Alexander Darwin interview

The Combat Codes: Interview with Alexander Darwin

Today it’s our pleasure to host Alexander Darwin, author of The Combat Codes which is the first book in the The Combat Codes series, out on June 13, 2023, by Orbit!

This interview is posted as part of a blog tour organized by Mihir at Fantasy Book Critic. Below is the schedule (make sure to check them out in the coming week!) and the banner.

The Combat Codes blog tour banner


 June 6th (Tuesday) – Queen’s Book Asylum

June 7th (Wednesday) – Space and Sorcery (Adventures in Speculative Fiction)

June 8th (Thursday) – Out of This World SFF

June 9th (Friday) – Bookwyrms Den

June 10th (Saturday) – Under the Radar SFF Books

June 11th (Sunday) – Grimdark Magazine & FanFiAddict

June 12th (Monday) – Fantasy Book Critic

June 13th (Tuesday) – WeatherWax Report & Jessie Mae Books

Meet the Author
Alexander Darwin

Alexander Darwin is a second generation Vietnamese-Jewish-American author living in Boston with his wife and three daughters. Outside of writing, he teaches and trains martial arts (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). He’s inspired by old-school Hong Kong action flicks, jRPGs, underdog stories and bibimbap bowls.

Connect with Alexander Darwin

About the Book
The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin

In a world where battle-hardened warriors determine the fate of empires, war-ravaged nations seek out a new champion in the first book of a thrilling science fantasy “that rare book that fully satisfies me as an action fan” (Fonda Lee, author of Jade City ).​

In a world long ago ravaged by war, the nations have sworn an armistice never to use weapons of mass destruction again. Instead, highly-skilled warriors known as Grievar Knights represent their nations’ interests in brutal hand-to-hand combat.

Murray Pearson was once a famed Knight until he suffered a loss that crippled his homeland — but now he’s on the hunt to discover the next champion.

In underground and ruthless combat rings, an orphaned boy called Cego is making a name for himself. Murray believes Cego has what it takes to thrive in the world’s most prestigious combat academy – but first, Cego must prove himself in the vicious arenas of the underworld. And survival isn’t guaranteed.

We have Alexander Darwin, author of The Combat Codes in the Asylum today. Please make yourself at home. Don’t let the stains put you off, but that chair in the corner there, is quite comfortable. The one with the arm straps… yeah, that one.
Can I offer a beverage of your choice? A sandwich? While I am getting those ready, why don’t you share with us something about yourself that isn’t in your bio?

Yes, please on the sandwich. I’m a big fan of bánh mì, do you have any on you?

The Asylum prides itself on its kitchen skills – just give me a couple of days to pickle-up those radishes for the garnish.

Speaking of, my grandmother lives in Ho Chi Minh City, which is one of my favorite places in the world. I visited her last year when she turned 100.

A hundred! That is quite a milestone for your grandmother. Please send along our belated birthday wishes.

I’m not sure if it’s the pollution or the way the light hits the city, but there’s something special about HCMC, almost like you’re constantly looking out through an old camera lens.

You couldn’t have described the city of Ho Chi Minh any other way that would have made me want to see it more, than how you did there. It sounds utterly charming! 
What inspires your writing? Do you listen to music, stare into the fire, listen to the whispering wind, make deals with the devil? 

I often do listen to video game or film soundtracks. That can be a slippery slope though, because I need to choose the perfect track for the scene, and I often end up spending far too much time selecting the music when I should just be writing. But there’s a guitarist on YouTube named John Oeth who plays all the Final Fantasy and Chrono Triger soundtracks who is my fav (I’m listening to him right now).

Ooh! I will have to look John Oeth up. I love the music to Final Fantasy (or pretty well all of Square’s games). My kids went to the Distant Worlds Symphony in Vancouver this spring, which is all music from the games – perhaps you’ve heard of it. I was so jealous but also happy for them (I couldn’t make it because of baby chicks). Next time they’re touring, I hope to go with them.
There have been some big changes for you, in the three years since I had first made your acquaintance. During that time, you took part in SPFBO and did very well, plus released the entire trilogy of The Combat Codes Saga before being acquired by Orbit. How hard was it mentally, to return and revamp a series that you had just completed? 

