Posts Tagged hard SF
It’s Romance Saturday at SBR! And today, I have a special treat for you…and a question: Can robotic intelligence really feel love? And if it does, what form would that love take?
While Brenda Cooper’s EDGE OF DARK is about many things, perhaps it’s mostly about just that: love, and its various forms.
But describing how EDGE OF DARK gets there is somewhat convoluted.
Within the first few chapters, we meet Nona — scion of a powerful family from an area of space known as the Glittering Edge, her soon-to-be-love-interest, Charlie (a ranger and conservationist from the planet Lym), and Nona’s best friend Chrystal and her family (Chrystal’s wife Katherine, husband Yi, and husband Jason). We also meet a race called the Next.
Now, the Next are hard to describe. They’re a form of artificial intelligence that’s gone way beyond AIs and robots; they’ve actually found a way to digitize human experiences and put them into inanimate objects. How and why they did this in the first place is unclear, but one thing’s for sure: The Next don’t particularly like humans, and they doubly don’t like the humans who reside in the Glittering Edge.
Anyway, Nona and Charlie’s story arc is easier to follow. They meet on the planet Lym, which is a type of natural paradise — one the people of Lym have worked hard to restore over time, as technology once nearly wrecked their world. Charlie, as a ranger, believes in conserving nature. But sometimes he has to “do the pretty” and meet up with important dignitaries, then show them around as Lym depends on tourism for a good amount of its income in order to continue staying as pristine as it is. Nona is one of those dignitaries, a visitor from the Glittering Edge (a bunch of space stations and artificial planetoids, roughly); she was asked by her now-deceased parents to please visit Lym, as it’s the closest planet around.
And of course, this being Romance Saturday and all, Charlie and Nona eventually pair off.
But that’s not the end of the story by a mile. (Especially as I promised robots in love. Trust me, I’m getting there.)
Chrystal and her family are by far the more important storyline. They originally reside on a space station called High Sweet Home, and are scientists who create genetically engineered animals. They live and work together, and are a totally self-sufficient unit.
Then the Next comes to High Sweet Home. They gather various humans, purposes unknown; they only take the healthiest, the strongest, those in their physical prime. Babies, the elderly, the crippled, and the injured are all killed out of hand.
The remaining humans of High Sweet Home are offered a choice. They can become part of the Next — become artificial intelligences. Or they can die.
Chrystal and her family definitely do not want to die. So they decide to go along with the Next.
But becoming an artificial intelligence isn’t easy. Even though the Next have a way to make their new bodies look and feel much like their old ones, Chrystal and her family will no longer be able to have sex; they also do not eat or breathe. And while they can and do move, talk, and think, it’s not exactly the same.
Yet their love for one another survives this horrible displacement. (Hold that thought.)
Now, why did the Next do this? They needed someone in between the humans and the full-blown, ancient Next. These newly-made Next — Chrystal and her family, among others — are meant to become ambassadors, so the humans will be able to understand what the Next wants.
And one of those things the Next wants, inexplicably, is the planet Lym. Which is why Charlie is so important. (But I digress.)
Of course, Chrystal and Nona are best friends, which means Chrystal in particular is well-placed to begin negotiations. (Thus why Nona is important.) But Chrystal is ambivalent; she is still angry at the Next for doing this to her and her family.
The rest of the story is for you to read. But I have a few more thoughts for you before you do.
First, the stronger human element is obviously Chrystal and her family. Their love matters whether they’re in human bodies or robot bodies. Their personalities do not change when they become digitized.
Second, Nona is a very weak protagonist. She is smart, but she is not driven; the first thing she has ever cared much about — Chrystal becoming a robot through no fault of Chrystal’s — is not really strong enough to do much with.
Third, Charlie is stronger, but somehow isn’t as strong as he should be, either.
I don’t know why Nona and Charlie weren’t stronger as a couple. I liked them both, even though Nona is nowhere near strong enough to compete with Chrystal and Chrystal’s family. I believed that Charlie and Nona would have a dalliance. And I believed they would both become better people for it — which is what a good romance is all about.
Even so, I just didn’t care that much about them. And I don’t know why.
That’s why the real romance that I cared about here was between Chrystal and her family. How they adjusted to becoming Next was well worth reading, even though in some spots it’s incredibly disturbing.
That said, I have to believe Ms. Cooper wanted it this way. She must’ve wanted to show that love is more important than the nature of the form. I get that.
However, I don’t understand why Nona is even in this book (much less Charlie and the whole issue of Lym’s fate as a planet). She’s not strong enough to compete with Crystal and her story.
And I really don’t understand why Lym is so important to the Next. They’re artificial intelligences. Why do they need anything at all? (The whole bit about the Next needing raw materials that only Lym can provide is very flimsy, to my mind. If you have all of space to get your raw materials from, as it appears the Next does, why would you be so hot on trying to get a foothold on Lym?)
