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Interview with Faith author John Love

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Interview with Faith author John Love

Toward the end of last year I read and reviewed a space opera debut from Night Shade Books -- Faith by John Love.  The basic premise is that 300 years ago an unidentified ship visited the Sakhran Empire and left it devastated.  One Sakhran recognized the ship for what She was and wrote the Book of Srahr.  When they read it, the Sakhran's turned away from each other, sending their Empire into a slow but irreversible decline.  They called Her, Faith.  Now She's back, threatening the human Commonwealth and the only thing standing in Her way is the Charles Manson.

I found the novel captivating and I felt compelled to chat with the author a bit about what he was trying to accomplish.  Check it out!  You can find out more about John Love on his website.

Justin: The thumbprint of Moby Dick is all over Faith.  There are also a lot of of other influences, some of which I saw and others I'm sure I didn't.  What made you want to bring those influences into a classic SF setting?

Love: In my bio notes for Nightshade I said that science fiction books are among the first I can remember reading, and they’ll probably be among the last.  I love the genre, in all its forms.  Whenever I have an idea for a book, SF is the automatic default option for expressing it.  The genre gives more freedom to make philosophical or political points – and it makes for a good read.  I’m currently writing a second novel, and again I turned automatically to SF as the best medium for saying what I want.  It will be a kind of political thriller, but with strange edges.  I set it in the future (about fifty years from now) so I can play with ideas about how politics, economics, technology, culture and religion could develop by then.

Moby Dick is a great novel on so many levels: a literary work, a page-turner, an examination of character, even a social commentary.  It was a huge influence, but not the only one.  Faith was pitched as a mixture of some of the elements of Moby Dick and Kafka.  Kafka’s elements are as important as Melville’s in the book; and there are other things as well.

Can I quote from a post I did for Nightshade, in the Night Bazaar website?
“If Faith has any political resonances, they’re at best oblique. But I hope it has some other resonances. About identity and free will: what makes us what we are, and what makes us what we do. About love and friendship: what forces bring us together, or keep us apart, and why we don’t recognise them. And about the absence of simple good and evil: the complexities which make each of them part of each other.”
Those are some of the other things I wanted to put in the book.

Justin: In my review, I point out a kind of commentary on the Gene Roddenberry concept of SF. I felt like you referenced it in the way you structured the Charles Manson, the deep characters on the bridge, and the faceless crew beyond it.  Was that conscious or am I seeing things?

Love: Not really consciously. The only time I can remember thinking of possible Star Trek parallels, while I was writing Faith, was when it occurred to me that some of the main characters on the Bridge of the Charles Manson had functions similar to those on the Bridge of the Enterprise: Pilot, Engineering, Weapons, Communications. And also that there was a Bridge. I considered trying to alter these things, but decided it would be too artificial. A warship like the Charles Manson would naturally have them. Also, the Charles Manson’s function, and the characters of those on the Bridge, were very different. The Charles Manson’s smaller size, cramped interior and almost totally absent crew were further differences. On the Enterprise there are frequent scenes of the main characters walking through wide corridors with other crew members, socialising in the canteen and holodeck, chatting in the elevator and so on. The Charles Manson doesn’t do any of that.

I can’t absolutely discount your suggestion of a possible dark satire of the Enterprise, but it wasn’t a conscious intention.

Justin: I got a bit of chuckle out Patrick Stewart of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame playing Ahab in a Moby Dick film. Is it possible that film germinated Faith?

Love: I’d like to say yes because it’s such a nice sideways leap, but I’ve never seen that film. I’ve always thought that the 1956 movie, with Gregory Peck as Ahab, is the definitive version. I’ve never really wanted to see any others.

Patrick Stewart’s a great actor, though. He was wonderful as Jean-Luc Picard, and I’ve seen him on stage in London in Shakespearean roles and in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. But his Moby Dick movie wasn’t on my radar.

Justin: I've already heard some rumblings from the hard SF fans that your physics are fuzzy.  It seems like these complaints crop up time and again when it comes to SF stories.  When you set out to write this kind of book, how much time did you spend trying to get that stuff right?

Love: Science isn’t entirely out of my background. I went to Keele University in the English Midlands. At the time I was there (it’s changed now) the degree course lasted four years, not three, and Keele required every degree to cover a mix of subjects from the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Sciences. My main subjects were English Literature and Politics, and my subsidiary subjects included Chemistry and Geology. So science wasn’t my major area, but it wasn’t absent either.

