Anthony Vicino – Parallel Interview

Not too long ago I finished the novella Parallel by Anthony Vicino – a fun jolt of SF electricity that should be on everyone’s Saturday afternoon reading list. Being a recent convert to his blog One Lazy Robot, I thought I would contact him to see if he wanted to chat about Parallel, writing, and whatever else. He seemed polite enough once I offered to pitch only softball questions at him. Do you think this whole ISIS war is really a distraction by the Illuminati to keep us from realizing that they’ve gotten Hillary Clinton into office?

Oh yeah, typically I have enough ego to think that if I was walking down the street with the average SF author that most people would think that I was the cool one. I’m pretty sure that’s not the case with Anthony. See that pic up there of that guy climbing upside down on that sweet rock arch? Yep, that’s Anthony showing his awesome science fiction writing skills – and he’s cooler than you. So now you should read his interview…

Anthony's writing set up
Anthony’s writing set up & proof he’s from another time

Let’s start with the title Parallel – I like it for its simplicity, yet it seems to have some depth. Did you go through other title choices?

Like Superman, I only have one weakness: naming things. And bullets. But naming things tends to give me more headaches on a day-to-day basis than bullets, so I put it higher on the Things I Really Dislike Having To Deal With list.

With that disclaimer, I’m really glad you approve of Parallel. Typically I’ll fumble through fifty thousand iterations of a title before I settle on the one that feels right—and then about two weeks later somebody will point out a fundamental flaw with whatever name I had my heart set on and then I’ll have to go with whatever was second on the list. Parallel was no exception. Its working title was Masters of the Universe which I thought was an interesting juxtaposition between Hari and Gerald (who think they’re the masters of their own universe) and Ryol and Falia (who are literally running the show). Thankfully somebody pointed out that Masters of the Universe might confuse readers into thinking this was He-Man fan-fic. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but readers would probably leave in a huff of disappointment at the lack of Grayskull references.

One of the reasons I’m so bad at naming things is because I have this obsession with titles that work double duty. In the case of Parallel you get the really obvious connection to parallel universes, but less obvious would be the symmetry in the main characters story arcs.

Hari and Gerald give a fun start to the story. Their friendship helps build the camaraderie of the story. Do you see yourself as one of these guys? Maybe not where they end up, but like someone plugging away at their big break, and hoping not to get killed in the process?

I live in terror of dying on account of my own stupidity. In that way I’ve got a whole lot of Gerald floating around in me. Then again, I’m excitable and prone to poor decision making so I got a little Hari, too. They’re very relatable and that’s part of their appeal. We all know somebody with more brains than common-sense (Hari), and we all know a curmudgeon with a heart-of-gold (Gerald). This makes the story feel familiar and comfortable even though things start getting weird right quick.

Ryol and Falia are a nice “parallel” to these two. Whereas friendship and science seem to bond the guys, the women are bound by family and duty. How was it writing these strong female leads? 

It’s been my experience that women tend to have their shit together more-so than men. That’s pulled directly from a lifetime’s worth of careful analysis, by the way (I’ve got enough sisters to make a really bad-ass human pyramid).

Writing strong female leads is a challenge for me. It requires a lot of conscious thought because I want my lady characters to be informed by their gender, not defined by it. I think sci-fi as a genre has struggled with this in the past, but I think there’s been a lot of positive progress made in recent years as writers become more aware of how nuanced gender relations truly are.

One of the things I love about fiction is getting inside a characters head and experiencing dangerous/novel situations from the relative safety of my sweatpants and hammock. Frankly I get tired of always being inside the head of middle-class white dudes. I’ll take the compelling female lead any time.

I really enjoyed the framework of the parallel dimensions. This sci-fi conceit has been used plenty of times by many different authors and screenwriters, but you used it in a very accessible way. Did you have any inspiration for this? 

If I’d written Parallel forty years ago it would’ve been a solid twenty pages longer filled with dense info-dumping. Readers back then simply didn’t have the frame of reference for it. I’m lucky that in the past twenty years there have been a lot of great television shows (Sliders and Fringe) playing with this very idea. As a story device it’s been flushed out enough in popular culture that you only have to lay the barest groundwork and people can jump right in and hit the ground running.

