Welcome to WOLF NOTES, where interview questions stray from the rest of the pack. It’s nice to know the usual stuff like where an author gets their inspiration and why they write, but sometimes we need a little fun in our lives.
Christopher L. Bennett is a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, with a B.S. in Physics and a B.A. in History from the University of Cincinnati. A fan of science and science fiction since age five, he has spent the past two decades selling original short fiction to magazines such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact and BuzzyMag. For the past dozen years, he has been one of Pocket Books’ most prolific and popular authors of Star Trek tie-in fiction, including the epic Next Generation prequel The Buried Age, the Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations series, and the ongoing Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation series. His original novel Only Superhuman, perhaps the first hard science fiction superhero novel, was voted Library Journal’s SF/Fantasy Debut of the Month for October 2012. His short story collection Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy is available in e-book and print formats from Mystique Press.
Wolf: If you had to pick a weapon, what would it be and why?
Christopher: I dislike weapons and violence. If I had to, I’d want it to be something reliably nonlethal, although there is no such thing in real life. Something like Gary Seven’s servo from Star Trek: “Assignment: Earth,” which puts people into a pleasantly sedated state rather than hurting them, would be ideal.
But I believe the greatest weapons are the mind and the power of language. I prefer stories where people solve problems by talking to people, understanding and reaching them, rather than fighting them.
Wolf: If only that would work in real life. What is the nicest thing you’ve ever done to your characters?
Christopher: Probably not writing about them anymore. Stories generally aren’t about nice things happening to people. While I consider my writing to be optimistic science fiction, in terms of portraying a better, more positive future for humanity, I still tend to explore the remaining problem areas of that better future and to put my characters in difficult situations, as that’s where the most compelling stories are. A number of the stories collected in Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman, including the story that provided the title, are about situations where everyone is trying to make things better, but they can’t agree on what that means, because their perspectives are so different or because the situation has no easy answers. Many of the endings are more bittersweet than happy, and even the more positive outcomes can have their ominous sides.
Although… in my Star Trek prose writing, I do seem to have inadvertently ended up playing matchmaker a lot. By coincidence, I’ve written the novel where Will Riker and Deanna Troi decided to start a family (Titan: Orion’s Hounds), the novel where Troi gave birth to her daughter (Titan: Over a Torent Sea), and the novel where Captain Picard and Beverly Crusher became a married couple and conceived their son (The Next Generation: Greater than the Sum). Also, in my Enterprise: Rise of the Federation series, I’ve gotten both Jonathan Archer and Malcolm Reed into committed relationships and have been tracking the romance of Captain Kirk’s great-grandparents.
Wolf: Cool. I like that better than what happened to all those folks in the tv series. What is the meanest thing you’ve ever done to your characters?
Christopher: Killing characters off is always hard if I’ve become fond of them, or if I’m writing from the perspective of someone who’s devastated by their loss (and you always want to write a scene from the perspective of the character most affected by it). Perhaps the worst case was the flashback scene in Only Superhuman (a few hardcover and audiobook copies of which are being given away in our Kickstarter campaign, pardon the plug) where the 13-year-old Emerald Blair saw her mother murdered in front of her. I lost my own mother when I was seven, so that was really hard to write. I sobbed for half an hour after I wrote it. It’s the one scene I never attempted to edit or revise, because I didn’t want to dilute the raw emotion of it. (And then I went on to kill off three other parental figures of hers over the course of the novel. In retrospect, I feel I overused that trope. But in one case, I couldn’t find any alternative to killing the character, since his continued presence could’ve solved the problem before the book’s heroine could.)
Wolf: Wow. Do you consider yourself a cat person, or a dog person?
Christopher: Cats, definitely. I grew up with cats, and for a while after we lost my mother, we had as many as 17 cats and kittens in the house at any one time, I guess as a way of filling the void, before eventually dialing it down to a more reasonable number. People think of cats as aloof, and they can be unless you’ve earned their acceptance, but they’ve also been my greatest sources of comfort at many times in my life. My cat Tasha, a beautiful brown-and-orange mackerel tabby who lived with my father and me from her early kittenhood in 1991 until 2008, was especially dear to me, and I’ve based more than one character in my fiction on aspects of her personality, including Emerald Blair/Green Blaze from Only Superhuman (who shares her impulsiveness and uninhibited appetites) and Tsshar from my new story “Hubpoint of No Return” (in the May/June 2018 Analog Science Fiction and Fact) and its upcoming sequels.
