INTERVIEW WITH S. M. Stirling

Theater Of Spies ( Black Chamber World War I Alternate History Book 2)

S. M. Stirling

Penguin Random House Pub.

May 7th, 2019

Theater OF Spies by S. M. Stirling brings back US operatives Luz O’Malley and her love interest Ciara Whelan.  They are sent to Germany to find out about a new weapons system the Germans have developed.  These American secret agents are the only thing between the Germans winning World War I and the Americans being able to foil them.

This second book in the Black Chamber series has less action and more intelligence methods as well as the relationship factor between Luz and Clara.  Besides having to infiltrate a German plant to find secret plans, they must evade the German agent, Horst, code-named Imperial Sword who is seeking revenge. In this alternate history Teddy Roosevelt is President and the US has entered the war a lot earlier than in actuality.

This spy thriller has two very engaging women protagonists. Readers will have fun seeing the game of espionage played on a very dangerous court.

Elise Cooper: The heart of the story is searching for the German project, developing radar?

S. M. Stirling:  My intelligence operatives are going deep-cover inside Germany to find it. An early, primitive form of radar was discovered by a German scientist in 1903, who hoped to use it to prevent ships colliding in darkness and fog; like many inventions of the time it had problems getting funding.    In my alternate history they develop it further, and it’s code-named Projekt Heimdall after the Norse deity who could see through darkness and cloud: the Germans were terrible at picking code names that actually concealed things.

EC:  You also had Teddy Roosevelt winning a third term?

SMS:  In my universe President Taft, who was grossly overweight, has a heart attack in 1912, and the Republicans rally around TR and his Progressive agenda, sidelining the conservative Old Guard faction.  TR was much more popular than Woodrow Wilson, and without a split in the Republican vote would almost certainly have won an overwhelming victory.

EC:  The real history is that he had to run as a third-party candidate?

SMS:  The establishment was terrified of him because of his radical ideas, and they basically stole the nomination from him by ballot stuffing, crooked delegate selection and other dirty tricks.] He then formed the Progressive Party nicknamed the Bull Moose Party, which pushed Taft and the Old Guard Republicans into third place; Wilson was elected with 42% of the vote, TR got 37%, and Taft won 25%.  The only time in our history where an Independent won second place.

EC: How would you describe the skills of Ciara?

SMS:  She is a compulsive reader who was taught technical stuff by her machinist brother, her accountant/amateur mathematician aunt, and her aunt’s friend who is a High School teacher.  She is focused, has an excellent memory, and is good at math.

EC: How would you describe the skills of Luz?

SMS:  She is a people person with a gift for languages and dialects honed by travel and schooling in several countries.  She’s also a natural athlete, who grew up as a tomboy and was taught hunting, shooting and riding by her father, some odd skills like knife-fighting by a disreputable old family retainer, and then more esoteric skills by the Black Chamber – who have safe-crackers, circus acrobats and others on retainer to train their operatives.

EC:  There was a Prussian secret police during WWI?

SMS:  The Gestapo was an institutional development of the Prussian secret police established in the 1840’s to do political espionage and surveillance.  They weren’t as bad as the Nazis, of course, but that’s a very low bar.  Germany during this era gets a free pass because what came after was much worse.  During WWI they started gas warfare, unrestricted submarine warfare, starved people on a large scale, deported forced labor on a large scale, and ended up as a military dictatorship with very broad powers in the hands of General Ludendorff, who was to put it mildly a very bad man.

EC:  You talk about the espionage tools of the trade like bribery?

SMS:  Bribery and blackmail have always been basics with spying, and Luz is good at both.  In fact, they’re related, because as Luz remarks in the book someone who accepts a bribe becomes an accomplice because the alternative is to admit: “I was handed money to do something I knew perfectly well I shouldn’t”.  Part of the fun is depicting how these organizations developed at the time; it was the genesis of modern intelligence, and a lot of it was inspired by fiction at the time.

EC:  Surprisingly the assault rifle came about during this era?

SMS:  The first was a Russian weapon developed during the early days of WWI, capable of either semi-auto or full-automatic fire with a large-capacity magazine and firing a round of moderate power.  In this story, Russia dropped out of the war early and Germany got their hands on it,and adapted it to their “storm troop” tactics.

EC:  Foreign language is important in spying?

SMS: It is an indispensable basic skill for undercover work.   Luz can sound like a German because she went to school there and has an ear for it, or to do the same in several other languages. I stole that from a high school teacher of mine, who enjoyed going on German trains and convincing people that he was from another part of the country by the way he spoke a regional dialect.  The foreign language in the book is used to add flavor to the environment, and to remind people there in somewhere very different.

EC:  Next book?

SMS:  Next will be the third book in the series, Shadow Of Annihilation. It is set mostly in Mexico, and Horst is back. The US is building its own nerve gas factory to deter the Germans from using it; it’s almost like both sides having nuclear weapons, a genuine weapon of mass destruction, since the lethal dose is so small – smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. Luz and Ciara are sent there to guard against a German sabotage attack, which turns out to be trickier than anyone expects and using 1917’s equivalent of high-tech mad science… once again involving an invention that turns out to have been first developed much earlier than most people realize.

THANK YOU!!