Major John Karnage, grizzled veteran of a near-apocalyptic war now 20 years in the past, sits rotting in a state asylum, his unique gifts for violence and mayhem a danger to the peace-loving society he and his soldiers helped create. But when a violent interstellar army threatens to wipe out humanity, the powers that be are forced to unleash Karnage and his men for one last mission: to save the world.
Author Gord Zajac spins an increasingly surreal and hilarious satire of corporatism, government, and the military from this B-movie premise for his debut novel, Major Karnage. Torontoist spoke with Zajac about his long-simmering sci-fi satire in this, the latest installment of Coming Soon.
Torontoist: Give us your one-sentence pitch for the new book.
Gord Zajac: Major Karnage is a science fictional social satire that’s equal parts Gulliver’s Travels, Alice in Wonderland, and every B-movie you have ever seen (and adored).
Torontoist: How long have you been working on this book?
GZ: Not very long. About 15 years.
Torontoist: Tell us a little about the editorial process. Did anything surprise you about the process?
GZ: I think what surprised me more than anything was how painless the whole process was. My editor, Helen Marshall, was like a skilled neurosurgeon. She deftly sliced out the cancers while leaving all the healthy grey matter intact. I am pleased to say I survived the entire procedure with a minimum of side effects. Occasionally I am overwhelmed by the smell of burnt toast, usually when I first fire up my word processor.
Torontoist: How did it feel when the final galleys arrived at your door?
GZ: I was excited, nauseous, and terrified all at the same time. Much how I imagine Dr. Frankenstein felt soon after bringing his monster to life. “Dear god, what have I unleashed upon this earth?!” Fortunately, the torch-wielding townspeople haven’t stormed through my front door…yet.
Torontoist: Were you tempted to make major changes to the manuscript at this late stage in the game?
GZ: Hell yes! In fact, I did. As many as I could get away with. Brett Savory at ChiZine was super swell about the whole thing, bless his little heart.
Torontoist: Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
GZ: There are slight tweaks I’d like to make to the text here and there, plus a couple of bigger changes that would either thrill or horrify readers. If there’s ever a second edition, I’ll consider making as many of those changes as possible. My wife tells me I should leave well enough alone and just move on. But I can’t. God help me, I can’t.
Torontoist: What do you think of the cover? How involved were you with the cover process?
GZ: It wasn’t what I had envisioned, but what I envisioned changed depending on the time of day and what I had for breakfast that morning. So I wasn’t that much help when it came to the whole cover process, which, alas, I had plenty of input on. On the plus side, everybody adores the cover, which only goes to show how little I know about these things.
Torontoist: What do you hope to achieve with this book?
GZ: To write a satire with depth, that doesn’t sacrifice character or dramatic tension for the sake of a joke. In Major Karnage, the setting is satirical, but the stakes the characters face are very real. I was going for an almost dream-like quality in the book. The sort of dream where your best friend is a suicidal chicken, and you’re doing everything you can to stop her from throwing herself into the deep fryer at KFC. The ludicrous nature of the situation doesn’t matter. All that matters is the urgency you feel: you are going to stop your best friend from killing herself no matter what it takes! I was trying to pass off that same sense of urgency to the reader.
As such, writing this book was a bizarre exercise of throwing caution to the wind while at the same time trying to keep everything grounded enough that people could become engrossed in the characters’ plight. It was kind of like trying to perform heart surgery with a chainsaw.
Torontoist: Are you working on anything new yet?
GZ: Yes. My new book (very tentatively titled SuperGunMagicForce) will do for the fantasy genre what Major Karnage does for science fiction.