It wasn’t hard at first because it was so exciting to get the Orbit deal. I went into that fully reinvigorated at the notion I’d have a chance to make this story even better and out to a wider audience, and my editors re-enforced that sentiment with a plan to add 20-30K words to each book. 

It was like getting to go back in a time machine and re-live your memories, but with the advanced knowledge you currently have to change the timeline!

I’d be up for that. Hey, past self, don’t sell that Amazon stock for another couple of years. It was only 25 shares but still…

Now that the initial excitement has worn off there is certainly some fatigue associated with staying so long in the world of the Combat Codes. However, given how much new worldbuilding, character development and narrative I’m drafting for these new editions, it’s still quite fun! I really do love the world of the Combat Codes…

I love it too. I was pretty happy to return to your world of The Combat Codes and experience it again with all its improvements. It really does shine now.
I guess one thing that hasn’t changed much for you though and that’s the promoting part. Are you feeling a bit of deja-vu? It must seem like you stepped through a doorway to the past in some ways. Did having an early version of The Combat Codes, one that has been read and loved, cause any difficulties in finding an audience (old and new alike)?

I don’t think it’s really caused difficulties, at least none are apparent so far. I’m sure there are readers that got through the self-pub version and didn’t dig it, and so likely won’t pick up the new Orbit version. But I’m guessing these folks are far outnumbered by those who enjoyed the self-pub version and are excited for a fully revamped new version as well as those who are just getting exposed to CC for the first time.

Not so much deja-vu as the feeling of returning to an old favorite restaurant. And with friends! I’m so happy and grateful that my fellow SPFBO6 finalist Justin Anderson is part of my Orbit class of 2023 debuts. We’ve really had so much fun navigating this new adventure in trad publishing together.

That is wonderful to have someone along that is experiencing the transitional pains with you. Also, as a side note – I’m sure you won’t mind my saying that Justin Anderson’s The Lost War is a fabulous story as well.
You’re obviously, a hands-on kind of guy and have a very supportive group behind you which is evident in fun promotional videos I was seeing on Twitter.
Do you enjoy the marketing/promotional side? 

I have a love / hate relationship with marketing & PR, given I’ve never really been able to shake the scrappy underdog mentality of self-pub even though I’m trad now. I think the dream is just being able to write with no other obligations, but I know that’s quite far off, so I’m fully embracing the other aspects of publishing like marketing.  And there are some major advantages to have a big 5 publisher behind you with all the various marketing efforts one decides to undertake = everything seems to be amplified a bit more than the self-pub days.

That is true. Every year I am realizing just how small my little corner of the fantasy blogging umbrella is. Especially since I began judging in the SPFBO contest, where there are 300 new people and I am lucky if I recognize even a quarter of them. It would be quite overwhelming I think, to be on your side of things trying to not be one more voice in a sea of voices.
Which part of The Combat Codes was the hardest to write and which was the most satisfactory? And which was your favourite scene?

I really love some of the new scenes I’ve written for the Orbit edition. Murray Pearson gets much more airtime and has several scenes which I think really help define him as a character. One in particular is Murray taking a visit to a sauna, but it’s not just a normal sauna, it’s hot enough to make someone pass out in a matter of minutes. He needs to get information from some young Knights and stay conscious long enough while talking to them. I had a ton of fun writing that scene.

That was a great scene!
I personally loved the themes in The Combat Codes – the friendships, the found family, and especially the valuable message that success – big or small – is available to those who aren’t afraid to put in the effort to reach their goals. With that in mind, who were the inspirations in your life? Who was your Murray? Were you a part of your own group of Whelps?

I’m extremely fortunate to have many sources of inspiration through my life. My parents, friends, martial arts instructors, and training partners, and now my children are all inspirations to me.