The inspiration for Parallel came from reading a bunch of Michio Kaku (one of the leading theoretical physicists dealing with Super-String Theory) and tossing around the idea of free-will versus determinism, and imagining a world where those two concepts were not mutually exclusive.

Speaking of well used tropes which was written completely naturally, the Aurora/computer integration. Felt like this was one of the strongest parts of the story background. Your concept of the data integration to the mind just seemed obvious, but I’ve never quite seen it presented this way before. To me it felt like the natural step to where the future of technology is headed. Is that how you see it? Are future humans going to have more interconnection with computers? What’s the basic breakdown of your thought percentages? (i.e.. 5% to breathing, 40% to getting food, 50% wondering if the Marvel universe is actually good or just better than most low brow entertainment the public is fed, etc.)

Oh man, my thought percentages would be so peculiar. I have pretty severe ADHD so I don’t multi-task very well. I work best when I focus one hundred percent on a single task until it’s finished and then move onto the next thing.

The thing I find fascinating about computer integration is that progress in this area is all about improving efficiency. We already interact with our computing systems (smart phones and computers), but we lose so much potential productivity simply as a consequence of how we’re interacting. The logical step is to remove the barrier between computer and brain, creating a symbiotic relationship between the two.

I deal with this concept a lot in my book Time Heist, because the possibilities are limitless. Researchers have already shown such amazing progress in the field of neuroprosthetics (cochlear implants, motor neuroprosthetics that restore movement to individuals with motor disabilities, visual implants) that it’s hard imagining a future where this technology is not as common place as current smart-phones.

P.S. Let me know when you figure out whether or not Marvel is actually any good. This question keeps me up at night. We might need Aurora on this one.

I’m trying to stay away from spoilers because people should just take the time to read this story. However, I want to know more – more about pretty much everything. I thought the Alliance was a great idea for a SF world. I want to know more about Falia and her fate. I want backstories on Hari and Gerald. I especially want to know more about the Graesians and their integration in and eventually out of the group of dimensional governments. Obviously, the Lenoreans have some explaining to do so we can understand the true Parallel. What the heck is Eitr? Really I just want to know, are we ever going to get to see more from this world? It’s a fast paced novella that has great ideas and quick action. Can we get a more fleshed out novel of this at some point?

I’ll give you this little Easter Egg: I was not the one to coin the word Eitr. On this one, Wikipedia is your friend.

I’ve been surprised by the number of requests for a fully fleshed out book in the Parallel world. I have a story arc simmering in the back of my skull and would love to sit down right this minute and write it up, but unfortunately there are a number of other projects I’ve got to finish before I can revisit that universe. My goal is to write the follow up story by Fall 2016 though, so for those of you planning ahead, put that on the calendar.

Researching action scenes for upcoming stories
Researching action scenes for upcoming stories

Who are you, and what led you to writing some cool science fiction?

Well, I studied Psychology, Religion, and English in college. Then I graduated and realized I didn’t want to do any of that. So I ran off to travel and rock climb. For the last seven years or so that’s what I’ve been doing; working in the rock climbing community and traveling. That was great, but about four years ago it dawned on me that I couldn’t sustain that lifestyle into old age.

I wrote a bunch as a kid, but I never took it very seriously. My dad used to pay me $.10 a word for my short stories on the off-chance I might someday strike it big as a writer. I doubt those stories will ever be worth more than the paper they’re written on, but there’s something valuable in having someone believe in you before even you do.

So about four years ago when I started rethinking my lifestyle choices, I decided to give this writing thing a chance. As for genre, well I’m just a guy that loves spaceships, aliens, and lasers. Science Fiction simply feels like home.

I should be receiving my hard copy of Time Heist shortly. It must be nice having a book to give to people. How do you compare electronic books to traditionally printed books? Like a technological transition of becoming more interconnected with technology, do you think we’re close to where people are falling in love with reading primarily through e-books, or is the full tactile feel of physical books going to be the dominant way people come to love great stories for a while to come?

Excellent, I hope you enjoy Time Heist. If not, well, then you just keep your words in your mouth. Nobody wants to hear about it!

