Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Interview with John M. Whalen, author of "Jack Brand"

Who do you think would like your book? (Or alternately: Please tell prospective readers why they’d like your book.)

Fans of westerns and fans of space opera should find Jack Brand of interest. The novel is a blend of both genres, basically being a story with a western plot but set on another planet. Jack Brand, though living in the 22nd Century, and a former US Army Ranger who fought in the Great Terror War, finds himself on a primitive planet that actually resembles Arizona or New Mexico than anything else. The plot concerns his search for his sister, who was kidnapped by Tulon Nomads, a gang of bank robbers. Brand led his tactical squad, which included his sister, into an ambush. He survived but his sister was taken. He spends seven years on this wild, desolate planet searching for her.

What is your favorite thing about your story?

Two things. I like Jack Brand as a character. He’s in the tradition of both the western cowboy hero, and the space western hero, such as Flash Gordon. The novel has a wide scope, so the story takes him from the desert to an underwater city inhabited by strange beings who live in the sea. There is also a love story. Brand meets an adventuress named Christy Jones who pops in and out of the plot, in the usual boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and . . . well I won’t tell if he actually gets her back again. The subplot adds a nice texture to the story, I think.

Do you remember how long it took you to write? How about to edit and find a publisher?

It took about 18 months to write. It began as a single short story and was first published on the Pulp and Dagger fiction webzine. Then I subbed it to Raygun Revival and they accepted it. The first story ended with it being revealed that Brand is on a search for his sister. I realized then it was unfinished so I sent in a follow up story, before the first one was published that resolved the main plot point. That got accepted. Then I suggested to the Overlords of Raygun that the story had a lot more potential and asked if they wanted more. Raygun at that time, in what I call its Golden Age, ran serials. One of their serial writers couldn’t meet his deadlines, so I sort of began to fill in for him. I wrote a dozen stories, all chronologically connected to fill the gap between the first and last story. It turned out to be quite a saga. Regarding publishing, Double Edged Publishing, which was behind Raygun was going to publish it, but that fell through when the man running disbanded the company. It hung in limbo as the Overlords tried their best to get the book out but finally, I withdrew it and subbed it to Pill Hill Press. They bought it in a heartbeat. The book came out in a matter of weeks. It’s selling well.

What is your favorite type of book to read? Do you have any favorite books or authors?

I read a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs in my younger days and am now re-reading him on Kindle, where a lot of his work is now free. He is a classic story teller. No one can deny that the ending of “The Gods of Mars” reveals that Burroughs was some kind of genius when it came to describing action and finding suspenseful plot twists. And I defy anyone to find a better opening sentence than the one that appears in “The Monster Men.” I’m also a fan of Leigh Brackett. I don’t read as much as I used to, but mostly I read the classics and Raymond Chandler.

What’s your favorite movie or TV show?

Favorite film is “Comanche Station” directed by Budd Boetticher, written by Burt Kennedy and starring Randolph Scott. Next is “The Wild Bunch.” But I like a lot of movies. The Marx Brothers, any Charly Chan flick, Tarzan movies, Samurai, Ingmar Bergman films. Bergman was an inspiration for “Where There Be No Dragons,” a short story I sold to the Tower of Light Webzine. Biggest influence on my writing comes from Stirling Silliphant, who created the “route 66” series on TV back in the sixties. I always wrote stories, from the time I was 10 years old. But Silliphant’s work really made me want to be a writer. “Jack Brand” is dedicated to him.

Can readers contact you?

Sure. Go to, the publisher’s website. I have a page there and a link to my email. Or just email me at

Please share a synopsis or blurb, and a brief excerpt from your book.

Across the desolate planet Tulon moves a solitary figure. Jack Brand, former officer in the Tulon Security Force, is on a search. Seven years ago, he led a tactical squad that included his sister, Terry, into a deadly ambush in the desert. The Wilkersons, a Nomad gang who robbed a Trans-Exxon payroll, wiped out four members of his unit, kidnapped Terry, and left Brand for dead. Brand recovered from his wounds, and swore he would never leave Tulon until he found his sister. Over the course of his search, the ex-lawman travels from desert wasteland to steaming jungles, from a city at the bottom of the sea to a domed city run by alien gangsters. Along the way, Brand meets a gallery of exotic characters, meets the love of his life, and survives the barbaric planet through quick wit, fast reflexes, and the Electro-Pistol holstered to his hip...


