Author Interview with John Steiner!
Hi, John Steiner welcome to the Indie Publishing Group website! Introduce yourself to us. Tell everyone who you are, where you’re from, what you enjoy doing, your hobbies and interests.
I’m John Steiner, an author of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. I’m from Salt Lake City, Utah. I’m most interested in science, history, and mythology, as well as the mechanics and traditions of storytelling. I don’t have many hobbies, though PC gaming is one of them.
When did you start writing and why?
As an 80’s kid I was rather disappointed with most of the science fiction I was seeing and came to wonder if I could do better. I wanted both the science to be well founded and accurate, but also that the portrayal of society and people be realistic and feel authentic.
Which is your favorite book you have written and what gave you the idea for it?
It was the novella series, “Flipspace” that I love most.
When the series Star Trek: Enterprise was introduced it carried the exhilarating feel of humanity leaving the solar system for the first time, and not knowing what was out there. However, right away they blew that with a character I had dubbed ‘Captain Buzzkill From the 26th Century’ leaving no sense that discovery was really going to be the basis of the series.
So, in getting my exploratory fix and to illustrate what I thought a real future military service would look like, I made Flipspace my intellectual playground, pouring in everything I came to know up to that point into a series of stories, often involving real exoplanets and real science, to project what I think human civilization would be like in 2175. Even the title was something I had to ponder carefully.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Reviewing well-known science fiction franchises, I recognized that their titles were deceptively simple, yet they conveyed the foundation of what their audiences would expect. Star Wars and Star Trek each are titles that amount to two-word stories.
From there, I set about reading up on relativity and particle physics to devise the most reasonable concept for how to cross between stars within one’s lifetime. The idea of a fourth-dimensional spatial rotation occurred to me. On YouTube, there are computer simulations of 4D cubes, or Tesseracts that undergo rotation about their 4D axis, as drawn out in three dimensions, and from that came the name, Flipspace.
Who helped you with the cover? Or did you design it yourself? What was your inspiration for your cover design?
Melange Books has their own cover artists, and I would present them some images from online graphics art websites where the image licensing would be reasonably priced for an indie publisher. On these sites I could not find any depicting a woman of Indo-Asian descent who has short hair of the style in my head, and also wearing an all-black military uniform. However, there were a few star-scape images and exoplanet art that approached the environs I was depicting in the novellas.
Melange’s cover artist, Becca Barnes found the perfect font and title style that presented what Flipspace meant, and I proposed the modified NATO symbol with the raven in the middle that she put together. The raven represents the ship design, the ISV-71 Raven. The central named ship of the story is the International Services Ship, the ISS Mockingbird.
What are some of the themes of your story?
The predominant theme is what exoplanet exploration will be like. In Flipspace an armed service is tasked with carrying that out after the crisis, after a civilian crew disappears without a trace leaving their ship derelict. Everything in the series draws on science known today and our best assessment of what we can expect from exploring exoplanets. I even went so far as rewriting the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Protocols to become the standing orders of the crew of the ISS Mockingbird.
Some installments of Flipspace also focus inward, where the central characters of the crew have to take on missions within our solar system or even on Earth. These were meant to reveal to readers what it is the characters had sworn to defend and why they volunteered; something I felt many well-known science fiction military stories tend to gloss over or ignore.
In one installment I explore what future protest groups would emerge and the issues they publically demonstrate against amid the ISS Mockingbird’s return landing. Other social issues that I portray differently is how future society will handle the legal personhood of AIs and address the psychological effects of neurologically rebooting the brain after death.
What’s your process when you sit down and decide to start writing a book and do you have a system?
What’s most important to me is that the science be as accurate as I can describe it while still coming across in layman’s terms. Characters also have to feel like real people a reader could recognize from their own experiences, right down to authentic dialogue and backstory. In planning the story, I have certain scenes or images in mind and I have to determine what time passage and characters’ personal growth are required to connect them.
Who are some of your favorite characters and why?
Outside of my own works, one that stands out is Captain Malcolm Reynolds of Firefly and Serenity. This is a guy who routinely gets a beatdown from circumstances he can’t control. My description of him became a saying of mine, “Life may be kicking your ass, and one day may even blow you off your feet, but never let it bring you to your knees.”
Chris Pine’s portrayal of Captain James Kirk managed to capture that and bring what I felt was a better presentation of Kirk whose is less polished and more human for his failings.
Though, central to my science fiction inspiration is Sigourney Weaver’s Lieutenant Ellen Ripley, and contributes a great deal to my main Flipspace character, Colonel Sumitra Ramachandra. The reason is because Ripley’s resilience and tenacity come from her feminine attributes, and that she can be tough without having to emulate a man. She’s the one I can say, ‘May the gods have mercy on your soul, should you endanger her kids,’ because nothing’s going to save you from her wrath.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Michael Crichton was my biggest influence, because he could narrate readers through a path of real scientific detail and slip over to fiction before they realized it.
Arthur C. Clarke gave me the inspiration and desire to take a hard-nosed look at spaceflight.
James P. Hogan and Ben Bova each took great care to show how society comes to terms with history-shaking discoveries, and the character debates about what they mean.
An unconventional addition I would make are the screenwriters who brought us the Mass Effect game trilogy. Another writer that I paneled with at Salt Lake City’s FanX Convention, Robert J. Defendi calls Mass Effect the greatest science fiction story ever told.
Have you got anything you’re working on now?
I’m attempting my first Steampunk novel that skews world history from the fourth century AD, but with sentient dire wolves and gestalt intelligent strains of bacteria as part of civilization. The bacteria were my solution to having 19th century robotics without the need of electronics or software, and they are the basis of the title, “Bottle of Gods.”
If you could have any superpowers what would they be?
I was always fond of the Shaolin priests and kung-fu, so anything that enhances a realistic fusion of mind and body into accelerated thought, conditioned form, and flawless action. Then, heap onto that another lifelong love for werewolves, ‘cause howlers are my tribe. A therianthropic werewolf doing a high-speed staff fighting form seamlessly merged with police dog style takedowns would be a sight to see!
If you could travel to any location in the world where would you go?
Seriously, I often dreamed of setting foot on other planets and in those dreams being aware of the scientific differences there from the conditions on Earth. When I see artwork showing an alien skyline with multiple moons and a gas giant it makes me think that’s where I need to be. That’s my homesickness.
Where do you hope to be in 5 years’ time?
At this point, I don’t plan that far ahead. Too many of my experiences have been that life is standing around a corner holding a bat with my name on it. Anymore, my plan is bracing for the next unanticipated life crisis and being a little too good at walking off those sucker punches.
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