Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

 

There’s a certain era of British history that writers write about maybe more than the medieval era. This era witnessed unprecedented growth and change for the British empire, as well as many of the greatest contributions to literature in the past three hundred years. Not to mention a whole lot of material for bodice rippers and horror stories.

I’m talking about the Victorian era. Named, rather obviously, after Queen Victoria, who sat on the British throne from June 1837 until January 1901. This has long been an era of interest to authors of a number of different genres, as well as among the general populace. Every year, hundreds of works of fiction come out set in that era: novels and short stories, movies, TV shows, comic books. We also have at least a couple of new books on any given topic of the era, and there are Victorian enthusiasts all over the world who research that age like crazy and even like to dress up as Victorians.

But what is it about the Victorian era that entrances people? Why do so many authors visit this age to write?* Well, I have a few guesses as to why that is:

  • The romance and glitz of the era. I think this is our first association with the Victorian age. I don’t know where or when this association popped up, but it’s the main reason. More than any other reason, there’s a romanticism to that age. Perhaps it might have something to do with the number of famous novels that came out during that era. A number of them have romance as an important plot or subplot. And as many of these books have endured the test of time, they’ve colored our associations of that age.
    Which brings me to the next point:

  • The literature. While I’m not the biggest fan of the Victorians’ writing style (racism aside, if he weren’t a halfway decent writer, I’d give up on Lovecraft for taking too much after them), it’s undeniable that many of the authors from that age left quite a mark on our modern literature. We still read Charles Dickens in classrooms across the world, and there are countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol out there. The Bronte sisters have all created works that have been held up as timeless romances for generations of readers. And as my good friend Angela Misri will tell you, no character has become more synonymous with the word “detective” than Sherlock Holmes. Truly the literature of the age has had an effect on our view of it.
  • An era of widespread change. Victorian Britain went through an amazing number of changes during Victoria’s reign. The most obvious, of course, was this was the age of the Industrial Revolution. Factories and manufacturing became the hub of the economy, and millions moved to the cities to find work. This change also contributed to a number of new work practices, as well as contributing to the overcrowding of cities and the widening gap between the rich and the poor that we still see today. This was also when Britain spread its empire across the world and into new territories, including parts of Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
    But there were other changes. For example, who was allowed to vote was widened, women gained many more rights, and education became available to the lower classes. And that’s just scratching the surface of the number of changes that occurred while Victoria was on the throne.

And of course, Jack the Ripper’s the perfect embodiment of the age’s dark side.

  • Victorian Britain had a dark and dirty underbelly. While most of us associate the era with glitz and romance, there’s a darker side to Queen Victoria’s age. Poverty was widespread, and many people struggled to make ends meet. Women often had to turn to prostitution just to get a bite to eat or a place to sleep for the night. Many turned to alcohol or opium to numb their troubles. This was the background that allowed Jack the Ripper to hunt down those prostitutes.
    On top of that, medicine, cosmetics, and foods were more likely to kill out of you than help you. Opium or arsenic in your gout cure, lead in your foundation, poor refrigeration and rat droppings in your meat. Hell, your clothes could choke you to death and the dyes could stain your skin for months. People bathed only once a week, and the rest of the time they used heavy perfumes to mask the smell. And if you lived in London, you could expect mud and shit to line the roads rather than bricks!
    And God help you if you had a mental illness. Or a woman who wanted anything more than being a dutiful wife and mother. You could get locked up and have cold water dumped on your head from great heights while doctors came up with all sorts of crazy reasons for why you were mad. Common reasons include not being religious enough, having faulty menstruation, or masturbating.
    Yeah, you laugh, but imagine having to live through it. Pretty nasty, right? It was even worse if you were Irish. The Irish potato famine was going on around this time, and let me tell you, the folks in Parliament could’ve done a lot more to help out with that.
  • It lends itself to many genres. This is probably the biggest reason of all: it’s adaptable to many stories. Historical fiction, obviously, but you’ll find the Victorians appearing in many different kinds of stories. Romances are often set in that world, but also science fiction (steampunk especially), horror stories (Gothic and ghost stories especially, and some cosmic horror too), fantasies (especially ones with fairies or little girls falling down rabbit holes) and of course, mysteries and thrillers.

All these and more are why the Victorians enjoy such staying power in our media. It’s a perfect storm of factors for making a time period not only endure in literature, but give it a special cast that makes it interesting to the writer and average person alike.

