Phew, so I’ve just updated the listing of conventions, and it looks like a busy old year coming up, apparently unfazed and fearless of the all-powerful Omichron (which is a Doctor Who monster, right?). Anyway, here’s what’s coming up: https://metaphysicalfantasy.wordpress.com/events/uk-conventions-and-festivals-scifi-fantasy-and-horror/!
Well, despite the global pandemic/zombie apocalypse, the convention circuit has risen from its grave, from the ashes, whatever metaphor you’d like. I’ve now fully updated this website’s listings, all the way through to late 2022! Check it our here: UK conventions and festivals: scifi, fantasy, horror and comicbooks | Metaphysical Fantasy (wordpress.com)
Sammy HK Smith is the author of the new smash-hit novel Anna. I blackmailed her into giving us this exclusive interview. It’s full of insight and secrets on how to become aninternational fantasy author – or your money back. Enjoy!
1. Sammy, your new book is pretty hefty. How much does size matter in fantasy, do you think?
So ANNA comes in around 100k, so not too hefty in size, but certainly hefty on subject matter. I’ve covered sexual abuse, PTSD, coercive behaviour, narcissism, murder, all in a pretty cover with a pretty name! Looks can definitely be deceiving…
With the actual word count of fantasy, no, I don’t think size does matter. If your story is told and it evokes the emotions/response you want – it’s done. I LOVE long over-arching storylines and worlds that go on and on, but equally those standalone novels and short stories are just as satisfying.
2. Of all your books and short stories, do you have a favourite… or do you love all your children equally?
Hmmm, I think I can comfortably say I love them in different ways! In Search of Gods and Heroes (ISOGAH) was my very first novel and so, as if the way with the eldest, it holds a special place in my heart. ANNA was my second and so vastly different that it’s impossible to say whether I love one more than the other! Technically, I would say ANNA is more focussed as it’s entirely one POV, whereas ISOGAH is told from 8 interweaving viewpoints…
3. Readers always ask authors where they get their ideas or inspiration. Do you have a muse? What’s your secret?
No real muse (God, I’m boring!) but I draw influence from everything around me: real-life work, politics, history, TV, literature, you name it! I love to think ‘what if…’ and mash ideas together.
With In Search of Gods and Heroes I thought ‘What if the goddess of Love was a masochist?’ and started to develop the character that way.
With ANNA, I initially wanted to write a light-hearted dystopia with revenge and romance… but it became something much darker and as I work investigating domestic and sexual abuse I started to realise that I could write something different. I drew on my experiences at work and the story unfolded from there.
4. Who’s your favourite fantasy author now deceased? Why them?
I think I’ll bypass some of the more famous authors and go for Sara Douglass. The Axis Trilogy was released during my teen years, and I think it was around 2000 I picked up the series and fell back in love with fantasy. It’s ‘old school’ in plot and pace, but it’s nostalgic and I love it.
5. Who’s your favourite living fantasy author and why (apart from Tom Lloyd or A J Dalton)?
Hmm, tough one. I have two favourites. Jacqueline Carey and Ian Irvine.
Jacqueline’s use of language is just beautiful and poetic, and her world-building is second to none, whereas I love how Ian can merge science fiction and fantasy seamlessly. They’re both ‘epic’ fantasy writers, though.
6. What’s the best thing about being an author?
Creating new worlds and characters that feel alive. It gives me a mini god complex! Oh the power!!! *evil laugh*
7. And the worst?
The crippling self-doubt, the knock-backs and rejections. It’s tough out there, especially for newish authors like me. I’ve been exceptionally lucky so far in that Rebellion publishing took my novel direct from me as I’m unagented.
8. What are you currently working on that you can tell us about without then having to kill us?
I’ve had loads of projects in various stages of development for years. Having kids stalled all of them! However I’m slowly flexing my writing muscles again and working on a standalone novel in the same world as ANNA but this time we focus on someone who is outwardly strong but inside they’re falling apart. We have drugs, slavery, murder, bit of romance, disabilities and a world of grief.
