Tuesday, February 28, 2012

From the Bookshelf: A New World: Chaos by John O'Brien

I love discovering work by an author that resonates fully, deeply, engaging all six senses and making me want to read everything else they've written and will write.  So I was thrilled to pick up John O'Brien's A New World: Chaos, the first in a series of three novels (with a fourth being written as we speak) about a frighteningly believable near future apocalypse scenario.  Not surprisingly, O'Brien is developing quite the loyal following. Count me among them.  With his classic good looks and All-American vibe, the former Air Force pilot could and should be modeling for the covers of books. Turns out, the man is perfectly at home writing them.  And boy, can he write.

The first novel in the series, Chaos, finds O'Brien calling upon material he is more than conversant with -- the military -- as former pilot Jack, a divorced dad, attempts to keep his family safe after a deadly flu pandemic sweeps around the globe, killing much of humanity but also genetically transforming many of the survivors into crazed, vicious mutations.  Chaos opens in a world eerily quiet one moment that gradually builds towards screams as Jack struggles to reach seventeen-year-old son Robert and younger daughters Brianna and Nicole, trapped in the basement of their family home in Washington State while persons (or things) unknown prowl about in the upstairs.  Told through Jack's POV, the tension steadily grows suffocating, forcing the reader to turn the page.  I was some two chapters in before extricating myself out of O'Brien's new world -- a place that is as engaging to visit as it is terrifying.

As the story unfolds, never slowing down (kudos to O'Brien, a self-confessed former adrenaline fiend), the family's mission of survival expands to include rescuing Jack's estranged ex-wife, Lynn, a service woman stationed overseas in Kuwait.  Utilizing his -- and the author's -- exceptional piloting skills, Jack commandeers the controls of an HC-130 military cargo plane, which leads to some of the bloodiest sequences in the second half of the series' opening salvo:

"We draw to the end once more turning around. Our lights illuminate the ramp and taxiway showing the asphalt littered with scraps and chunks of clothing, body parts, and bits of flesh and bone. An absolutely disgusting sight that makes me want to flick the lights off but I need them. The things hovering at a distance, milling about, and some lean towards us with their mouths open, obviously emitting those loud shrieks. The only sound coming to us is the continuous droning of engines and heavy breathing in our helmet speakers.
     “What the hell is that!?” I say into the microphone.
     “What?” Michelle asks.
     “Listen,” I say and then hear another faint thump; more felt than heard. “There, that.”
     “It sounds like it’s coming from behind us,” Robert says."

It was my pleasure to speak with O'Brien, relatively new to the business of writing -- though you wouldn't know it.  A natural storyteller, he was kind enough to also share with me the back-story of his terrifying brave new world.

So who is John O'Brien?
That is both a simple and complex question and answer.  I’m not really much to be honest.  I have a zest to experience life and, in that zest, have had the privilege and luck of being able to pack a lot of experiences into the short time I’ve been walking on this rock hurtling through space.  There is both a linear side and a spiritual side.  Of course sometimes those sides clash and the end result isn’t pretty.  I like to push myself and am constantly learning.  That drive and zest has led to many great experiences and some not so great ones.  For now, I enjoy introspection in the country of the Northwest; the quietness being amongst the firs and cedars that it affords.  I have always enjoyed sports and so love to take my road and mountain bikes out exploring the area, throwing my kayak in Puget Sound and paddling along the many islands that dot the southern area.

As an ex-adrenaline junkie, I enjoyed experiences that pushed the limit of both mind and body.  I still do but to a much more limited extent.  The years tend to do that.  I like to think that I’ve changed and grown through those years but there is still a boy inside who smiles at the thought of a new adventure.

Tell us about your military career.
I was a fighter instructor pilot in the Air Force transitioning to special ops and the HC-130 for the latter part of my career.  I have flown a myriad of aircraft from the T-37, T-38 to the HC-130.  I enjoyed each for different reasons but it was all about the flying.  I covered a few of my experiences in the first book.  Some terrifying, some exhilarating, and some breath-taking.  Seeing the ground below you covered in darkness with the headlights of cars miles below while still being bathed in sunlight was an amazing experience.  Another is seeing the stars glisten above against a dark blue sky in the middle of the day was quite amazing.  Terrifying experiences always seem to include thunderstorms.  Yeah, those aren’t very fun to penetrate and I wouldn’t recommend the experience to anyone.  I detail an experience of recovering from an unrecoverable spin in one section of the book; one moment out of control in an accelerated spin, pinned to the top of the canopy unable to punch out and the next moment flying straight and level with flyable airspeed.  There was definitely something watching out for me and it just wasn’t my time to go.  Oh, and there was flying up the canyons of northwest Texas.  That was a blast although I probably shouldn’t be mentioning those little jaunts.  I could go on and on but that would be a book unto itself as each flight was an experience unto itself.

(John O'Brien in action)
Have you always wanted to be a writer, or did you have one of those Eureka! moments?
Yeah, a writer.  Me?!  I have always thought about and daydreamed about the ultimate survival situation.  A post-apocalyptic world seemed to fit the bill nicely.  I read a few zombie stories after being introduced to the genre from my son.  There are some great stories out there by the way.  I was reading through several and it was one of those Eureka/revelation moments.  I realized these authors were getting paid for their stories. Well, I started putting the story that had been running in my head down.  Actually, several stories but I condensed them into one.  I have other scenarios running through my head and will put them down after I finish this current series.