Bottom line: EDGE OF DARK is compelling and disturbing, and I appreciated reading about Chrystal and her family. But somehow, I felt disconnected from most of the book, even though I liked the characters.
That said, I do want to find out what happens to Chrystal and her family next (pardon the pun), so I do intend to read the second book in the Glittering Edge duology. But I hope that somehow I will be able to become more invested, emotionally, in what happens with all involved.
–reviewed by Barb
Over the past two years, we at Shiny Book Review have avidly devoured every last one of Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s novels — there are five to date (FIRES OF NUALA, HIDDEN FIRES, FIRE SANCTUARY, NIGHT CALLS, and KINDRED RITES), with a sixth, SPIRAL PATH, currently being polished even as we speak.
There’s a reason for that.
Put simply, anything Ms. Kimbriel writes is worth the price of admission. It doesn’t matter whether she writes fantasy or science fiction; it doesn’t matter whether she’s writing a young adult novel, as in her Night Calls series, or if she’s writing a complex and challenging far-future epic clearly meant for adults, as with her Chronicles of Nuala.
Whatever she writes is excellent in all particulars. Guaranteed.
So, without further ado, please welcome novelist Katharine Eliska Kimbriel!
SBR: You’ve written both fantasy and hard science fiction, and your writing has been well-received in both genres. What, if anything, do you do differently when writing a fantasy story as opposed to a SF story?
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: As I mention over in my bio on Book View Cafe, I return to the question of power, and the metaphor is either magic or technology. Who has it, who doesn’t, do they want it, what will they do with it, how were they affected by it? It doesn’t matter if I’m writing tech or magic–I want to know how people are changed by their surroundings, events, and the catalyst–magic or tech. On Nuala, a space-faring group of humans is changed forever by being stranded on a planet where the radiation breakdown is 3x what it is on Earth, with the resultant mutation and sterility factors to overcome. They could dwindle into death, or they could blaze a new path. In my fantasy, sometimes the magic solves problems, and sometimes it makes problems–but the people have to deal with it, while still living their lives and interacting with others, both magical and mundane. I tend not to change a lot, when I create a society–I change a little, making an interesting blend from Earth societies, just to see what will happen. On Nuala, I used three things, essentially–the increased radiation level, the mutated mineral-leeching microbe, and the mutation that amplified the ability to heal, the so-called King’s touch.
Little changes can multiply into big things!
SBR: How did you come up with your Chronicles of Nuala? (What gave you the initial idea?)
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Two things…I was fascinated by pictures of the huge vegetables growing in the soil around Hiroshima, and the rampant fertility of the soil. I’d also read about wiring a battery to a bone break to speed healing. So I took two questions: 1) What if people could not only survive, but in some weird way, thrive, in a radioactive environment? 2) What if the the concept of laying-on of hands to heal became a reality? Then the story began.
SBR: What was your first story sale? How did that lead into writing novels?
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Actually, my first sale was Fire Sanctuary! I sold it to Bluejay Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s, but they never counter-signed the contract (they had no cash flow, and were in trouble) so I’d gotten an agent, who resold the book to Warner/Popular Library/Questar in about a year. Those were the bad old days. We were captive to New York publishing.
SBR: How did you come up with your Night Calls series starring Alfreda “Allie” Sorensson?
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Allie leapt from my subconscious at a statement from the wonderful writer and editor Jane Yolen. She was doing a series of anthologies for Harper & Row, and the first one was to be Werewolves!. A group of us were lunching at World Fantasy Convention, and we were peppering her with questions, testing the start of funny or serious short pieces. I don’t write a lot of short things–they bloom quickly into novels. But I asked her, “Does the werewolf have to be seen?” Jane replied, “The werewolf does not have to be seen, but its presence has to be felt.”
I then had two very sharp images come to mind. First, a young girl in clothing that was not modern–either pre- or post modern–gently brushing away snow to find garlic attempting to root under a window, and a young girl with long, blond braids dragging a chair to an interior door to hang up a braid of garlic. In that first version, Allie was post-apocalyptic, but Kim Moran at Amazing Stories convinced me to place her in the past. Allie was born there.
SBR: What sorts of research did you do to add verisimilitude for each series?
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: It depended on the story. I researched Antarctica and mineral-leeching microbes for Nuala–also Mirror Matter/antimatter, recessive eye colors, sequoias! For Allie’s world I have an extensive bookshelf of books on herbs, magic, folk tales, fairy stories of Scandinavia, Ireland and the world–colonial life and times. The War of 1812…
SBR: How well did you know Roger Zelasny, and what influence (if any) did he have on your work?
