Tim Reynolds is one of the four Alberta authors to grace the pages of Tesseracts 17 (already available on Amazon).
CA: Tim, your story “Why Pete?” struck us right away as being true science fiction. It wasn’t a veneer and it had a ray of hope. A lot of space SF seems to be laden with gloom or madness, and yours could have been but you resisted. Was it pure coincidence or did you plan it?
Both, actually. I already write a lot of gloom and madness with my horror (and a new fantasy novel I’m planning) so my science fiction tends to be a bit brighter and upbeat. Of course there will always be death and danger and heartbreak in my stories, but that’s the nature of life. With “Why Pete?”, the upbeat nature sort of came out of the situation. It may sound corny, but once I decided that the hero was female and the computer voice was male, the banter between the characters dictated the tone. It was supposed to be a bit dark and claustrophobic, but when I asked how a well-trained, professional commander would truly react, humour and hope shone through. The last thing I wanted was a screaming, crying cliche. The ending was not planned in detail prior to the writing. I wrote the story and when I got to the part where it all needed to be tied up, gloom and despair just didn’t seem to fit as well as hope. To be honest, my stories ALL end with hope. It may not be the hope the reader or characters expect at the beginning of the story, but there is hope. I’m also known for killing all my characters, some with dignity and some without any grace or style whatsoever. Que sera sera.
CA: Too many SF movies deal with technology doing the characters in? Why do you suppose that is?
I believe that when technology is “doing the characters in” in a film, it’s not SF (or at least not sci fi), it’s horror, or maybe a thriller. If the technology can be replaced with a werewolf, a shark, a dream dude with razor-sharp gloves, or a former camper in a goalie mask, then it’s a horror story written in a science fiction/science environment. The technology can then be symbolic of whatever aspect of mankind (racism, corporations, dictators, religion, etc.) the filmmaker wants to take a shot at. Now, in Alien (the perfect horror film set in space), the technology “doing man in” is actually the android, who sees the pursuit of knowledge as the purest of endeavours, and greater than the needs and wants of the individuals. I think we also use technology as the antagonist in order to avoid offending any particular group (ie., people not of the race, creed, colour, religion, political stance, height, weight, or dietary alignment of the author/filmmaker). Technology is simply a common threat outside mankind, like alien beings. Even slasher films portray their killers as something much less than human. It’s how we can tell such horrific stories and still have the readers come back for more. The sad thing is that worse horrors are perpetrated in reality by “the nice person next door” than any imagined monster or tech in film or literature.
CA: Do you think SF is getting a bad rep these days?
I think Science Fiction has always had a bad rep, because when it’s badly done it’s horrible; but when it’s well-executed, it asks questions and makes proposals and puts forth ideas that scare the hell out of the people whose jobs it is to maintain the order they’ve designed and must maintain. In my mind, good science fiction should shake up the status quo, at least a little bit. If you haven’t pissed off at least one or two people with your story’s ideas/concepts, then you haven’t done your job as a SF writer. I do this in my fantasy as well. I think that a story lacking a belief system (politics, religious, scientific) and something attacking it, is missing an entire layer that takes the story from an enjoyable read to topic of discussion and argument. In my recently submitted novel, I have a character compare Jesus Christ to Adolf Hitler. That sounds incredibly daring out of context, but in fact it fits with the over-all conversation. Of course it’s also meant to infuriate people and have them screaming at me. Even if they’re discussing it negatively, they’re discussing it. “Why Pete?” is not particularly controversial, though, unless you count Lilly and Pete’s different points of view on marital fidelity.
CA: You mentioned that you were looking at a phobia. Do you have other stories where you explore phobias and ones process into or through them?
No, not really. I should clarify that the phobia of being buried alive which inspired “Why Pete?” is not meant to be the character’s phobia, but the reader’s. There’s no way Commander Rayn would have been sent into space if she were claustrophobic, at least in my story. Instead, I want the reader to be terrified and sweating and not coping well in the situation, while the character keeps a level head and solves the problem at hand. In part, the story is meant to say that logic, patience, and a few deep breaths are more effective than freaking out, so calm down and solve the problem. I do enjoy using fear as a motivator, though. None of us know what is beyond death, so that’s always the first one I play with. I have an entire novel, though, where every one of the “team” of heroes is reincarnated whenever they die, so the fear they are working with is that their failure means the deaths of of tens of thousands of others who do NOT get reincarnated. Although I don’t treat it as a paralyzing phobia, I do cripple some of the characters with an overwhelming fear of failure, over and over again. And then I gave the hero MS, just to up the stakes a bit.
CA: In your ideal future of space travel, what would you hope to see and do (presuming that it could be there tomorrow)?
If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would reserve a seat on a shuttle into space, even for 30 seconds of weightlessness. On a bigger scale than my own self-satisfaction, though, I would love to see mankind find efficient and safe ways to colonize space before it’s too late and we’ve beaten ourselves down so far that there’s no money for space exploration any more. I would love to see us also take more risks and push the envelope like the early astronauts did for both Russia and the USA. We will not go as far as we need to by playing it too safe. My story, “Why Pete?”, actually describes where I want us to be going. Mankind should explore and populate the stars. That’s the ideal, what I hope for.
The reality I foresee is much darker and far less positive. I live like an optimist, but I have a great deal of faith in the self-righteous dregs of humanity finding a way to ruin our future. I don’t see a way to fix it and it’s a problem I’m currently wresting with in the sibling-novel (is that a term? I mean a novel set in the same universe with the same backstory, but in a different location and a different set of characters) of “Why Pete?”.
Tim Reynolds is a Canadian twistorian, bending and twisting history into fictional shapes for sheer entertainment. His published stories range from lighthearted urban fantasy to turn-on-the-damned-lights-now horror, and include the story of a bus driver who kills all his passengers, a tale of a dying folk singer’s moments teaching Death a love song, and a dark, depressing view of the near future of reality TV and child-rearing. His first love, though, is science fiction and is working diligently at his first science fiction novel, while marketing an urban fantasy and editing the first draft of a paranormal romance.