Sunday, April 29, 2018

Interview with David M. Kelly, author of Perimeter

Today, the Speculative Fiction Showcase welcomes David M. Kelly, whose new release, Perimeter, we featured on April 21st. 

1. Tell us about the Joe Ballen sci-fi thriller series. Is Ballen a hero or an anti-hero, in your view?
Joe is a hero, but a reluctant one, and doesn’t like people to think of him that way. He’s a very pragmatic character who tends to feel that he just does what has to be done to survive. He’s also very cynical and knows that in reality most people are very much a mixture of good and bad traits. His cynicism results in plenty of snarky humor, but he knows when to be serious too.

2. Your first book in the series is called Mathematics of Eternity.  Is there anything readers new to the series need to know?
Perhaps the most important thing is that it’s not necessary to understand mathematics! The title relates to a scientific theory one of the characters believes, but both books in the series are very approachable. The Joe Ballen universe is set in the near future around 150 years from now. Much of the action in book 1 takes place in flooded out Baltimore, whereas book 2 is largely set in space.

3. How important is your interest in science to your writing? 
Very. I’ve been a science devotee since I was  young, and it was that interest that first got me hooked on science fiction. That said, I keep my books  focused on solid storytelling with strong plots and characters. The science is there and as correct as I can make it, but it’s more behind the scenes rather than “in your face.”

4. Are there any challenges specific to writing a mystery/thriller set in space?
I think that there’s always a temptation to pull solutions out of a technical hat, which in my mind is unsatisfying. The characters need to solve things for themselves, and that’s very much a part of Joe and several of the characters in the books. You need to lay down the clues and clearly establish the “world” so that readers don’t feel cheated by some “Deus ex-machina” ending.

5. When creating the character of Joe Ballen, were you influenced by any previous crime or thriller series, from Sherlock Holmes to Phillip Marlowe to Bond?
That’s an interesting question, as I’m a fan of all of those characters, especially Holmes, and there are undoubtedly influences in there. Joe is in some ways very much a “scientific” puzzle solver. As an engineer he works through problems methodically to reach conclusions, but he also has much of the world weariness of a Marlowe or Sam Spade.

6. As a writer of science fiction, how important is it for you to get the science right?
For me it’s a big part of my writing. For some of my short stories I relax things somewhat, but the Ballen novels are all as realistic and plausible as I can make them. I do take a couple of shortcuts here and there, nothing impossible, but beyond the current boundaries of science. Sometimes this involves a lot of research though most of that stays “behind the scenes” and may only appear in an actual story as a few words here and there—but they’re the “right” words as far as I can make them.

7. You talk in your bio about watching the moon landing on TV. How do you think space exploration and its legacy has affected your writing?
The moon landing was very important to me and kickstarted my interest in science and ultimately science fiction. Even now I love watching rocket launches and would love to see one “in the flesh,” and if there were ever an opportunity to take one? Well, I’d be there in a flash! I like to think that my writing reflects this passion, not only for the idea of space flight but also in the importance of “keeping it real” as much as possible.

8. If the opportunity arose, would you like to go to Mars, and why?
There’s a lot of focus on Mars currently, which is nice to see, though I’m not sure it’s a good next step for us. The moon is a lot closer and would be perhaps a better testing and development ground for the mechanics of living and surviving on another world. But of course, the space romantic in me goes wild at the idea of hopping to Mars and stepping out on the surface of another planet. Mars has been such a place of mystery from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds through Burroughs’ John Carter/Barsoom series and Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles all the way up until The Martian. Mars is so tantalizingly close to earth, and yet also so different and enigmatic. 

9. What is your view of mega-series like Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5 and the rest? It is hard to underestimate their importance to our culture. Do you think this fascination will continue?
I’ve never been a big fan of Star Wars. The special effects are undoubtedly impressive, but I always felt the stories were simplistic and underdeveloped. I was much more of a fan of Star Trek, but even with that I have an uneven relationship with it. I liked the original series when I was younger and also the original cast movies. After that the only version that grabbed me was Deep Space Nine, which I felt was the best Star Trek they’ve ever done because of the deeper characters and story-telling. As you say, these series have had a huge impact on our culture as a whole though, and I’m sure that attraction will continue. People tend to like what they’re familiar with and so will undoubtedly keep things boiling over. For me though, I think both of the franchises have perhaps been around too long for their own good. I’d like to see them doing something different as they seem to be getting very “samey.” The Abrams Star Trek tries to do this, but for me it also in a sense tries to spoil what has “gone before” ((ba-ding-tish!) rather than working in sympathy with the original material. To me we need less “rebooting” and more original thinking that extends and builds on the originals. I might be in a minority on this, but I think that the field of science/speculative fiction is now so broad and rich that the domination of such big franchises is something of a detriment to the community as a whole.