For most of my life, I’ve found dogs scary, thanks to being chased by one or two in childhood, and I find cats less intrusive on my personal space. But in recent years, I’ve somewhat softened my stance on dogs thanks to associating with the ones belonging to friends and family. My friend and colleague Keith DeCandido had a huge, elderly golden retriever called Scooter who was initially intimidating to me but proved extremely friendly, and when I stayed at Keith’s, it was surprisingly comforting to have Scooter on watch in the hall outside my guest room.
Wolf: Glad to hear you’re okay with dogs now. If you could have a super power, what would it be?
Christopher: When I ask myself this question, I usually settle on the ability to understand every written and spoken language. Though sometimes, especially back when I needed to take long bus rides to get home from school, I often wished for teleportation.
Wolf: Interesting. I have a story where the main character does both. Which of your characters is your favorite?
Christopher: I’d have to say Emerald Blair, the heroine of Only Superhuman and “Aspiring to Be Angels” (the new story debuting in Among the Wild Cybers). I’ve been living with her in my mind for nearly 30 years now, I’ve developed her character and her world extensively, and I feel she’s a major part of my life. I admit there’s an element of self-indulgent fantasy to that; she’s basically my 20-year-old self’s ideal woman. But in a lot of ways, she’s also my image of who I’d like to be if I weren’t so shy and cautious, someone who’s bold and outgoing and says what she thinks and seizes the day. And she’s also an intriguingly flawed character with a lot of tragedy and doubt that she wrestles with, which is a good source of material. It’s much the same impulse that went into the creation of one of the most popular characters I’ve created for Pocket’s Star Trek novel line, T’Ryssa Chen in the Next Generation book series.
I’m also quite fond of Nashira Wing, the female lead of my Hub SF comedy series from Analog and the collection Hub Space. She’s more of a cynic and a grouch, but she’s got a similar strength and confidence, and if I could earn her respect, I know she’s someone I’d want at my back. I originally assumed that David LaMacchia would be the lead character of the Hub stories, but I’ve ended up writing more frequently from Nashira’s point of view, since her jaded sensibilities and inner conflicts and doubts make her perspective funnier. I’ve come to think of her as the lead now.
Wolf: What story are you working on now?
Christopher: Lately, I’ve been writing and revising a number of short stories that I’ve been shopping to various magazines and anthologies, mostly fairly brief things that may or may not sell. I’ve also been working on a story that I plan to offer as a bonus for the Wild Cybers Kickstarter. It’s a new rewrite of a cute little short piece that I wrote about 20 years ago but never quite figured out how to make workable until recently.
I’m not entirely sure what I plan to do next, though. I do have one story in the universe of Only Superhuman and Among the Wild Cybers that I’ve been planning to get to work on soon, but other things keep cropping up to divert me from it. At the moment, I need to focus more on looking for some kind of additional work, because I’ve been suffering through a career slowdown this past year or two, as various different projects from various publishers have been simultaneously and unexpectedly delayed. I have reason to hope that things are about to begin clearing up soon, though, and the Kickstarter campaign for Wild Cybers should certainly help if we raise enough money. And my fans have been very generous with their donations to my PayPal account when my plight was at its worst, so I’m immensely grateful to them for that.
Wolf: It’s nice to have supportive fans. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Christopher: I’m not all that interesting when I’m not writing. I’m a fairly introverted person, and I’ve also been pretty broke for the past couple of years, so I basically just sit at home, watch TV, read, and surf the web. I like to go for walks whenever I can, for exercise and to think about things. I get a lot of good ideas for my work on long walks.
Wolf: Christopher’s homepage, fiction annotations, and blog can be found at christopherlbennett.wordpress.com, and his Facebook author page is at www.facebook.com/ChristopherLBennettAuthor.
Check out the Epic Science Fiction Adventures Kickstarter campaign which includes Bud Sparhawk’s book, Shattered Dreams, and Christopher Bennett’s book, Among the Wild Cybers. http://tiny.cc/scifi