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Roger Zelazny came to several Texas conventions when I lived in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. I thought he was wonderful, and he decided I was pretty interesting, too. I came up with the book title If at Faust You Don’t Succeed–that was the weekend he was all excited about the book he was writing from the POV of Jack the Ripper’s Dog, one of my favorite of his books, A Night In the Lonesome October. We exchanged letters when his schedule permitted, and had started talking on the phone (we had different networks, which back then was a good thing–we could swap industry gossip!) when he became ill with his cancer. Only very, very close friends, most of them in New Mexico, knew how ill he was…I was ready to come to Santa Fe at that point, but did not hear back from him. Then word went out through the fan networks that he had died, and I knew why I had not heard back. Instead of seeing him, I was writing an elegy for Locus and a sympathy note to Jane Lindskold.
I miss him still. He never got to see Allie, he was too ill to read the story. Roger taught me to write short stories as if they were the last chapter of a novel–and a lot about writing dialogue. You can follow his dialog for pages without any qualifiers telling you who is speaking. That helps me remember to keep speech patterns distinct.
SBR: How is being published by Book View Cafe different from working with your previous publisher(s)? What do you like about this approach, and do you think there will be more consortiums like BVC in the future?
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: It is collaborative, because as a coop we do everything, and we help with everything. We have a huge forum where there are topics for kibbitzing on cover art, layout, back cover blurbs–we have people currently specializing in everything from ebook formatting to keeping the web site going through blogging and copy editing. There are people shepherding production schedules and volunteers. I could not have gotten my books up without my fellow authors, due to my health problems back in the early BVC years. I hope I have been useful to them. Right now I do everything from woman the events calendar to serve as a member of the board. And as you know, I mention all the great books we bring out. It’s a blessing to me that everyone in the coop is good at what they write, whether their work is to my personal tastes or not. I have no hesitation bringing their books to the attention of my fans, because there’s a chance that some of them may be looking for just that type of book.
I do think the producer cooperative model will be a successful one for writers. We are inventing a new way to do business, but we are hopeful and making more money each year, So…forward!
SBR: You’ve recently announced (via Facebook) that the third book in the Night Calls series has been finished. How soon will it be available?
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Well, I’m editing. Once I am satisfied with it, Spiral Path will go to at least one Book View Cafe member for a beta read, because it is an original work. (Also to my cover artist, Mitchell Bentley.) It’s at least a four month lag time from that point. I hope at the end of this week to be able to ballpark it, because I want to send out print copies for review to Locus and possibly Rave Reviews. End of summer, if I can get the lead slot at Book View Cafe? This is possibly Allie’s last chance. I have to make some money from the books, because I spent a great deal of money staying alive. I have to make a living and try to replenish the emptied investment account. So…if not Allie, I will have to try writing something else. In fact, I will be starting a new series, a contemporary fantasy, after this, and also, I hope a fourth Allie book, if she’s still telling me her story.
(Interviewer’s aside: Let us sincerely hope so! Allie’s a great character and I want more of her, pronto. End of aside.)
SBR: Ms. Kimbriel, e-books of all five of your novels are available right now. But what about hard-copy, “dead tree” editions? Are they, too, available now?
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Well, all my books exist in paper. I just don’t get any money for sales of the SF, unless you buy them from me at a convention! I’ll do the third Allie in print, but the sales on the SF are not great enough to justify new cover art. So don’t expect the Nuala books in print soon–I need a better paying job first! On the other hand, I have some new copies of Hidden Fires that might interest folk… ;^)
SBR: As an editor, what is your favorite genre to edit? (Or do you like a little bit of everything?) And what is your favorite book that you’ve ever edited, and why?
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Actually, I don’t have a favorite right now. I love the variety. I prefer fiction, and really enjoy concept editing. I like helping someone find their own voice and where they want to go, and making it the best book their idea can be. I would have liked being a NY editor, but that didn’t happen.
SBR: Why didn’t it happen?
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Becoming a known concept editor who can make a living at it tends to start with a job (working) for a NY publisher. You had to move to NY in those days, and that was something I would not have dreamed of doing when I was first publishing–my husband had a good job in Texas, and Texas was having its first tech boom at that time. Later I was trying to establish a business that would let me write fiction part time, and I was looking for life balance, so I became a clinical massage therapist. Finally, I became ill, and life has been catch-up ever since. So although I have been told by many writers that I am a good concept editor, and my resume tag line is “Writer, editor, and trainer specializing in retaining the authentic client voice”, becoming a developmental editor at this point is unlikely.
SBR: What do you think is most important when pursuing a career as a writer and editor? Talent? Persistence? Money? Connections? A little of everything? (And does fame, at all, interest you? If it does, how so? And if not, why not?)
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: None of those things hurt. To be a writer, a storyteller, you need stories you are driven to tell (and that may be harder than ever to do, with even more life distractions out there!) persistence, and talent. To be published requires persisting…at the writing, the submissions, or researching how to do it yourself. And then researching how to promote, or not–how to submit the book to a few review sites and let it go, keep writing.