The book you hold in your hands has been compiled from a series of stories found in various and sundry on-line publications that were in existence in the late 22nd Century. The publisher of this work, after diligent research and study, asserts that the stories, while presented as fiction, actually recount the exploits of an individual who actually lived around the time of the Great Terror War.

Not much is known about Jack Brand other than what is presented in these stories. That he served as an Army Ranger during the War and upon the war’s conclusion traveled to the planet Tulon to work for a paramilitary organization known as the Tulon Central Security Force is, by now, common knowledge. But why he quit the Security Force and roamed the Tulon desert for years has not been known until now. These tales present the true account of a portion of Brand’s life as far as the facts can be determined.

The tales were written under a pseudonym by an unknown author who since has vanished in the mists of time. One of the tales purports to be a true account of one of Brand’s adventures told in his own words. This may be the case, since another of the stories, the last in the book, was written by one of Brand’s acquaintances, a bounty hunter who is said to be the last person to see Brand before he left Tulon and vanished from sight. The author of that story may have set down Brand’s words as he dictated them.

There are authorities who believe that all the stories were written by this individual, one Cody Benson. Whether this is true or not, the editors cannot say. Whatever the case, assembled together for the first time, with careful editing sufficient to provide continuity, we present the story of Jack Brand: The Search.

The Editors
Old Tarzana, Calif. AD 2439


2197: Year One of the Big Shutdown

Tulon Station

“Come on, before they change their minds,” the man said.

The woman looked up at him and then at her Tulon captors. The man had put a laser-sighted electron rifle, three thermo blankets, six pairs of Krylor boots, and a case of Thompson Synth-whiskey down on the table. He was a tall man, lean and hard looking, dressed in a blue tunic, dark grey pants, and knee-high Krylor boots. An electro-pistol was strapped to his leg in a Velcro holster. The Tulons, six of them, dirty, smelling of foul living, and dressed in their customary desert garb, stood nodding their heads, thinking what a good deal they had made.

She got up from the floor where they had kept her chained to the wall. The man took her by the arm and led her out of the hut into the hot desert sunlight. They walked to his Hover-Jeep. He let her open her own door and got in behind the wheel.

The leader of the Tulons and one of his men came out of the hut and stood there looking at them, as he started the vehicle. She was afraid, the way he looked at her. She felt the Jeep lift up and then they were moving. She could not take her eyes off the rear view mirror on her door. She watched the Tulons recede in the distance, praying they did not get into their vehicles and come after them. After what she’d endured the last two weeks, she could not face that again.

Finally satisfied they were not in pursuit, she let out a sigh and sat back in the seat. She looked over at the man who had bartered for her.

“Thank you for getting me out of there,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” the man said, keeping his eyes straight ahead.

“Who are you?”

“Brand, ma’am,” he answered.

“How did you find me?”

“I heard the Tulons had a woman captive,” he said. “They’re usually willing to give up a captive, even a female, in exchange for things they really need.”

She smiled ruefully.

“I guess a woman’s life isn’t worth very much on this planet,” she said.

“No, ma’am,” he said. “Nobody’s life is worth much here anymore. This is an oil-rich planet that made the most of the Earth’s dependency on fossil fuels. But now they’ve found an alternative fuel source back on Earth. The oil fields are shutting down. There’s a feeling of panic in the air. The Tulons have to try to exist anyway they can.”

She looked at him carefully.

“You almost sound sorry for them.”

“They’re victims as much as anybody else. It’s the big corporations that are to blame. First it was the oil companies, now it’s the Digital Atomic conglomerates. Everyone’s at their mercy now.”

“I’m sure it’s not as drastic as you make it sound, Mr. Brand,” the woman said. “They’ll be a gradual transition.”

“They call it the Big Shutdown around here.”

