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Interview with Scott J. Robinson

A while ago now I read The Space Between and loved it; you can find my review here. Now the second book in The Tribes of Hakahei series has recently been released by Scott J Robinson so I thought it was a perfect time for an interview.

First things first then; who are your favourite authors?

I read a diverse range of books (when I have time– for me, reading and writing use the same head space) but my favourite authors are KJ Parker, Dave Duncan and Richard Morgan. Parker and Morgan are known for their gritty, take-no-prisoners style while Duncan (who isn’t read or recognized enough) has a much lighter tone.

I guess I strive for that touch of humor– humor that comes from intelligent, funny characters, not stupid characters or stupid situations, hopefully. I think Parker has a way with words I would love to be able to emulate as well. Like all writers though, I think I draw inspiration from every book I read, even if I don’t know it.

How did you get into writing?

My writing background is probably the same as every other writer out there– especially those who write speculative fiction of some kind. I’ve read fantasy and science fiction for as long as I can remember and have been writing it for about the same length of time. I never really went for short stories so lying around somewhere (probably in a rubbish tip) are a lot of old 5 1/4 inc floppy disks with dozens of first chapters. They were only first chapters because I generally stopped writing each one when I got a better idea. It might be interesting if I could find those disks and then find a Commodore 64 to run them.

That didn’t really change until I was 20 years old when I was broke and living in a caravan park. I decided I was going to start writing and not stop until I finished. 19 days later, I finished. It took a couple of more years for those 35 thousand hand written words to resemble even a half decent novel, but I had proven I could do it.

So, I haven’t had any formal training, not even one of those dodgy correspondence courses. I did go to Envision twice. That’s a five-day workshop (no longer running unfortunately) that lets would be authors have feedback and input from published authors about a work in progress. My only training has come through about 30 years of writing. I may be getting close to finishing my apprenticeship.

Where did the inspiration for The Tribe of Hakahei books come from?

Tribes of the Hakahei originally started off as a fairly standard quest fantasy novel with people from 6 races (or it might have been 8) coming together to fulfill a prophecy. There was another group of 6 characters who thought they were the “chosen ones” and… It was really only standard in a very complicated, going-to-take-10-books type way. Needless to say, it ended up being one of Commodore 64 stories that went nowhere. But years later I was working on an idea to involve a lot of myths and legends from Earth into a sci-fi novel (I thought it would be fun linking things like Robin Hood, Area 51 and Easter Island). I’m not quite sure how, but that merged with that original idea and I ended up with Tribes of the Hakahei. (I talk about this in an article at http://www.specusphere.com/spec-fic-author-news/the-life-of-a-story.html )

A little about the book…

In Singing Other Worlds Kim has made it into space but that is really just the start of the battle. She and the other crew members of the recently discovered Hakahei starship need help. They set about finding recruits while, at the same time, helping the USA make use of the ships hidden on the world of Nexis.

But Kim and her companions don’t really know what they’re doing and create their own emergencies along the way. And the hurgon and the multeese are out there and aren’t going to make things easy either. In fact, Kim is wondering if anything will ever be easy again.
Singing Other Worlds, Book 2 of The Tribes of Hakahei series, can be downloaded from Scott’s website here: http://www.scottjrobinson.com/

Thanks to Scott for taking the time to do this for StuffWhatIWrote.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Christmas Reading

Every year literally some people ask me what they should read at Christmas. I haven’t found a lot of sci-fi that has a Christmassy setting but I do have recommendations for nerds and geeks everywhere.

Doomsday Book, Connie Willis

Don’t take the title too seriously, it’s actually a great sci-fi book which is set at Christmas in the middle ages and 2054 simultaneously.

We follow Kivrin who is trapped in the year 1348 just as the Black Plague starts to kill most of Britain and Prof Dunworthy as he struggles against an influenze outbreak in 2054 whilst trying to rescue Kivrin.

It doesn’t sound very Christmassy but it manages to juxtapose the Christmas of the middle ages against modern day traditions….like shopping. There are some lovely scenes and it does make you think about what Christmas means. Highly Recommended.

And if you do like this, Connie Willis she has written a Christmas book called Miracle and other Christmas Stories with Brian Thomsen.

Hogfather, Terry Pratchett

This is a great Christmas book. As usual with the great Sir Terry, every quaint and charming Christmas tradition is given the usual Discworld treatment including Death becoming the Hogfather (Santa if you didn’t guess it). Death visits children all over the Disc and gives them exactly what they ask for…he’s Death and takes things literally.

