Five Questions: D.F. Lovett, author of The Moonborn

The Moonborn cover

The Moonborn is the debut novel by D.F. Lovett.

I’m excited to welcome to Five Questions Minneapolis-based author D.F. Lovett, who released his debut sci-fi novel, The Moonborn, in 2016. David the head editor and writer for the blog What Would Bale Do, and he writes the acclaimed Reddit novelty account /u/DiscussionQuestions. He has also collaborated on several film projects with the production studio Corridor Digital.

The Moonborn is the story of Ishmael, who lands on the Moon to ghostwrite the autobiography of Adam Moonborn, first man born on the Moon. Ishmael soon learns the job is not as straightforward as it seems. In an adventure tale inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, they embark on a mission to destroy all of the Moon’s rogue robots, whom Adam Moonborn holds responsible for the death of his family and the impending downfall of civilization.

Here are the author’s answers to my Five Questions.

Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it. Not specifically, but it would probably be the personality assigned to one of my action figures. For most of my childhood, a lot of the writing I did was inspired by stories that my brother and I first invented with Star Wars and G. I. Joe action figures. I know this isn’t very specific, but a lot of those characters blended together or would evolve over time.

D.F. Lovett

D.F. Lovett

How did you feel when you saw your work in print / electronic form for the first time? The same way I feel now: a mixture of pride, excitement, and self-consciousness. I wrote for the junior high newspaper in seventh grade, which was the first time I encountered the frustration of an editor changing my words. I remember specifically some negative criticism I got from a classmate over a review I wrote of The Phantom Menace where I referred to Jar Jar Binks as an “alien.” My classmate told me that was incorrect, as most of the movie takes place on his home planet, so he’s not an alien. I guess that got me started early at learning how to respond to criticism, although it frustrated me at the time. I think I have a thicker skin now because of it. Continue reading

Five Questions: Aaron Ward, author of Upriver, Downriver

Upriver, Downriver cover

Upriver, Downriver, by Aaron Ward

I’d like to introduce Aaron Ward, a debut author who has independently published Upriver, Downriver, described by one Amazon reviewer like this: “The phrase ‘coming of age’ is slapped onto so many lukewarm portrayals of growing up these days, but this story nails it.” Aaron kindly answered all of my “Five Questions,” which is a series of interviews with self-published and traditionally published science fiction and fantasy authors. If you’re a published author, and you’d like to participate, learn the details on my blog’s Promote Your Book page.

1. Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it.

Aaron Ward

Aaron Ward

I don’t know if it was my first, but I remember writing a short story in high school, and I believe the main character’s name was ‘Dan Hauser.’ Dan was a cop, and the story involved him coming home and being attacked by a monster of some kind. It was a big hit at the time.

2. How did you feel when you saw your work in print / electronic form for the first time?

I don’t think I felt anything too extreme. I was a little excited and a little nervous. It was self-publishing and I didn’t know much about marketing, so I knew I would be flinging the book out into the void more than anything. Continue reading

Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and the veneration of veterans

Starship Troopers still image

Starship Troopers elevates military veterans to demi-god status.

The election and inauguration of Donald Trump has left-leaning book lovers scrambling for analogous stories in fiction. Most have cited George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, both dystopian novels. A few have pointed to Robert A. Heinlein’s science fiction novel Starship Troopers, because of long-standing criticisms of what some believe is its fascist politics.

The 1959 novel, which won the prestigious Hugo Award and made into a 1997 movie, tells the story of Juan “Johnnie” Rico, a ne’er-do-well teenager who finds meaning and belonging in the “Mobile Infantry.” He goes off to fight in an interstellar war against the Arachnid creatures from the planet Klendathu. Rico goes from raw recruit to experienced sergeant to field-tested officer participating in a crucial battle to defeat the “bugs” and save Earth.

In Heinlein’s world, the combat veteran is the civic god incarnate.

The charges of fascism relate to the dominance of earth by a militarized government that places enormous prestige and civil power in the hands of military veterans. In Heinlein’s world, the combat veteran is the civic god incarnate. Only people who fought and bled understand the true meaning of freedom and the necessity of the voting franchise to sustain the public good, not just private interest. Continue reading

Five Questions: Elizabeth Guizzetti, author of The Grove

Elizabeth Guizzetti author photo

Elizabeth Guizzetti is author of three sci-fi and fantasy novels, including Other Systems and The Grove.

