May 09

2022

Author Interview: Dora Klindžić, Nikola Tesla: War of the Currents

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

At the dawn of the electrical age, can you outsmart Thomas Edison and electrify the world? Rewrite history with worldwide wireless power, alien contact, death rays and sapient machines!

Nikola Tesla: War of the Currents is a 225,000-word interactive science-fiction novel by Dora Klindžić. I sat down to talk with Dora about rewriting history and what makes Tesla and this period such a fantastic setting for a Choice of Games title. Nikola Tesla: War of the Currents releases this Thursday, May 12th. You can try the first three chapters for free, today.

This is your first piece of interactive fiction, I think? But your background as a writer is in sci-fi/speculative fiction. Tell me more about how you became interested in writing about Nikola Tesla, I’m sure the fact that he is a countryman of yours must have come into it.

Part of my fascination with Nikola Tesla comes from our shared Serbo-Croatian identity, as he’s been elevated to the status of folk hero in the Balkan consciousness. But his significance in my life peaked when I started my studies as a physicist. During times of hardship in my undergrad years, when I wasn’t sure why I went into science or whether I was capable enough to graduate, reading Tesla’s biographies restored the magic of invention in my mind and inspired me to keep working at the dream. In the later years of my studies, I got a job as a student curator at Zagreb’s Nikola Tesla Museum, where I learned even more about his personal life, and had the privilege to share the wonder of his inventions with the world. There is a veil of romance and legend surrounding his character, a mythology he had partially cultivated himself, which made me wish I could have traveled back in time to visit his laboratory just for a day. This interactive novel is the embodiment of that lifelong dream.

What were the most fun parts of being able to write (and rewrite) Tesla’s story?

There was a definite aspect of self-indulgence in writing the camaraderie between Tesla and the player’s character! I have always wished to know more about the intimate sphere of Nikola’s life, like the quality of his friendship, the quiet moments of daily cohabitation in the laboratory, or sharing in the intellectual pleasure of a philosophical battle of wits. Writing Nikola Tesla: War of the Currents gave me the opportunity to imagine and explore what it would have been like to have truly known Nikola Tesla, using the inevitably domestic nature of the inventor-assistant relationship. By placing the player into the role of an interpreter between Tesla and the world, I could show Tesla for who he was — queer, misfit, neurodivergent — as well as how the cut-throat world of budding American capitalism responded to his many idiosyncrasies, and let the player decide on how to resolve this perpetual conflict between the poet-inventor’s soul and the cold hard market of electrical engineering. It was deeply satisfying to offer the possibility of resolution which departs from the true historic outcome of Nikola Tesla dying alone in his hotel room, penniless. Who hasn’t, upon reading a biography of Tesla, wondered how differently it might have gone if Tesla had actually succeeded in his big dreams? And then it was also fun to get a little playful with the weird science, to write about robots, aliens, death rays and all the other surprises…

Did writing historical fiction present any unique challenges to you?

I found the research into the early electrical industry surprisingly invigorating, and have fallen down many a rabbit hole involving mad inventors and Gilded Age era social intrigue. There were simply so many fascinating historic events unfolding in those three decades, from Thomas Edison electrocuting elephants to Mark Twain soiling his pants in Tesla’s lab, that the greatest issue was keeping the story in scope. The major recurring characters in the game are all fascinating figures, like Marion Edison, Thomas’ firstborn daughter, Bertha Lamme, the first female electrical engineer, and Lewis Latimer, the black inventor who perfected the light bulb. It might take the players several playthroughs to get to know each of their personal stories within the wider historical context of the Edison-Tesla electrical race. Even the smaller side-characters like Charles Steinmetz or Stanford White have rich historic backstories which beg to be written. I feel like I could have collected two more novels’ worth of stories about these people, but I suppose I will have to leave the joy of continuing that research to the readers.

Did you have a favorite NPC?

That’s a really tough call, as there was something about each of the characters that I found magnetic! Even the ones who only make miniature cameos, like Eugene Debs or Emma Goldman, were a thrill to include. But I’d have to say I have a special sense of achievement with my version of Mark Twain, who initially seemed the most daunting voice to write for the sake of the levity he brings, and whom I ended up making a little more, ahem, politically radical…

What was your experience with text-based games or TTRPGs prior to writing this?

I’ve enjoyed interactive fiction from the first choose-your-own-adventure books I read as a child, and in recent years through beautiful videogame narrative experiences like Kentucky Route Zero or the inspiring collection over at sub-Q magazine. Choice of Games really opened my eyes to what the genre of text-based games can be in the modern world, with immersive novels which felt lived-in rather than merely witnessed, achieving complexity in their branching structure that some triple-A game titles can only dream of.

What are you working on next?

I’m extremely proud to say I’ve joined the writing team at ZA/UM studio, the makers of Disco Elysium, and could not be happier about what the future has in store!

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