Fame interests me only as a medium to reach more readers with my stories. Money, sadly, would be handy–I spent a fortune staying alive, and I must work now, and need a decent income. If the writing cannot pull its weight, then I have to relegate it to a hobby and return to school or take whatever I can find in the current market. I think Alfreda will outlive me, but who knows what future creators will do with her and her tales. I don’t know about anything else I’ve written or may yet write.
SBR: One, final question: What would you like to say to new authors?
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: If you have a story that keeps you awake at night, then you may just be a storyteller. Figure out how you want to tell it–book, graphic novel, film–and go for it. No other hobby can compete with creating something unique. Don’t let it be the thing you regret most in life; the thing you never tried.
If you have regrets? Don’t let them be your stories.
Again, many thanks to Katharine Eliska Kimbriel for consenting to this wide-ranging interview . . . now, go forth and read her books already!
— interviewed by Barb
One of the good things we at SBR are able to do from time to time is to interview writers, editors and/or publishers (well, so far we haven’t had one, but the year is young). Today’s chosen
victim — er, writer and editor, is the acclaimed Stephanie Osborn, author and rocket scientist, who consented to doing one of the most wide-ranging interviews we’ve ever had. Three of her novels in her “Displaced Detectives” series have been reviewed at SBR (here and here), while her nonfiction work with scientist and author Travis S. Taylor, A New American Space Plan, is reviewed here.
SBR: Ms. Osborn, thanks for coming to visit with us today.
Stephanie Osborn: Thank you for asking me!
SBR: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Stephanie Osborn: You know, I didn’t want to be a writer in my youth; I wanted to be a scientist and work in the space program. I’m not sure when I first decided to become an author. I had some notions about a possible novel franchise after the very first Men In Black movie, which I adored, and my husband Darrell encouraged me to pursue it. That’s when I discovered there were many books in me. But of course, the rights were all tied up, and the only publisher with the rights didn’t take unagented submissions, and being yet-unpublished, I couldn’t get an agent at that point. However, somewhere in there is when I realized I could do this, and that I liked it and wanted to do it.
SBR: Your most popular solo series is possibly the Displaced Detective series, which brings Sherlock Holmes into the modern day, where he solves crimes with the able assistance of hyperspatial physicist Skye Chadwick. How did you come up with the idea to meld both mystery and science fiction in this way?
Stephanie Osborn: Wow. You know, I really don’t know. I had gotten back into a spate of reading everything Sherlock Holmes I could get my hands on ― I’ve done that periodically since childhood, when I discovered Holmes ― but there wasn’t a book out there that was quite what I was looking for. So I decided to write it. I deliberately set out to do something different, to expand the range of what the Great Detective could do, and I think I succeeded rather nicely.
SBR: What’s so attractive about Sherlock Holmes, and what’s the key to Arthur Conan Doyle’s enduring appeal?
Stephanie Osborn: I really don’t know about Sir Arthur. That might sound kind of snarky or arrogant and I don’t mean it like that at all: I just don’t like to analyze an author’s work to the level that it would take to answer that question, because literary analysis always took the magic out of the book, to me. For whatever it’s worth, I think it has to do with his ability to generate these fascinating and unusual characters.
But Holmes was the first in what became a long line of characters like him ― though there were mystery and detective stories before him, he started the detective genre as we know it, AND he has a certain cachet due to his intelligence. I like to say that he had Spock Syndrome before there was a Mr. Spock to name it after.
SBR: Skye Chadwick, the heroine in the DD series, is a hyperspatial physicist. Explain how you came up with her character.
Stephanie Osborn: Well, that’s pretty simple. I wanted to give Holmes a female to interact with, someone to actually work cases with. After all, this is the 21st Century, and, well, equality, you know. But I recognized right off the bat that she would really have to BE his equal or he wouldn’t bother with her. Then I realized that if she was the scientist responsible for developing the project that brought him over from his home universe, she’d have to be bloody brilliant from the get-go, and he couldn’t possibly gainsay the fact. And the character formed from those beginnings.
SBR: What are books five and six in the Displaced Detective series going to be about? And what’s their ETA?
Stephanie Osborn: Book five is titled, A Case of Spontaneous Combustion. It starts out with a tiny village in England being wiped out – every living thing in it killed – by a phenomenon that appears to be a case of mass spontaneous combustion, but turns out to be something very different. Holmes is called in to investigate – without Skye – and hijinks ensue. I got the contract for it a couple weeks back. It should come out sometime in the Spring of 2014.
