Interview with Alasdair Shaw

What genre are your books?
The overall genre is science fiction.

OK. What about sub-genre?
Now that’s a bit harder. Choosing a sub-genre is very subjective. Most books will have things which identify with several different categories. Sometimes I wish I could do a word cloud or heat bar for how much a book fits each sub-genre.

Sometimes I call my work military scifi, other times I call it space opera because there are elements that aren’t battles and strategy. Amazon puts my books in space marine, space fleet, and galactic empire. I guess they also fit some of the criteria of post-apocalyptic as there has been a planet-wide nuclear strike, but I really don’t think that is the right category given what most readers understand by it.

What draws you to this genre?
I have enjoyed reading SF for a long time. Iain M Banks’ Excession converted me to a fan and inspired much of the world I have created.

What is the easiest thing about writing?
The easiest thing for me is the world-building. I’ve had the background, technology, etc. in my head for years. I work out the history, rank structures, politics, and so on whenever I’m at a loose end. When I started writing the stories it just flowed.

One problem is trying to strike the right balance between info-dump and vacuum. Of course, different readers have different preferences, but I know that my love of long lectures on historical details is not shared by many.

One day, I might even write a ‘history’ of the Two Democracies universe.

What was your hardest scene to write?
There’s a scene where one of my main characters realises she is being sexually discriminated against. I haven’t written it yet as it will take place in a prequel series to the one I’m writing now, but having her remember it in a scene in my latest story was bad enough. Not only is putting myself in her place harrowing, more so than any of the combat or other horrific scenes I’ve written for her, but it is also very difficult to pitch correctly. She is the victim, but not a victim.

How would you react if a film were made of one of your books?
I’d be stunned. It would be really cool. To see “Liberty, the new movie by Stephen Spielberg” or something like that would be a mark that I had made it as a writer. I’d certainly go to see it.

One worry would be that it wouldn’t match what was in my head. Many of the scenes have detailed descriptions of actions, but a lot of what happens is going on in the characters’ heads and that is hard to do in a film.

If you could spend time with a character from your books, which would it be?
Now that’s not fair. I don’t think I could single one out without upsetting the others.

I’m going to have to insist on an answer.
Hmm. It’ll have to be a group outing: Prefect Olivia Johnson, Pilot Legionary Anastasia Seivers, and The Indescribable Joy of Destruction (well, its primary personality at least).

And what would you do on that outing?
Go for a walk in the mountains. Discuss things. Set the world to rights. Oh, and gang up on Johnson to try to get her to try reading more fiction.

What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. It is incredibly witty and clever, as well as being a great story. I also love the power he gives to books in it. The lead character is a Spec Ops 27 agent, responsible for policing crimes involving literary works (other than Shakespeare, of course, which is covered by Spec Ops 29).

Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Aristotle. I’d like to see if I could convince him of the Galilean/Newtonian understanding of the laws of motion.


Alasdair Shaw grew up in Lancashire, within easy reach of the Yorkshire Dales, Pennines, Lake District and Snowdonia. After stints living in Cambridge, North Wales, and the Cotswolds, he has lived in Somerset since 2002.

He has been rock climbing, mountaineering, caving, kayaking and skiing as long as he can remember. Growing up he spent most of his spare time in the hills. Recently he has been doing more sea kayaking, running and swimming.

Alasdair studied at the University of Cambridge, leaving in 2000 with an MA in Natural Sciences and an MSci in Experimental and Theoretical Physics. He went on to earn a PGCE, specialising in Science and Physics, from the University of Bangor. A secondary teacher for over fifteen years, he has plenty of experience communicating scientific ideas.

The Two Democracies: Revolution science fiction series starts with Independence, and continues with Liberty. The third story, The Perception of Prejudice, is released this month. Equality will hopefully be released in summer 2017, followed by Fraternity the year after.

You can see what else he gets up to on his website at http://www.alasdairshaw.co.uk.

Reading Science Fiction and Fantasy Makes Your Kids Smarter

by J. Philip Horne


Do you want your children to expand their vocabulary and, more importantly, learn to continue to expand their vocabulary in the normal course of life more rapidly? Give them science fiction and fantasy novels to read. Science fiction and fantasy novels overtly place demands on readers that are implicit and beneficial in all literature: namely, the skill of learning word meanings from context.