I’m starting a new occasional feature on my blog called Five Questions. I’ll ask an author five interesting questions and post their answers. Check out the answer for the bonus question! My inaugural guest is Elizabeth Guizzetti, a personal friend whom I met through a sci-fi and fantasy writers group in Seattle. Elizabeth loves to write science fiction, horror and fantasy with a bit of social commentary mixed in, not always intentionally. Her 2012 debut novel, Other Systems, was a finalist for the 2016 Canopus Award. Her most recent novel, The Grove, is on sale now.

Do you remember the first character you created? Tell me about him/her/it.

This wasn’t my first character, but the first character I remember was a ten or eleven-year-old girl trying to survive a werewolf apocalypse. I tried to write her tough, my mother said she was kind of rude to the two young men who she was with. (I think they were high schoolers, because at that age, high schoolers are super cool.)

How did you feel when you saw your work in print / electronic form for the first time?

My first published work was Faminelands: The Carp’s Eye which is a self-published graphic novel. It came out in print first and then we started the webcomic. It was (and always is) a roller coaster. It felt wonderful the first time I flipped through it, as well as terrifying. We were making changes up until it had been printing and I had a table at Emerald City Comicon 2008. It was crazy. Those feelings have been just as intense for every book that has gone through the publication process.

I made a video about I feel when holding my book for the first time if anyone wants to check it out on my YouTube Channel. Continue reading

Despite Trump’s denialism, 2017 could be a bright spot in the fight for planet Earth

global warming illustration

2017 may be a bad year for climate change policy. Or maybe not. Image courtesy Earth.com.

I’ve taken inspiration from climate change. As a writer who loves speculative fiction, everything from Star Trek’s optimism to Margaret Atwood’s dark literary visions, I see global warming as fertile ground for storytelling. You might even say I’m taking advantage of the worst crisis to hit planet Earth in three million years.

That only counts in fiction.

When it comes to real life, it’s hard to be optimistic about the fight to fix the crisis, especially after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. He is a denialist of the first order, calling climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. The claim is ludicrous, resembling a post-truth, fake news story.

Virtually all his major picks for high-level posts in his administration reflect a similar view. Scott Pruitt, tapped to head the EPA, uses the three percent of scientists who question climate science as a reason to ignore the 97 percent who know it’s human-caused. Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State designate, while acknowledging increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, says its impact is “very hard for anyone to predict,” despite the solid record of predictions going back decades. Of all Trump’s selections, Rick Perry is the worst. “I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects,” he said. That’s simply a lie.

As president, Trump will have a powerful voice. Thankfully, because of America’s diffused political structure, he’s not the only voice.

As president, Trump will have a powerful voice. Thankfully, because of America’s diffused political structure, he’s not the only voice. When you look at what states and localities are doing, I come away with hope that all is not lost. Continue reading

I’ll remember this Black Mirror episode until I’m dead and buried.

Black Mirror still

Alex Lawther as Kenny in Black Mirror’s “Shut Up and Dance.”

Warning: Black Mirror: Season 3 spoilers ahead.

How do you measure greatness in science fiction television? Quantitative measures such as the number of positive critical reviews or the “star” ratings by viewers can set a series or individual episodes apart, but a fan can also measure quality with his or her memory. What image or scene sticks in your mind long after you’ve switched to another show? Is it the broken eyeglasses in the Twilight Zone’s “Time Enough to Last?” Is it the god-like voice of the time machine in Star Trek’s “The City on the Edge of Forever?”

Does Black Mirror have such an image or scene? The Charlie Brooker-produced series has already achieved acclaim on par with Outer Limits, Battlestar Gallactica, and others, but for a series to have historical legs, something has to stick in the collective memory. It’s a shot, a bit of dialog, a premise, or a twist ending that’s talked about twenty years later, or that writers borrow or imitate for another generation of viewers, or that makes you wake up in a cold sweat.

