Insider 05-17-2016 Nathan Meyer

The pulse-pounding action sci-fi/horror novel LEVEL 7: The Judas Protocol releases this week. We spoke to author Nathan Meyer to get some insight into the shadowy black-ops world of LEVEL 7 and the alien Ghin among us...

1) LEVEL 7: The Judas Protocol is part of the LEVEL 7 universe and ties into the tactical miniature-based board games in that line. Each game tells a part of the story of LEVEL 7, so where does Judas Protocol fit into the narrative?

Judas Protocol is actually a prequel in the game chronology. This novel introduces the members of Disco Team prior to the events detailed in the game LEVEL 7: OMEGA PROTOCOL. This includes a team member who is conspicuously absent from the game . . .
Judas Protocol introduces the morally ambivalent world of the alien Ghin leaders—Cronos and Thoth—and illuminates the strain and pressure members of Disco Team endure and operate under. These are good men but men who are also true believers in their cause. Because of this, they are continuously forced into darker and darker choices as they struggle to complete their mission.

2) Tells us about the characters. Who are heroes of Judas Protocol?

We have protagonists operating heroically in the face of horror and danger. We have heroic-acting protagonists fighting to ensure the safety of America on large-scale terms, at least as they understand it. But I’m not entirely sure there are any “heroes” in Judas Protocol.

The novel focuses on the five members of Disco Team. These Tier One operators are drawn from the ranks of the Joint Special Operations Command, and from there, a small number of personnel are selected by an extremely specific criteria. This includes a history of displaying ruthless capability in the face of danger, certain classified biological and genetic markers, as well as distinct psychological profiles.

These are men and women you might not want to drink a beer with or have over for dinner. They are, however, exactly who you need when the things that go bump in the night need bullets in their faces. In the world of LEVEL 7, it often takes a monster to kill a monster.

Perhaps ironically, it is the chief antagonist of the novel, a rogue Ghin scientist named Dr. Thoth, whose motivations most closely fit the term “heroic” as we think of it in standard story-telling terms.

In the malevolent wonderland world of LEVEL 7, things grow very murky indeed.

3) If we’ve got heroes, we’ve got to have villains. So, tell us about the forces aligned against our protagonists.

We’ve got lions, and tigers, and bears. Oh my!

Okay, not exactly lions, tigers, and bears, but deadly adversaries inundate this operation. We have the Vega commandos—Russian Spetsnaz who operate on an efficiency level every bit as elite as Disco Team. They’re ruthless, capable adversaries who believe utterly in the patriotic duty they’re performing. In many ways, Disco is fighting its mirror image in the Vega commandos.

At the heart of the story, Disco is in conflict with the rogue Ghin Dr. Thoth, a creature with noble intentions (from the Ghin perspective, anyway) and not quite so noble from the human one. He’s also eight feet tall, armed with superior technology, far faster and stronger than any top human athlete, and gifted with a vast intellect and mental powers that can bring your worst nightmares to life.

Sprinkled in along the way, we have a host of secondary dangers. These include everything from Chinese espionage agents, elite Russian paramilitary police, mindless, savage mutant experiments of the Ghin, and alien foot soldiers with lethal weaponry.

Disco Team does not waltz through any encounter, and the erosion of their abilities brought on by the meat grinder pace of the danger takes a brutal toll on the unit.

4) One of the challenges in writing science fiction like LEVEL 7 is tackling the perspective of nonhuman characters. How did you approach that challenge with Judas Protocol?

This was, indeed, a challenge, if I’m being honest. When trying to figure out how to approach this problem, I played all three games in the LEVEL 7 universe (OMEGA PROTOCOL, ESCAPE, and INVASION) quite a bit. I tried to focus on how Privateer Press’ game designers (who certainly know how to make an exciting, engaging game) intended the nonhumans to act in the game. Which powers and traits went with which being, how they were intended to move in the game mechanics, and so on.

Once I felt like I had a handle on this, I sort of reverse-engineered the alien perspectives. A Fear Hunter is designed “this way” in gameplay, for example. What does this mean for how it perceives itself and others? Once I had a framework for my imagination, it became much less difficult.
One of my greatest hopes is that those who’ve played the games—and you don’t need to have played the games to enjoy this book as a science fiction/horror story—will recognize aspects of the game they’ve come to enjoy while playing.

5) Tells us about one of your favorite scenes in Judas Protocol. Why was it fun or rewarding to write?

I have a couple. Some were rewarding but not fun to write, and others were just a pure adrenaline blast to put down on paper.

There are scenes involving deliberate collateral damage resulting from operational requirements. These scenes are some of the most key in understanding the psyches of Disco. They never get the luxury of choosing between good or evil. More often, it is between “bad or worse bad” or even “horrible but succeeding, or bad and failing.”

Don’t get me wrong—this novel is intended to be a fast-paced and entertaining illustration of the game world. However, the guys at Privateer worked hard to create a game that functions on multiple levels, and these scenes allowed me to explore that.

On the other hand (and maybe I shouldn’t admit this) I was cackling out loud when I was writing the climactic battle. There’s just so much apocalyptic destruction from so many different weapon platforms—from trans-dimensional alien tech right down to combat knives—that it was just pure fun to write.

6) I know that you have some personal experience that is reflected in Judas Protocol. Can you elaborate on that and tell us how it helped you when writing the book?

I wouldn’t want to overstate anything in my past or mislead people into thinking I’m claiming a personal history I didn’t experience, but I did serve as an infantryman in the Army. So, when I have Disco reacting to situations, or moving tactically as a small unit, I absolutely fell back on my military education to feel my way through these scenes. Now, different units use different tactical protocols, or variations thereof, so my strategic choices might not jive exactly with this person’s or that person’s experience, but the basis for Disco’s behavior can be traced back to what I learned at Fort Benning. Only, you know, against aliens.