I actually first fell in love with the Victorians while in college. I read a manga set in Victorian England, and while it was heavy on the romance and glitz, it got me interested. I’ve kept reading since then, and found out quite a bit more. And seeing as during my research, I’ve come up with more than a few ideas for stories, all that research will definitely come in handy.

If you would like to dive into the Victorian world and learn a bit about it, here are my recommendations:

If you want a good intro to Victorian England, this might be a good gateway drug for it.

  • Emma by Kaoru Mori. In no way related to the novel by Jane Austen, this historical romance manga was my first real introduction to the Victorian period. Beautiful art and a simple yet engaging story.
  • Victorian Britain from The Great Courses. Narrated by Professor Allitt of Emory University, this series of lectures is a great overview of the period for the average visitor.
  • The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow. You want to know the most about the most notorious serial killer in history and cut through all the rumor and bullshit? This is the book for you.
  • How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. You want to know what the average life of a Victorian was like? From rich to poor, this is the book for you.
  • Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson. A friend from college sent this to me as a birthday present. It’s a rather eye-opening look at Queen Victoria’s life and reign.
  • Unmentionable by Therese O’Neill. Want to know all about Victorian bathroom habits, and the stuff they don’t talk about in the bodice rippers or polite society? You will laugh yourself silly with this one. Trust me, I just finished it yesterday, I would know.

Well, I’ve about talked your ear off on this age. But can you see why? It’s a fascinating era, and it’s one that’s going to continue to show up in fiction for years to come (especially if I can write a good story or two in it). And it’s amazing how just one woman’s reign, the first in centuries in her country that nearly never happened (seriously, read how she became heir to the throne. It’s insane!), has endured as much as it had. Whether romantic and shiny or dark and seedy, there’s a story in this era just for you.

Do you enjoy or write about Victorian England? Why? Why do you think it’s so popular?

What media do you recommend for anyone wanting to learn about the era?

*I’m not suggesting, by the by, that this age is visited more than any other. One needs only look at the breadth of literature to see that storytellers are drawing from all of known history and even from dark prehistory to tell stories. I just chose Victoria’s reign because that one has special importance to me, as you can tell.

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I’ve mentioned things like “Lovecraftian horror’ or “cosmic horror” before on this blog, but I’ve never really gone into what those terms mean. And given that someone on the Internet is probably wondering what those terms mean and I need a break from trying to figure out how to end a short story, I thought I’d take a moment to look over what it means when horror fans call something “cosmic horror.”

I actually summed up cosmic horror pretty well last month with a little joke that I shared on my social media. Here’s how it goes:

Knock knock!

Who’s there?

Yog-sothoth.

Yog-sothtoth who?

Your mind couldn’t handle the answer.

Now you’re probably confused by that joke. But in actuality, it summarizes what cosmic horror is pretty well. Namely, there are answers and truths to questions that the human mind can’t handle. And not just answers, but even beings, beings that don’t fit into any sort of recognizable mythology or concept of good and evil. In this sort of horror, humanity is the equivalent of ants in the grand scheme of things, and if they come across any of the things that they shouldn’t–beings of unimaginable size and power, truths that go against everything we’ve ever believed, abilities and technologies that seem blasphemous to human viewpoints–the very contact could kill us or drive us insane. And even if our minds survived in some recognizable state, we would be forever changed. And probably not for the better.

If you haven’t grasped why that’s so scary, let me use an analogy: imagine you’re a farmer living in England in 1066, and a man from the year 2166* comes by and tells you that the world isn’t flat, but round; that the Earth flies around the sun and not the other way around; and that space is a cold and mostly empty void rather than a sphere surrounded by God’s Heaven and angels. Well, you’d obviously think the man from 2166 was crazy. But then he takes you back to his time, and he lives on a ship orbiting the Earth. You see the round Earth below while you float weightless in space and see the dark void beyond Earth. And things like science, gravity, etc. mean absolutely nothing to you. And everything’s new and strange to you, lights too bright and shadows too dark, and the sounds you hear make no sense.

Can you start to see how this could tear at someone’s mind? That someone could be afraid of this?

A universe of incomprehensible beings and terrible secrets is the basis of cosmic horror.