Book six is something that has been banging around in my head for awhile now, and this past weekend it congealed. I wanted to do a supernatural-based Displaced Detective story, something about a haunted something-or-other that Skye and Sherlock end up investigating, but I’d been going to set it in a European castle, either in the UK or on the continent. Well, I’d just been to CONtraflow science fiction convention in New Orleans, Louisiana! Wonderful, young convention, growing fast, lots of fun. Just as much fun, though, was going to the French Quarter and exploring. NOLA has the reputation of being the most-haunted city in the world, and it turned out to be perfect for that book concept. Scenes started coming to me as soon as we started walking around! I started writing it the next day, during the convention! It wouldn’t wait! It’s going to be called Fear in the French Quarter.
What was to have been Book six, now Book seven, is in work also. I call it A Little Matter of Earthquakes. Suffice to say that seismic activity is heating up in the Pacific Northwest, in a fashion that is not normal. When one of Skye’s friends is killed in a phreatic eruption of a Cascade volcano, she and Holmes go to the funeral and discover the abnormality. Skye’s curiosity gets the better of her, and soon they find that there’s about to be a very VERY large, not so natural disaster unless they can stop what’s happening. I have to finish six & seven before I can get any idea of a time frame for when they might appear in print. But it shouldn’t be long for either, I don’t think.
Book eight is actually finished, but it requires five & seven (and maybe six) to help it make sense. (Yes, I wrote ‘em out of sequence.) It’s called The Adventure of Shining Mountain Lodge. Rangers in Rocky Mountain National Park find an illegal immigrant in the middle of nowhere, in January, and he’s dying…of radiation exposure. His clothing is filthy with radioactive dirt. The FBI and the CIA are contacted, and the CIA believes it may have to do with rumors of a possible dirty nuke. Sherlock and Skye are called into the investigation, and they have to find out what’s going on and stop it before the rumors become reality.
I’ve been accused of giving my books jawbreaker, long titles. But that’s only for the Displaced Detective series; there, I’m trying to evoke the names of the adventures that Sir Arthur recorded: The Sign of Four; The Valley of Fear; A Study in Scarlet; The Hound of the Baskervilles; The Final Problem; The Adventure of the Empty House, etc. Other books, not so much. The Fetish, Burnout, The Y Factor, stuff like that. Granted, Burnout has a subtitle that renders it kind of lengthy, but the publisher felt it was needed.
SBR: Speaking of Burnout, what drove you to write that novel?
Stephanie Osborn: Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281 was my first novel. It’s a science fiction mystery about a space shuttle disaster that turned out NOT to have been an accident, and the ensuing investigation and cover-up. Its tag line is, “How do you react when you discover that the next Shuttle disaster has happened…right on schedule?”
It started off years ago when I was a payload flight controller for Shuttle Spacelab missions. A bunch of us were discussing what to do in the event of a “catastrophic malfunction,” and how we might be able to get the bird and its crew down intact. I went off still thinking, and eventually realized that, if said “malfunction” was in fact no accident, it might make for a good book. It made Amazon’s Top 25 Overall list, and Fictionwise’s top 25 science fiction, when it was released, so I guess other people thought so too.
The scary, distressing part for me was that in the process of writing the novel, and doing all the research to get it right, I pretty much predicted what ended up happening to shuttle Columbia on her final flight ― and she had a friend of mine aboard. Oh, I’m not saying that Columbia was anything other than pure, awful luck of the draw. But the overall scenario of re-entry, loss of thermal integrity, loss of aerodynamic stability, breakup…I got the orbital inclination, incoming trajectory, even the overflown states and debris field, all correct according to what really happened to Columbia. I…was not best pleased. My writing mentor had to talk me out of trashing the manuscript. I ended up dedicating the book to the Columbia crew.
SBR: Did your scientific background help you with Burnout? (Sometimes, here at SBR, even we must state the obvious. Apologies in advance.)
Stephanie Osborn: Oh, I couldn’t have written it without my science background, AND my experience working Shuttle program. I had to lay out a scenario that made sense on several levels, and that proved very complicated.
SBR: You’ve said that Burnout is in some senses the most personal novel you’ve ever written. Can you explain that?
Stephanie Osborn: Well, there was the Columbia connection, which was personal enough in that I lost a friend, Kalpana Chawla, and I lost the bird I worked with the most.
But the two main characters of that book are special to me. It’s kind of funny, really; I’ve been “accused” on numerous occasions of making Skye Chadwick, from the Displaced Detective series, my own personal “Mary Sue” ― meaning she’s supposedly a fictional version of me. Truthfully? She’s no more me than Holmes is; every character I write has some facet of me in it, or I couldn’t relate to the character well enough to write it. I’ve written a couple of books with strong female leads in them, and somebody always wants to make ‘em out to be my Mary Sue(s), especially if they have any sort of a science background. But Crash Murphy and Mike Anders, the protagonists in Burnout? Well, they’re different. If you combined them into one person and flipped the gender, it really WOULD be me. Astronomer and Shuttle flight controller, rolled into one. I’m fond of those characters. But nobody ever accuses me of making THEM Mary Sues. I guess it’s because they’re male.