How do you view the planet differently from being up there, so high above it?  What's the highest you've attained, and do you still fly recreationally?
I cannot even begin to describe the feeling and pleasure of flying.  It’s a freedom.  Any worries and stresses I had on the ground melted away when my wheels left the runway.  I was in a different world.  Sometimes the mission took away from being able to just enjoy the flying but that aspect always came back.  Sometimes it just became a job like any other.  But the takeoff was always an exhilaration no matter what.

One aspect flying so high gives you is that the world we live on is very small.  We look outside our windows during the day and it seems so big.  Thinking about an hour or two drive gives that illusion.  Being aloft and at altitude gives you notice that the earth is really a small place; just a small bit of rock and water speeding through space.  The highest I’ve ever been is 54,000 feet.  Truly an amazing sight if you’ve ever been that high.

I don’t currently fly but will as I get this story finished.  Flying is in my blood and I will definitely be taking that up again later in life.  I can’t imagine not doing it.

I love your A New World series.  You recently wrapped the third novel -- will there be a fourth?
The story is far from over and I’m currently a little over half of the way through the draft of the fourth book.  Depending on where I decide to take the story – I do have the whole aspect of it in mind but there are times when it takes off on its own – I envision up to nine or ten books.  I have an idea for another series which unfortunately keeps me up at night.  I just can’t seem to get my mind to shut up.

Do you write short fiction?  During Chaos, I also kept thinking your novel would make a great film.
I haven’t written any shorter fiction.  The New World series is my first venture out into the world of writing.  I would really enjoy seeing the story make its way into a movie or series.  It’s funny the way energy works.  I thought about that very thought not long ago and now I am getting a few emails and such that say the very same thing.  I do have to tell you that I am deeply humbled by the people writing me and from the reviews of all of the books.  I have such great fans and, again, find myself humbled by the fact that I can even say I have a fan base.  It’s mind-boggling at times.  This series is way more than I expected and I am very appreciative of the readers.  I can’t say enough – thank you!

What's a typical John O'Brien day like?  Do you stick to a writing schedule?
I’m not sure there is a typical day to be honest.  I don’t set any alarms but wake up fairly early.  Well, what I consider pretty early.  Making my espresso is the first order of business.  With my cup in hand, the day can then begin.  I look through my messages while enjoying my caffeinated milk shake – I don’t really like the taste of coffee so it’s white chocolate powder and plenty of syrup – answering the folks that write both via emails and online reviews.  I like to stay in contact with folks that have read through the books and have taken their valuable time to write and share their thoughts.  It’s really for the readers that I write.

My writing schedule really depends on how much sunshine is out.  Okay, kidding just a little there.  I am usually at my keyboard most of the day.  I do take breaks and perhaps test out the comforts of the couch while pondering plot lines or sequences.  I even have a pad and pen on the bed in case I wake up with ideas.  That actually happens quite a bit – light bulbs go off and I have to get those ideas down before they fade.  If I happen to have one or both of my kids around, then we are off doing something else though so most weekends are taken up with them.  My son is actually in the midst of writing several books and he’ll grab his laptop out at times and we’ll both write.  So, the short answer is that I’m usually writing for most of the day with breaks thrown in throughout.

When not writing, you...
I have a wide variety of activities from running, cycling, and kayaking depending on the weather.  When summer rolls around, there are road trips in the Jeep with the top down and the radio up.  Evenings with my son will involve the Xbox and/or a movie.  I have to say that I enjoy the Call of Duty games but haven’t played them much lately.  I was really a fan of COD4 and Black Ops.  I’ll jump on MW3 here after the book is finished but I’ll be such a Noob first off.  I really enjoy reading but I’ve found that has slacked off to a great degree when I’m writing.  My mind is too fried at the end of the day to really take too much more in.

Any chance your readers will get to meet you at any upcoming conventions or conferences?
Well, I haven’t been invited to any but would enjoy getting out and meeting people.  My son and I did go to ZomBCon this year up in Seattle and had a great time.

What would your ideal world be like?  A New World: Order?
Wow!  That’s a tough question.  Maybe not a tough one to visualize but more of putting it into words.  My ideal world wouldn’t have night runners that’s for sure.  I would have to say an ideal world would be more of a harmonious one with nature and each other.  Less materialism.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy nice things like anyone else but there’s a difference with needs and wants.  Helping others would be at the forefront and my ideal world.  Peace, understanding, and spiritual introspection.

Look for more from John O'Brien in future posts on this blog.

1 comment:

  1. I'm trying to force my way through this book because I'm told the series gets better but honestly I feel I was robbed of the 99p it cost me on Kindle.

    When a author takes half a page to describe kicking down a door, perhaps just a little too much detail is being used.

    This goes for everything though. Every action is described in excruciating detail.

    It wouldn't be so bad if the characters were interesting, they aren't. Instead they seem to be their simply to be the prop of the next overly described event and action. The story never slows down because it never gets going.

    I honestly do not understand how this book has gotten so many positive reviews. There must be some magical 'it gets better' section further on. Problem is I'm not sure I can force myself on to find it.