Thursday, June 18, 2020

Brian Nelson Interview - The Last Sword

Photo Content from Brian Nelson

Brian Nelson was born and raised in Ohio and is a graduate of Miami University. After a brief stint as a Systems Engineer for General Motors he set off for the University of Arizona to study Creative Writing.

After graduation, he spent two years in Venezuela as a Fulbright Scholar and (eventually) turned his research into the critically acclaimed book, The Silence and the Scorpion, a “clocked” account of the 2002 uprising against Hugo Chávez. The book was named one of “The Best Books of the Year” by The Economist and was considered by The New York Times as “the most thorough investigation of the April 11th massacre and the subsequent coup.”

His second book, The Last Sword Maker, is an action-packed thriller about a high-tech arms race between the United States and China. It follows a diverse cast of characters as they strive to be the first to make the next generation of weapons using a mixture of Artificial Intelligence, Genetic Engineering, and Nanotechnology.

This is the first book in his Course of Empire series, a globe-trotting adventure that not only examines the changing face of warfare, but asks what it means to be human in our ever-changing technological world.

Brian’s other work has appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Christian Science Monitor and The Southern Humanities Review, among others. He lives in Denver with his wife and two children.

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
Probably that mix of ignorance and arrogance you have in your twenties that makes you think you can do very difficult things much more quickly than is really feasible. In hindsight, I definitely didn’t realize what I was getting myself into. In a way The Last Sword Maker took 16 years to write. I wrote a first draft in about 18 months, then put it aside for eight years, then it took another six and a half years to get it right.

Tell us your latest news.

I just sent the sequel to The Last Sword Maker to my publisher, and it will be released in March of 2021. It begins in Africa with a secret military mission to rescue a political prisoner.

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
That’s a tough one! There are so many things that have influenced me over the years.

Okay, I got one. The Canadian rock band Rush. If you don’t know them, then let’s just say they are the most unlikely group of musicians you’d ever expect to become hugely famous. Imagine the nerdiest kids from your high school someday becoming super stars. For me—as a nerdy teenager growing up in Ohio—they epitomized the idea that anything was possible. In fact, the band’s drummer, Neil Peart, was a believer in “tryism”—that if you worked at anything hard enough, you’d eventually succeed.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.

My first book was about a street massacre and political uprising in Venezuela. I lived there for two years with a Venezuelan host-family that took fantastic care of me. In that family I had a “nephew” named Juan who was only twelve years old at the time so he really didn’t understand what I was up to. He just knew me as his gringo uncle.

Fast forward a decade: Now he’s grown up and he reads the book. For me that was the coolest thing in the world. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the idea that he would be able to experience a piece of his country’s history through me, even though he was too young to understand it when it really happened was simply amazing. It sort of touched on the timelessness of writing and how you can have an impact on people in ways you would never suspect.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
This is definitely a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences of technological change, so I’d like readers to think about how “science” really happens. It’s not nearly as straightforward (or as altruistic) as most people believe. There are a lot of conflicting motives—money, prestige, power—as well as what Einstein called “the scientific mentality,” the need to prove that something can be done. Of course, the problem is that there is rarely anyone asking whether it should be done.

In your new book; THE LAST SWORD MAKER, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it
The Last Sword Maker is about an arms race between the United States and China as they attempt to make a new generation of weapons by combining AI, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology. It’s kind of a mix of Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton. There’s an exciting adventure, but you also feel like you learn about science, the military, and China along the way.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
That’s an easy one, except there wasn’t only one distraction, there were two and their names were Ben and Lucas, my two sons. Ben was a newborn when I was doing a lot of the work on this book, then as soon as he became more independent, Lucas came along. At times it felt like very active sabotage! I’m convinced they were throwing up in the middle of the night on purpose. The funny thing is that when I reread The Last Sword Maker now, it’s very clear that it was written by a new father. I didn’t realize it while I was writing, but there are a lot of subtle connections to parents and children (even though there is only one child in the book who plays a minor part). The motivations of many of the characters are connected to children (protecting children or avenging the death of a child, for example). None of which I did intentionally.