Children reading a novel set in a familiar time and place may gloss over words they don’t understand because the general setting and flow of the story isn’t compromised. The story, even the specific sentence, still makes sense to them, or makes enough sense, even if they don’t know the meaning of a particular adjective or even verb. The story remains enjoyable and engaging despite words passing by, unknown. Though they will still benefit from the gradual expansion of their vocabulary, they won’t necessarily be overtly challenged to wrestle with the context to find the meaning.

Science fiction and fantasy novels are in your face. They focus on strange new settings and employ vocabulary that is often new or even made-up. If the reader is unwilling to puzzle out the meaning of words from their context, the story will simply drag to a halt and the enjoyment of the story will evaporate. Young readers want to enjoy books and will find their natural curiosity pushing them to decipher these strange or made-up words.

Like any skill, the ability to learn word meaning from context improves with practice. In my experience, the overt practice of this skill forced on readers by science fiction and fantasy translates into an improved passive ability to harvest new vocabulary from other literature. The child practices the skill on behalf of their enjoyment of the The Hobbit, and goes on to more effortlessly expand their vocabulary when reading Where the Red Fern Grows.

You can find endless, helpful lists online of great SFF books for kids. Probably the most important series to me as a child was the Chronicles of Narnia. The seven books in the series get sorted in two different orders based on publication date and the chronology of the stories themselves. I strongly recommend starting with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. From there, either order will work.

Beyond that, I read voraciously from authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien (have you heard of him?), David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Robert Heinlein, and others. As I’ve read books along with my own children, I’ve come to love J.K. Rowling (you may have heard of her as well), Eoin Colfer, Margaret Peterson Haddix, and many more.

The goal is not to convince your child to read so that they improve their vocabulary. Rather, help them find books they love, and the process, particularly with science fiction and fantasy novels, will happen organically. Good luck!

You can check out J. Philip Horne’s books here.

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Aurora’s Tips for Naming Characters in Science Fiction Stories

by Aurora Springer

Starship Vista SP3 by Veronica Electronica


Some of the tips are recommended to make your writing more accessible to readers and apply to all genres, while others give suggestions for inventing names for characters from other worlds.

Tip 1: The names of main characters should be easy to pronounce in English. This suggestion will make your stories easier for readers to follow. An exception might be when you want to emphasize an alien’s differences from normal humans. For example, txolixi or 2xnl.

Tip 2: The main characters should have names look and sound distinct. Avoid using names like Sam and Sal, especially for a romantically involved couple. Again, following this tip will improve the readability of your story. An exception might be when you have a set of clones with similar names, or twins where you wish to confuse their identities. I prefer to indicate gender with the name, unless the character has a reason for an ambiguous name. Is Samantha called Sam because she is a feisty independent female? Does Salvatore hate Dali and prefer to be called Sal?

Tip 3: Alien names ought to look and sound unusual. When the aliens have two sexes, I prefer to use names with feminine or masculine sounds or endings, like Suzzaine (female) or Radekis (male) in my series Atrapako on Eden. You can use a similar designation for aliens from the same world or culture. The Zarnoths in my Secret Supers Series have names beginning with hard consonants, like the villains, Rigel Zentor, Croaker and the ambassador Zharkor. Names can reflect societal differences. Clones might be designated by numbers. Some siblings in my hive society of A Tale of Two Colonies are named Flower-one, Flower-two, etc.

Tip 4:
Names can be cues to the personality of characters or describe key features. For example, the Zarnoth assassin in my Secret Supers Series is called Karockis or Croaker. The giant planetoid in the Grand Masters’ Galaxy is called Amarylla after the flower. Amarylla is a pink, flower-shaped alien female. Names can add comic effects, like the villain, Mr. Sunshine, in Super Starrella.

Tip 5: You can use names derived from different countries or cultures to indicate diversity. You can find lists on the internet. I use names to suggest a multicultural society. For example, Lira Tong and Srinivasan are two friends of the heroine, Violet Hunter, in the Grand Masters’ Galaxy, and Veena Chandra is a friend of Estelle Wright, the heroine the Secret Supers Series.

