Antony Johnston On The "Dirty Sci-Fi" Of THE FUSE

November 12, 2013

In February 2014, writer Antony Johnston and artist Justin Greenwood are going to take you twenty-two thousand miles above the surface of the Earth to the Fuse, an orbiting power station that's home to half a million people. THE FUSE, a new ongoing series, stars two detectives in Midway City Police Department's perenially understaffed homicide division. Equal parts crime procedural and gritty sci-fi tale, THE FUSE shows us how not even the future is safe from the oldest crime. We sat down with Antony Johnston in advance of the book's solicitation to talk about his collaboration with Greenwood and just where THE FUSE is going. Enjoy the interview and four-page teaser, and make sure to keep an eye out for THE FUSE #1, the first part of "The Russia Shift," on February 12!

We're introduced to one character in the four-page trailer for THE FUSE you've released. Her personality is pretty clear, but how will she interact with the rest of the Midway City Police Department? What is their status quo?

Antony Johnston: That's Klem Ristovych, the lead detective of our Homicide division in the MCPD. Klem's a dinosaur, the oldest cop working the Fuse, and nobody can believe she hasn't retired yet. Hell, she can hardly believe it herself. But what else is she going to do? Sit at home and watch soap operas all day? She'd throw herself out of an airlock first.

And that's how Klem interacts with the rest of the MCPD—including her boss Lt. Brachyinov, and new partner Ralph Dietrich. She's all about the work, the case, the job.

Luckily for her, the MCPD is permanently understaffed and overworked, and even in space, people just keep on killing one another. Klem may be belligerent, cynical, frustrating, even kind of an asshole...but she's never bored.

The solicit text describes you as a "cynical, foul-mouthed veteran" and your collaborator Justin Greenwood as a "fresh-faced idealist." Can you give us a little background on your history together and your working relationship? What's your favorite aspect of Justin's work?

Johnston: I first saw Justin's work when he took over Resurrection, and we were looking for someone to draw a future arc of Wasteland, both at Oni Press. I liked what I saw—his dynamic composition, distinct character design, and unique style.

I'm a big fan of artists whose work is completely distinct; you can tell immediately it's them, without any doubt. Justin has that.

As it turned out, Justin actually did two major arcs of Wasteland, because we worked together so well. Our relationship has developed into something close to what I have with Chris Mitten, in fact; a mutual trust, where every decision is about how best to serve the story, and everything simply "clicks."

It's hard to describe, but there are certain collaborators with whom you know that whatever you give them, it'll come back even better than you imagined. Justin is one of them.

THE FUSE takes place on an orbiting space station that's far from the clean, antiseptic space stations we're used to. What can you tell us about the grit and grime of Midway City, and why you chose to go with a dirty future?

Johnston: Well, the original high concept for THE FUSE was, "What if Homicide was set on board Battlestar Galactica?" So the grit and grime is built into the concept!

I've always loved "lived-in" sci-fi. We take it for granted now, but it was a revelation in the late '70s-80s, when movies like Alien, Escape From New York, and even Star Wars introduced us to the idea that the future could, in fact, look old.

I like SF environments that seem used, and lived in, everyday; not just rolled off a props truck. Look around you! Everything is scuffed, scratched, dinged, faded, even rusty. Why wouldn't that still be the case in the future? Especially in a place like Midway City, a pressure-cooker where everything is one bad day away from falling to pieces, and murder seems like a viable option.

It's essentially '70s Manhattan in space, right? And that means grime.

THE FUSE is a crime series in a sci-fi setting. What type of crime story are you telling? Procedural? Trashy? Something else entirely?

Johnston: It's kind of halfway between a detective story and a procedural, but even that's not quite accurate.

There's a type of TV show we have here in the UK, the "feature-length detective policeman." It really boils down to, "What if Sherlock Holmes was a cop?" Inspector Morse, Wire in the Blood, Rebus, even Luther... most them are based on books, too, so there's also a grand literary tradition for this sort of thing. And they have procedural elements, but they're more about the legwork—the suspects, the mystery, the interviews, spotting the lies, uncovering the truth.

Most of THE FUSE will be like that—a murder mystery, with a puzzle at the core and our detectives trying to figure it out while bodies drop around them. The first story, "The Russia Shift", is very much in that vein.

But we also want to introduce people to the weird, dangerous world of the Fuse as we go. So future cases will take us all over Midway City... and beyond.

How futuristic is this future? A space station is already a leap beyond what we're capable of nowadays. Are you keeping it relatively grounded and familiar, or are you and Justin going to go crazy with the future-tech?

Johnston: It's pretty grounded. There's an old saying that you can get away with one big leap in an SF book; one thing you can ask your audience to believe, no questions asked. Beyond that, you have to work for it.

So for us, that's the Fuse itself. But even though the station is beyond our current capabilities, it's based on real tech and ideas. The notion of an orbiting solar energy array, using focused microwave beams to transmit energy back to earth, has been around for decades.

In fact, most of our tech in THE FUSE is extrapolated from what we have today—which is itself always moving forward. I remember ten years ago, I imagined a scene where an ME scanned a body's fingerprints using light from a handheld screen, which then wirelessly searched the database for a match. At the time that seemed like the kind of thing they'd probably have in the distant future.

Ten years later, I'm typing these words on an iPad. Not even a new iPad, at that.