10. What are you views on extra-terrestrial life forms? Is there any evidence of alien life, and have they visited Earth, or is the jury still out?
I don’t believe aliens have ever visited Earth. I think the idea is more a reflection of our own selfish anthropomorphic tendencies. It’s certainly interesting to speculate on the idea from a fictional point of view, but I’ve seen no convincing evidence. On the other side of things, I am absolutely sure that we aren’t alone in the Universe. There are so many stars, so many planets out there, that it seems to me the chances of Earth being the only planet to develop life, even intelligence, is very unlikely. The problem comes in the area of distance, both spatially and historically. As Douglas Adams said “Space is big. Really big.” And it may be that any intelligence out there is simply so far away that we could never interact, making us practically “alone” even if not mathematically. Also the Universe has been around for billions of years and as far as we know will continue as far into the future, so any intelligence may also be isolated by vast periods of time. This makes for a very lonely situation here on Earth, and I hope life isn’t quite that rare, but it also highlights how precious and vulnerable life is here, and why we need to all value it highly.

11. What is your writer’s day and how do you relax?
The day varies somewhat depending what stage I’m at in the publishing phase. I like to write first thing though, as that’s when I feel most creative. I aim to put in a solid morning working on producing new words, then later I will work on some of the more ancillary aspects of writing—promotion, marketing, graphical work among other mundane tasks. I find it a little difficult to relax as my mind tends to be always working on new ideas. Relaxation for me comes from reading scientific news articles, hiking and (in summer!) swimming, I also have a 1991 Corvette ZR-1 that I love to drive and always brings a smile to my face.

12. What about the current spate of Science Fiction films – any that must be seen, or must be avoided?
You’re really picking some of my pet peeves here 😊 I’m not impressed by much of what is coming out of Hollywood at the moment, and not just in the science fiction genre. The industry as a whole seems to have largely forgotten the basics of plotting, character development and story mechanics and replaced it with CGI. I like CGI, I make my own book trailers using that technology, but I don’t connect emotionally with a bunch of pixels. Superhero movies seem to be the dominant “science fiction” fashion now, but to me they’ve been around too long and are all looking the same. Also movies are getting far too long in a bizarre kind of cinematic “my movie’s longer than yours” pissing contest—which would be okay if they were filling them with quality content, but instead it’s just “lets pack in more CGI.” TV seems to be doing a little better, and it’s nice to see more original series becoming available. I enjoyed the Childhood’s End mini-series, and there are several others in development that look interesting such as Pohl’s “Gateway” and a show based on Asimov’s Foundation series (if it ever gets made). 

13. Have you got any contemporary science fiction favourites?
I read a lot of indie books these days and am currently enjoying Stormhaven Rising  by Eric Michael Craig. Christina McMullen is another great indie SFF author who produces consistently readable books, and I’m working through her Kyrobi trilogy. I’m also looking forward to trying Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, which sounds similar to my thoughts in the Joe Ballen series in some ways. I’m also planning on picking up Andy Weir’s new Artemis novel, and John Scalzi is always worth reading.

14. What is your next project, and can you tell us about it?
I’m currently working on a novel set in the same universe as the Joe Ballen series, but later on in time.  It involves a group of people who get shipwrecked on a planet and has plenty of suspense. I’m also working on book 3 in the Joe Ballen series.

About David M. Kelly:

David M. Kelly writes intelligent, action-packed science fiction. He is the author of the Joe Ballen sci-fi thriller series and the short story collection Dead Reckoning And Other Stories. He has been published in Canadian SF magazine Neo-opsis.

David’s interest in science and technology began early. At the age of six his parents allowed him to stay up late into the night to watch the television broadcast of Neil Armstrong stepping on to the surface of the moon. From that day he was hooked on everything related to science and space.

An avid reader, he worked his way through the contents of the mobile library that visited his street, progressing through YA titles (or ‘juveniles’ as they were known back then) on to the classics of Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Harry Harrison.

David worked for many years in project management and software development. Along the way his interests have included IPSC combat (target) pistol shooting, crew chief on a drag racing team, and several years as bass player/vocalist in a heavy rock band. He also managed to fit in some real work in manual jobs from digging ditches and work on production lines to loading trucks in a haulage company.

Originally from the wild and woolly region of Yorkshire, England, David emigrated to Canada in 2005 and settled in Northern Ontario with his patient and supportive wife, Hilary. Foot surgery in 2014 temporarily curtailed many of his favourite activities – hiking, camping, piloting his own personal starfighter (otherwise known as a Corvette ZR-1). But on the plus side, it meant a transition from the world of IT into life as a full-time writer—an opportunity he grasped enthusiastically.

David is passionate about science, especially astronomy and physics, and is a rabid science news follower. Never short of an opinion, David writes about science and technology on his blog He has supported various charity projects such as the Smithsonian’s Reboot The Suit and the Lowell Observatory Pluto Telescope Restoration. He also contributes to citizen science projects such as SETI@home.

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