There are characters from previous books but you needn’t have read them to enjoy this story and it would be a great place to introduce yourself to the Discworld. Another rip-roaring yarn and well worth a read.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

No introduction needed for this classic book which has changed the lives of many. You may have seen the films (my favourite is Muppet’s Christmas Carol), but the book is infinitely better.

And so until next year

I wish you good reading, a merry Christmas and a happy New Year from all of us here at StuffwhatIwrote.com.

P.S. If you know of any sci-fi Christmas reads please comment below, would love to have some more to write about come next year.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Women in Sci-Fi

I’ve been reading Running Black by Patrick Todoroff recently (what a good book it is too, review to follow shortly) and there is a character in it called Major Jessa Eames. A tough no nonsense soldier who does what it takes to get the job done. Her character got me thinking about other female characters in sci-fi.

To be honest I thought I’d struggle to find any. When you think about it though there are so many out there. I love Duncan Idaho of Dune fame but in that book we have one of the greatest creations in sci-fi: The Bene Gesserit. They are a key group within the Dune Universe and completely composed of Women. They are looking for the Kwisatz Haderach, but that’s another story.

And you can’t stop there either; we have Ripley in Alien, the female Starbuck in the latest Battlestar Galactica (Kara Thrace, fantastic character), Princess Leia, Leeloo (from The Fifth Element) and of course Captain Janeway (now Admiral) from Star Trek Voyager. And many many more.

This is one of the aspects of Sci-Fi I love the most; it’s great variety. There are enough strong female characters out there to match against the big-boobed vamps that are seen in many books and films.  And I love Sci-Fi the more for it.

Let’s not forget the latest Hugo Award either. The shortlist for Best Novel was four women and only one man.  It was won by Connie Willis for her two volume submission of Blackout/All Clear. I’ve read some of Connie’s other books and they are superb, would definitely recommend The Doomsday book for Christmas reading.

Some people still see Sci-Fi as being for a male audience composed of men shooting lasers in space and killer robots battling aliens. I would recommend they read some of the following books which may change their mind:

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang – Kate Wilhelm

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Ursula K. Le Guin – The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Does the future have to be dystopian?

So the next big sci-fi show is on its way soon. Terra Nova is an epic programme which has cost Sky £200,000 for every minute shown and features a ruined Earth, a rift in space allowing time travel and Dinosaurs no less.

“Set in the year 2149, a time when all life on planet Earth is threatened with extinction due to dwindling worldwide air quality and overpopulation. Scientists discover a rift in space-time that allows people to travel 85 million years back in time to the Late Cretaceous period on the prehistoric Earth of an alternate reality, offering a chance to save humanity. The Shannon family join the tenth pilgrimage of settlers to Terra Nova, the first human colony on the other side of the temporal doorway.” (From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terra_Nova_(TV_series))

My question is: Why does the future always have to be dystopian? It’s become a short hand for the future in Science Fiction; we know it’s the future because everything has turned to crap.  There are so few books that start “It’s the year 2157 and everything was great really”. Okay, it’s not a great opener but you see this premise rarely, if at all.

It’s a contradiction for most people which has for some reason come to be widely accepted; science can be used to improve human’s lives but the future will still be crappy. A few examples of the dystopian future that spring to mind are “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, “A Brave New World” and “The Time Machine”.  Each has a dystopian future crammed full of either (or a combination of) wars, radiation poisoning, suppression of the masses and cannibalism. Brilliant.

One of the utopian futures that I can think of is that of Star Trek. A future where humanity has discarded money and strives to better themselves and humanity as a whole. They still have wars, sure, and they make for great stories, but these are external (as in aliens attacking rather than civil wars) to humanity which generally enjoys a good life.

 I’m not saying it’s lazy, I’m not even saying it’s bad. I love dystopian novels as they tend to be richly detailed novels which present us with the author’s view of the future (whether accurate or not). What I am interested in is your view on sci-fi and dystopia; is it becoming the norm or is it just a great writing tool?

To see how much the idea of dystopian future has grown look at this list on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dystopian_literature.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Do you like it Hard or Soft?

Months and months ago on Twitter I started asking people whether they liked ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ science fiction. Initially it was met with stoney silence because I was mostly followed by bots who don’t respond to sci-fan questions (story in there somewhere…). Then I started to get a rather mixed back of reactions ranging from “I don’t anything about science so I wouldn’t know if it was hard or soft” to “as a physicist Star Wars really annoys me”.