No, I’m just kidding.

Having an actual print book is validating in a lot of ways. Writers spend a lot of time working in solitude, and I think after awhile everybody simply assumes we’re secretly watching cat videos on youtube for hours on end (which we are, but shhh… don’t confirm that rumor). Having an e-book to point to is cool, but it’s still this ephemeral thing floating around the digital aether. People don’t grasp the magnitude of the accomplishment.

But an actual print book? Well, jeepers, that can be used to bludgeon a man. Now we’re talking.

E-books are only going to gain in popularity. The market’s booming growth of a few years back has plateaued, but it’ll continue slowly growing year after year for the foreseeable future. Kindergartners today are being given Ipads, it’s only a matter of time until kids forget what a book looks like altogether.

Does that mean print books will disappear? Nah, I don’t think so. Not anytime soon, at least. I mean hell, vinyl records are making a resurgence and that’s way more niche than books. My guess is that hardcovers will become pricier, printed runs more limited, and physical books on the whole will become akin to collectors items.

Tell me about your upcoming projects. I see you’re working on the Time Heist trilogy. Is this consuming most of your days?

The rest of the Time Heist series has sort of grown into this hydra’esque monster. The Firstborn Saga was originally supposed to be a triptych of trilogies (which would be nine books spread across three trilogies), but I started doing this stupid thing where I would write side-story novellas between each book (which added another 6 books total to the whole Saga). It’s been fun, but it’s tossed a steaming heap of work onto my plate.

Infinity Lost and Mind Breach (books 1.5 and 2 of the Firstborn Saga) are back from my alpha reader and waiting for me to dig into their fourth drafts. While those were away I busied myself by writing a fantasy/alien world novella called Purgatory, and a collection of short stories, a novelette, and a novella dealing with a peculiar assortment of topics ranging from robotic babies to sentient homes and a cryogenically frozen assassin.

All those stories are slated for release this Fall, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in front of the computer recently (none of which is wasted on cat videos, I promise.)

Do you have a “day job”? Or is your writing enough to support you?

I wash windows on occasion (a good excuse to get out of the house and actually interact with other human beings), but otherwise it’s just writing at the moment.

How much has One Lazy Robot helped get your name out there? That’s how I found you. Actually you found me. You “liked” one of my reviews on Childhood’s End, I clicked over to 1LR and thought, “I’m in.” Do you feel like it’s become the primary way to get your stuff out there?

Ah, Arthur C. Clarke, uniting strangers from across the digital void!

Blogging is a great way of getting yourself out there and building a fan-base, especially as a new author trying to gain traction. One Lazy Robot was interesting because it sort of just took off. People seem to like the particular brand of the crack I’m peddlin’ over there, so that’s good, but it’s funny because a lot of my followers don’t even realize I write fiction. Whoops. I’m failing on the self-promotion side of things, I guess. But that’s okay, the internet’s a big place with a lot of people shouting into their cyber-megaphones, begging for you to buy this or that. I don’t want to be that. I’d rather build relationships and put out interesting material. So far it’s been working.

Charting world domination strategies
Charting world domination strategies

Is science fiction an easier genre to write in or is it easier to get good stories out of it because there is less constraints?
Actually, I kind of think science fiction is harder. Here’s why:

Writing regular fiction requires no world building. Throw your story in Anytown, USA and there ya go. Science fiction on the other hand requires you to think long and hard about the world your creating. Sure, it can still be Anytown, USA, but the point of science fiction, besides being entertaining, (in my opinion) is to think about the interplay between society and technology.

What will the world of tomorrow look like once we all have brainchips connecting us to big computers?

What happens to the economy on Earth when we set off to colonize other worlds?

These are the questions science fiction should be trying to tackle. If you’re just throwing lasers and aliens in the story for the cool explosions, well, then you’re the literary equivalent of Michael Bay. That’s not an insult, but it’s also not really a compliment.

Sidenote: I am totally guilty of gratuitous action, lasers, and aliens in pretty much all my stories. Do as I say, not as I do.

With that said, I think science fiction is way more fun to write than any other genre. And in the end, if you’re not having fun, why bother?