Tip 6: You can create unusual names by modifying names of characters or places in real life or from other books. For example, I took the name Athos from the Three Musketeers, and adapted it into Athanor for the Griffin Grand Master.

Tip 7: Ask your readers to suggest names.

Tip 8: Keep a list of names you like or you think would make interesting characters.

You can find a list of Aurora’s books here.

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Is it Science or is it Fiction?

by Robert Scanlon


What do you prefer in science-fiction? Do you lean toward the science, or do you like the fiction more?

Of course, it’s all fiction. But some people prefer their science-fiction closer to the hard science and to what is hypothetically possible, or just a small stretch from what is possible given our current knowledge.

And then there are some who prefer to have their science-fiction completely imaginative — which some say is merely swords and sorcery, or pure fantasy, but in a space setting.

Take Star Wars, for example. It’s a combination of some science (maybe not much), and a lot of fantasy. I mean, Jedi mind tricks, lightsabers, improbable aliens, and plenty of planets all of which seem to have the same gravity as Earth. So Star Wars is a lot of fun, but certainly not hard science.

Contrast that to Star Trek. Although it appears to be just a low-budget Space Opera TV series from the 60s, the writers did try to get some of the science correct, especially in the modern movie adaptations. Although once again, we do seem to be visiting an awful lot of planets with the same gravity as Earth.

Some of the sci-fi classics have taken a hard science approach to developing an imaginative setting. For example, Larry Niven’s Ringworld. In Ringworld, an entire ring-like structure encircles a star at roughly the distance of Earth’s orbit from the sun. It spins or “orbits,” and generates gravity in this fashion. Niven built an entire spectacle from one premise.

Having said that, Niven was then taken to task by fans, possibly physicists themselves, who pointed out many flaws in the hard science, and Niven was forced to rewrite his premise in the second book, The Ringworld Engineers. Nonetheless the hard science behind Ringworld and its sequel makes it a much more curious read, where much of the conflict is driven by the science.

And perhaps that’s what it comes down to, a question of what generates the conflict. Does the conflict in the story arise because of the science, or does the conflict simply come from the interplay of characters and plot, and it wouldn’t matter whether the setting was science or fantasy, it just happens to be set in “space” or some futuristic setting.

Perhaps you’re like me, and you sit somewhere in between. You don’t mind if some of the science is at present impossible; for example, faster than light drive. Or hyperspace. Or galaxies peppered with multiple types of aliens, all of whom are able to converse with each other. Somehow this tickles my imagination. I enjoy being transported into a future where perhaps this is all possible.

It’s not too much of a stretch to take ourselves back into the medieval world, show the people of that time our cars, planes, computers and iPhones, to have them exclaim that it is simply magic and not provable by science.

Perhaps so, but it does seem as if it would take someone to completely bust Einstein’s theories to get us to faster-than-light drives. One day, I hope.

But I do like some of the science in my science-fiction to be reasonably accurate, particularly where it is portraying something we know to be true today.

For example, if your spaceship does not have artificial gravity (yet another functionality that has yet to be developed without the use of centrifuges or rotational space stations), then it makes sense that people should be floating around the spaceship, using anchor points or magnetic boots or some form of device to allow for easy movement. When a fight breaks out on board, it should be realistic and believable within the zero gravity setting.

We shouldn’t be expecting folks to be running along the ship’s passageways as if they are on Earth. So if they do, it does tend to take me out of the story a little. But if the story has already grabbed me, my mind will somehow switch over to thinking, “well it’s just swords and sorcery in space and that’s okay.” As long as it is consistent I guess!

Equally, acceleration, relative speed, gravity (I seem to be fixated on gravity) and other current-day physical science should be realistic and reasonable, or within reason in a science fiction story. We shouldn’t expect that every planet visited in a science-fiction Space Opera epic would have identical gravity to Earth’s.

Nor should we expect that every alien being is bipedal. (Though I am guilty of this in my stories.)

At the end of the day, whether you prefer hard science or speculative fiction or something in between, it’s all about believability. Any science-fiction is going to require the reader to suspend their disbelief for some period of time, because after all it is science-fiction and it is meant to represent something that isn’t possible today, but only possible in our heads.

And is that the fun of science-fiction?