“I’ve heard that term,” she said. “A little melodramatic, isn’t it?”

“Is it?”

“It will take several years to convert completely,” she said. “In the meantime, though the demand for crude oil will diminish, there will still be a need for it for some time to come. This planet and its people will have time to adapt and adjust.”

“Sounds like the kind of propaganda the conglomerates put out.”

“Don’t be so critical, Mr. Brand,” the woman said. “I’m sure, at least, that one of those conglomerates, as you call them, will be grateful to you and make your rescue of me well worth your while. As Senior Vice President of the Interplanetary Development Division of Virtual Fuel, Inc., my company will see you’re handsomely rewarded. They must have posted a reward for my return.”

“I wouldn’t know, ma’am.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“There isn’t much in the way of communication out here,” Brand said.

“Then how did you know I’d been kidnapped?”

“I said, I’d heard they’d taken an Earth woman captive. I didn’t know it was you.”

“And you risked your life without knowing anything about me?”

“I know what the Tulons do to their female captives,” he said. “For a couple of weeks they would have kept you alive for their own satisfaction, but eventually, being short of food, they’d have killed you. I couldn’t let that happen to any Earth woman.”

“I see,” she said. “I thought you knew who I was. I’m Myra Steele. My father is Jessup Steele, CEO of Virtual Fuel.”

“Pleased to know you ma’am,” Brand said. “How did you end up way out here?”

“I was on a private transporter on my way back to Tulon Central to catch a shuttle back to Earth. I was here closing down one of the fuel development sites Virtual acquired from Trans-Exxon last month. The transporter crashed. The pilot was killed. Those savages found me wondering in the desert. I tried to tell them who I was, and that they could collect a lot of money, if they contacted my father. They just laughed. They have no phones, no radios. They said they didn’t care about money. They treated me like a slave. They—”

She suddenly was unable to talk, as the memory of the last two weeks flooded over her. Tears welled up in her eyes.

“Best not to talk about it,” Brand said.

They rode in silence for a few minutes, as the Hover-Jeep glided smoothly over the flat, arid landscape. “Where are we going?” she asked, after she’d pulled herself together.

“There’s a relay station not too far away,” he said. “We can stop there. I brought along a change of clothes for you. You can get cleaned up. Then it’s a long trip out of the desert to the Transport Center. You can catch another ship back to Earth.”


“Tulon Station,” Brand said.

She looked through the Hover-Jeep’s dirty windshield and saw a small, silver, dome-shaped building ahead that looked totally abandoned. Brand pulled up in front of it and cut the power. The Jeep sunk down on the sand with a muffled whirring sound and they got out. The sun was still high in the sky, and temperature was close to one hundred Fahrenheit. Brand opened the Jeep’s trunk and lifted out a canvass sack. He tossed it to her.

“There’s a fresh tunic, pants, and some sandals,” he said. “You can go in there and change. There won’t be any water inside, but I brought this.”

He lifted a ten-gallon can out of the back of the vehicle and carried it to the station. He pushed the stainless steel door open, and saw a scorpio-pede skitter out into the sand on its hundred legs. The place was a mess inside. It had once been a café, where oil workers stopped on their way to and from drilling sites. But now all the windows were gone, the tables were overturned, broken dishes lay shattered on the lunch counter. Brand went back into the kitchen and came out carrying a stainless steel pot.

“You can wash in this,” he said, pouring water from the ten-gallon can. “I’ve got food in the Jeep. I’ll bring it.”


A half hour later, she sat at one of the tables, drinking water from a cup and chewing on the Synth-Steak bar Brand had given her. She was dressed in the clothes he brought, which amazingly, fit her perfectly.

“How’d you know my size?” she asked.

“Didn’t,” he replied. “Just lucky.”

She looked over at him, as he sipped water from the tin cup he held in his gnarled hand. She judged he was in his late thirties, maybe older. It was hard to tell. His face was lined and creased, weather beaten, and there were flecks of grey in his dark brown hair.

“Where are you from, Mr. Brand?” she asked.

“Back on Earth, originally from Utah,” he said. “I came here twenty years ago during the big oil boom. Worked for Trans-Exxon.”