And that’s why cosmic horror has been so popular since HP Lovecraft basically created it back in the early 20th century (which is why it’s also known as Lovecraftian horror). It basically takes the old Judeo-Christian concept of good vs. evil, God versus the Devil, etc, which is essentially a closed and somewhat understandable system, and throws it wide open to a universe where there are multiple forces, none of which are easy to grasp or empathize with, let alone categorize into good vs. evil.

But how do you write it? Well, it’s more than including big, powerful beings that drive people mad (though that is often a feature). They’re more a vehicle for the broader theme: a sense of helplessness, that the universe is big and dark and full of awful things, that humanity is inconsequential and our dealings with the big players never lead to anything good. That, and a sense of untapped mystery can’t hurt. Think the first two Alien films or a dark version of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s aliens, and you might get the idea.

If you want a better grasp of cosmic horror, I’d suggest looking at some of Lovecraft’s stories.** I recommend The Temple, The Call of Cthulhu, and The Dunwich Horror. I also recommend checking out other writers who use cosmic horror, including Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, and so many more. Heck, I’ve got a few stories that have some cosmic horror in them. If they ever get published, I’ll let you know.

Cosmic horror can be hard to wrap your mind around sometimes, but once you do, it can open you to all sorts of terrible worlds. And if you can stand what you find, perhaps you will delve deeper. Just be careful when you do. You might not be the same when you come up, after all.

Do you like cosmic horror? What cosmic horror works would you recommend to the unitiated?

*Assuming humanity lives that long, what with global warming and a rising population. You know it’s true!

**If you can stomach his racism. Yeah, I love his work and contribution to horror, but I hate what he believed. If he were around today, I’d either punch him, ignore him for being an asshole, or recommend he take some anti-anxiety medication, get some therapy and maybe some exposure to other communities.

Reborn City, Book 1 of the Reborn City series.

I didn’t realize until the work day was almost over that it’s been exactly five years since Reborn City was published. And wow, does it feel like five years. So much time has passed in that time, and I’ve learned so much. Much of what I’ve learned has been thanks to writing and publishing RC, as well as its sequel Video Rage. I’m glad I remembered that today was that important day.

So in case you weren’t aware, Reborn City is a sci-fi novel I wrote in high school and which I published midway through college. It was my first self-published novel and my first published novel overall. It’s sequel, Video Rage, was released in 2016. Here’s what the series is about:

Zahara Bakur is a Muslim teenager recently moved into the gambling town of Reborn City. After her parents are killed by gang violence, Zahara is forced to join the Hydras, an interracial gang whose leaders have supernatural abilities. As the violence in Reborn City escalates and Zahara becomes closer to the Hydras, including the quiet but stern Rip, she finds herself drawn into a dark conspiracy involving the origins of the leaders and the shadowy corporation that rules over Reborn City.

When I wrote the first book, I wanted to write an action-filled series that explored both the idiocy of prejudice and the power of overcoming the negative thoughts people have of you and you have of yourself. And while it is told with the (arguably naive) viewpoint of an idealistic high schooler, I think I accomplished just that. People have told me they enjoy the story and couldn’t put the story down. Some even found it heartwarming.* To this day, it may be my most popular work (though I hope Rose might change that when it’s published).

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what some of the people on Amazon have said:

It’s a neat exercise in trying to see through the eyes of someone different from oneself. It incorporated a lot of fly comic-book-esque tropes. A good beginning effort of an up an coming new author who has some cool ideas to explore.

–Amazon Customer

This is an extremely commendable effort by a new young writer, whom I believe we will see much more of in the years ahead. Rami Ungar’s vision of a frightening dystopian future is peppered with those elements that make us all human. There are quite a few surprises in the book, and I am anxious for the next volume in the series to be released.

–Marc M. Neiwirth

This is not a genre I typically delve into, but I took this book on vacation and couldn’t put it down. The plot had me turning pages at quite the clip. The characters were unique and interesting and the imagery had me creating my own visual of what Rami’s interpretation of the future looked like. For first time novelist, Rami Ungar, this was an outstanding showing of talent and commitment to his passion of writing. Looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next!

–Michele U

Video Rage, Book 2 of the Reborn City series.

While I do love tooting my own horn, I’ll stop here. If you would like to check out Reborn City and its sequel Video Rage, I’ll leave the links below for you. And if you do end up picking up either book and reading it, please leave me a review to let me know what you thought. Positive or negative, I love a review, and they help me out in the long run.

