EP: Robert Appleton has beamed in today to spend a few minutes with us talking about his Eternal Press release. Café at the Edge of Outer Space is science fiction and a great beach read. Thanks for granting us this interview, Robert.
Robert: Live long and prosp…um, don’t mention it.
EP: Since this story has a low heat rating of one flame and revolves around sixteen-year-olds being required to participate in a ten year exile, would you recommend this story for young adult readers? Why or why not?
Robert: Though it’s written in first person, and that character is a sixteen year old boy, I didn’t write the story specifically for a young adult audience. It’s a coming of age story, yes, but the choices haunting Frank have to some extent haunted everyone who’s ever reached adulthood. I’d say the themes are universal. Younger readers will recognize elements of Frank’s alienation, while older readers will remember, and likely cringe, at some of his neurotic moments. It’s about leaving home—being forced to leave home—before you’re ready for the big, wide worlds out there.
EP: You write a lot of science fiction. What about that genre appeals to you? Did you start reading it at an early age?
Robert: The first book I remember reading was Ted Hughes’ The Iron Giant. The imagery in that sent shockwaves through my imagination that have never dissipated. If anything, they’ve gathered momentum. And there was a genuine message of peace at its heart. The aspect of science fiction that I love more than anything is the challenge it sets for real science. Bit by bit, our genius scientists are swallowing up what was once deemed outrageous speculation. Think Nemo’s submarine, atomic energy, H.G. Wells’ version of the internet. We’re living in science-fiction right now. The challenge for a sci-fi writer is to see humanity in the future, apropos of our current times. The Café at the Edge of Outer Space definitely follows that tradition. More so than The Eleven-Hour Fall, which is a survival adventure.
EP: How much of Frank Archer's situation and personality came from your own experiences?
Robert: I suspect if you put me under deep hypnosis and told me to go back to my mid-teens, I’d spew up enough worms to fill cans galore. My first girlfriend was a lot like Emma Whitaker in the story—blonde, pale-skinned, tougher than she appeared—so the nervous early exchanges in the story are rooted in my experience. And if Frank was in any way confident, the story would not have worked.
One thing that always terrified me growing up was being made to leave home prematurely. I’d seen friends go off to university, get jobs, have babies, buy houses, and so many of them seemed dejected and miserable, as if the world had been thrust upon them before their time. Frank Archer must undergo a mandatory ten year exile, but he’s clearly not ready to be yanked away from the nest. That’s ultimately the main theme of the story, and one with an unexpected conclusion.
EP: How hard it is to write short story science fiction and clearly portray the world, technology, characterization and plot?
Robert: It’s very easy to get carried away and say fare thee well to logic. With such a limited frame, the temptation is to make an explosive impact on the reader, to dazzle them with technology and alien vistas. But I always write to a theme. Or a couple of themes. You can invoke all the whiz-bang in the universe but if there’s no humanity, there’s no story. All those things you listed—world, technology, characterization and plot—tend to mesh easily with a central theme or idea. In Café, the sci-fi setting even adopts elements of Frank’s emotions. That kind of storytelling confidence only comes when you have the themes clearly in your mind.
EP: What's this I hear about terrorism on Frank's world? I see the terrain of Britain is changed. Is this future Earth?
Robert: It is indeed. Britain is in the grip of a big freeze. The weather here’s bloody awful as it is, but Frank comments that Blackpool Pleasure Beach is a thing of the past—no more outdoor roller-coasters. I could cry. But Earth is pretty much how you’d expect it would be if we stick to our current course: overpopulated, polluted, technologically ostentatious, home sweet home. And as always, there are subversive elements ready to tackle the prevailing regime. Terrorists can show up anywhere…as we know.
EP: How does the cafe fit into the story?
Robert: The café is a legendary waystation orbiting Earth. All children are exiled when they reach sixteen, and they must pass through the café station on their way to the lunar or deep space colonies. It’s a place for getting to know your partner assigned you for the trip—a bedmate, in order to kick-start adulthood—and is otherwise iconic for those awaiting exile back on Earth. It could also be described as the transitional stage in the child’s rite of passage. He is expected to enter the café a boy and leave as a man. Likewise for the girl becoming a woman. But is sex what really defines adulthood? Is there more to it than that?
EP: What do you think of the cover? Do those have any influence over your decision to buy a book or not? Did you have any input into what it looks like?
Robert: I’m always cock-a-hoop over my EP covers. So far, all three have been EXACTLY what I had in mind as I described them. That’s a great compliment to the artists, as my criteria were very, very brief. The Café cover is so perfect for the story that I can see the whole adventure play out in 3D…either side of the frame. Shirley Burnett came up trumps again (see also The Eleven-Hour Fall). And Dawne Dominique gave me an ideal cover for Esther May Morrow’s Buy or Borrow. I’m going to make prints of all my EP covers, and then see if I can’t beam myself bodily into them.
EP: Can you think of anything else you'd like to tell us?
Robert: Well, I’ve highlighted the weighty themes behind Café at the Edge of Outer Space, but the story is primarily an exciting journey into a science-fiction world above the Earth, where danger and romance are indelibly intertwined for these two teenagers. It was a lot of fun to write. And if readers enjoy it, there’s another near space story heading this way later in the year; I’ve dubbed it part two in my Earth orbit trilogy, even though they’re unrelated. Grandiloquence is about a chance meeting between an African student and an English pop princess…in a booth above the atmosphere. I can’t wait to share that one. It’s special.
EP: Where can we find you this summer? Website? Myspace? Goodreads? Blogs? Scifi Conventions? Most of us don't have access to a space ship so please keep your answers to those places found on Earth.
Robert: *lol* I’ll be promoting my little green butt off this summer, starting with all the EP chats and loop-the-loops I can get my slimy fingers on. I also have many submissions under consideration (some with EP), so depending on the outcome of those, you might be seeing a heck of a lot of me in this part of the galaxy.
I have a website-in-the-works at www.freewebs.com/sevenmercury7
My blog can be found at warp speed here: www.robertbappleton.blogspot.com
I’m also on Goodreads, facebook, and Myspace, all as Robert Appleton. And on Fanstory (as mercuryseven).
I haven’t yet reached the pupa stage of geekdom, so no, you won’t find me with pointy ears at a sci-fi convention any time soon. I must stress the word ‘yet’, though. Girls in Princess Leia slave bikinis are hard to resist!
EP: Thanks for dropping by. Good luck with Café on the Edge of Outer Space. We know we'll be hearing more from you soon.
Robert: Thanks. May the force be with your credit cards.
You can find Robert on Eternal Press at: http://www.eternalpress.ca/Appleton.html