Michael Prelee is a graduate of Youngstown State University. His new novel, “Bad Rock Beat Down”, the second installment in the “Milky Way Repo” sci-fi crime series, was released in July 2017 by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy. 2017 also saw the release of “Murder in the Heart of it All”, a gripping mystery set in Ohio, available now from North Star Press. He resides in Northeast Ohio with his family where he enjoys writing.
Your third book Bad Rock Beat Down (the second of the series) is a continuation of the repo series following repossession agents of Milky Way Repo. What special skills would it take to be able to repossess entire spaceships?
Well, first, you need a really big tow truck because starships are just enormous. No, not really. I’m kidding. The Milky Way Repo crew is a collection of folks who each have a skill set useful to the endeavor. There are five members on the crew:
Nathan Teller is the captain and pilot of their recovery starship, the Blue Moon Bandit. Nathan has a wide independent streak that has caused him problems throughout his life. He chafes at having a boss or being under anyone’s authority. This need to be on his own has led him to leave behind a successful military career, other jobs that would have paid him well and his marriage. This repo business is the only thing he has going for him.
Duncan Jax is the engineer on the Blue Moon Bandit. He keeps the ship flying on a shoestring budget. He could work elsewhere, and has considered it, but like Nathan he enjoys the freedom their work allows. He’s way more financially successful than Nathan. He invests wisely with his wife and they are looking forward to the day when they can retire early and do whatever they want.
Marla Jax is the co-pilot of the Blue Moon Bandit and Duncan’s wife. Like her husband, she’s a total professional and pragmatic. The life they have gives her just enough excitement to keep things interesting. The alternative is hauling freight between planets on slow vessels where nothing ever happens. No way is she going to live that life.
Cole Seger used to be a Marshal for the Protective Services, hunting down criminals. Now he’s the muscle on Nathan’s boat. He keeps everyone safe and deals with the hard cases who don’t want to give up their vessels when the repo man comes calling.
Richie Pearson is a machinist mate on the Blue Moon Bandit. He’s a young guy with a gambling addiction but Duncan has taken him under his wing. He’s learning how things work on a starship and he’s excellent at fabricating whatever items are needed.
Together, they hunt down and repossesses starships from owners who haven’t kept up on their payments.
The characters in your books face a lot of the same challenges folk are facing now – we take it you are not optimistic about us countering income inequality as we reach for the stars. What do you think the biggest challenges will be for humans as we spread outwards into the galaxies?
I’m actually quite optimistic about humanity’s chances for overcoming most of our problems, including income inequality. We’re standing at a point in history where we have to start thinking differently about our fundamental economic theory. It’s becoming obvious that artificial intelligence and automation will eliminate many jobs, including white collar and skilled labor positions that were once deemed safe from exploitation. People’s needs aren’t eliminated simply because their job is. At some point politicians will have to realize the necessity of a universal basic income and universal healthcare because there simply won’t be enough employment opportunities for everyone. Public policy will have to catch up to reality.
Events in the Milky Way Repo universe take place about five hundred years from now, and while technology has advanced to offer us an easier life, people are essentially the same as they are now. They aspire to greatness but they also gamble, drink too much, and cheat on each other. For example, a couple of the new characters in Bad Rock Beat Down start their own salvage company and are doing quite well until they are taken advantage of and faced with threats from organized crime. The people causing them problems are not the 1%, but rather some of the same forces small businesses face today.
However, in a perverse irony, income inequality is actually helping humans explore space. The same entrepreneurial traits that drive some people to build successful tech companies are the same traits needed to drive humanity to the stars. The same management principles that solve problems in businesses allow entrepreneurs to solve problems in space exploration. While NASA continues to successfully explore planets with unmanned probes and concentrates on doing science for the sake of science, entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson are using the heaping mounds of wealth their companies have produced to put people in orbit and realistically talk about goals like going back to the Moon and onward to Mars.
For your second book, Murder in the Heart of it All, you stepped away from Sci-Fi and into the world of mystery. Tell us a little about the differences and similarities between the genres for you?The genres themselves aren’t given to similarities but the settings within them and the characters have a great deal in common. In both, I draw on experiences from my own life. I’m from the Rust Belt, so there are a multitude of stories here that lend themselves to the kind of fiction I like to write. We have people who work hard without getting ahead, corrupt government and a frightening drug epidemic. It’s all in how you approach the subject matter.
Murder in the Heart of It All is actually based on real events that occurred in my home state of Ohio. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, someone terrorized the small town of Circleville with anonymous letters. I saw the story profiled on Unsolved Mysteries and it stuck with me. What would drive someone to do that? What kind of person is that? Once you start asking yourself questions like that you realize they apply to stories in every genre.
As a follow-up to that question, would you consider writing a mystery in space? What special challenges would a detective face, attempting to solve inter-galactic crime?
I think a mystery in space has a lot of potential. People are driven by motivations like greed and jealousy, no matter the time or place, so they’ll always commit crime. Conversely, there are people motivated to figure things out and keep the peace, to not allow society to fall into chaos. The conflict between those motivations drives a good crime fiction story here in the present, or in the far off future.
Setting a crime in space or in the future allows a writer to extrapolate from the current investigative methods and forensic science to create new kinds of crime and new ways to solve it. It sounds very exciting.
The Everyman character seems to be pivotal in your fiction. What things do you think serve as the backbone of such characters? What are the deficiencies inherent in them?
I enjoy reading about characters that are relatable so that’s what I write. Financial difficulties, family problems, and social problems are something I think most of us can relate to. It’s easy to sympathize with a character who is facing troubles similar to your own, whether that’s not being able to pay the bills, dealing with a loved suffering from addiction, or someone struggling to build a business. Seeing how characters deal with these issues can help you get through your own problems.
As far as deficiencies in everyman characters, relying on them too heavily can limit the scope of a story. There may be times you want to expand into areas that simply demand larger personalities so you have to make room for that in your stories.
What is your favorite (read) book and why?
I’ve read Stephen King’s The Stand a few times because I’m just amazed at the scope of it. He takes all of those disparate characters and makes you empathize with each of them. It’s a book about the end times, good vs evil and humanity fighting to carry on. I admire how difficult it must have been to take on a project like that and write it so well.
What is the book you dream of writing and haven’t yet?
I’m a big Star Trek guy, and I’ve always thought the amazing premise to Voyager could have been executed better. A starship lost on its own, far from home, with only the people and resources it carries to sustain them and the principles of a utopian society to guide them. I have a lot of notes written up about how I would approach such a project but I haven’t written it yet. Right now other projects are keeping me busy.
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