9. If people want to find out more about you, what sites do you maintain and what’s your handle on Twitter?
So I’m a technological luddite, so my sister has created a cool site for me at www.sammyhksmith.com but I’m on all the usual social media platforms for the @Sammyhksmith handle.
10. What question have I not asked you that I should have done? And what’s the answer?
Why should we read ANNA?
ANNA is unique. I don’t say that out of ego. It really is. I couldn’t find a book to compare it to that covers PTSD and sexual abuse so closely in the fantasy arena. There are some outstanding novels that cover childhood sexual abuse in a fantasy setting, but not many that delve into domestic abuse and the trauma that Anna goes through.
It’s hard-hitting. It’s not an easy read. I make no apologies for that. Rape isn’t easy for a survivor and I want people to think about how Anna behaves and the path she takes. It really is proving to be a Marmite love/hate novel and I find it interesting how it sparks of such strong feelings one way or another.
If you’re looking for something revenge-driven, Rambo style shootings and loud displays of vengeance, then this probably isn’t for you.
If you want something that makes you think, and draws out emotions, then give it a try.
Following the derivative self-indulgence of episode 1 of season 3 (which should have been entitled ‘The Michael Burnham Show’), it was a real relief to watch an episode that was actually an ensemble piece involving the wider crew of the Discovery. And it’s a proper old-school away-mission sort of episode! (Alright, it does steal its Wild West aesthetic from Firefly, but we can allow that, eh?) The Discovery crash lands on a mining colony and is in a race against time to make repairs before the ‘parasitic ice’ of the place can overrun the ship and snap it in two! Saru and Tilly head out to make contact with the locals, to see if they can scrounge some vital components… arriving in a Wild West sort of cantina to find that the locals really aren’t too friendly, and don’t really ‘believe’ in the Federation. Then, the system’s bad boy (Zareh) turns up, played ably by Jake Weber, no less. He’s looking to cannibalise the Discovery, especially once he learns there’s dilithium on board! Cue laser action and Georgiou finally earning her spurs! At last Michelle Yo is allowed to draw on some of her martial prowess (because, let’s face it, character-acting really isn’t her main strength)! I’m gonna stop there, so that I avoid any major spoilers. Suffice it to say, this episode restored my faith somewhat. Hurrah! (The only ‘lame’ plotting really was the stuff with Stamets in a Jefferies tube… but let’s chalk it up to homage and let them off on that.) I’d score the episode a solid 7.5 out of 10. Boldly go, Discovery!
Right, so episode 1 of the new season is called ‘That Hope Is You’ but, quite frankly, they should have called it ‘A New Hope’, given how much it borrows from Star Wars… not to mention Alien Mine, the BSG episode when Starbuck is marooned, and even Doctor Who! For all that, though, this season is all the better for borrowing from sci-fi that still has some credibility. If you recall, season 2 really lost its way… in so many, many ways. Spock was lost, the actors were lost most of the time, and the majority of it certainly left me at a loss… and bereft, too.
Season 3, sensibly, is a complete and utter departure from the universe that originally birthed it. Burnham (still painfully over-acting and emoting – she was meant to have been raised as a Vulcan, believe it or not, not that you’d ever know it from the way she’s constantly booing her eyes out) is propelled a thousand years into the future, along with the Discovery. Except Burnham hits a ship in the wormhole, crash lands on a nearby planet and loses all contact with the ship. Now, the whole series seems to be about her discovering the Discovery again! So it threatens to be the Burnham show throughout. Yikes. Remember your strengths Star Trek! It’s an ensemble show. Burnham is too annoying on her own to carry things!
