On August 10th*, Skull Island eXpeditions takes its first foray into original fiction with the millennia-spanning pulp adventure Tales of the Invisible Hand by Miles Holmes. We spoke with Miles about his upcoming novel and his inspirations for the book’s themes of alternate history and ancient civilizations.
1) Tales of the Invisible Hand has a fascinating backstory to it that essentially informs the world, as it's actually set on Earth. Tell us a little about that history and the story this book reveals.
I have always been fascinated by the human journey through history and how little we really understand of it. When people think ancient, they usually think of the pyramids of Egypt or the Roman Colosseum; however, the civilizations responsible for creating these structures rose and fell pretty much yesterday in the overall big picture. Human beings have been around for so much longer, it boggles the mind. The lack of a recorded history from our earliest days is, I think, what makes it so easy for us to gloss over this period. Which is not to suggest we have no sense of these times at all. Stories like Atlantis describe events that would have been ancient even for our ancients, and these tales are not in short supply. Whenever I have encountered such stories, I wonder: Is there a nugget of truth here? So, Tales of the Invisible Hand begins with the journal of the archaeologist Max Braun, a man eager to discover the origins of the Biblical Tower of Babel. Through his discoveries, the veil of time is pulled back to reveal the prehistoric civilization that raised the actual tower.
2) The book has a very Edgar Rice Burroughs/Robert E. Howard vibe to it. What was your inspiration for Tales of the Invisible Hand?
Naturally, I am grateful for comparisons to Conan and John Carter. That said, inspiration for Tales of the Invisible Hand comes from many sources, including fantasy, science fiction, film, print, and philosophy. For example, the Fermi Paradox— the idea describing the probability of alien life despite the lack of evidence—has long intrigued me. The rich folklore of Tolkien’s Middle Earth along with Lovecraft’s disturbing pantheon of gods have also inspired me, as I’m sure they have many others. In the stories of Jules Verne, I found myself drawn to his fantastic journeys and signature romance with science. H.G. Wells provided inspiration, too, through his eye for detail in the face of an alien invasion and time travel. Michael Moorcock’s Elric series is another inspiration, chiefly in his crafting of the world we would inherit along with the Melniboneans that left it behind. I aspired to describe imagery as vivid as Melville’s Moby Dick, along with the swashbuckling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, as both books are favorites from my childhood to this day.
Finally, my love of aviation and the air combat of World War II should be obvious enough after reading a few pages, as well as the influence of Indiana Jones and his ongoing quest to find the truth in our greatest legends.
3) In creating a whole new world, what are the greatest challenges?
Creating a world both fictional and fantastic while keeping it rooted in and compatible with our own was the primary challenge, which I attempted to negotiate with a deliberate blend of imagination and fact. Beyond sorting through the legends and mythology that would inspire the story, I also needed to gather some sense of the physical world of the time, the presumed populations of hominids, the flora, the fauna, climate, topography, and so on. With those things in mind, I began to outline the history and diversity of the civilizations I would superimpose. But I had a few more details to consider. Tales of the Invisible Hand is the first in a series of stories rooted in prehistory, complete with an arc of its own. Yet the consequences of that arc will reach us in the present and continue on into the distant future with books both written and in development. As an example, you might notice the pages of Max Braun’s journal were written in the year 2069, a deliberate choice yet to unfold . . .
4) You have a fascinating cast of characters--tell us about your favorite among them and why that character is so significant to you?
To me, Tales of the Invisible Hand is a buddy-adventure at its heart, and I have enjoyed writing the pair of main characters the most so far. As with most buddy-adventures, the pair is a mismatch. In this case, both characters also represent genetic dead ends: the Neanderthal Sh’Col Gaur and the young pilot Zekh, a variant of Homo sapiens whose identifying features have long since been bred out of our gene pool. A couple of years ago while researching the book, I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Professor Michael Bisson, an anthropologist at McGill University and a noted expert on Neanderthals. We spoke about the misunderstood intelligence of Neanderthals, their physical traits, and how they might have perceived the world. So I took particular pleasure in finally realizing a Neanderthal character, and better still, placing him in an advanced civilization.
5) Clearly, Tales of the Invisible Hand is just the beginning of the story. What is the over-arcing story you're developing here?
As mentioned above, Tales of the Invisible Hand begins a series rooted in our lost history, one that describes a complete narrative arc unto itself. This arc also seeks to offer a deeper insight into the world we’ve inherited in our present. Indeed, that we have inherited the world at all is due to the conflict depicted here. That is not to say our fantastic history is without consequence, as Max Braun will come to discover for himself. It is my intention he will follow this rabbit hole into the future, through the collapse of the world as we know it, and onto the next stage of humanity’s long journey.
*Copies of Tales of the Invisible Hand will be available at Gen Con this year (August 4-7), and Miles Holmes will be on hand to sign copies of the book during the con (see the Privateer Press booth for more info).