This is People Who Podcast, where we talk to the people behind some of the most fun and interesting podcasts available today.
If you’re a fan of fast-paced science fiction, then you should pause what you’re doing right now and cue up The Message and LifeAfter, the two previous podcasts written by Mac Rogers in preparation for his new, fourteen-episode instant classic, Steal the Stars, which premieres tonight.
But you don’t have to be a sci-fi devotee to love this new show, its focus is actually a blossoming love story between two colleagues who have unfortunately signed contracts disallowing them from fraternizing with co-workers. Why would anyone sign such a thing? They’re new applicants into a private, military-like base, where all their time and attention must be dedicated to studying a giant alien named Moss. So they sign away their rights to be bearers of this secret.
While the crew’s lips are sealed, we think you should tell everyone about this fresh new adventure. You’ll want to cheer along lead characters Dakota Prentiss and Matt Salem as they enter into a dangerous relationship that could cost them their jobs, and the chance to see each other again if caught. The rest of the characters are a mix of mostly ex-military men to protect the base, and scientists whose job it is to find out anything they can about the alien, the harp that came from its ship and the ship itself. Put into an impossible situation, and forced to choose between denying their love and keeping it a secret, Dakota and Matt decide to risk it all, attempting to kidnap the alien so they can sell it to finance their escape.
This is the maiden voyage for popular sci-fi and fantasy genre book publisher Tor Books, who have inaugurated their entrance into to serial fiction podcasting with Tor Labs. A novelization of the podcast is also being written at the same time by a fantastic writer in his own right, Nat Cassidy. His book will be available in November, after all fourteen weekly episodes are released.
Observer spoke with Mac Rogers about the story’s relatability.
They say that Sci-Fi deals with metaphors of problems that we’re dealing with today. Would you say that the need to talk to other people about what we’re going through is one of those problems?
Mac Rogers: Hopefully there’s a couple of things going on like that here, but a big part of it is that the characters have signed heavy duty contracts at the base that try to control their emotions. However, it’s a close knit environment where close friendships and relationships would naturally occur. For humans who have worked in some of the most extreme situations in the world, that’s bound to take a heavy emotional toll. Another aspect of the story is that the secret alien corpse hidden in the base of this thing is something everyone might fight over, but at the same time it could have a metaphorical resonance in that everyone in this environment is trying to hide their true self. The problem with hiding true elements of yourself over a long period of time is it takes a real emotional and physical toll. People can break down when they’re asked to keep secrets or emotions inside for a long time.
All that talk about keeping secrets reminds me a little of Blackwater. I don’t know if you had that in mind, but I believe it was private contractors running that operation.
MR: Blackwater was definitely an early inspiration as a powerful company that moved beyond its original mandate, and made big chunks of the military loose public accountability by being run by private entities. In the same way, our characters don’t think there’s anywhere that they can possibly run away to unless they have enough money to fully disappear. This drives them to try this really crazy heist idea of stealing an extraterrestrial body.
Steal the Stars seems like its flipping the traditional mad scientist trope on its head.
Mac: We wanted to make our characters more like real scientists. What scientists always tell me when they watch a science fiction story is that dramatizations never depict the way it actually works. There’s never just one genius person who solves the problem or invents something new or whatever. Discoveries are made over a number of years with a whole bunch of people working on them in different places. There’s not one eureka moment.
I decided that Lloyd would be the scientist that we’d spend time with, but I wanted to make it clear that he’s the not the only one there. There are a number of scientists employed on this base and they all go through the grind of trying to solve the mystery of these three objects that they’re tasked to study: Moss the alien, the strange harp device from the ship, and the ship itself. This is a process that is totally foreign to everyone. It would normally take years of slow excruciating work under ideal circumstances, but these characters have bosses who want results now.
Observer also spoke with Nat Cassidy about the novelization process and being a part of the team.
Observer: Do you think Steal the Stars is kind-of a blend of horror and sci-fi, the way a lot of projects are?
Nat Cassidy: There are definite horror elements. I think the story of people who are not supposed to be falling in love brings with it horrific elements. It’s maybe not your standard creepy haunted mansion horror, but it’s definitely a portrait of people realizing that their lives are about to change in very disastrous ways. That’s a kind of horror that I personally, as an audience member, love to watch play out. There are also aliens and supernatural things going on that could maybe be classified as horror. If Stephen King’s Tommyknockers could be classified as horror, then yeah there’s some horror going on.
What should we know about this novelization?
NC: I tried to bring my own voice to it, and to elaborate on certain key moments. It’s an interesting exercise, novelization. When an actor gives a certain spin on a line it takes on a whole new rhythm and a whole new subtext. Finding ways to communicate the tenor of the scene definitely became not necessarily a challenge, but a great exercise. Sometimes I looked at the whole assignment as more of a directing job or an acting job, because it wasn’t my job to change the story or anything like that, it was my job to take what Mac has given us and bring it to life in a new medium. I didn’t have to worry about certain plot points, but I definitely needed to worry about how to make certain moments sing without the benefit of sound effects or actors, so it was a fascinating experience.
So from what you’re saying, it sounds like you think that anybody whose listened to the entire podcast should go ahead and buy the book when it comes out, because they’re going to get even more out of it.
NC: Absolutely! It’s also written in a first person voice, so you’re going to get to know the main character Dak a little bit more. I think I can safely say that listeners of the podcast will fall in love with Dak just through listening, but this is a way to dive deep into this really fascinating character, and experience a lot more through her eyes because you spend so much more time with someone when reading a full novel of his or her experiences.