Interview: “Hadrian’s Flight” by J. Daniel Sawyer

Hadrian Jin. Skyguard. Refugee.

Twelve times a day, this sixteen-year-old proprietor of Luna City’s best orn-suit shop fits the wings, and jumps out into the open air to soar with the grace of an eagle. For forty dollars an hour, he can teach any groundhog how to fly bird-fashion in the moon’s low gravity.

But when the tramp of military boots on the road to his home forces him to flee, he finds himself adrift between planets, on the run from government agents, without hope of home. Out of his depth and thrust into danger for which he’s ill-prepared, Hadrian must learn the true reason for his exile, and finally spread his own wings…

…before war comes crashing down around him.

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Haddy descended lazily, barely paying attention to what was going on around him, moving slowly, finding a groove in the tourist-clogged descent lane as if he were negotiating rush hour at the tram station.

Then, without knowing why, he dipped his left wing. An automatic reflex.

A soft gecko boot blasted just over the dipped wingtip, missing him by only a few centimeters. He barely had time to feel a blast of lemon-scented air on his face before his wings surged, pushed him up, and stalled hard.

Haddy swore as he found himself in a sideways tumble. Falling slowly, then more quickly, as one level, then two, then four tumbled by him in an endless handful of seconds. He reflexively pulled his wings in, which increased his spin speed. He pulled his toes in toward his body and bent double into a jack-knife, canting his faux tail feathers down flat against his hamstrings, then straightened out again pointed straight down.

He speared down like a peregrine falcon, spinning corkscrew-fashion with the angular tumble he’d picked up from the stumblebum tourist’s wake. Then, once he was in a more-or-less stable dive, he pulled his toes in again, but this time he didn’t bend at the waist. Instead, he pushed his wings out, crooked at the elbows, and curled his fists in.

The wing-tips and tail-feathers bit the air, steadying his spin and pulling him into a swoop.

An instant later he was climbing again, pushing straight up with his momentum, scanning every-which-way for the creep that had bum-rushed him.

There. Almost at the top, flapping hard, zipping in and out of the lanes, trying to push up through the ceiling into the ag dome. He blinked twice, zoomed in, got a bead on the wings and the flyer. They were solid blue wings, with no fledger stripes. Whoever was doing that had been out at least once before, and should have known better.

They were strapped to a girl, maybe sixteen or seventeen years old, who didn’t seem to give a good goddamn who she knocked out of the sky.

Well, she would soon. Nobody pulled that kind of stunt and got away with it. Not in his sky. Haddy burned with the righteous rage of his office. Oh, he was gonna get to throw the book at her. In five minutes, he’d make good and sure she was a lot poorer, and maybe grounded for a few weeks.

But he had to get her before she busted the ceiling, or he’d get it right in the neck for letting her get up where she could interfere with the city’s food supply. If she crashed in the triticale, or god-forbid the corn, she’d cause enough damage that the farmers would start agitating to get the fliers banned from the Gallery. It had happened before, and they’d always lost, but that didn’t mean they’d lose next time—and if they did win, his whole family would be screwed.

The thermal was clear for most of the way up. Haddy flapped hard, goosing his speed, banking into the thermal, using the rising column of air to help push him faster.

He dodged out into dead air as he caught up to the soaring fledgers, then back into the thermal before he stalled out.

“Hey!” he shouted. “You in the blue! Stop!”

She kept right on soaring up like she hadn’t even heard him. She was crossing into the skyguard’s nest now. Another twenty meters, and she’d bust that ceiling like it wasn’t even there.

—from Hadrian’s Flight by J. Daniel Sawyer

The Interview

What inspired you to write Hadrian’s Flight?

I have always loved the pulp adventure books written for children in the middle of the 20th century (I grew up on them and still read them to this day) and had always wanted to tackle them myself. The inspiration came re-reading a favorite old YA story, “The Menace From Earth,” which centers on a girl who instructs Lunar Tourists in the art of bird-flying in Luna’s low gravity. I played the idea forward, starting with a character who works in a similar job who is forced to flee a war zone and make his way on a new colony, which he does by setting up a business of his own manufacturing the wing suits—until, that is, fate intervenes and he must face the realities of the war he was fleeing.

What are some of your favorite YA books as a reader, and what makes them stand out for you?

Of all the great ones to pick from (the Narnia stories, A Wrinkle in Time, the Harry Potter Books, the Ender’s series) the ones I return to time and again are the 12 Heinlein Juveniles. The airtight plots, the solid (and uncommonly realistic) worldbuilding, and the great characterization all keep me coming back—but that’s not what’s special about them. These books are almost unique in the way that the protagonists are constantly out of their depth, and their heroic triumph comes from accepting the responsibilities of adulthood, rather than saving the world (though that sometimes happens) or becoming a hero in their hometown (which never happens). They all end with the *beginning* of the next adventure, leaving with the reader with the sense that the road of life goes on to larger and more difficult challenges, but that those challenges will be worth it because the characters have proved themselves capable of growth and maturity. Even though it sounds like it could be boring, it never is—it sets these books apart and makes them infinitely re-readable.

Why do you think so many people, of all ages, love reading YA?

I think that adults return to YA to remember the feeling of becoming, discovery, and coming into their own. It’s a way to remind themselves of how hard it is to grow up, and why it was all worth it (because, let’s face it, the adult world can be fairly humdrum). It also, maybe, gives a sense of hope that if they could face down the impossible challenges of growing up, maybe they can face down the even more difficult challenges of coping with the day-to-day in an unsympathetic universe.

Young readers, on the other hand, gravitate toward YA because it reassures them that other people have gone through the journey before, and that there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel of self-doubt that characterizes adolescence. And because, let’s face it, a great YA adventure is a terrific amount of fun.

Did you make up any of the science used in your book, and if so, what and why?

I didn’t, no. Though I’m not a scientist, I find that the hard constraints of realistic physics make for a more solid and grounded world, so I do my best to stick to science as best I can, and to only invent technologies that are possible (and even likely) given the current state of knowledge. The contemplation of probable futures, for me, offers more fertile creative ground than flights of fancy.

What are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I’m currently finishing up my next YA book, The Wolf of Venus, and it’s turned out to be the most challenging book in my career. Set seven hundred years in the future in a failed society on a half-terraformed Venus, it’s a story that follows the adventures of a boy caught in the teeth of a monumental shift in the nature of his society. Inspired by the Czechoslovakian Bloodless Revolution, it’s a high adventure tale winding its way between a repressive government and culture on one side, and an insurgency modeled on Vaclav Havel’s ideas on the other, with Ern, the main character, caught between at the nexus of personal morality and political idealism in a world where he’s had precious little understanding of either. Telling a story this complex, full of stakes this high and betrayal this startling (and with thematic material this chewy) through the eyes of a young man in a way that’s relatable and suitable for young readers has proved a grand challenge, but the payoff (according to early readers) has been well worth the trouble. I can’t wait to release it out into the world!

About Dan

While Star Wars and Star Trek seeded J. Daniel Sawyer’s passion for the unknown, his childhood in academia gave him a deep love of history and an obsession with how the future emerges from the past.

This obsession led him through adventures in the film industry, the music industry, venture capital firms in the startup culture of Silicon Valley, and a career creating novels and audiobooks exploring the worlds that assemble themselves in his head.

His travels with bohemians, burners, historians, theologians, and inventors led him eventually to a rural exile where he uses the quiet to write, walk on the beach, and manage a production company that brings innovative stories to the ears of audiences across the world.

Find Dan

Website ~ Goodreads ~ BookBub

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