Season 3 of Black Mirror, available on Netflix, has several of these moments. As someone who pays attention to sound effects, the dribbling pitch of the protagonist’s falling rating in “Nosedive” is comic and heartbreaking. The benign, and ultimately murderous robot bees in “Hated in the Nation” bring to mind the moral and practical costs of environmental loss. Continue reading

Aliens, linguistics, and disruptive storytelling make Arrival must-see sci-fi

Arrival movie poster

Arrival uses disruptive storytelling techniques effectively.

We rarely think about our relationship with time. Life is just one damned thing after another. One word follows another. Cause and effect follow the arrow of history. What if you had a different relationship with time, one in which you perceived past, present and future happening at once, so that you know the future in the same instant you know the present and the past?

Science fiction writer Ted Chiang explores the idea in a 1999 short story, “Story of Your Life.” In 2016, Canadian Director Denis Villeneuve adapted the story for the motion picture Arrival, which arrived in theaters November 11. Both stories are told through the eyes of Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist brought in by the military to translate the language of aliens visiting the earth. The film builds on the short story, adding some Hollywood pizzazz and a different ending. Fortunately, the additions don’t obscure the main point; our daily experience of time is only one of many possibilities.

In both narratives, a new kind of language “rewires” Banks’ brain, and the writer and director use non-linear storytelling as a way to demonstrate Banks’ transformative encounter. Non-linear stories don’t follow most people’s experience of events in time, that is, one thing following another as you walk a path through life. Sometimes called “disruptive narratives,” these stories jump around in time, as in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five or Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. If handled poorly, non-linear stories leave readers confused and disoriented. Handled well, they seem more like paintings, best encountered as a whole. Continue reading

Ted Chiang’s sci-fi genius arrives with laser-like precision

cover art for Stories of Your Life and Others

Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang

Possible spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen Arrival.

The release of the movie Arrival last month prompted my interest in Seattle science fiction writer Ted Chiang. He has published only 15 short stories, novelettes, and novellas in print, including “Story of Your Life,” the inspiration for Arrival. He’s won Nebulas, Hugos, and host of other awards, far out of proportion to his published output, judging by most other writers I know. As a writer who’s only published one short story (not counting self-publishing), I had to read more by this man.

Penguin Random House has collected eight of his stories in Stories of Your Life And Others, including “Story,” most of them the award winners. It’s a remarkable collection that may become part of the core canon of science fiction and speculative fiction in general. None of the the stories hits a weak note, though I have favorites among them.

If there’s a single word that describes them all, it’s “precise,” demonstrating Chiang’s penchant for picking only the right words and phrases, and crafting every sentence as if his writing life depended on it. Chiang’s style may reflect his training in computer science; every line of “code,” if you will, is elegant and purposeful, and the result is often mesmerizing. Continue reading

Reviews: It’s true. Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder is science fiction.

State of Wonder cover image

Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder is really science fiction in disguise.

Writers love to complain about the necessity of genre. They’d prefer to write above the petty differences among romance, mystery, fantasy, and dozens of other pigeonholes and sub-pigeonholes. Most writers, though, acknowledge the need for publishers and bookstore owners to make book-finding and thus book-selling intuitive for the reader through categorization.

Genre gets mischievous when a literary novel is miscategorized. After reading State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, winner of the 2002 PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction in the same year for her novel Bel Canto, it was clear that the 2011 novel belonged on the shelf next to Fahrenheit 451 and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. State of Wonder has so many science fiction elements that putting it anywhere else denies it a significant readership.

The irony of the sci-fi-ness in State of Wonder is Patchett’s own attitude toward technology.

The story concerns Marina Singh, a research scientist who learns of the death of a colleague in the Amazon rainforest. He was sent to Brazil by their pharmaceutical firm to urge another scientist, Annick Swenson, to speed up work on a treatment for infertility. Singh’s journey becomes a mashup of Heart of Darkness, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and the motion picture Fitzcarraldo. Continue reading

YouTube: Living in Infamy: A Carbon Run Story

Here’s the second of my YouTube “vaudios,” as I like to call my videos that are really audio stories. Living in Infamy is set in a future when fossil fuels are banned. The captain of a US Navy destroyer, plagued by guilt over a friendly-fire incident, hunts a dangerous carbon smuggler and gets help from a disgraced, dead relative. Carbon Run Stories are a series of short stories in text and audio set in a world wracked by climate change. You can also listen to the story on SoundCloud.

Let me know what you think.