Friday, 28 March 2014

Interview with Christian Schoon (+ extract + giveaway)

Today I have an interview with Christian Schoon, author of Zenn Scarlett and the newly-released Under Nameless Stars. As part of the blog tour organised by Strange Chemistry (the publisher, aka the YA imprint of Angry Robot), I also have an extract of Under Nameless Stars to share and you can enter to win copies of the books (ebook or physical, whichever is your preference, open worldwide) and a Name Your Own Star Gift Package. Interview is first, and scroll down for the extract and the competition.



Zenn Scarlett is set on Mars, while for Under Nameless Stars Zenn spends most of her time in space. Why Mars and was it always your intention to split the story into two books with very distinct settings?

First off, thanks for letting me drop in and hang around here on the blog. A little daunting, of course. You: Spacer Guild-certified astrophysicist. Me: author pretending to know something about space/ exoplanets/Alcubierre quantum bubbles as generated by a living biological system. But I’m hoping you’ll be gentle… So, the original book was a long, single arc. I wrote it without spending any time worrying about word count (I suspected I’d need to address the length issue eventually, but I let the initial manuscript be as long as it wanted to be.)

When it came time to put the beast onto the market, it was clear that it needed to be broken into two books. The logical dotted line to cut along in order to separate the two novels, as you’ve noted, wasn’t hard to spot: Mars… Not Mars. Why Mars? It’s had its ruddy finger tapping me on the shoulder ever since reading Edgar Rice Burroughs in grade school. Also, I’d always loved an old, under-appreciated classic sci-fi flick called Robinson Crusoe on Mars, directed by Byron Haskin (who also directed Disney’s original Treasure Island, a book that worked its way into Under Nameless Stars in the character of my chimpish Loepith, Charlie; he has more than a bit of the shipwrecked Ben Gunn about him. Thanks, Mr. Stevenson.) And, many of the alien life forms being treated at the Ciscan Cloister exovet clinic on Mars are big. Really big. Too big to get around in Earther gravity. The lower gravity on Mars gave a little added plot-motive to have such a facility located there (plus, a number of the big critters are aquatic, which also helps).

Zenn is a novice exoveterinarian, a profession that I don't think I've read about before. Where did the inspiration for this come from?

I hadn’t run into any other exovets in sci fi either, though there were a few exobiologists. As for Zenn, after leaving LA where I’d written film studio ad copy and scripts for teen/tween TV shows, my wife and I moved to the Midwest (where I had other family members), bought a farm, and started hosting various animals in various barns, sheds and pastures. Ended up volunteering with equine and wildlife rescue groups. Have had everything from mountain lions and black bears to draft horses and ferrets on the farm and, in connection with that activity, have met and gotten to know a number of small and large-animal veterinarians. One of these, our personal vet, impressed me with her utter fearlessness working with exotics like 17-foot Burmese pythons, cobras, rattlesnakes and water moccasins (her husband’s a herpetologist). Mix in my life-long fascination with space travel, evolution, exobiology and sci fi adventure tales, and, as if by magic: a 17-year-old novice exoveterinarian studying at a science-based cloister on a future, borderline-dystopian Mars.

Zenn deals with all sorts of unusual alien-animals — and aliens! — in the series. How much biological research did you have to do to be able to write about them?

Actually, I’m glad to say that the above mentioned interaction with animals and their caretakers/vets supplied me with a working knowledge of the basic biology needed in writing the books. That and a stint as a writer for a med school paper during college years. Plus, I’ve just always been interested in biology, wild animals, anthropology and evolution and have read a gazillion books on these and related topics. And, finally, I just fill in the gaps by making up the stuff I don’t already know and try to make it all sound credible.  Take an alien like the Cepheian ambassador. She’s basically a sort of crustacean suspended beneath a shell-like envelope full of methane and other nasty smelling, internally generated, lighter-than-air gases. Because Cepheians inhabit the sparsely populated upper atmosphere of a gas giant planet, females of her species rarely encounter a male member of the species. So, her male “consorts” are permanently attached to her and float in small, fluid-filled translucent globes girdling her body. Totally outlandish? Yeah, but there are abyssal fish here on Earth that have evolved exactly this solution to the problem of finding a mate in the vast and mostly empty undersea realm they inhabit. So, while the aliens and alien animals in both books are often bizarre, I generally try to somehow blend the out-there sci fi/speculative elements with something familiar to give my Earther readers some solid footing to stand on.

Are we going to see any more stories set in this world? What are you currently working on / what can we expect to see from you next?

I’ve roughed out the outline of Zenn’s next adventure. It involves the world where the Kirans have built their palaces and villages on the backs of humongous drifting sunkillers. But that book is having a cage fight right now with a few other projects I’ve got in the works, all involving sci fi worlds or Earth-bound monsters.

Finally, you have two very awesome covers for these books. Is there a story behind them? Did you get to have any input?

The cover art for both books got a lot of love from readers. I’d like to say they were both my idea, but… nope. As a debut author, I had very little input. I made some suggestions for the first book. These were ignored. And that turned out for the best. For Under Nameless Stars, I made suggestions based on the image for book one, and one of those suggestions was accepted, but since it grew out of the first cover, I can’t claim it as mine. I’m just glad the art-elves at Strange Chemistry are as talented as they are.

Thank-you for taking the time to answer my questions!

It was great to have a chance to share some author/book/science fictional stuff with your readers. Zenn very much appreciates. Cheers!

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For a chance to win a copy (ebook or physical – your choice!) of both Zenn Scarlett and Under Nameless Stars PLUS a Name Your Own Star Gift Package*, answer the following question:

15. Dr. Mai Scarlett’s lab tech assistant’s name was
  1. Vremya
  2. Sophie
  3. Svetlana
  4. Cher

Write your answer in the Rafflecopter widget below.

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* As an astrophysicist I have to include the disclaimer that naming your own star gives you an entry in a database (and a certificate and other stuff) and will not affect any official IAU (International Astronomical Union) designations. Here's some more info from the gift pack given away in a competition for the first Zenn Scarlett book.

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