Oh, and as for Full Circle, the final book in the series, I do plan to get back to work on it at some point. However, I need to make sure the story is worthy of an ending chapter to the trilogy. The current version I was creating didn’t feel worthy after RC and VR of ending the story of Zahara and the Hydras. So until I can come up with a better story to finish the trilogy, I’ll be working on other stuff (they say distraction is one of the best cures to tackling a difficult problem).

Sorry if that upsets you. But hey, would you rather me bust something out and be terrible, or wait as long as a George RR Martin fan and get something worthy of your time? I know what I would answer.

Well, that’s all till this weekend, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Reborn City: Available on Amazon, Createspace, Barnes & NobleiBooksSmashwords, and Kobo

Video Rage: Available from Amazon, Kindle, CreatespaceBarnes & Noble, iBooks, Smashwords, and Kobo

*I know, right? Something I wrote described as heartwarming. Who’d have thunk?

My cousin has been in town for an internship, so I invited him to see this with me. We both had heard that it wasn’t good or it wasn’t going to do good, but I think we both went in with open minds. And after a billion previews, ranging from cute family films to all-out R-rated horror films (where’s the consistency these days?), the lights went down.

That was very good. I’m not kidding, I liked it a lot. That was better than expected.

The Predator takes place around thirty years after the events of the 1987 movie. A Predator ship crash lands on Earth after getting away from another Predator ship. A soldier nearby manages to get his hands on some Predator tech and, fearing being silenced by the military, sends it to a PO Box…only for it to end up in the hands of his autistic son. This, and the arrival of the other Predator ship, which contains a much more powerful breed of Predator than ever seen before, leads to a domino effect of events culminating in one insane battle.

So this film actually has a lot going for it. Rather than being a simple sci-fi stalker/slasher film like the original (and let’s face it, everyone’s comparing it to the original), The Predator has a much more developed story that delves both into its characters as well as a bit more into the Predators themselves (because outside of canon-questionable comic books, novels, and video games, what exactly do we have to go on?). And it’s very well-written. There was never a moment where I found my mind wandering, whether it be an intense action scene (and there are several of those), scenes where people are talking to explain things or scenes where the cast is being downright funny.

And there”s another thing: this film is funny as heck (and before you get turned off by that, Terminator II was funny at times, and it’s an awesome film). Whether the more eccentric characters, whom I could watch all day get into antics, are being themselves or other characters are poking fun at the nickname “Predator,” this film knows how to put in laughs, as well as where to put in laughs. Yeah, a lot of action films like this might put the humor in all the wrong places, but this film gets it right.

But my favorite part of this film is its representation of autism and an autistic character. Rory MacKenna, the son of the lead soldier played by Jacob Tremblay, is on the spectrum and it weaves itself into the plot in a very intrinsic, surprising and positive way. It reminds me of how the character of Billy in last year’s Power Rangers film (another discounted film that was actually really good) was portrayed, only this was a lot better. I could say more, but that would give too much away, so I’ll hold off. Instead I’ll say, as an individual on the spectrum, it was great to see.

Is there anything bad? Well, it isn’t the most extraordinary film I’ve ever seen. Those who go in expecting it to be as amazing as the original film or as awesome a sequel as Mad Max: Fury Road will be disappointed. However, those who go in expecting to see something like Jurassic World–something that’s not as good as the original but good in its own right and maybe worthy of a few sequels–won’t regret spending money on the tickets.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Predator a 4 out of 5. An enjoyable sci-fi action romp with fun characters and great representation of folks on the spectrum. I don’t know if this film will do well (movie audiences can be pretty unpredictable sometimes), but I’d encourage you to suit up and disappear into the story.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll try not to make my next post a review if I can help it. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

If it’s not obvious by now, I’m a big Stephen King fan (cue everyone who knows me saying in a torrent of sarcasm, “Gee, really? We had no effing idea!”). So when I heard some time last year that Hulu, JJ Abrams and His Royal Scariness Himself were collaborating to create a TV series set in his famous fictional town Castle Rock, you know I was interested. Fast forward to July 25th, and the first three episodes of Castle Rock premiered on Hulu. I didn’t write a review for them (I think that I was busy with a hundred other things that week), but I thought that the series had a strong start, and I was looking forward to seeing where the story went.

At the time I’m writing this, I’ve just finished Season One. How did it hold up?