Do you want to be a science fiction writer or just an author?

I’ll write in any genre, but I seem to be carving a niche for myself in sci-fi. I have a Young Adult Urban Fantasy series tentatively named Deathtectives (this name will almost certainly be changed before release day) coming out next Spring, and I’m really excited to test the waters in that genre.

What’s the SF book, movie, and TV series people should read and watch?

Hannibal for TV series.

Inception for movies.

Altered Carbon – Richard K. Morgan

Any authors that you think readers should discover?

Right now I’m really digging on Lauren Beukes. She’s not new to the genre, but damn I love her voice/style.

Are you worried about the robot uprising? If so, what’s your odds on guess for how long we have?

A friend of mine works on a DARPA funded machine learning project and she assures me we are a long ways away from the robot uprising. Then again, that’s precisely what I would expect the robot’s right-hand woman to say so I’m gonna say: imminent.

Are we better off trying to go through a dimensional rift or discover FTL travel?

Both: Go through a dimensional rift to a world where they’ve already discovered FTL travel.

Please check out more of Anthony Vicino’s work:

One Lazy Robot blog

Parallel  – novella available on Amazon Kindle Store

Time Heist – book 1 of the Firstborn Saga available (in print!) or in the Amazon Kindle Store

All photos courtesy of Anthony Vicino

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The Vorrh by Brian Catling

There is a dark place in the world.

Essentially this place has been captured by Brian Catling in his novel The Vorrh, an alternative history of a soul sucking forest in the midst of Africa in the early 20th century. I finished this somewhat plotless book that reads more as a descent into madness than a traditional novel while questioning myself the whole time, “Why are you going on?” In the end, I probably shouldn’t have, and you probably shouldn’t either.

There seems to be a lot to explain as to why I would not recommend you reading a book that for most purposes was well written and, at least if you believe the reviews, well received. I’ll try my hand a some key points.

Have you ever had a friend that thinks that he is so clever when he turns a phrase? Maybe like a non-sequitur or a simple play on words that gives his sentence an unintended, but to him, serendipitous meaning. Now imagine having to read a book full of these crafted sentences. Sure maybe one in five come off with some power, but honestly, it becomes a slog rather than the occasional moments of delight like they can be. The author is trying too hard to get a little nod of the hat with each phrase. Some may see this as lyrical, but hundreds of pages worth makes you long for the spartan description of Hemingway.

Now let’s talk about description or world-building or character development or anything else besides, say, a plot. This is what Mr. Catling offers to you in this tome – which is supposedly the first of a trilogy. I couldn’t tell you what the next volume could be about because I’m not sure I could tell you what the story of this one is. There are a bunch of fleshed-out characters and the world of The Vorrh is elaborately assembled with such dark intention that makes the reader ready to escape. A story, such as it is, more or less develops just because the characters kind of bump into each other – not because there is any direction to the tale. Several long “side” stories have virtually no relation to the main characters or the Vorrh at all. It’s almost as if separate stories were just cobbled into this novel because they exhibited the same mood as the others and it would thicken the book. I love world-building and character development, but there seems to be a sad tendency – especially in the fantasy genre – to substitute worlds with stories. I’m sorry, but give me an O. Henry short story every day that has a plot than 500 pages of an immaculate world with no point. It is like many modern authors are trying to be Tolkein but missing the point.

Finally I need to mention the evil. The Vorrh is a dark place. It turns everyone that goes into it a hollow shell of a person. Make no mistake: this is the intention of this book to those who read it. Every single character is a dark, twisted caricature of a person. There are no heroes, no good guys, no noble purposes. The one character who should be a bright spot is a woman who receives back her sight after being born blind. In such a gloomy, oppressive world, surely this one would find joy in her sight. Almost purposefully as soon as the reader thinks this, the author spends the time to show the ugliness of the sight of flowers in this character’s mind. The gift of sight is actually a curse – for really to all the people that inhabit this world, life is a curse. I rarely psychoanalyze authors, but Mr. Catling has presented a worldview that sees corruption and evil in all things. I don’t know if I know anyone who I think would like this book, and if I did, I would be scared to give it to them because it might sink them beyond hope.

