My left eye doesn’t lie. The scanning implants and heads-up display can only show me what’s really there, and right now they’re showing me a border guard carrying too many weapons. Standard-issue assault rifle hanging around his neck, but also a machine pistol under his armpit, a revolver strapped to his left ankle, and a high-voltage stunner in a tail holster at the base of his spine.
I saw suspicious bulges under his coat as I rolled up to the checkpoint, and he obviously wasn’t happy to see me, so I activated my eye scanners. Now I can read the factory bar code off each weapon and look up the manufacturer’s specs via satellite link. The stunner surprises me—it was manufactured off-world, somewhere in the asteroid belt, and delivers more energy than is legal anywhere on Earth. And the concealed firearms are Hungarian-made, military issue. Not the kind of thing Kazakh border police pick up at the corner shop.
But it’s not the guns that really put me wise to Fakey Impostorov. I can also see into his body, and simple checkpoint guards don’t have an unmistakable spiderweb of ground-to-orbit comsat antenna surgically implanted in their left shoulder. If this guy’s not a field agent for a national intelligence outfit—a spy like me—I’ll eat my shoe. And shoes taste terrible. Trust me, I know. Long story.
Anyway, what is a Hungarian secret agent doing on the Russia–Kazakhstan border?
Curtis C. Chen writes:
My debut novel Waypoint Kangaroo is a science fiction spy thriller that combines elements from three of my favorite fiction genres: espionage tales in the vein of John le Carré, space adventures such as Star Trek, and superhero comics like Wonder Woman (preferably as written by Gail Simone or Greg Rucka).
Since I was mashing up so many disparate things, I wanted to make sure the start of the book clearly established the setting and the rules of the world. I revised the first few chapters many times over the many years of working on this novel. The first draft started with a James-Bond-movie-style “cold open,” which I removed in a later draft, then put back, then changed a lot more before it really worked.
In addition to world-building, I wanted the cold open to properly introduce readers to my main character, Kangaroo. The action in the first chapter leans on some straight-up spy-fi tropes; just like every 007 film, the novel starts with Kangaroo finishing up one mission and making a narrow escape before returning home. But Kangaroo isn’t a typical spy, and readers need to know what they’re getting into, both with his unique superpower–”the pocket”–and his snarky personality.
At some point, I realized that the cold open was in many ways a thematic microcosm of the whole book: the problems that Kangaroo is dealing with, how he chooses to confront those problems (or not), and how he feels about everything that’s happening. It’s all laid out in that first scene. This became a great touchstone for me during the revision process, especially when I needed to completely rewrite certain scenes while staying true to the character… but that’s another story, which I can’t tell until later BECAUSE SPOILERS.
About the Author:
Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, CURTIS C. CHEN now writes speculative fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel WAYPOINT KANGAROO, a science fiction spy thriller, is forthcoming from Thomas Dunne Books on June 21st, 2016.
Curtis’ short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, the Baen anthology MISSION: TOMORROW, and THE 2016 YOUNG EXPLORER’S ADVENTURE GUIDE. He is a graduate of the Clarion West and Viable Paradise writers’ workshops.
You can find Curtis at Puzzled Pint Portland on the second Tuesday of most months. Visit him online at: http://curtiscchen.com
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