What part of Eric and James did you enjoy writing the most?
Creating Admiral James Curtiss was fun because I got to do a lot of research on the Navy and Annapolis as well as interviewing veterans. His character clicked for me when I made him Native American. Once I had that backstory of him as a teenaged boy wanting to escape the poverty of the reservation, that made him a real person and his “voice” flowed out easily.

Eric Hill has this intense scene where he is in captivity and the Chinese are trying to break him. I had read that one of the Chinese government’s preferred torture techniques is to deny a prisoner any form of contact, often for weeks. They just lock you away and don’t tell you anything. You are left in complete silence with only your thoughts. (They did this with the well-known activist Ai Weiwei.) So I really had to get deep into Eric’s character to see how he would manage (or fail to manage) this type of torture. It ended up being a short chapter, but it’s very powerful.

What chapter was the most memorable to write and why?
The Tibetan teenager named Sonam was the most memorable to write, especially his final chapter. He became a symbol of how the Tibetan people have been brutalized by the Chinese. In his final scene Sonam has the opportunity to strike back at those who killed his girlfriend and his mother. It’s a very powerful moment as it encapsulates so much history, both for the character, and for the people he represents. For nearly 70 years Tibetans have been systematically subjugated by the Chinese—for example, the prisons in Tibet serve as a system of political control, using a mix of torture, forced labor, and brainwashing. Against this power the Tibetans have no way to fight back. That’s a piece of history that I knew very little about before I wrote this book and it had a MAJOR impact on my understanding of China.

If you could introduce Jane to any character from another book, who would it be and why?

I think she would get along well with Molly Millions from William Gibson’s novels. Jane is a geneticist working on the kind of inventions and human “augmentations” that would be common in Molly’s world.

What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
Bananas are one of the few sources of antimatter found on earth. They give off a steady stream of them and, therefore, if we could find a way to harvest that antimatter we could use bananas for interstellar travel. True dat.

What according to you is your most treasured possession?
Easy, my two boys.

Best date you've ever had?

According to my wife this was actually a “non-date” because she insisted that we were not really dating. We went to this big theme park in Ohio called Kings Island. It was one of those idyllic July days, lots of sun and heat, roller coasters and junk food. As you can probably guess, things clicked, and by the end of day I had the strong feeling that a long search was over.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
The two years I lived in Venezuela during the presidency of Hugo Chávez. The film would be a cross between The Year(s) of Living Dangerously and Mad Max.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
Visiting the old city in Jerusalem and listening to the political thoughts of the Muslim owner of the hostel where I was staying. This event completely altered the way I looked at both religion and politics.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
Heights. I once did a tandem skydive. Screamed my head off for at least 8,000 feet.

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
When a famous human rights activist thanked me for writing my first book, The Silence and the Scorpion, because it exposed how the Venezuelan government had intentionally killed peaceful demonstrators.

Where can readers find you?
The best place is my website, which I just re-designed. There are short stories, personal essays, concept art, and videos. Check it out: MY WEBSITE

“What need is there for responsibility? I believe that the horrifying deterioration in the ethical conduct of people today stems from the mechanization and dehumanization of our lives, a disastrous by-product of the development of the scientific and technical mentality. We are guilty. Man grows cold faster than the planet he inhabits.” —Albert Einstein

“He made it a point never to tell his boys that monsters didn’t exist, because, of course, they did.” —Admiral James Curtiss

“First it was Gatling, then Nobel, and finally Oppenheimer. They each believed that their inventions would make combat much too destructive for the likes of ‘civilized’ humans. I just hope we’re not remembered for making the same mistake.” —Bill Eastman

“I don’t want to let go of you. Know that. If I could have my way, I would keep you here with me forever. My little boy, the one who learned to walk in this very kitchen, holding on to your mother’s hem and gripping the floor with your strong little toes. But it is more important that you live. You have a chance now, a chance to make much more of your life than so many other Tibetans.” —Yéshé

