A new series of the Writers of Fantasy Podcast from Scifi-fantasy network!
Joel Cornah talks to Foz Meadows, author of An Accident of Stars! Foz is a genderqueer author, blogger, essayist, reviewer and poet.
In 2014, she was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for her blog, Shattersnipe; she is also a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Black Gate, and a contributing reviewer for A Dribble of Ink, Strange Horizons and Tor.com.
Give the episode a listen here, or on iTunes! There’s a transcript below.
This week’s Writers of Sci-Fi interview is with Gemma X Todd. She is an author, Mobile Librarian and LEGO enthusiast! Her new books, The Voices series, begins with Defender, which comes out in January 2017! So be on the lookout!
As a librarian and all round cool person, she has plenty of unique perspectives on the state of sci-fi and fantasy in the book world. Check it out!
1) Can you remember your earliest writing projects? If so, do you see any common themes that have followed through into Defender, and The Voices series?
The first “serious” project was a fantasy book I tried to write when I was fourteen. In the opening chapters, I killed off the main character’s family, so even back then I was all about the gore and violence and putting people through terrible ordeals. Honestly, though, I spent more time drawing the map for the story than actually writing it (see pictures). So, in terms of themes: violence, the predilection for killing people, and the loss of loved ones, all transferred over in to DEFENDER.
2) The Voices is going to be a quartet (or possibly a quadrilogy); how did you decide on that as the format for the story?
It decided for me, really. DEFENDER was initially a standalone story (which is why it reads so well as a standalone book with a satisfactory resolution at its end), but when I finished it, the characters wouldn’t leave me alone. They had a lot more to say and do, and there are a lot of questions that still need to be explored. The world I had created was so rich in possibilities I’d have been crazy to stop at just one.
3) What part of writing are you most comfortable with? Dialogue, prose,
characterisation, plot, etc.?
I’ll rank them in order of preference: characterisation, prose, plot… … … … … … … dialogue. I don’t hate dialogue – it plays an extremely important role – but I spend a lot of time writing it and then re-writing it then reading it aloud to myself before cutting half of it out. My main characters, however, are like family. I know what choices they’d make in any given situation. And plot is fine – I don’t tend to plan very much, but I am a huge film fan, and I do believe that over many, many years of watching thousands of movies, techniques such as story arcs and plot devices and pacing have all seeped into my subconscious.
Becky Chambers Wayfarers series continues to be the kind of science fiction I wish I was reading all the time. The tone, depth, and complexities of the worlds and societies she has built, coupled with a crisp, clear breath of optimism and hope make this a perfect read for these dark days.
I interviewed Becky Chambers earlier this year and you can check that out here.
The main focus of A Closed and Common Orbit is on an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system called LoveLace, (or Sidra as she prefers), and a young mechanic named Pepper (or Jane23) and their seemingly distant lives. The book draws their stories together, revealing, slowly, the ties that bind them, the common threads that make them alike, and make them different. There are a lot of themes revolving around identity, personhood, and trauma. The pace can be slow at times as Chambers takes her time putting the reader (and the characters) through periods of self and social discovery. This can feel like a bit of an info-dump at times, but the information being dumped is still intriguing and builds your understanding of each character’s context.
Ideas like personhood are nothing new to the science fiction genre, and having an AI be the catalyst for such discussions and explorations are fairly common. But where Chambers takes a relatively lesser trod path is that much of the perspective on this is from that very AI, and how she navigates questions like ‘am I a person?’ Which feels very different to people asking ‘is that a person?’ in the more abstract. To make this a very personal journey, to put our eyes in that of a computer, does make the reader much more likely to empathise and to connect.
It is by no means a simple task. This isn’t Pinocchio who wants to be a real boy. Sidra isn’t even sure she wants to be a person for a long time. She is filled with guilt, with uncertainty, and with a lack of purpose. These struggles leave her desiring her old life as a ship’s computer, back when she knew what her existence meant, and knew what her purpose was. But as she grows, she doesn’t solve these issues, but gradually tries to embrace them as part of what it means to be a person.
What I particularly enjoyed was the fact that Sidra discovers her personhood through platonic relationships, through found family, and friendships. So often, in stories of robots or AIs where they are perceived as female it ends with them engaging in a sexual relationship with a – usually male – human. That was not the case here. Sidra develops close familial and platonic bonds with humans and aliens and through their shared experiences and love for one another, she grows. She gets to know her own personhood through her love and friendship, and it is not tied to sex, and perhaps it’s my ace side making me biased, but I really thought that was a stroke of genius.
The other half of the book, running parallel, is the story of Pepper, who also faced her own struggle with identity and personhood. She escapes a factory where she had spent most of her life sorting scrap and flees into the wastelands and eventually is rescued by the AI of a small shuttle. This AI, named Owl, is a caring and nurturing force in Pepper’s life, raising her, teaching her, and guiding her through the skills that will help her survive and thrive once they escape the planet they are trapped on.
Pepper’s life is shaped by her experience being raised by an AI, and so when Sidra comes into her life, we get a real sense of why it is so important to her that she looks after her. It is Pepper’s way of saying thank you. It is her way of sorting out her feelings, her way of reconnecting with the only real parental figure she ever knew.
Chambers’ writing style shifts between Pepper and Sidra. Especially when Pepper is younger, as the 10 year old factory kid has a simpler vocabulary, so does the narrator in these parts. She gets right into her head, describing the strange world in ways a young person with limited experience would understand. Big feelings. Bad things. This switch really hammers home how Pepper / Jane23 feels and really brings the reader into the moment.