Robert Scanlon is the author of Constellation, a Space Opera Science-Fiction Epic with plenty of debatable science, some hard science, and of course the obligatory bipedal aliens. Constellation is a fast-paced adventurous galactic escapade, featuring a daring female space pirate.

Fantasy Built on the Religions of Our Ancestors: The Historical Context of Mythology

by USA Today Bestselling Author, S.M. Schmitz

Ossian on the Bank of the Lora, Invoking the Gods to the Strains of a Harp by François Gérard

Ossian on the Bank of the Lora, Invoking the Gods to the Strains of a Harp (1801)
by François Gérard


With hugely successful series like Percy Jackson & the Olympians and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Rick Riordan has brought mythological fiction into the mainstream. While his middle grade books might typically find younger audiences, mythological fiction is an exciting fantasy subgenre for adults as well.

I began writing mythological fiction because of my background as a world history instructor. One of my areas of interest is social history, and religion and belief systems are a significant aspect of all cultures throughout history. Those beliefs have shaped gender relations, education, class divisions, politics, foreign policies, and systems of alliances.

What we now label as mythology isn’t just a collection of interesting stories; they are little windows into the pasts of our ancestors, snippets of their lives, their beliefs, their fears, and their hopes.

My first mythological series is The Immortals, which is loosely inspired by The Book of Enoch. This non-canonical text describes the fall of a group of angels after seeing some of the beautiful women on Earth. Pieces of the mythology from this Ethiopian script are found throughout The Immortals series as those humans who have been conscripted by Heaven to fight on its behalf combat demons on Earth.

One of the many things world mythologies can teach us is about gender norms and roles. The story of Lilith is a perfect example. According to some other non-canonical texts (which are also used for The Immortals), she was the original wife of Adam, but “refused to lie beneath him.” The implication is that Lilith refused to be subservient to a man and instead demanded to be regarded as his equal. She was cast out of Eden and in some texts, partnered with a fallen angel (perhaps Azazel or Samael). This union then produced all the demons that would plague mankind forever.

The moral of the story, of course, is that of expected gender roles. Lilith is punished for not fulfilling the role expected of her and is exiled, while her partnership with a fallen angel and the subsequent birth of thousands of demons firmly places her existence as a malevolent one for having failed to behave as a subordinate to man.

The Unbreakable Sword series is a multiverse world in which all pantheons from every civilization coexist. Although it has a contemporary setting, many of the most famous gods and goddesses from the most popular world mythologies are still alive and can be found in this series. The primary focus, however, is on the Tuatha Dé of Ireland.

The stories contained within the early Irish myths not only give us fascinating tales of heroes like Cú Chulainn who must overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to marry Emer, the romantic tragedy of Deirdre and Noísiu, and one of my personal favorites, “The Wooing of Étain,” but can teach us about pre-Christian Ireland’s social and legal structure as well.

Because no written language existed before the Christianization of Ireland, we sometimes have to read these myths with the understanding that they were transcribed by monks and are almost certainly altered and, sometimes, Christianized (for example, I’m almost positive that in the original legend of Caoranach, St. Patrick didn’t spend two days and two nights in Lough Derg battling the mythological serpent). But the original legends still provide insight into early Irish rituals (for example, the concept of the gessa or the celebratory feasts that accompanied traditional changings of the seasons) and laws (inheritance rights, and the responsibilities and duties of a king).

While we fiction writers often leave out the historical context of the myths we’re adapting since we are, after all, crafting entertaining fictional stories inspired by the religions of our ancestors, the historian in me invites readers to explore the legends of our ancestors more fully, to see their worlds through their tales that have survived the millennia and entertain us still.

Whether it’s Magnus Chase or Cameron and Selena from The Unbreakable Sword series, if you find inspiration in their adventures with the gods, then let the gods inspire you to journey with them into the past.

For more information on S.M. Schmitz’s books, please visit smschmitz.com.

Discover the Secret Supers Series

by Aurora Springer

This year, I published three novels in the Secret Supers Series. The third book, Gargoyle Hunt, releases on December 6th.

