Interview: Solar War by Sam Isaacson

Solar War is the soon-to-be released new gamebook by Sam Isaacson, author of The Altimer and New Gaia.

The system is identical to the earlier two books, and it can work as a standalone story although those that have read the others will appreciate some familiar names in there. It’s a return to the dark feel of The Altimer and New Gaia – no-one is to be trusted, and the consequences of failure are the complete destruction of humanity…

The artwork also retains the same style, which really helps with a sense of immersion. While The Altimer was 300 sections and New Gaia was 400, Solar War clocks in at 500 sections, so you’ll be rewarded for good note-taking! The scale feels significantly greater than the previous two books, so it’s a fitting epic ending to the story started in the first two.

Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

Having saved humanity from an alien invasion, one of the only survivors of an alien-sabotaged ship arrives on Earth to discover their work has only just begun.

That survivor is you.

Immerse yourself in the epic conclusion of the trilogy in which the simplicity of your past life is a distant memory and where no-one is to be trusted.

GBN had the good fortune to interview Sam Isaacson, and here is what he had to say about Solar War!

1) The first two books in the Entram Epic came out within about six months of each other – what took you so long to write Solar War?!

Yes – a good question! I think 2020 was hard for everyone in different ways, and for me a stressful house move along with home schooling and everything else simply got in the way. I didn’t sit still – Escape From Portsrood Forest came out in the meantime – but writing about alien symbiotes exterminating humanity felt hard to write. I’m really pleased to have wrapped up the trilogy now though, and think it’s better for having had that break.

2) How is Solar War the same or different from The Altimer and New Gaia?

The overall feel I think is very similar. In it you are still single-handedly responsible for protecting the human race, and the sense of threat and the distinctive artwork are still there. The things that make it different are its length – this one runs to 500 sections – and the fact it actually ties up the loose ends! Both of the previous books essentially end with a question mark, but this one is definitely a satisfying full stop. I love the ending.

3) Solar War marks a return to the dark, brooding cyberpunk of The Altimer and New Gaia, after the whimsical Escape from Portsrood Forest. How does your writing approach differ between these two genres?

The style of writing certainly comes from a different place – Solar War feels much more serious – but the biggest difference is in the book structure. Where Portsrood Forest is pretty much an open world environment to explore and find clues, Solar War follows a timeline. My flow chart for Solar War is a lot easier to navigate than the forest, although that didn’t stop me having to rework it as a result of playtesting!

4) Did you adopt any particular approach to writing Solar War? What did you surround yourself with to get you in the creative mood?

A lot of the trilogy is spent within defined boundaries – on a ship, in a city, in various buildings – but a good chunk of Solar War is spent in a large-scale space battle. To trigger thoughts about what might happen out there I found myself watching The Expanse, which I think does a good job of balancing the familiar with the experimental.

While writing, I do like a soundscape – the spaceship background sounds from got some heavy use! I’ve also been playing the excellent soundtrack from Starcraft, which is perfect but has proved very catchy – I’m sure my wife has been biting her tongue as I’ve incessantly hummed the Terran theme music at the dining table.

5) I notice a familiar hand at work on the map…

Ah, the wonderful David Lowrie. He’s done a couple of maps for me before and so I couldn’t stop myself asking if he’d be interested, and was so happy when he said yes. A lot of Solar War takes place travelling from one edge of Africa to the other, so I knew it would be a joy to see his re-imagining of that in a different time and with a different climate.

6) If you had to describe Solar War as either a story waiting to be told, or a puzzle waiting to be cracked, which would you choose, and why?

I’ve discovered I’m quite mean to my readers – I enjoy writing death sections a bit too much I think! Solar War feels like a really satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, and there’s definitely a multifaceted story being told there, but one wrong move along the way and the book will certainly punish you. Taking notes of how you gather codewords and their consequences will help you reach the best end.

7) I’m sure Solar War isn’t the last book you have planned. What’s next?

Well, the first thing on my list is to revisit the trilogy as a whole – it’s one story, so it makes sense in my mind that someone ought to be able to start at the start and work their way through, and yet they work best at a mechanics level as three separate books. I’ve also learned a lot as an author since The Altimer, so would like to make some improvements to that, particular as far as pacing and balance is concerned. Look out for a streamlined omnibus edition to emerge at some point…

I’ve also been toying with another book with the Portsrood philosophy, perhaps set in a town this time. That feels like a fun idea. And I’ve started pulling together some plans to step into a different genre, maybe one set in the American Old West, or I’ve been working on a setting that would feel like a crossover between Mad Max and Middle Earth (it makes sense in my head!). I’d also be excited about the right writing partnership to learn from one of the other active authors out there, so you never know!

GBN would like to thanks Sam for providing some excellent answers!

Solar War is c. 294 pages and includes a map designed by fellow gamebook author David Lowrie. It is available on Amazon.

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