Interview with John Lawrence:
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Was Once a Hero was born one day when the image of an aerodynamic and ominous red
starship sliding over the surface of a world I knew was dead, came to my mind. I started wondering about that world and why it died. Then I began to wonder about who was on that ship and why they would risk a voyage to such a place. I decided while they had to be the sort of people who would logically, out of duty or avarice, go to such a place, eventually I settled on a mix of government people and privateers to cover both motivations. I did not want to have a crew of stalwarts under a Captain Adams, Kirk, or Picard but rather a diverse crew bringing with them the seeds of their own divisions beyond any dangers that they would find.
What genre does your book fall under?
That is a tougher question then it looks. Was Once a Hero is a science fiction story and the focus is on the action and the adventure, but there is a strong romance element in it as well as a
story of personal growth, destruction and redemption. Again I did not want to do the “heroic crew of the USS Whatever.” My main character is a formerly wealthy rich man, who has descended to the life of a privateer for no other reason than to find his wife, a lost naval officer. His journey is complicated by his involvement with his bella donna sans merci Shasti Rainhell, a genetically engineered assassin and refugee from her homeworld of Olympia.
In Fearful Symmetry, I added the elements of a political thriller to the mix and yet feel I never lost touch with the burgeoning love story that was nurtured in Hero, for all the bullets and beams flying around it.
The trilogy will complete in 2013 with Points of Departure, the last book, written and under contract but more about that later.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
For Was Once A Hero: A rag-tag crw of spacefarers battle each other and an ancient enemy on a murdered world.
For Fearful Symmetry: Fenaday and the deadly Shasti Rainhell have only one chance to stop the rise of a new master race.
Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?
I a published through Hellfire publishing http://www.hellfirepublishing.com/hero.html. I am currently looking for an agent though
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
All my life. :-) I average about a year a novel and have eight written with four under contract. Hero took longer because it was the first the others came quicker
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Let me answer that one by way of saying who my inspirations are. My biggest is Andre Norton
followed closely by CJ Cherryh. I am a fan of Mike Resnick and Catherine Asaro's work as well as Larry Niven and some less well known authors: Brian Aldiss, Morgan Llewellyn, Jeff Sutton and Ken Bulmer. I am a huge anime fan and a lot of my SF is inspired by that source.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
In a way it was a desire to read more of the sort of star-spanning planetary adventure that always enjoyed but which are not as common these days. Plus I read a bad book by a good author and thought, “Hey I can do better than that.” Remember the perils of hubris; it was WAY harder than I thought it would be.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I think the fact that there is a anime influence in my visual writing style, beyond that I feel it is the emphasis on the emotional existences of these characters, they are as real as I can reveal them to be, notice that I did not say make them. My characters make themselves.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Another toughie, while I only described Robert Fenaday as brown-haired and strongly
built and about thirty I did not imagine his face in great detail. My cover artist Michael Church, when he came up with the series of covers you see here, choose a face that I immediately said, “That’s it!” I realized that to some degree his image reminded me of Nathan Fillion. But more the Nathan of Firefly then the more amiable and roguish Castle.
Shasti Rainhell, well how many beautiful 6’ 9” athletic actresses do you know with
green eye,s long black hair and a slightly ivory complexion? Send me an email ;-)
The Beyond by Jeff Sutton a Review
This was a book I read in tender years but have kept the copy of it with me for over forty years. It spoke to my sense of alienation as a child and in the limitless possibilities of the future.
It’ sad and sweet, full of pain and based on the premise that while you can hide inside an indentity for a while, in the end, you must strap on your weapon and step into the street on one side of the other.
The Beyond is a tale of the other. In this case on an Australia like penal colony where telepaths are banished to save normals from the invasion of their thoughts, something new has emerged, a PK. A psychokinetic, one
with the power to move objects by thought alone.
The Galatic government has decided it is not enough to send the telepaths into exile. If a PK has arisen, more drastic measures are called for.
Sutton began publishing
fiction in 1958. Throughout his writing career he remained a free-lance
editorial consultant to aerospace industries and published articles in related
professional magazines. He published 23 novels in more than 10 languagees,
including a number of science fiction, war, political, and juvenile books. In
one of his interviews he said that writing came naturally to him. He wrote that
his greatest interest had always been people and the settings in which they
function. As a writer, he focused on subjects related to his earlier work –
space, astronautics, war, newspapers – and on science fiction. Among his books
about space exploration are Bombs in Orbit(1959), Spacehive (1960)
and Apollo at Go (1963).
Jean Sutton helped edit
fifteen of her husband's novels, starting with his first fiction book First
on the Moon (1958). They first collaborated as coauthors on the juvenile
book The Beyond (1968). They published some juvenile books as coauthors,
including The River, The Programmed Man,Lord of the Stars
and others. Two of them, The Beyond and The Programmed Man, were
needed(different from Junior Literary
Switching tracks from some classic SF book reviews I
thought I would comment on some old movies. Many of the old early color or black and white films are great fun and great science fiction.
There are movies from back then such as: Them, Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Forbidden Planet that, for me at least, hold as much or more magic and excitement as the latest, special-effects-laden offerings where the effects have
replaced both character and plot.
However this first one is not one of these and it is
proof that mere ageing does not improve everything as it does wine. TCM and DVR are a great combination and I pick up many an old film that I have not seen in forever, sometimes it is like being reacquainted with an old friend. However Queen of Outer Space was more like being reintroduced to an ex-girlfriend who caused you to change your phone number.