SBR: Let’s talk about another series you’ve worked on where you’ve never once been accused of writing a “Mary Sue” character, the Cresperian Saga. What’s that about?
Stephanie Osborn: The Cresperian Saga is a series of books by several authors, about Earth’s first contact with extraterrestrials when their starship wrecks in our solar system. A few of the lifepods make it to Earth, but most of the crew (and it was a small city) dies in the disaster. Said alien lifepods land scattered around our planet, and the beings within use their shapeshifting abilities to try to blend into the general population.
The first book, Human By Choice, was co-authored by Travis S. Taylor (my writing mentor) and Darrell Bain. When it came time for book two, Travis and his wife were expecting their second child and he was snowed, so he bowed out. Lida Quillen, publisher of Twilight Times Books, tapped me to step in, so The Y Factor was written by Darrell Bain and myself, with Bain taking the lead. But Bain is up in years, and his memory isn’t what it once was; this series has a huge cast of characters over the entire story arc, and he didn’t like having to keep up with them all. I thought he was doing fine, but I suspect what it amounted to was that he just didn’t like keeping up with ‘em. I can understand that. So for book three, The Cresperian Alliance, I took the lead. I’m currently working on book four, Heritage. Hoping to get it out in the next six months or so. But it’s harder than my usual writing, because the concept wasn’t mine to begin with.
SBR: The Cresperian Saga sounds fun to read, but as you just said, it sounds extremely difficult to write as it wasn’t your original concept. What interests you so much about this series, and what makes it different from other “aliens versus humans” movies and books?
Stephanie Osborn: The concept of discovering an alien race when THEY crash into YOU, because they don’t know you’re there, is kind of different. And the problems that the aliens have with our form, our cultures, were to my knowledge unique.
SBR: How challenging was it to come into this series in Book Two, and how did that process work between you and Darrell Bain?
Stephanie Osborn: It was difficult at times, and fun at others. First and foremost was getting familiar with that world, that universe, and coming up to speed with the fictional tech. I respect Mr. Bain greatly; he’s a popular e-book writer, and I learned from him. But we have different philosophies, and sometimes we disagreed about what should be in the manuscript. Still and all, we’re both professionals, and we discussed and went back and forth, and what resulted was, if I do say so, a pretty darn good couple books.
SBR: You’ve also written some shorter works. One of them, Starsong, is meant for children. What sort of things did you do differently while writing this story, if anything?
Stephanie Osborn: My only change from the usual is in keeping in mind that it is a children’s book, and as such I have to be careful about: 1) the language used (both the basic,” not having characters cursing,” and vocabulary, choosing words that wouldn’t be over the heads of the readers) and 2) making the themes appropriate. I wrote it because my parents wanted me to write a book that my nephew (then in elementary school) could read. By the time it made it to print, he was in late junior high school and too old for it. Oh well.
SBR: How did you think up the mythos behind Starsong?
Stephanie Osborn: The same way I do all my stories…it just sort of comes to me. It’s a blend of Tolkienesque and Native American voices, when you get down to it.
SBR: Since Starsong is a bit of a departure for you, being fantasy and intended for children, how has it been received?
Stephanie Osborn: It’s been received very well, but has yet to find a large audience, unfortunately.
SBR: Another of your shorter works is The Fetish, a story from the Burnout universe. What brought that particular story to mind?
Stephanie Osborn: In Burnout, Dr. Mike Anders rather impulsively buys a lapis fetish necklace at a trading post on an Indian reservation during their efforts to get to Las Vegas undetected. The Fetish is the story of how that necklace came to be. It was an EPIC Award Finalist in the short category.
SBR: Tell me about your typical writing routine. When you’re coming up with a plot, how do you get everything to all come together in your head so you can write about it?
Stephanie Osborn: I spend a lot of time staring into space and daydreaming. Seriously. People watching me would think I was goofing off. But there are certain things I have to have in hand before I can start writing, or anything I set down is rambling gibberish.
I have to know my protagonist(s) AND I have to have the antagonist(s). The antagonist does not have to be human, or even a sentient being. Sometimes a force of nature is the best bad guy around. But I have to know who or what it is. And I have to have the names of the principal characters.
I have to have an idea about what the general problem is ― that is to say, what is the source of the drama, the conflict? Is there more than one conflict?
Once I get these things, once they come to me, then I will daydream a scene, whatever grabs me most about the conflict. It’s almost always a climax of some sort, possibly even the main climax of the book. And once I have that, then I can start writing. And it takes however long it takes. I can push it to some extent but I have to have those things, or it’s pointless to write. Better to go off and work on something I’ve already started. John Ringo is a friend of mine, and he calls this process “ideating,” or, “to ideate,” pronounced, “eye-dee-ate.” Sometimes brainstorming, either with my husband or another writer, can help this process along, and John and I have ideated together once or twice.
