Saturday, May 29, 2021

Patrick Chiles's "Frontier"

Patrick Chiles has been fascinated by aircraft, rockets, and spaceflight ever since he was a child transfixed by the Apollo missions. How he ended up as an English major in college is still a mystery, though he managed to overcome this self-inflicted handicap to pursue a career in aviation operations and safety management.

He is a graduate of The Citadel, a Marine Corps veteran and a private pilot. In addition to his novels, he has written for magazines such as Smithsonian’s Air & Space. He currently resides in Tennessee with his wife and two lethargic dachshunds.

Here Chiles dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, Frontier:
Frontier is the story of Marshall Hunter, a newly commissioned Space Force officer, and his adventures aboard the first orbital patrol ship, the U.S.S. Borman. He only wants to fly and is disappointed when what seems like a plum assignment ends up being what he calls “garbage duty.” They spend a lot of time taking care of dead satellites and clearing debris in orbit (which in the real space economy is going to be hugely important). He’s anxious to explore and not just fly in circles around the Earth, and he’ll get his chance when a civilian deep-space mission goes missing and the Borman is sent to find them. In the meantime, they find out that all of these wayward satellites are part of someone else’s plan to create chaos in the new orbital economy, and it may have something to do with the missing civilians they’re after.

Though I didn’t really have anyone in mind when I wrote the book, I think Tom Holland would be good as Marshall. His take on Spider Man in the Marvel movies was really appealing—the nerdy teenager who can hardly believe the awesome stuff he’s gotten involved in. Marshall’s a few years older than that, but he has the same sense of wonder and excitement and is a little scared because he knows just how dangerous all this can be.

Borman’s commander, Simon Poole, is a character from my first two novels (Perigee and Farside). He’s a former submarine commander who became an astronaut and is humorously hard-nosed, which is how I remember the best leaders from my own military service. It’s deadly serious work that cannot be done half-assed, but if you don’t keep your sense of humor then even the most exciting jobs become drudgery. I’ve always seen J. K. Simmons as him, which is another Spider Man connection that I promise is completely unintentional!

Another character, Roberta McCall, is a drone pilot and friend of Marshall’s. She’s a gum-popping tomboy, full of joy for what she’s doing and very confident in herself. She was fun to write. I couldn’t quite place an actress for her until I saw Olivia Cooke in Ready Player One. I remember her from the Bates Motel series and can’t really explain it but I see her in my head when I’m reading Roberta’s dialogue.

Besides just getting a movie deal in the first place, my home-run fantasy would be for someone like John McTiernan to direct it. He’s known for movies which are maybe more pure action than what I write, though he did a terrific job with The Hunt for Red October. I keep going back to that one but it was kind of a benchmark novel for me, a pioneering technothriller and the style I try to adapt to science fiction. Hopefully others see Frontier in that mold as well. As spaceflight becomes more routine, the kinds of stories we think of as sci-fi will just become science-based thrillers.
Visit Patrick Chiles's website.

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Coffee with a Canine: Patrick Chiles & Frankie and Beanie.

--Marshal Zeringue