First, the story. Taking place in the Stephen King multiverse, particularly in one of his frequent settings, Castle Rock, Maine, Castle Rock‘s first season follows Henry Deaver (Andre Holland), a lawyer who returns to his childhood town after receiving a call from nearby Shawshank Penitentiary after a prisoner (Bill Skarsgaard of IT fame) was found in its deepest depths, in a cage, with no name or other identity, only asking for him. Deaver, who left town after disappearing and then being found, only to be accused of murdering his adoptive father, tries to help this mysterious young man. But as he delves into this man’s case, as well as his own disappearance, he finds some strange connections between the two. And as violence starts building in the town, the race to figure out both mysteries takes on a whole new importance.

Okay first off, the cast is the best thing about this show! Every character utterly inhabits their character and make them feel like real people, some of whom you can imagine hanging out with (others, stay the hell away from). I especially liked Melanie Lynskey’s Molly Strand, a realtor with psychic powers and a history with Henry Deaver, and Sissy Spacek (yes, the original Carrie came back for another Stephen King story) as Ruth Deaver, Henry Deaver’s dementia-addled but still feisty and witty adoptive mother. And Scott Glenn as Alan Pangborn (maybe the only character who actually comes from a King story in this show) is a very sympathetic character, though he does come off at first as almost unlikable. Still, Holland as Deaver is the one who carries the story. We see things mainly through his eyes, and see how he struggles with all the baggage he carries as he tries to sift through all the confusion between events past and present.

I also liked the plot and how the story was told. It’s clearly geared towards people who are familiar with King’s works but still makes it accessible to those who haven’t seen the series. The writers also took the approach of a slow burn, taking their time to set up these characters and draw us in with the mystery while every now and then pumping things up to keep it interesting. And the writers weren’t afraid to take risks: two episodes are told entirely from the POV of a single character, and one of these episodes, through the eyes of Sissy Spacek’s character, is probably the best episode of the season.

Love Sissy Spacek in this show.

And finally, this does feel like a Stephen King story made for a television format. It’s not based on any particular story he’s written, but incorporates all of his stories, especially the ones set in Castle Rock, to give us a drama and a place that’s both familiar and new. Plus, you’ve got all the tropes you love (or in some cases, hate) from King: psychics, small towns full of secrets, religious fanatics gone crazy, sheriffs (or in this case, retired sheriffs), and of course, a whole bunch of weirdness that makes you go, “Say what? That works, but still, what the hell?”

Was there anything I didn’t like about Castle Rock? Well, a few things: one is that there’s a little too much weird. King’s been known to include a lot of odd concepts and sci-fi ideas into his work to varying degrees, and Castle Rock has a lot of that. The problem with that is, too much weird can lead to a lot of exposition and slow sequences where not much happens. Consequently, it also bites into moments where we could be totally terrified. And in my opinion, there weren’t enough of those moments, which is sad. Stephen King or Stephen-King inspired, his work is truly at its best when it features a shape-shifting clown hungry for children, or a Nazi war criminal burning cats alive in his oven,* things that make it hard for us to sleep. And that was lacking here.

On top of that, I didn’t like the season finale as much as I thought I would. It had its moments and explained a lot, but the climax could’ve been more epic, and I have mixed feelings on the final scene, both in what it featured and how it was told.

Still, all in all, it’s a great start to a series, and I’m looking forward to whatever they cook up for the upcoming season two (maybe something involving my man Leland Gaunt?). On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give Castle Rock a 4.3. Take a visit to the Rock, and hope that while you’re there, you come out with all your fingers attached.

That’s all for tonight, my Followers of Fear. Expect a review tomorrow for the season premiere of American Horror Story: Apocalypse (I’d review it tonight, but it ends after I should be in bed!). Until then, pleasant nightmares.

*I’m reading Apt Pupil right now, and that part had me frozen in my seat!

Oh my God, it’s finally Day 10! We’re at the end! Whoop whoop!

So if you’re tired of me posting every day (sometimes twice daily), don’t worry, I’m planning on going back to my one-or-twice-a-week schedule after this. It’s too much of a hassle to keep posting day after day after day like this. It was still fun to share my favorite books with you, but still. a lot of work.

Anyway, here’s the rules for the Ten Day Book Challenge, brought to you by my cousin Matthew (who is probably glad this thing he started is coming to an end):

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

So for the last day of the Ten Day Book Challenge, I picked a book I read quite recently. Actually, I finished reading it on Day Four, on the ride back from the chiropractor’s. The book is the Future Days Anthology from my publisher Castrum Press:

There are several reasons why I wanted to highlight the Future Days Anthology. Obviously, it’s from my publisher, so I wanted to highlight it and support them, even if I’m not in this anthology (maybe I’ll be in a later one). Besides, supporting small presses and their authors allows for decent competition in the publishing industry and allows the authors to feel their hard work has paid off, which is never a bad thing.