For those that don’t know the difference between the two here’s my quick guide (as stolen from Wikipedia):

Hard: Category of science fiction characterised by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both. I would recommend the Mars series by Kim Stanley Robinson, basically a manual for the colonisation of Mars.

Soft: More concerned with character, society, or other speculative ideas and themes that are not centrally tied to scientific or engineering speculations. I recommend Connie Willis’ time travel books, just fantastic.

Note: For the really hardcore fans please note that I class all scientifically accurate sci-fi as ‘hard’ regardless of the science it describes (i.e. sociology rather than physics).

For my two pennies I would say that both have their place in sci-fi writing. I don’t think you can be completely accurate about speculative fiction, who knows what science will turn up in the future and this is when sci-fi can be at it’s best.  Though I must say that if someone sets out to write a sci-fi novel some scientific knowledge is required to be taken seriously, otherwise there’s no point.

I saw a book the other day which said it was “a journey into the cosmic microwave background where black holes are made”. Those that don’t have any knowledge of physics may not be bothered about this, but for a physicist they might as well have said “come journey to Disney World to see Mickey make rainbows from happiness and glitter”.

The fact there are levels of hard and soft in Sci-fi make it is so readable; there is a book for every taste.

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

My top 5 SciFi/Fantasy Books

Well, I say top five but I actually mean the five that I thought about first…if that makes sense. It’s just that I get literally some people asking me about what my favourite SciFi/Fantasy reads are. This list is great for people who need introducing to this shockingly overlooked genre or for avid readers who are looking for something a little bit different.

1. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

Fantastic SciFi book very much in the style of John Wyndham. A beautiful and well written story of what really makes a person human. Full description here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Where_Late_the_Sweet_Birds_Sang

2. Hyperion

Again, the writing is just fantastic and the world Dan Simmons creates is amazing. The story pulls its influences from everything to The Lord of the Rings and Dune. Not for people looking for something to get them in to SciFi, but a definite must-read for the avid fan. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperion_%28Simmons_novel%29

3. Feet of Clay

My favourite Discworld book, but feel free to start anywhere as long as you do start. Discworld is a piss take of the fantasy genre but manages to pay homage to it at the same time. I would recommend reading the character books in sets (i.e. The Watch books start with Guards! Guards!), but others you can dip into anytime (e.g. Pyamids). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discworld

4. The Forever War

Ever wondered how we would fight an alien civilisation and the effects of time dilation on the soldiers travelling at approaching light speed to reach them? Here is your answer. And what a compelling, emotional read it is too. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Forever_War

5. The Stars My Destination

Just my favourite SciFi book of all time. All I can say is read it as soon as you can. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stars_My_Destination

From the above the obvious The Lord of The Rings and Dune have been omitted for obvious reasons…obviously. Also anything by the fantastic John Wyndham.

A great list of SciFi and Fantasy books can be found here: http://www.npr.org/2011/08/11/139085843/your-picks-top-100-science-fiction-fantasy-books

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

The World of SciFi and Fantasy

Firstly let’s start off with a few definitions:

Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible (or at least non-supernatural) content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities. Exploring the consequences of scientific innovations is one purpose of science fiction, making it a “literature of ideas”.(courtesy of Wikipedia).

The above definition can also be subdivided into numerous categories all of which can themselves be divided into sub-subcategories and so on ad infinitum.

I love SciFi mostly because there are no limits, it’s basically anything you can think of. From the hard SciFi of the colonisation of Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson to the rip-roaring Space Operas of Peter F Hamilton, with everything in between and beyond.

SciFi doesn’t have to limited by the here and now or even the place (or space) and time. Let your imagination run wild.

Fantasy is a genre of fiction  that uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting. (courtesy of Wikipedia again….who said I was lazy?!!)

Fantasy for me is so much more limited, if not just by the great works that have come before it. When you have something so perfect and as far-reaching as The Lord of the Rings, it’s understandable that other works would be compared to it.

There are some great fantasy books out there that do break the mould though; George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Stephen Donaldson’s The Thomas Covenant Chronicles.

Some think that SciFi and Fantasy will never be recognised as “serious” writing but that doesn’t do justice to great writers like Alfred Bester (who wrote the best ever SciFi novel: The Stars My Destination), John Wyndham, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kate Wilhelm and many more.

If you haven’t tried either genre I would recommend The Day of the Triffids for SciFi and The Lord of the Rings for Fantasy.

Happy readings!

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Uncategorized