Interview: Writer Cam Rogers discusses his sort-of non-canon novel: Quantum Break: Zero State
As you know, novels based on video games are usually written with the approval of the people making the game, and are considered official additions to the game's story. Sometimes they're prequels, sometimes they're sequels, and sometimes their stories run concurrent to the one in the game.
But while the novel Quantum Break: Zero State is coming out the same day as the game, and is written by one of the game's writers, Cam Rogers, it's oddly not canon. Sort of. It's complicated.
To sort it out, we spoke to Mr. Rogers about the book, and how it does and does not connect to the game, and why he decided to write it this way.
GameCrate: To start, what is Quantum Break: Zero State about, and how does it connect to the game both narratively and chronologically?
Cam Rogers: The great thing about the Quantum Break premise is that it hinges on choice; the game has one ending, but what you experience on your way there can change based on the choices you create.
Zero State covers the same time period as the game and takes place in a timeline similar to, but different from, the timelines offered in the game. So Zero State stands on its own feet and deals with the core issues of the game's story, while avoiding retelling — or spoiling — the story of the game.
GC: Novels based on games are usually prequels, sequels, or run concurrent to the events of the game. But Quantum Break: Zero State is, as you said, not canon, it's an alternate timeline to the game. Why did you decide to make a book like this, as opposed to a more typical gaming novel?
CR: Setting Zero State in a timeline just to the left of the game's meant the story was free to explore situations, characters, and hard questions in ways that the game's narrative couldn't allow for. I aimed for "familiar-yet-different," a lot of Jason Bourne-style action with time powers, high-impact set pieces, and a lot of heart.
Because it's a story born of slightly different causalities to the game's, Quantum Break: Zero State may not be able to be strictly considered canon but, as Sam says in the foreword, "…in a multiverse, what isn't canon?"
It could even shed light on a few questions players may have at the end of the game.
GC: So did you decide to write Quantum Break: Zero State because you came up with cool ideas for the game, but they didn't make it in and you didn't want them to go to waste?
CR: Being able to save an idea or two that we loved was a benefit of writing the novel, but it wasn't the reason for doing it.
I wrote the novel because there's a strong and affecting human story there, and because I believe in what we built. Also, I'm proud of my kids and I leapt at the chance to show the world some more of what they can do.
GC: So once it was decided that Quantum Break: Zero State wasn't canon, did that free you up to do whatever you wanted with the book?
CR: Not entirely. There are rules of our universe that still had to be abided by. We also wanted to keep it within the same area and timeframe as the game.
GC: In thinking about both Quantum Break and Quantum Break: Zero State, what authors and other novels do you think were the biggest influences on the stories in both the game and novel?
CR: Remedy has always kept an eye on popular culture — film, TV, comics, novels — and it's hard to get away from such well-known artifacts as The Terminator, Fringe, Looper, Back to the Future and the like. But I don't think we cribbed from them exactly. Time-travel stories have a lot in common with each other, but our take on time travel and causality is very consistent and rules-based.
As for the novel, I always refer back to a few writers. William Gibson, who comes via Raymond Chandler in some ways, was a major formative influence in terms of tight and effective economy. I also think Dan Abnett is one of the best writers currently going. He's innovative, staggeringly evocative, deftly handles both horror and humanity, and his grasp of action is second to none. Eisenhorn is a magnificent piece of work.
Whenever I forget how to be funny, I go back and reread Andrew Mueller, among others. Mueller was a music reporter in the '90s for Rolling Stone, NME, and the like. He released a book called Rock and Hard Places, which collects every article he ever wrote while touring trouble spots with rock bands. Dry, hilarious, moving, really great stuff.
The final influence was a person. A friend of mine is ex-Royal Navy. He provided a lot of detail, color, and everyday grit for the paramilitary aspect of the novel. There was a sad look in his eye when he told me "a machine gun is a terrible thing to use on a human being." That becomes something of a touchstone for certain parts of the story.
GC: Your website says you're a "lifelong gamer." If you had your wish, what other game series would you like to write a companion novel to?
CR: I'd love to write a Destiny novel. High adventure with a lot of teenage energy, dark mythology, cracking lines, heroes dying with a smile and a joke, spaceplane laser ballet, myriad environments, a universe built on things the inhabitants are unaware of, fun that ramps up as things get worse. That's a universe I'd love to mess around with.
Also, Fallout. That'd be ace. Adrenaline, spectacle, horror, humanity, and galloping black humor. Also the wasteland is basically the Australian Outback, so I've got that covered.
GC: Finally, if someone really enjoys Quantum Break: Zero State, which of your other novels would you suggest they should read next and why?
CR: The Music of Razors, which I wrote as Cameron Rogers. A two-hundred-year-old bullet removal specialist from Vermont cuts a deal with a forgotten angel to be the greatest surgeon the world's ever known, and gets screwed on the deal. But he has a conscience. So he stage manages the lives of a brother and sister, grooming either one to be the perfect candidate to take his power from him, to allow him to finally die and rejoin the woman he loved. But it all goes wrong for everybody. Beautiful monsters, an amnesiac clockwork ballerina, lost children, things strange and terrible.
I also wrote a young adult novella for Penguin as Rowley Monkfish entitled Nicholas and the Chronoporter. It's a swordfight with time machines as a young genius tries to stop his evil science teacher from using his invention to take over the world. Kind of hard to find, but definitely Quantum Break-relevant.
Quantum Break will be available for Xbox One and PC on April 5th.
Quantum Break: Zero State will be available in hardcover on April 5th.