Now, if I AM writing on an existing manuscript, I will start the day’s work by going back to where I started writing the day before, or maybe a bit earlier. I will read through it, making sure it flows with what came before, and editing it for clarity, continuity, smoothness of wording, grammar, and the like. When I’ve read all the way through what I wrote the day before, I’ve effectively gotten into the flow, and I start in with writing the new material.
SBR: As you’re also an editor, can you discuss some of the books you have edited, at least so far as the types of books you’ve edited? What interests you about editing, and how is it different from writing?
Stephanie Osborn: Mostly science fiction of various types. Several were YA books. I’ve edited a number of books for my main publisher, Twilight Times Books, and a few more as a free-lance editor. I don’t think my publisher would want me to reveal which books I edited, but one of the free-lance jobs was just plain fun. Half the time I wasn’t sure if I was editing or just reading! The Flux Engine by Dan Willis is YA alt-history steampunk; it was a great book and I loved working on it. I’m looking forward to the sequel.
SBR: Let’s switch gears. You’re a well-known advocate for literacy. Tell me why this is so important to you.
Stephanie Osborn: I have always been a voracious, omnivorous reader. I cannot imagine my life without it. Reading is, and will be for the future of our culture, the primary means of communication of ideas and concepts and data between people. Without the ability to read and write, our civilization as we know it would collapse.
Unfortunately not only is illiteracy on the rise in our country, disinterest in reading is rampant among our young people. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have seen teens and twenties at science fiction and fantasy conventions walk by book dealers with noses upturned. I have had teens walk up to my table, scan my books with utter indifference ― or even contempt ― then pick up a business card and ask me to autograph it. If it isn’t a film or a game, they’re just not interested. After I left the space program, I used to do some tutoring, to get me out of the house mostly, and was shocked at seeing the same attitude toward great literature. Unfortunately, it’s an attitude I have encountered again and again.
How are we to continue our society, our culture, if the next generation doesn’t READ?! How do we communicate the most important concepts of our world? How do we teach them what works and what doesn’t? It isn’t possible to cram it all into a movie, into a game. The concepts of freedom, the lessons of life, good versus evil…this is the stuff of drama, of the great and less great literature. But they won’t read it, and in some cases, can’t.
There’s an old saying: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Trite, but true nonetheless. And it applies here doubly ― historically, societies whose literacy broke down tended to collapse shortly thereafter; and how can the kids learn history if they can’t or won’t read about it?
If this trend continues, I shudder for our people.
SBR: You’re also a well-known advocate regarding treatment for panic attacks and/or anxiety disorder. This is a disease that’s become more prominent lately, partly due to the efforts of NFL Hall of Famer Earl Campbell. What is it, why is it important to you, and what do you think should be done about it?
Stephanie Osborn: Panic attacks are horrible. They can feel like you’re having a heart attack or like you’re going to faint, and sometimes you wish you would. Faint, that is. Because then you’d be unconscious and not suffering through it. You’re scared, your heart pounds, you can’t breathe fast enough, your whole body either flushes or the blood drains away into the vital organs and you get light-headed. It can be pure, abject terror. And it can happen for no reason that you can see.
The tendency to have these attacks on a regular or frequent basis is known as anxiety disorder. There are different categories, depending on severity, acuteness of attack, and to some extent, cause of the attack, because it can have many causes.
Causes can range from things like PTSD; to problems in the brain’s amygdalae, which processes fear; to problems in utilizing neurotransmitters, particularly GABA, but also including serotonin. It isn’t fun, and the sufferer isn’t always able to control it.
As it turns out, I have anxiety disorder. It trends in my family, and I have had it off and on since I was a child. It comes and goes, and I can go for long periods of time, even years, decades, with no problems. Then something may happen to stress me ― an event, or an illness, or the like ― and it will come back and hammer me. I’ve had counseling for it and have learned various relaxation techniques, which help. But if a full-on panic attack jumps me unexpectedly, those techniques don’t work too well because they require me to concentrate on the technique, and if you’re panicked, you aren’t going to think too well. So I try very hard to catch it on the upswing by recognizing the symptoms and working to relax. I also have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), where the nerve network in the gut is exceptionally sensitive, and it’s tied into the anxiety disorder: an IBS attack can trigger an anxiety attack, and vice versa. In general, nobody but my family knows I have it, at least to see it happening. I don’t necessarily announce it to the world. But I don’t make a secret of it, either.
Interestingly, it is never DURING an acute, stressful situation that the panic or anxiety hits. If I’m in the middle of an emergency, I will work through the emergency and do whatever is required to get through the situation safely. After it’s over, I may go into a corner and hyperventilate for a few minutes! During that post-emergency time, I’m apt to shake like the proverbial aspen leaf, and all I want is to be quiet and try to relax. I may or may not have a full-blown panic attack. Having a trusted friend or family member nearby is usually soothing, if I do. And I may have recurrences of that, off and on for a few weeks, if something happens to remind me of the emergency.