I usually don’t bring up the Bible in non-Christian works, but the author has taken perverse pleasure at bringing up many illustrations of it and making them horrible. In Phillipians, Paul says “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” I cannot think of a better antithesis to that statement than this book. It is a mire of thought. Avoid it.

2 stars out of 10

Photo: Antoine Beauvillain

Parallel by Anthony Vicino

Sometimes it’s fun to just randomly pick out a new story to read from out of the ether. I did that this week when I picked up this little SF novella Parallel by Anthony Vicino. He’s the author of a blog I check out from time to time: One Lazy Robot. This is the first work of his that I’ve read, and it was a lot of fun!

Parallel is a nice bundle of clever science fiction ideas all thrown together in one short tale. It starts when two friends open a rift into a parallel dimension linking Earth to a much bigger cosmos (cosmi?) than they personally bargained for. I don’t want to give away too much, but to say it’s an explosive and entertaining story that will leave you wanting much more of this world and the culture it brings with it. I don’t know if Mr. Vicino has plans to develop the worlds of the Alliance more in any future work, but the fragments given here do tantalize.

All in all the pacing of the story is quick. The dialogue between the friends Hari and Gerald is corny enough to have the ring of truth between guys, and it helps the reader engage. There is a lot here from plot lines to just scene dynamics that could use fleshing out. The writing is a little unpolished, but its charisma goes a long way. You have the time to check this out. It’s worth it.

Parallel on Amazon

5 stars out of 10

Milestones to Disaster (The Second World War: Book 1) by Winston Churchill 

Winston Churchill by any account must be one of the most amazing statesmen of the 20th century. His unparalleled position at the highest levels of government through both World Wars puts him in a unique position to reveal the forces at work in the interregnum between the two. In Milestones to Disaster, he does just that – not as he says as a “history” – but as an eyewitness account to be used by future historians. The fact that he is himself a masterful writer helps one not wait for some future analysis. This work is not only accessible, but it is a very enjoyable if unsettling glimpse into the European political shake-ups of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

I was given Churchill’s six volume history of World War II by my great uncle who had the privilege to meet the then Prime Minister at Harvard. Churchill spoke to the Navy officers that were being barracked there during the U.S.’s initial involvements in the war. This work is actually an abridgment of the first volume of that set The Gathering Storm. Churchill did the trimming himself for this work, but it has been pleasant to peruse the unabridged work to see what has been removed. Mainly it is coordinating documents that help to strengthen the assertions made by the author. It also contains several appendices that contain correspondence between Churchill and other world leaders and politicians. Both the full length and edited versions are readily accessible online and make worthy additions to any library.

In Milestones, the period after the Treaty of Versailles is examined with a brutal eye to all the failings made by the then world powers to keep Germany in check. One misstep after another is frighteningly unfolded for the reader. Even though, we all know where this story leads, it gives one a knot in the gut to see how it all may have been avoided. Churchill reveals how, to his thinking, the overwhelming liberal policies of socialism and disarmament weakened the victorious nations to a point where the defeated Germany could rise under Hitler’s cult of personality. By backing off in the critical moments again and again and capitulating to appease the Führer, the European governments doomed the world to repeat on a larger scale the slaughter of the first World War.

Mr. Churchill is definitely not afraid to point out the mistakes of others. While I’m sure that the facts that are being recorded are all trustworthy, he has gone a fair way to frame them to cast a better light on his position during this time. Churchill was consistently sounding the warning of Germany’s re-armament, and he takes great pride in his un-involvement of the policies that allowed this to happen. He doesn’t sweep his own personal misjudgments under the rug, but he shines a hard light on the British administrations that he sees as failing to protect the world from the German threat. He believes the playing out of Hitler’s conquest of central Europe is a vindication of his viewpoints, and he perceives his rise as an appointment of destiny.

If you’re not familiar with how Germany came a mere twenty years after being completely despoiled to conquering the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and Holland with virtually no resistance, this is the book to read. It’s a tragic tale, but one that needs to be understood if but for the hope that it will not be repeated. Churchill truly is one of the great twentieth century writers, and you will not be disappointed by his recollection.

7 stars out of 10