But I have been thinking back a lot to my high school days; I was an awkward kid, of course obsessed with SFF, D&D, RPGs, and so didn’t fit in great. But I was lucky enough to find a group of friends with similar interests who I’m still very close with today. Also, I never realized until later in life that this group of friends were all immigrants or second-generation children of immigrants (myself included). But it’s not like we sought each other out because of that reason, or even ever talked about that commonality. It was so fortuitous to find these friends, but it really makes sense looking back on it. And I’m sure this was sub-consciously an inspiration for the Whelps and themes of found family in the Combat Codes.

At risk of sounding like an excerpt from Chicken Soup for the Soul – fortune only shines on those who recognize it.
The Combat Codes has some great fights and just for fun because I like silly questions and I like fight movies (I assume you do as well), if you could choose to recast yourself into any movie fight scene which fight, which movie, and which actor/martial artist, would you choose to be? (i.e., Donnie Yen in Special ID, fight with his brother.)

Ooo love this question.

Thanks. ?

My favorite Kung Fu movie of all time is Fist of Legend with Jet Li, so it would have to be that one. It’s quite ‘advanced’ for how old-school it is; the film embodies many of the themes of modern mixed martial arts. The protagonist needs to learn and embrace other styles of martial arts outside of his native kung fu to overcome the bad guy.

I’ve not seen Fist of Legend. Yet. I will make it a point to hunt this movie down. My first intro to Jet Li was in Lethal Weapon 4! He was so fast – he amazed me. I never wanted the ‘bad guy’ to win so badly as I did in that film. His appearance must have sparked a mini-martial arts movie revival because I remember seeing him in Romeo Must Die, and a few other movies around that time.
Since you’re like my second interview ever, and I found it difficult to find questions you haven’t been asked over and over, I’m going to turn this around and ask you – What is the one question that you wish someone would ask you about yourself or your book, but no one has asked it yet?

I wish people would ask me more about Solara Halberd! She’s not a main POV in book one (but is in the second book). I found in the self-pub version many readers assumed she was just a Hermione archetype, which is fair play, as she does embody the overachiever role in the academy. But Sol is so much more than a ‘know-it-all.’  She actually fits the perfect mold to be a ‘chosen-one’ character. She’s the daughter of the most famous warrior in the land, and has all the skill to assume her father’s mantle, but because she’s a girl she essentially is unable to embody the chosen-one archetype in the first book. Instead, she needs to deal with all the BS from other students because of her gender. In book two we get to see Sol really take off with her own POV, which I can’t wait for readers to fully grasp.

I love Solara Halbred! I was/am the most excited to see the additions to her parts of the story. Admittedly, I am in the unique position of knowing a little of where her story is going, because of having read the previous editions but that doesn’t change what a great character she is/becomes. I think people are going to be pleased when they get to see it for themselves.
What are your plans for 2023? Any particular events you plan to visit?

I’m going on book tour at the end of this month (May) in London! I’ve never been to the UK and it has always been a dream of mine to go on tour there, so I’m quite excited. I’ll get to meet my agent for the first time, along with a plethora of other authors who I’ve been in touch with for years. Other than that, there will be a launch in Massachusetts near my home at a local bookstore. Perhaps NY Comic Con in the fall?

Sounds busy and like a lot of fun! I wish I could say I will see you at one of the cons…
While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you to invite one visitor (fictional or otherwise) – who would you invite? And no, they can’t help you escape.

 I’m thinking Guenhwyvar, Drizzt Do’Urden’s astral panther. She just seems like great company, and maybe even if I can’t physically escape, she could let me hang with her on the Astral Plane?

Of course! Guenhwyvar is totally welcome! Our resident demon will be happy to keep y’all company on any plane you desire.
Well then, it was a pleasure to have a chat with you! Please allow these nice attendants to escort you out. We hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? 

Thank you so much for having me, it was a pleasure. We fight so the rest shall not have to!

*locks door*

Grab a copy of The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin and read Jen’s review of the book!

The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin

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