Blurb

Danger is the last thing on Estelle’s mind when she visits the University of Oxenford for a summer course. But, mysterious thefts and shadowy figures spur her into action. With Toby five thousand miles away, Estelle and her winged horse must hunt for the culprits alone. Soon they are embroiled in a mixed bag of aliens and ancient magic. Toby’s unexpected arrival throws her into turmoil and spurs events into a climax. Under pressure to succeed, Toby is trapped in a web of deceit. The two supers have a week to catch the crooks and salvage his reputation.

The Secret Supers Series follows the adventures of Estelle Wright after she is transformed into a superhero in her freshman year at college. In the first book, Super Starrella, a weird serial killer is terrorizing the streets of Atalanta. Estelle must solve the murder mystery and discover her fellow supers, while pursuing her biology major and a couple of romantic entanglements. She scours the city at night, while overtly obeying her mom’s strict curfew.

Several lines of thought led to this series. I have a fondness for superhero/ine stories and one or two readers have accused me of a comic book style. So, why not create unique superheroes and throw them into adventures? My superheroes are aliens or genetically transformed humans like Estelle. Then, I had a vision of people flying through space on different animals. If you have read the intriguing book, Star Rider by Doris Piserchia, the influence of her animal steeds will be obvious. In my series, each super bonds with a telepathic animal companion. Ordinary Estelle Wright transforms into Super Starrella and rides her snarky winged mare, Rockette. As an added twist, Rockette can morph into a pigeon. The villains begin as comic characters with bombastic Mr. Sunshine in the first book, Super Starrella, and deadly Croaker in book 2, Starrella Falls. The third book, Gargoyle Hunt, has a subtle British twist and the distinction blurs between good guys and villains.

People say you should write what you know. So the main characters are students at Goldman University in Atalanta, a sunnier southern Gotham City. Many of the scenes occur in or near Atlanta where I live. One of my favorite scenes takes place at night in an alligator-infested swamp in Starrella Falls, Book 2. I am a professor at one of the local colleges. Most students are unaware of my fictional creations, although some of the professors have read my novels.

Gargoyle Hunt, Book 3, is set in Oxenford, the famed center of academia for centuries. Estelle is visiting St. Swithin’s College for a summer program when the appearances of spooky live gargoyles coincide with mysterious thefts. Yes, I have studied at Oxford and punted on the Cherwell River. Avebury stone circle is one of my favorite destinations with lunch in the village pub followed by a hike on footpaths to other Neolithic sites.

The first books are set firmly in contemporary Earth with the authorities stymied by alien killers and hi-tech hackers. In future books, I hope to take the characters on a series of adventures, inflicting different villains on Atalanta and other locations. It is not as simple as I had first imagined, however, since I have to describe aliens living among us, various superpowers and animal companions as well as researching police procedures for homicides.

I wanted a romantic arc. In Super Starrella, I introduced a wobbly triangle of Estelle and two attractive men with their own secret agendas. Toby Ryan, a hot biker with a cat tattoo on his bulging biceps, and handsome Mark Copper in military intelligence. When she meets them at Goldman University, Estelle suspects they are spying on her. She gradually uncovers Toby’s secret life during her first semester at college in the first book. She will learn more about the alien factions in the second book. In Starrella Falls, Toby and Estelle have separate adventures initially, but they work best as partners and tackle a succession of villains through the final chapter. The backlash from alien allegiances heightens the mystery in Gargoyle Hunt.

Secret Supers Series

Super Starrella, Book 1, 99c
Starrella Falls, Book 2, $2.99
Gargoyle Hunt, Book 3, on 99c pre-order for release on December 6th

Bio:
Aurora Springer is a crazy scientist by day and invents adventures in weird worlds at night. She has a PhD in molecular biophysics and discovers science facts in her day job. Her fictional works are character-driven adventures and romances sprinkled with humor. Some of her published stories were composed thirty years ago. She was born in the UK and lives in Atlanta with her husband, a dog and two cats to sit on the keyboard. Her hobbies, besides reading and writing, include outdoor activities like gardening, watching wildlife, hiking and canoeing. Her books are listed here.

Social Links:
Blog: http://AuroraSpringer.blogspot.com/
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Aurora-Springer/e/B00K2C4NL8
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Aurora-Springer/885945434752937
Twitter: http://twitter.com/AuroraSpringer
Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/101087717415198221200/posts

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