Anyway, in the future, we learn, the Federation no longer exists. Gasp. Cue sobbing. You see, the Burn happened, during which all dilithium became unstable, or something like that, destroying all star ships in the universe! Ooops. So we’re in a post-apocalyptic junkyard future like Star Wars. Honestly, it’s so Tantooine it’s ridiculous. Still Burnham then sets about improvising a new crew for herself, based on people she meets along the way, like the cowardly lion, the tin man, the scarecrow, an animal whisperer called Book, a maine coon cat called Grudge (he COMPLETELY steals the show) and a Federation wannabe called Mr. Sahil.
This show isn’t perfect, and it does a bit of shameless flag flying at the end of the episode… but it’s timing feels right, as the US election nears and COVID closes in around us. Hope is exactly what we need. Well played, Discovery!
No wonder Bird Box has been one of the most viewed movies in the world during lockdown! This scif-fi/horror film sees humankind struggling to survive when sight of the ‘monster’ outside causes insanity and a suicide pandemic. You can only get about with your eyes covered, and you must never open the front door when someone or something knocks! Don’t let it in! It’ll infect you! A pregnant Sandra Bullock(!) works with a groups of desperate strangers (including John Malkovich), and she gets to raise two young children in ‘the new normal’. But her group dies one by one, until she has to go outside with her kids to try and get them to some sort of safety. They have to deal with all manner of hazard and marauder!
Honestly, it’s a great great movie that plays with your mind. It’s utterly relatable. And the ending is a triumph. I flaming loved it. 9.5 out of 10. My missis doesn’t tend to like horror, but even she enjoyed it.
So, I’ve written a chapter in the newly published collection from Luna Press: Love in Fantasy and Science Fiction. It’s a cool piece about the ‘bromance’, Kirk and Spock, Frodo and Sam, Han Solo and Luke, etc. Check it out maybe!
Based on the Valiant comic book, the sci-fi movie Bloodshot is an updated Universal Soldier, which of course is an updated Frankenstein story, which is of course an updated Pinocchio story, which of course is an updated Satan-rebelling-against-God-as-maker story. But Frankenstein is the Ur science fiction story that seems most conspicuous here. Vin Diesel plays the animated corpse – and he’s quite convincing as a corpse. All the actors around him have to work particularly hard to keep him animated, as it happens. The fact that he’s incapable of any inflection or intonation in his voice does make you wonder if he’s even capable of any emotion (or thought) behind those tiny eyes of his. The mad scientist of the piece is played by Guy Pearce, who really doesn’t have much to work with.
Now, you may say that I should have expected the film to be pretty pants, given that it’s a Vin Diesel vehicle. But I’d have to come back with Pitch Black and the Chronicles of Riddick – both decent sci-fis with the big guy in the lead role. Bloodshot‘s all a bit of a shame, really, because some of the early plot twists are quite decent, and the action sequences are visually impressive (although without any genuine jeopardy). Were it not for VD, it could all have been that bit better.
Plot? There is one of a sort. A dead soldier is resurrected by a scientist and used as a self-repairing (nanobots/nanites) killing machine. The machine is driven by a desire for revenge based on false memories. But the machine then becomes properly self-aware and wants to break free of its murderous programming! There’s one decent scene between monster and maker, where the maker nearly convinces the monster that having clear orders, purpose and direction in ‘life’ is far better than being entirely free. VD grunts and groans his way through it all, failing to grasp the more complex philosophical implications of it all, and then kills everyone and everything. The end.
Is there any point watching it at all? Should you save yourself 1hr40mins? Well, fans of Eiza Gonzalez will find the movie pleasant viewing, so there is that. Otherwise, it scores 5 out of 10 from me.
Fans of The Good Place and the Matt Damon movie Downsizing will love Upload. It’s got some lovely near-future ideas in it, intelligently balancing the potential positives with the satirically dystopian, and serves up ten tightly-plotted half-hour episodes. I know people who watched all ten episodes back-to-back!