In a way I hope my physics are fuzzy. There are three good reasons for my not wanting to go into exhaustive detail on the physics:
  1. I’m not a physicist: I couldn’t do it properly
  2. It would be obsolete in a few years
  3. It would clog up the narrative
  4. The way I’d do it, it would be boring.
Four good reasons. I’m not a mathematician, either.

But again, here’s the wonder of the SF genre. If you have thoughts about how subjects will develop (not just science or technology, but politics or religion or virtually anything you’re interested in enough to have contemplated where it might be going) then an SF setting gives you the freedom to explore and play with those thoughts. It’s not impossible in other genres, but it’s more possible in SF.

So I don’t have a specialist scientific background, but I know enough about it to have contemplated where it might be going. I did science subjects as subsidiary parts of my degree, and over the years I’ve read some of the standard texts: Einstein, Hawking, Planck, Heisenberg, Newton (honestly! I made myself read all 500-plus pages of the Principia Mathematica). I’m an interested lay person or non-science person – interested enough to want to use my thoughts on it to illuminate a work of fiction, but cautious enough not to want to make it the reason for that work of fiction. It’s there for the book, but the book isn’t there for it.

Justin: You set out to write some pretty despicable people. More and more, we're starting to see the kinds of characters in both SF and fantasy. Why do you think this might be?

Love: I didn’t set out, right from the start, to write some despicable characters. They sort of grew out of the demands of the story as I was writing.

I set out to describe a battle between two apparently invincible opponents.  Two ships, one of human origin and one unknown, locked together in a battle so immense that it almost tears space-time around it: Irresistible Force meets Irresistible Force. For the “human” ship, the people inside it had to be seriously unusual to make them a serious match for the unknown ship which had defeated every other opponent. When I started thinking about how they might become so unusual, it took me down this path: back stories of social or political or sexual deviance, unusually gifted people who are also Outsiders, in the Albert Camus sense. That led me on to some other things which helped thicken the consistency of the book’s universe: how these people were identified and recruited, how their ships were built and named, how the regular military regarded them, how the rest of humanity regarded them, and so on.

I can only speak for my book, of course. Those characters are there because the story demanded them.

Justin: They certainly felt authentic to me. Did you much research into psychological disorders to write these kinds of characters?

Love: I did some reading (I wouldn’t call it research) on psychological conditions while I was writing the book, not before – because, as I said just now, their characters kind of grew out of the demands of the story. I enjoyed creating them, because they seemed to strike sparks off each other. I’d expected it to be difficult to represent them, but the natural chemistry between them made it less difficult. At times I felt they were writing their own dialogue!

Justin: Faith, I think, reflects a deep seeded interest in philosophy and metaphysics. While I recognize the presence of it in the novel, it's not a strong suit of mine. Is there a particular philosopher that you reference in the novel that might provide your readers with some more context?

Like science subjects, philosophy formed a subsidiary part of my University degree (it was a subset of one of my two main subjects, Politics). Also, like science subjects, it was something I continued reading after University.

I wanted Faith to have a philosophical dimension as well as action sequences.  The philosophical dimension was something I wanted as a looming sense of menace.  I didn’t have any particular philosopher in mind, but with hindsight maybe I was thinking of Marx’s economic forces or Darwin’s Natural Selection: an overarching, faceless force, but morally enigmatic.  I tried to avoid a simple clash of good and evil.

Like the characters on the Bridge, I wanted the philosophy and action sequences to be increasingly strange – to strike sparks off each other, and illuminate each other in the process.

Justin: Do you have a book deal in place in the UK yet?

Love: Not yet, but I’m hoping the book will do well enough Over There to attract some interest Over Here.  I’d love to see someone reading it on a train, or browsing it in a bookshop’s SF department.  We British tend not to speak to each other unless we’re introduced, but I’d find it impossible not to start a conversation!

Justin: Thanks for joining me John!

Love: Thank you too, Justin – for your review, for your interest in the book, and for seeing so much of what I wanted it to say.

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At January 17, 2012 at 2:29 PM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Thanks Justin.

This wasn't really on my radar until the excerpt SF Signal put up.

Showing that reviews like yours are good, excerpts, tidbits and interviews are also good!


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