Author Michelle Diener Talks About Her ‘Class Five’ Series and DARK MATTERS

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One of my all-time favorite science fiction romance series, which I recommend to people regularly is the Class Five Series by Michelle Diener.

She takes the trope of kidnapped human women and adds new twists, linking each of the women with a powerful Artificial Intelligence known as a Class 5 brain. The women are rescued from various predicaments by members of the Grih military, being one of the highly evolved races in the part of the galaxy where they’ve ended up. Cultural and personal misunderstandings and complications ensue in each book, not least of which is that the Grih fought a huge war against AI’s in the past and have an almost pathological loathing for them now. But the women and the AI’s are allies and refuse to betray each other. Add in interstellar politics, human and Grih lpassion for music and a few other sharp plot twists and it all adds up to a highly enjoyable series.

It was with great delight that I saw a new entry in the series, Dark Matters (Class Five Series Book 4) arrive this month after a three year hiatus. (Ms. Diener has been working on other SFR novels in the meantime.) I thought this was a terrific opportunity to ask the author about the overall series and this book in particular.

Here’s the blurb for this book: A time bomb, waiting to go off . . .Lucy Harris is on the run, not sure where she can turn to for help, or if help is even available. But even as her abductors chase her down, she realizes they don’t just want to recapture her, they want to erase her.

When your very existence puts a planet at the risk of war, there’s no choice but to do everything in your power to stay out of your enemies’ hands.

A predator . . . waiting for the chance to pounce…The powerful AI battleship, Bane, is accompanying the United Council envoy to Tecra to mete out the punishment the Tecrans have earned for breaking UC law. He revels in the power he’s about to have over his old masters. But his mission isn’t only to rain down retribution on the people who kept him chained for years, he’s also looking for a human woman his fellow Class 5 thinking system mentioned in the final seconds of his life. Paxe admitted to taking Lucy Harris from Earth, and Bane has been looking for her ever since.

A warrior conflicted . . .Commander Dray Helvan thinks the Grih made a mistake in not pushing for war with the Tecran, but he’s had to accept the compromise, that he and the other envoys from the United Council will go to Tecra and dismantle its military from the top down. His mission is not one of his choosing, but when he and his team arrive, he’s handed a very different job. While he distrusts Bane on principle, when the thinking system tells him there’s a woman running for her life on the planet below, he will do whatever he has to to see her safe. And if that means war for Tecra, well, then it means war.

A little bit about Michelle herself: …writes historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy. From the Tudor court, to the streets of Regency London, and into magical landscapes, she’s never happier than when she’s building worlds, sculpting unforgettable characters and crafting suspenseful plots.

Michelle was born in London, grew up in South Africa, and currently lives in Australia with her husband and children.

Veronica Scott for AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE: What inspired you to create the Class 5 ‘world’ originally? 

MD: I had the first book in the series, Dark Horse, come to me in some really detailed scenes, and the idea of super powerful AI’s, partnered up with women who were thrown in at the deep end, out of their element, but with the mental strength to adjust and the compassion and empathy to make a connection, took off from there.

ASM.: What was the ‘spark’ for this specific story of Class 5 mind Bane and Lucy of Earth in Dark Matters?

MD: Bane never really had his own story. Rose rescues him in book 1, Dark Horse, but he declares himself neutral, and doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the series. I wanted him to have his own story, and given the time line, setting the book on Tecra made sense. Lucy and her take-no-prisoners personality grew from there.

ASM.: Had you always planned to write Bane’s story? Kind of a gap there since the last book… 

MD: I didn’t not plan to write Bane’s story, but I had so many other books fighting for some page time by the time I finished Dark Minds, the third book in the Class 5 series, and I felt I needed a break from the series to keep my writing fresh. The pull of those other stories kept me busy for a long time, but so many readers asked for more Class 5, and so I decided to write a novella with Bane as the main character. About 150 pages in, I realized it wasn’t going to be a novella, it was big enough to be a full length novel, and that’s what it became.

ASM.: Will there be more stories set in this world, if not with more Class 5’s?

MD: Now I’ve cracked the door back open with Dark Matters, yes, I think I will dip back into the world of the Class 5 series again, but I’m busy writing a Verdant String series book right now, so it won’t be immediately.

ASM.: Who was the most difficult character in the novel Dark Matters to write and why? 

MD: I always find the thinking systems, in this case, Bane, the most challenging, not only because they have no physical bodies, so I have to find innovative ways to convey their moods and tone, but also because they can so easily become the villains, rather than the heroes of the book.

ASM.: What inspired you to use music as a keystone plot element in the series? The Grih approach to music and their fascination with how humans view it, etc. is so intriguing. 

MD: Sometimes, the scenes in a book come to me fully-formed, and Rose (in Dark Horse) trying to calm an alien predator, and absolutely captivating the Grih who are watching her, was one of the original drivers of the whole series for me. Her voice, and therefore singing, grew to be the important part of the series from that one scene.

ASM.: Which leads to the question, who is your favorite band/song any why? (Or type of music or however you’d like to frame picking a favorite…) Do you write to music? Was there a ‘soundtrack’ for this book or series? 

MD: I really love a wide range of music. From the music of my childhood (90s!) to jazz and classical music, to groups like Cold Play, I love it all. My daughter is in her final year of high school and one of her subjects in jazz piano. Most evenings, while she’s practicing, my house sounds like the inside of a jazz bar, which is awesome. A number of the songs in Dark Matters are songs she’s played, like “My Baby Just Cares for Me”.

There is a soundtrack for this book, and all the others in the series. I have a link at the bottom of each book’s page on my website, links to youtube for the videos (if there are any) and also a link to each playlist on Spotify.

ASM.: Who does your book covers and how does the process work? Do you give them a concept first or? 

MD: Elle J Rossi of Evernight Designs is my designer for the Class 5 series and the Verdant String Series and Book Coverology did my Sky Raiders series covers. What I usually do is spend some time looking through the stock images that suit a book and putting the ones I like into a folder which I share with my designer. When I think I’ve got enough good ones, I talk to her about my favorites, what I’m looking for, and what series the book is part of, and then when a rough first draft comes back, we discuss what works, what I like or don’t like, and usually the second or third draft is just right. I am very lucky to work with such talented designers.

ASM.: What TV show or movie do you bingewatch and why? 

MD: I loved ‘Carnival Row’ and ‘Good Omens’. I also love British police procedurals like ‘Shetland’ (although I did read the original books first), ‘Hinterland’ (wow, I loved this series!) and ‘Vera’ (also read the original books first). One of my favorite series was ‘Longmire’. Honestly, it is a masterpiece of storytelling, in my opinion.

ASM.: What’s next for you? 

MD: I am working on a new Verdant String series book and am really having so much fun with it right now.

ASM.: What books are on your To Be Read List?

MD: As soon as new release madness abates, I’m looking forward to reading Shifter Planet: The Return by D. B. Reynolds and Nalini Singh’s new Guildhunter series novel, Archangel’s War.

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