An app developer called Nathan (played by Robbie Amell) is in a driverless car accident and dying. Fortunately, his rich girlfriend is on hand to offer him a digital afterlife – if he’ll just sign here so his consciousness can be uploaded. Against his better judgement, he wakes up to find himself in the hotel of Lake View – a sort of eternal hotel full of awful people. He realises that the afterlife is effectively a prison. But how can he escape the machine? Is there a way to be downloaded back into a living body? And why does he have particular gaps in his memory.
He finds there are precious few ‘people’ he can trust. He has a ‘handler’ who seems nice, although she’s employed by the owners of the Lake View app/digital platform. He’s monitored at all times. And everything seems ‘loaded’ against him.
Sounds dark, right? Actually, it’s very funny and bitter sweet. They’ve got the tone and sense of wonder spot on. Amazon Prime, you’re really leaving Netflix for dead at the mo. During lockdown, the big stuff I’ve been watching has been the Bosch new series, all the series of Elementary and now Upload. I’ve not switched on Netflix in ages. Upload is a 9.9/10 for me.
Decide if each of the statements below is true (T) or false (F).
- Good sci-fi is ‘grounded’.
- A sci-fi novel must include future technology (AI, robots, spaceships, etc) or alien life.
- With sci-fi book sales at an all-time low, the genre is probably less relevant nowadays.
- With its laser guns and robots, sci-fi is all a bit silly.
- As Brian Aldiss said, we don’t really need to read about sci-fi anymore because we live in a world where new technology comes out every week and we don’t really understand how any of it works.
- With its sense of the alien ‘other’, sci-fi is just as important as any other genre.
- Dystopian fiction (e.g. The Hunger Games) satirises today’s society.
- Sci-fi doesn’t need strong characterisation or a particularly logical plot.
- ‘Realist sci-fi’ like The Martian (the Matt Damon movie) isn’t as progressive as other types of sci-fi.
Answers: 1T, 2T, 3F, 4F, 5T, 6T, 7T, 8F, 9F
The statements and answers above give us some particular insights about sci-fi. Firstly, although it’s less popular in terms of its literature than it once was, it’s as popular as ever in terms of TV and film. Therefore, if you’re going to write sci-fi, you probably want to be quite filmic in your style and composition.
Sci-fi is not just silly and made up. It captures the very real experience of today’s world (as Mr Aldiss pointed out), including its totalitarian regimes (The Hunger Games/Putin’s Russia), alien invasion (District 9/waves of immigrants) and its genetic plague scenarios (World War Z/Covid-19). It satirises society, it explores situations, it provides warnings (if we would but listen), and it implicitly suggests possible solutions.
Central to sci-fi, however, is the issue of technology. Fundamentally, all sci-fi is about using a new technology (or technological function) to change our lives or the wider world. That ‘vision’ of the future is invaluable to us. Why? How so? Isn’t it just made-up silliness? No, it’s not.
Think about Star Trek, the original series. Are phasers, communicators and nano-technology completely silly and made-up nowadays? Why do you think China banned all sci-fi for 100 years, but now hosts a global sci-fi conference every year? Think.
[If you would like to learn more about all of the above, I would recommend my new title: The Satanic in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Hey! It’s up to you.]
- Imagine you have arrived on a planet where the aliens (the majority) do not welcome humans (the minority). They think humans bring germs. All humans are put into a holding camp. Write the beginning of a story from the perspective of a human in one of the camps…
- Remember ‘the rule of 5’ for description of the setting… and ‘the rule of 5’ for describing a character… and the 6-step plot that requires a moral dilemma at the start (previous lessons)…
- Discuss or plan things for 5mins…
- And then write the opening paragraph or two… GO!
If you’d like me to look at your attempt, please do feel free to email me (Adam): adz_d2003 @ yahoo.co.uk – deleting the two spaces either side of the @ sign.
I’ll be posting a new lesson every day (Monday-Friday), to help people who are stuck at home because of the coronavirus situation. These mini-lessons will give you a useful daily routine, and might just keep you sane! Stay safe.
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