“The power of nanotechnology has always been with us. We knew it was there. For thousands of years we saw it in ourselves, saw our wounds heal, our food become energy, watched our bodies age. We saw it in the gait of the lion and the growing of the trees. As with coal and steam before the industrial age, we hadn’t made the leap. We didn’t know how to harness it—until now.” —Bill Eastman

“The same B-52s that had bombed Vietnam in the 1960s also bombed Afghanistan and Syria. Yes, there were drones and webcams and real-time satellite footage, but the rate of change did not feel quite so awesome as before. Now, he realized that this perceived deceleration had been an illusion. The changes had been happening all along. He just hadn’t seen them, because the changes were, quite literally, not visible. They were invisible, microscopic. Since World War Two, technology had moved away from things that people could see and appreciate (aircraft carriers, submarines, thermonuclear explosions) toward the invisible—the molecular, atomic, subatomic, quantum.” —Admiral James Curtiss

“He was about to kill, but he was at peace with that because karma had brought him here. There was no other way to explain it. Arriving at the very place where the Chinese had made their genocide virus that wiped out his village and took away the girl he loved most in the world. He understood the statistical impossibility of it. No Tibetan in four generations had been given the opportunity that he had right now: the chance to strike at the heart of his enemy.” —Sonam

“He had done it. He had annihilated his enemy just as he had promised he would. In fact, he had just conducted the largest mass killing of human beings since the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. And even though the death toll here was lower, there was an enormous gap in sophistication between the two weapons. The atomic bombs that had ended the Second World War had killed as many people as they possibly could. In contrast, there was no limit to the number of people he could kill.” —Admiral James Curtiss

“I am very old to you. For each hour that you live, I live a decade. In a way, I have already lived for centuries. I understand things that no normal human can comprehend. In just my first days of existence, I solved all the great riddles. And while new riddles keep emerging, I am conquering each one in turn.” —The Inventor

“The horseshoe crab was amazing to him: a living fossil that had survived all five of Earth’s mass extinctions. It was the quintessence of masterful engineering, because it had been made right the first time. Most protein machines, whether human, virus, fish, or insect, had to be continually redesigned, upgraded, and tweaked to ensure their survival. By comparison, the horseshoe crab was a beta version, release 1.0—a molecular machine so perfectly constructed that it didn’t need to adapt to environmental pressures. And so, over time, it had outdistanced—lapped and then relapped—all the other creatures that we consider primitive. The horseshoe crabs had seen the dinosaurs come and go. They were older than sharks, older than the crocodiles, older than the cockroach and the dragonfly, and older than the splitting of Pangaea.” —Eric Hill

In the high mountains of Tibet, rumors are spreading. People whisper of an outbreak, of thousands of dead, of bodies pushed into mass graves. It is some strange new disease … a disease, they say, that can kill in minutes.

The Chinese government says the rumors aren’t true, but no one is allowed in or out of Tibet.

At the Pentagon, Admiral James Curtiss is called to an emergency meeting. Satellite images prove that a massive genocide is underway, and an American spy has made a startling discovery. This is no disease. It’s a weapons test. Chinese scientists have developed a way to kill based on a person’s genetic traits. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. The success of their new weapon proves that the Chinese are nearing “Replication”—a revolutionary breakthrough that will tip the global balance of power and change the way wars are waged.

Now the US must scramble to catch up before it is too late. Admiral Curtiss gathers the nation’s top scientists, including a promising young graduate student named Eric Hill who just might hold the missing piece to the replication puzzle. Soon Hill and his colleague Jane Hunter are caught up in a deadly game of sabotage as the two nations strive to be the first to reach the coveted goal. But in their headlong race, they create something unexpected … something the world has never seen and something more powerful than they had ever imagined.

The Last Sword Maker is an exciting globe-trotting thriller with unforgettable characters that depicts a haunting vision of the future of warfare.

You can purchase Last Sword Maker at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you BRIAN NELSON for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Last Sword Maker 
(The Course of Empire #1) by Brian Nelson.


  1. "What is the most important object you own?" My pristine illuminated first-edition copy of the Gutenberg Bible in its original binding.

  2. I have a scrapbook I made and filled when I was about 14/15. It has movie tickets, etc. I love it because within its pages is my young self