably the worst villain plan I’ve heard in a long time. I’m kind of flummoxed (and frankly concerned) that anyone finds his ideas workable.

So yes. Thanos is a worthless jackass, so I’m resoundingly #TeamAvengers. They do a lot of damage and we might be better off without them, but at least they’re not as stupid as Thanos.

Favorite TV show at the moment?

Queer Eye! This latest season was incredible!

What was the biggest challenge in writing Cold Forge?

The timeline! Once the contract was offered, I had exactly four months to write a novel. I’d never worked so fast before, and that book basically nuked my social life

Any movies/tv shows that influence your writing?

I may have been influenced a little bit by the Alien franchise.

But seriously, I love complicated stories like Boardwalk Empire and Battlestar Galactica, as well as a few anime classics like Cowboy Bebop. Sadly, I don’t watch as much TV as I used to nowadays, and usually dive into Chef’s Table if I want to stare at the screen.

Which writer is your biggest influence?

Hard to say. In high school, I was fed a steady diet of mid-century American lit, like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Kerouac, O’Connor and Welty. I didn’t always enjoy them, but they left an indelible mark on my style–particularly O’Connor. Because of her, I always appreciate simple prose.

Who was your favorite character to write?

It’s a toss-up between Loxley Fiddleback from Every Mountain Made Low and Orna Sokol from A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe. They both have such unique perspectives, and it’s always cool to dive into their heads.

What is your favorite sci-if movie?

Alien. Seriously. It’s a perfect movie.

Sports fan? Who ya got?

Formula One! All I can say is, “Forza Ferrari! Let’s mix up that championship a bit!”

Who is your favorite character in the Aliens universe?

Gorman.

I want to believe that I’m Apone–cool, confident, hilarious and a strong leader, doing the job when the job is crap. But let’s face it: we’re all Gorman–scared, annoyed and blindsided by a reality that no amount of training could prepare us for, clinging to any vestige of order we can find.

What is your next project/When does it release?

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe is a magic space opera, featuring exciting characters, fast-paced action and race cars! One of the critics said it’s like The Fast and the Furious meets Firefly. If you’re feeling down after reading all of the assholes in The Cold Forge, this book is going to be the perfect palate-cleanser. It’s the first in a three-book series called The Salvagers, and it releases on June 26th.

There it is! Lots of tasty morsels, as I like to say. I certainly hope Alex gets pegged for another Aliens novel down the road, his take on the franchise was more than overdue. If you want to check more of his material or just say “hi!” I’ve provided the information below. Stay frosty everyone…

Be sure to follow Alex White on Twitter: @alexrwhite

On Instagram: the_alex_white

And check out his official site on the internets: alexrwhite.com

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