Another reason why I wanted to highlight Future Days is because it’s fairly recent: it was only published August 15th this year, so it’s barely been out a month. The first couple of months a book is out is very important, so I’m happy to spread the word.

But the most important reason is because, let’s face it, this is some damn good sci-fi!

As I mentioned in my most recent interview with Matthew Williams (who is also in this anthology) I’ve always been of the opinion that good science-fiction should show us a reflection of humanity’s current state, as well as what humanity could do in the future. The Future Days anthology does this quite well, in my opinion. First, it takes a lot of issues that we’re currently dealing with as a species today–overpopulation, the disparity between the wealthy and the poor, and corporate power over common people’s lives–and explores how those issues might shape our lives in the generations to come.

As for where we’re going as a species,* that’s given a lot of exploration too. Space exploration to be exact: many stories deal with the challenges humans might encounter once interplanetary travel and off-world colonization becomes possible. Who will pilot and care for the ships during the long travels between worlds? What will be the physical and psychological effects of such travel? Are there ways to get between planets faster?

The value of human life also gets plenty of examination: what happens when, in an increasingly technological age, we’re no longer able to hold jobs now occupied by machines? How much sway do the powerful have over the lives of the weak?

I could go on, but then why spoil the fun? If you’re looking for some decent hard science fiction, look no further than the Future Days Anthology. With several great stories from a variety of excellent sci-fi authors, you’ll be transported when you read it. Don’t believe me? Go to Amazon now and check out some of the reviews (including the one I left). And if you’re still not convinced, just read the book. Believe me, it’s worth it.

And before I forget, I have to nominate someone. Adan Ramie, you’re tagged! I look forward to seeing what you put out.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. With September here, Halloween is approaching, as is just about everything else awesome about this season. And I’m going to revel in every aspect of it.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Or where you’re going as a species. I still maintain I’m only half-human on the best of days, and there’s plenty of proof that’s not just me messing around.

Last year I had the pleasure of reading The Cronian Incident, a science fiction novel by my good friend and fellow writer, Matthew Williams. I found it a very engaging and deep sci-fi novel, and I was glad to hear that Matt had a sequel in the works. Last week, Matt released the follow-up to The Cronian Incident, The Jovian Manifesto, and I got my copy courtesy of Matt and the publisher, Castrum Press (my publisher too!). In order to celebrate the new book’s release, I thought I’d bring Matt back on for an interview.

So without further ado, let’s begin!

Rami Ungar: Welcome back to my blog, Matt! Tell the folks around here who don’t know you who you are and what you do.

Matthew Williams: Well, my name is Matt Williams, I am a resident of Vancouver Island in beautiful British Columbia, Canada. I live with my wife and cat, and I am a writer for Universe Today. In my spare time, I write (obviously), teach Taekwon-Do and generally enjoy the place where we live.

RU: Tell us about your two books in the Formist series, The Cronian Incident and The Jovian Manifesto.

MW: Both novels are set in the late 23rd century, at a time when the human race has expanded to colonize almost every body in the Solar System. In the Inner Worlds – Venus, Earth and Mars – life is characterized by advancement, augmentation and post-humanity. In the Outer Worlds, on the moons of Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus, are the people who have chosen to live a simpler existence, one that respects the line between humanity and machinery.

The story begins with the kidnapping of a high-profile man from Mars who belongs to the Formist faction (hence the name). These are the people who are dedicated to terraforming Mars so that their citizens can finally achieve the dream of living on the surface without pressurized domes or radiation shields. The Formists hire a special investigator to solve the kidnapping, a former member of Interpol named Jeremiah Ward who’s serving out a prison sentence in a penal colony on Mercury.

In investigating the disappearance of the Formists’ associate, Ward will uncover a plot that is centuries in the making. In the end, he will have to make the ultimate choice between doing what is right, and what may keep him alive.

RU: What’s different about writing The Jovian Manifesto, both in terms of content and just in writing the story?

The Cronian Incident, Book 1 in the Formist series.