“Little bit of everything.”

“When was the last time you were home?”

“Never been back,” he said.

Her eyebrows went up in surprise. “Where do you live?” she asked.

“I got a small place out near Leedsville.”

“Must be a harsh existence, living out in this desert.”

“Harsh,” he said, “but clean.”

“But surely you must miss civilization,” she said. “What could possibly keep you here?”

Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of roaring engines outside. Brand got out of his chair and she followed him to one of the windows. She saw three land rovers. Unlike Brand’s Hover-Jeep, these were old fashioned four wheelers with combustion engines. But like the Hover-Jeep they ran on gas and oil. On Tulon gas was free and there was plenty of it.

Three men got out of the rovers. They were big men, with electro pistols strapped to their legs. They wore denim pants, boots. Two wore tank tops and one wore no shirt at all. All three had scarves tied around their foreheads, Apache style.

“Who are they?” she asked.

“Trouble,” Brand said.

The door opened and the men came into the station. The man with no shirt came in first. He was bald, muscular, and his bright blue eyes looked surprise when they fell on Brand. The other two followed him, and all three stopped when they saw her and Brand standing there. The man with no shirt looked Brand up and down.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said. “Brand. I thought that was your Hover-Jeep out there. Fancy running into you. Fancy that.”

“Hello, Dancer,” Brand said. “I might have known it would be you.”

Dancer looked at her now, his eyes devouring her inch by inch. When his eyes finally got to her face, he grinned.

“Ms. Steele,” he said.

He looked back at Brand.

“Should have known you’d beat me to her.”

He looked back at the men behind him.

“Boys, meet Jack Brand,” he said. “Every body just calls him Brand. We go back a long ways. Don’t we, old buddy?”

“That’s right,” Brand said. “But I don’t recall that we were ever buddies.”

“I guess that’s true enough,” Dancer said. “Matter of fact, you were the one mainly responsible for that time I spent in Tulon Prison.”

He turned to the men with him.

“See, Brand here worked for The Tulon Central Security Force,” he said. “Seems somebody made off with a Trans-Exxon payroll, And everybody knows Trans-Exxon owns the security force. They sent ol’ Brand out and he arrested me for it. But I told ‘em I never had nothin’ to do with that robbery.”

“You were found guilty.”

“They never found no money. If I did that job, what I do with the money?”

“There was evidence. Your fingerprints. And the bullet from your gun matched the one found in the payroll guard.”

Dancer grinned.

“Fancy that,” he said. “Well, what’s the use goin’ over all that after all this time? The main thing is that now you got a chance to make it up to me, Brand. A chance to wipe the slate clean.”

“How’s that?”

“Simple,” Dancer said. His eyes shot over to the woman. He grinned. “Just hand her over to us and let us take her in for the reward Virtual Fuel is offering. You do that I might let you walk out of here.”

“Just like that.”

“They’re offering a sizeable amount for this woman,” Dancer said. He started to move to the side and the men behind him spread out on his right and left. “A million Universal-Creds. Seems her old man owns the outfit. He’s so worried about her, price is no object.”

“A million, huh?” Brand said.

“That’s right,” Dancer said, his eyes fixed on the woman. He licked his lips. “Funny thing, too. He’ll pay the million even if it turns out she’s dead. Just wants to know for sure, I guess.”

“I’ll give you one chance,” Brand said. “Turn around and get out of here, while you still can. Don’t make me have to kill you.”

Anything else you’d care to share?

Absolutely. I am thrilled to be able to announce that I have just signed a contract with Science Fiction Trails to write the first novel featuring a new character that I’ve been writing about lately. Mordecai Slate is a monster hunter in the Old West who has been featured in about half a dozen stories published in various print anthologies put out by Pill Hill Press and Science Fiction Trails. There have been three stories published so far and more scheduled to come out later this year and early next. The novel, “Rio Muerto,” will be out Summer 2012. Slate is an interesting character, far different from Jack Brand, but one I’m having fun writing about. He seems to be pretty popular with readers too.

Thank you for your time, and best of luck with your book! :)

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