Now, I won’t give away the ending, but I will say it was not what I anticipated. This is a good thing, I hasten to point out. Much like in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Chambers is an optimist, and the ending very much subverts what you might expect from a genre that is filled with the grim, and the horrorful. In an age of pessimism, optimism is a revolutionary act.
I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Patricia Rodriguez. It was a stellar performance (pun intended), though the moments where an online style text conversation is described tended to be a little tedious as the narrator had to read out every single identifying line, every single timestamp, and so on. Other than that, it was great.
As part of Scifi Fantasy Network’s Star Wars Month, I got to interview Jeremy Bulloch, who played Boba Fett! He has also been in Doctor Who, James Bond, and has been acting since the age of 12! So, naturally, I had to ask him about that, and get his perspective on the ever changing world of media and film.
He appeared in two Doctor Who stories, The Space Museum (1965) where he played Tor alongside William Hartnell (the First Doctor) and then he was Hal the archer in The Time Warrior (1973) with Jon Pertwee (the Third Doctor). From 1979-81, he was a regular in ITV’s sitcom Agony, where he played Rob Illingworth, one half of a gay couple. He also has roles in three Bond films, twice playing Q’s assistant Smithers.
We compare the differences between self publishing, going with a small indie press and going the traditional route. Jo, who is a Grimbold author as well as an editor for us, offers her unique perspective on both sides of the publishing fence, and Adele talks about everything that goes into running a small press from acquisitions to cover art to editing and production.
At first glance, Joel Cornah’s fantasy novel The Sky Slayer may not put you in mind of Terry Nation’s sci-fi classic Blake’s 7. But the author has revealed that the inspiration for the story came right out of the 70s bleak space opera and the high seas piratical adventure would never have been the same without it.
“I first watched Blake’s 7 when I was quite young,” Cornah says. “And I remember loving the crew dynamics especially with the two leads. Blake, the heroic leader who desperately needs someone to hold his feet to the fire and hold him to account and Avon, the sarcastic cynic who does just that. A joke developed between myself and some friends that Blake and crew were basically space pirates and this inevitably led to me imagining them as regular pirates in the golden age of piracy.”
I’m going to this year’s BristolCon on October 29th 2016. I will be doing a reading and a panel as well as some interviews with authors of all stripes! BristolCon is a one-day convention open both to the public and the industry, making it a nice balanced event perfect for the sci-fi and fantasy fan.
Every year we feature panel discussions and lectures, an art show and small group sessions including kaffeklatsches and workshops. Books, comics and merchandise are available in the dealers’ room and authors will be available for book signings. There’s also a games room and a ‘brick-out’ space (a cafe-style area with lego to play with). A variety of entertainment is offered in the evening.
I’ll be on the ‘After the Heroes have gone‘ panel at 18:00 alongside Danie Ware (Moderator), Juliet E McKenna, Chris Baker and R.B. Watkinson. We will be discussing the aftermath of the heroes’ journey, what happens to the people affected by devastating battles and fate-of-the-world encounters.
We all enjoy a big battle, especially on the big screen, but what happens afterwards? Who’s picking up the pieces of New York after the Avengers have smashed it up, who’s living in the wreckage of a Godzilla-stomped Tokyo and what are the Alderaanians who were off planet at the time supposed to do next? Wars have knock-on effects that aren’t always explored – we ask our panel to think about the fate of the ordinary folk, after the heroes have gone.
I’ll also be doing a reading from The Sky Slayer at 15:50. Come hear me do silly voices and explore some characters. There will also be a Grimbold Books table where you can buy not only my books but others from our vast array of talent.
This will be my first BristolCon, but I’m reliably informed it’s a brilliant convention, packed with amazing events and people. Juliet E McKenna (who I interviewed the other day) will be launching her new book and I encourage everyone who can to come along and support her and other brilliant writers in the biz!
Our Writers of Sci-Fi Interview series continues with the incredible Becky Chambers. Best known for her phenomenal ‘A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet’, Becky talks about her writing process, her history, and how she developed her characters. Moreover, she gives an insight into how and why she tackled social issues such as gender, sexuality, and humanity’s place in the universe.
“I REJECT THE IDEA THAT THE FUTURE IS FOR ONLY ONE GROUP OF PEOPLE.”
“Once I put my butt in a chair and started writing it, it took me about a year and a half, but I’d been working on it for a good seven years before that. Just writing little scraps of stuff; characters, cultures and what not. So, it really was just this sort of melange of things that interested me, documentaries I’d seen about a particular culture or whatnot… I compare it to making leftovers from whatever’s in the fridge!”
“A lot of my alien cultures do come from my general interest in biology and the animal world. So, a lot of the time I’m starting out with physicality – how are these people different from us physically? And then, how does that affect their culture. That, for me, is a really fun way to build a new culture.”
“I didn’t want to write a story in which humans are either the leading power in the galaxy, or are they’re the underdog that we see come up. I really wanted them to be in a sort of lowest rung on the ladder position.”
“We have this image of ourselves as the end-all be-all of evolution here on earth… But I like the idea that we’re not special, and that that makes us special. That sort of Carl Sagan idea of we’re very small and finite; we are not the best, but we are unique.”
“The thing about science fiction in particular, is you’re always talking about the world you want to see. So, whether that be a hopeful future – here’s what we could aim for – or something fearful – here’s what we should avoid. So, I think in terms of representation, in terms of creating futures that include lots of different people – I’m not interested in working with anything else.”
“I don’t like the idea of surviving just for the sake of surviving. We have to have a reason why this struggle is worth it.”