Here’s the official plot:
Capt. Patterson (Eric Fleming) and his space crew (Dave Willock,
Patrick Waltz, and Paul Birch) crash land on Venus and are captured. They learn the planet is under the dictatorship of cruel Queen Yllana (Laurie Mitchell),
a masked woman who has banished men from the planet. In the palace, the
astronauts are aided by a beautiful courtier named Talleah (Zsa Zsa Gabor)
and her friends (Lisa Davis, Barbara Darrow, and Marilyn Buferd). The women long for the love of men again and plot to overthrow the evil Queen. When Patterson has the opportunity to remove the Queen's mask, he discovers she has been horribly disfigured by radiation burns caused by men and their wars. In a fury, the Queen decides to destroy Earth and its warlike
peoples but she dies in the attempt. The Venusians are free again to enjoy the love of men.
This movie is so bad that it sits on its haunches and howls its awfulness at the universe, well maybe not that bad, but Lord it wasn’t good. Originally written as a satirical idea of a female dominated planet, it was done with so little self-awareness that it doesn’t work as satire if in fact that was the intention. Realizing that the movie was done in 1958 and that movies are a microcosm of their time and attitudes (Note that in the vastly superior Forbidden Planet the crew was not integrated as to race or gender- though the US military was) the sexism of the film is still enough to make someone not known for political correctness simply cringe.
“How could a bunch of dames come up with a weapon capable of destroying the Earth and how would they aim it? You know what women drivers are like...” Ouch!
Contrast this with the earlier, Them , where the female scientist, over the objections of her male colleagues, must lead the team into the giant ant mound to see if all of them are dead.
While still classically feminine and attractive she is intelligent and brave and the men’s attraction to her is genuine, respectful and not simply predatory. Ditto the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and the original Howard Hawks, The Thing. The women here are not Ripley or Xena but nor are they empty headed dolls. In short maybe being 1958 didn’t really excuse this one.
The only merit I could see to this film was if you were a fan of props. This movie
recycles the entire Forbidden Planet prop department. The men wear the uniforms of the C57D with their dress hats, the women of Venus use the blaster rifles and pistols from that movie.
The male crew from earth use German Mauser pistols spray-painted gold, forgivable George Lucas used the same weapon for Han Solo’s blaster.
You know you are an SF geek was as straight male you recognize the dress Anne Francis wore is now on a cute blond on Venus.
The spaceship Stardust is recycled from several others movies including an Abbot and Costello film which does this plot so much better. The giant spider attack thrown in is a duplicate of one in the superior World Without End.
The sets of this film are otherwise cardboard and cheesecake. While every lovely,
tall girl in Hollywood was given and blaster, miniskirt and heels and as delightful as that is to the eyes it can’t save this howler. Some of the other props look like they came out of a Macy’s toy store of the period.
I am very forgiving of a movie that I believe tried, even if they could not make it, by virtue of money or talent, to make a good movie. There is a true B movie called the Giant Heliah Monster for example that is chock full of decent professional performances by movie lot actors who were doing the best job they could. It didn’t make a good movie but it made a movie that was the sum of their best efforts and I can respect that.
So in sum, unless you want to fumigate your TV to get rid of all traces of this stinker, pass it by, there are so many better period movies.
On Characters- Authors take very different approaches to writing characters. I have friends who are excellent authors, but who control their characters like puppetmasters. The characters perform the plot as they are directed to do. My writing is full of surprises and I love it that way.
Writing is an intensely visual experience for me. My stories play in my head with a nearly cinematic quality. I see the people places and events. They do not always come in sequence but I have faith that there is a complete story and if I continue to pay attention I’ll eventually see all of their story, write it down and it will make sense.
The big surprise for me was how much of collaboration it is between my characters and me.
In writing Was Once a Hero I had Shasti Rainhell, who was originally only a device, a way of keeping my everyman, Robert Fenaday, alive as he descended into the world of privateering to search for his missing wife. Shasti, genetically engineered, and more than humanly powerful, was not content with her role. She started telling me about her abusive past, about why she was
fascinated with Robert’s love for Lisa and his unreasonable search. I learned that as Robert was searching for Lisa, that Shasti was searching for her humanity. What started out as an adventure story developed a complex romantic underpinning.
This new character arc became almost as strong as the original main arc as Robert and Shasti followed their paths and eventually intertwined in their own affair. I preplanned none of this but it lead to the Fenaday trilogy and a standalone Shasti Rainhell book.
I found this to be even more the case in the present series I’m writing. Maauro is a 50,000 year old android made by a vanished species for a genocidal war. She is found on an asteroid base by Wrik Trigardt, a disgraced military pilot, on an expedition that turns out to be the cover for the both the government and the Thieves Guild.
This was originally a very gritty monster story without Maauro, and with an Alien-style creature. My writing group hated the story. I reached into my fascination with anime and came up with a character of the deadly but oddly gentle, Maauro. Originally she had a corpse-like look then repatterned herself on a game simulation to an anime appearance after capturing Wrik.
Maauro spoke to me in first person present tense, while Wrik spoke in first person past. I wondered why this was. Eventually l I realized Maauro, who had perfect recall of her past, and
did not look forward (being essentially immune to time) to the future, “lived” entirely in the now. Note however that I did not determine her voice. She did. I just had faith there was a reason.
I had no intention of doing what I call a Pinocchio story, where in the robot character, ala Data from Star Trek and so many others, wanted to become a “real boy.” But Maauro had other ideas. She did not want to become a “real girl” but as a machine made for a war that ended ages ago, she wanted to become more herself. Even her gender was an assumption, a choice.
Maauro preferred the more complicated existence of a female consciousness. She decided that
she wanted to explore emotionality and relationships; for all that hers are cooler than ours as they are not rooted in sex and death.
So I ended up with a girl robot, who acts more like a girl the longer she functions and frankly the trip has been richer for my listening to her
Author Edward McKeown is a writer and editor