MW: For starters, TJM is the second installment in what is planned to be a trilogy. As such, it has a darker tone than the first book. There’s also much more action, which was an absolute must for me! After taking the time to build the setting in Book I, I wanted the protagonists to be thrown into the thick of it. Of course, this book also introduces a few new main characters and a few new settings. This gave me a chance to tell new stories and create some new worlds, which is always fun.

RU: TJM features a female-led cast, something we’re seeing a lot more in various media. Was that intentional on your part?

MW: Not originally, no. In the first book, most of the story is told from a single POV – Jeremiah Ward’s. I wanted the second book to be told from multiple points of view and had several characters in mind when plotting it out. As it turned out, all of the new characters were strong, motivated and independently-minded women. When this was pointed out to me – by my friend and colleague, Rami Ungar, no less! – I was quite pleased. I had not embarked on this book looking to make the cast female-led, but I was happy it worked out that way. I’ve often worried that as a male writer, I would default to writing male leads, or find that writing female characters was more difficult. It pleased me to see that this was not the case.

RU: This is your second book with Castrum Press, and you also have a short story featured in their anthology, Future Days. What’s it been like working with Castrum?

MW: It’s been excellent, really. As a recently-established publishing house led by experienced writers, they know the particular struggles that new writers face. It’s also very clear that they are interested in promoting new talent, which is something you don’t see a lot of these days in the publishing industry. Also, it gives me a chance to entrust my work to people who have been part of the industry and know what it takes to succeed in it. That’s very reassuring to a newly-established writer, and something that independent authors don’t get to enjoy.

RU: Science fiction is often described as a lens towards what the future could be, as well as what our society looks like now. Do you agree with that sentiment? And what do you think the Formist series says about humanity?

The Jovian Manifesto, Book 2 of the Formist series.

MW: Absolutely. Science fiction has always been about predicting what the future will look like, but that always comes down to how the world looks today. In that respect, science fiction books are an extension of the present-day world and are intended to convey messages about the direction it is taking. As for my own work, I believe they reveal that regardless of the time period, or the level of development we will have reached, humanity will always be facing the same basic challenges. How do we ensure our survival and our future? How do we erase the dividing lines and learn to live together? How do we ensure that our most cherished values also survive?

RU: What are your plans for the future at the moment? More books in the Formist series, perhaps?

MW: Oh yes! I hope to write a third installment for this series and very much want to explore the universe I have created further. This could involve some origin stories, since some of the characters I have created have interesting pasts that would require a whole book to explain. I also hope to write additional trilogies that take place farther down the road. But of course, that all depends on how the Formist series shapes up. And of course, I have several other ideas I would like to see in print.

RU: What are some stories, science-fiction or otherwise, that you are reading now and would recommend?

MW: I recently finished The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, both of which I would strongly recommend. I also finished Halting State and Rule 34 by Charles Stross, Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge, and House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds. I recommend all of these books to people who are fans of classic science fiction, space opera and near-future speculative fiction.

RU: Rule 34? I thought that was just an Internet meme. Should I ask or…? Moving on: if you could pick a fictional universe to live in, which one would it be and what would you do there?

MW: Good question, and one which I really haven’t pondered much. I suppose if I had to choose, I would live in the universe dreamed up by the late and great Frank Herbert – i.e. Dune. I figure I could help with the terraforming of Arrakis given all the research I’ve done on the subject. I have always wanted to try The Spice too, and I figure I would be able to look out for myself since I know how the series goes. Plus, I would absolutely want to see what travelling through folded space feels like!

RU: Final question: Look out! A sandworm out of the Dune universe is about to attack! What do you do?

MW: Ooh, that’s a tough one to answer! Deploy a thumper, stand back, and get your hooks ready, because we’re going for a ride!

RU: I’ll pretend I know what that means, because I’ve been bad and haven’t read the Dune books yet. Thanks for being with us, Matt! I hope both books do very well!

That’s the end of the interview, folks. If you would like to keep up with Matthew Williams, you can check out his blog, Stories by Williams. You can also check out his writings through his Amazon page and through his Universe Today page. And of course, you can check out his Facebook and Twitter pages. And I highly recommend you check out his books, The Cronian Incident and The Jovian Manifesto. I found the former to be a great example of hard science fiction, and I can’t wait to start on the latter.

And if you have a new book out and want an interview, check out my Interviews page and leave me a comment. We’ll see if we can’t make some magic happen.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll hopefully see you very soon with more to talk about. Until then, pleasant nightmares!