I want to emphasize: it isn’t dangerous, for the person experiencing the panic or anyone around him. We won’t go ballistic or postal; we aren’t scary crazy people. In general we aren’t confrontational, because confrontation produces stress, and stress will bring on the anxiety. We’re far more apt to want to retreat to the bedroom and just be very quiet. And we aren’t having a heart attack or the like, though it can seem like it sometimes. In so far as I can tell, the very fact that you have anxiety attacks seems to be an indication of a strong circulatory system. I suppose it stands to reason. If it weren’t for the fear it creates, fear that can last for days, weeks, or even months, it probably wouldn’t even be worth a note in the medical books.
But if you know someone who has anxiety disorder, the best thing you can do, if you see him or her in a panic attack, is to take the person aside into a quiet, low-stimulus environment, and help ‘em settle down. Just a couple words to let ‘em know you’re there, you get what’s happening, and you’re there to help. Maybe holding a hand gently, or laying a hand on a shoulder. Don’t babble. In fact, other than the initial, “It’s OK. I’m here, and I get what’s going on,” you don’t really have to talk (unless the victim wants you to talk to help get his/her mind off the panic, in which case, keep the conversation light and away from the focus of the problem). The person experiencing the anxiety needs as little stimulus as possible, and needs to be able to focus on relaxation techniques. (Slow, steady breathing, in various cadences, is the best that I’ve found. If the person is having trouble, offer to count softly: “In… two… three… four… Out… two… three… four.”) When the patient begins to talk again, s/he is starting to relax. You can chat then, but keep your voice down and in a soothing pitch until the person is obviously relaxed again.
SBR: Getting back to your writing career, what sorts of awards have you been nominated for? (Not that this is the be-all and end-all, of course.)
Stephanie Osborn: I have been an EPIC Finalist twice, once for The Y Factor with Darrell Bain, and once for The Fetish. I have also been a finalist for a few other awards, not so prestigious. My experiences with awards have not been good in general — you generally have to pay a fee (the smallest I’ve encountered is $50) for every category you enter, and the final results tend, in my estimation, to be…unusual at best, questionable at worst. Like the time L. Ron Hubbard won a category for a book he wrote…over a decade after his demise. I’m proud of the EPIC finalists, and I consider that award an excellent one; I stay away from most others, these days.
SBR: Two interesting things have happened recently regarding your Displaced Detective series, as an omnibus edition has been released by your publisher, Twilight Times Books, and more interestingly yet, The Displaced Detective Suite, an album put together by composer Dan Hollifield, has also been released. How did these two things happen?
Stephanie Osborn: I couldn’t tell you how The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus came to be! That was a complete surprise from my publisher! I was on travel and when I got home she emailed me to surprise me with it. I’m very, VERY pleased, because this is the first omnibus that Twilight Times Books has ever produced, and I’m thrilled that it’s mine.
As for The Displaced Detective Suite**, it is a duly licensed “derivative” work, available in CD and mp3 download, from Amazon (CD), CreateSpace (CD), and Bandcamp (download). Bandcamp also has a lovely bonus track that comes with the album, but didn’t fit on the CD. The album itself is a blend of instrumental and electronica, and could readily be a film score. Each piece causes me to think of the scene(s) that inspired it, and they play out in my mind’s eye as the music plays.
How did it come to be? Well, I’ve known Dan Hollifield for some years; he’s a very talented man. He’s also a fan, particularly of my Displaced Detective series, and one day he presented a song to me on Facebook. It was a solo violin with background instrumentals, what later became the track called, “Meditations of a Displaced Detective,” and I immediately fell in love with it. It evoked a mental image for me of Holmes, yanked from his original life and plopped into the modern world, knowing no one, wondering how he was going to fit in, to make a life for himself. I could “hear” it as either what he would have played during that time if he’d had access to a violin, or what a movie director would use as the theme for that part of the story. I raved over it to Dan, and one thing led to another, and suddenly he was working on more music. Next thing I knew, we had a licensing agreement in place, and he was nearing completion on an album. I’m absolutely blown away by the music.
Since my husband is a graphics artist and does most of my cover art (as well as many other TTB books, and several other publishers too), Dan and I approached him for the album artwork. He agreed, and that was the last thing we needed. The day I got my own copy of the CD, I danced around the house before I even opened it!
SBR: (Not sure what to say to this, though admittedly we’d be tempted to do the same thing in your place.) Thanks again for this wide-ranging, comprehensive interview, Ms. Osborn.
Stephanie Osborn: Thank you most kindly for having me, and especially for allowing me to ramble!
SBR: Our pleasure.
** Note: SBR will feature in coming weeks our first-ever music review, the subject of which being Dan Hollifield’s Displaced Detective Suite. Stay tuned.