Saturday, April 6, 2024

Among the stars with author Caldon Mull

African speculative fiction author Caldon Mull has touched down for a little Q&A to share a bit about his recently released Preacherman, which is book four of his Sol Senate Cycle. 

Can you tell me more about the story seed that sparked off this series?

The story seed is based around an initial inspiration from something I had read at University by Arthur Keppel Jones a long time ago, which was essentially a future projection. I already had written South African-flavoured SF shorts and novellas by then, but I didn’t have an underlying archetype. So I worked on that for a few decades until the ‘Diaspora’ section is the last, furthest point in this journey. I've always liked an outsider POV character, just enough to provide some friction between the reader and the character for those 'ag siestog' moments.

I think it is better to think of the series as linked standalone books or a 'braided' set, that focus on telling the story of an ordinary person going about their lives, when the story happens. I have always used allegory to tell stories and so Preacherman is as much a story of a young immigrant and his family making good. Skills in being able to see the value of disused goods and opportunities in business as an outsider, or maybe being able to bring fresh investment capital into stagnant markets.

Rama’s journey has elements of tragedy, opportunity, frustration, family and sexual complications as much as any present-day immigrant. ‘Diaspora’ allowed me to focus on specific ‘Mundane Science Fiction’ genre stories like these, yet being able to tell those stories from an entirely different perspective. Preacherman is the latest in this Storytelling project, keeping it firmly in the Speculative Fiction realm.

To keep the element of the MSF genre, all the titles follow a counting game list of professions like ‘Rich man, Poor man, Beggarman, Thief…’ but each one, obviously looks very different from expectations.

All of us have our favourite authors who set them on their path – who are your literary luminaries and how have they inspired you?

I have a long list, but here goes. JRR Tolkien always near the top, beautiful writing that always inspires a sense of hope. John Brunner and AE van Vogt were all about the big ideas. Van Vogt’s writing mechanics of dream-wake-write is a technique I use relentlessly (for better or for worse, to be sure). Philip K Dick for his kaleidoscopic social commentary. Ursula K Le Guin, Geoff Ryman, Nick Wood, Andre Norton, Storm Constantine, Clifford Simak, Samuel R Delany, Tanith Lee and Gene Wolf all for beautiful moments, excellent prose and the novum of their words. Roger Zelazny, Thomas M. Disch… must stop now! I read voraciously for decades.

In a nutshell, tell us about some of the themes in your series and what readers can expect when they pick up book one.

Diaspora picks up on Humanity pushing out through Space as hard as it can, as far as it can, and where cracks can appear. Weatherman tells the story of the Cyber-enhanced Esteban on Mars in the mid-23rd Century who gets asked by his boss for some extra-curriculum work. The theme here is between tools and their makers, and which view of a culture has more merit. There are self-actualization underlying themes. 

Ferryman tells the story of Tick-tock, the Digital Twin of a San that has been uplifted to the Dwarf Planet Sedna to provide a very specific duty. The tool/maker theme continues, but the more his mind strays from his tasks, the less things make sense. The theme of the human ability to upskill and adapt, and to make sense of change are explored. There are self-awareness underlying themes. 

Poliismxn tells the story of Sancha who has gets slapped with Jury Duty to investigate the corruption of the ruling Council. The theme here is around how humans invariably use better tools and better methods for the same base ends. On the surface everything looks like a Utopia, but Sancha is forced to expose the rot and deal with it. There are self-doubt underlying themes.

Preacherman picks up on the running theme but does centre ‘cultural amnesia’ where society tends to distract itself from what is really important to survive and quickly falls into the same well-worn potentially disastrous comfort rituals. There are self-acceptance underlying themes.

Have you had any incidents on your path as an author that have confirmed this as a calling for you? If the internet had to vanish overnight and civilisation ended, would you still tell stories?

I think so. My physical career has been linking people and things like your ATM systems, and your online banks and your cell phone towers, I’ve travelled to many rural places all over the world listening to local people’s stories, telling my own and looking at what that synthesis would look like. Some of my early stories are handwritten letters posted to myself from the middle of nowhere, where months later I would get home to recompile them and figure out what I was saying then. I think stories are important to tell, even ugly and cautionary ones. However you can, no matter what.

Who are you when you're not writing? Tell us about the things you do beyond the written word.

Eish. I think that I’m a very different person when I’m not writing or working. I’m socially awkward and blunt outside of a social structure, so my casual acquaintance can be a bit much for many people. I like being physically and mentally active. I have Protea Colours for Mind Sports, was a MTN Trivial Pursuit National Champion for years, and I like classic cars and Regulation Rally. I did a lot of outreach work for the underprivileged in various organisations for years while I was in South Africa, as well as a lot of role playing convention work for ICON and GENCON through many universities. I like social rituals like a weekly pub meeting with a group of people at a local place, or people-watching while I’m mentally processing something. I think that once I can understand every living being on the planet, then I can die happy.

You've got fifteen seconds to tell your favourite film director about your series – how are you going to sell the idea to them?

Wow! Okay, think Robert Altman’s ‘Short Cuts’ in Space… with androids and cyborgs and polysexual post-human relationships in alien vistas. Make it smutty with ordinary people from these places and throw in some cringe as they figure things out. Please collaborate with Ridley Scott on cinematics. #hotandroisabs, #weirdaliens, #astoundingplaces, #establishmentblues.

See Caldon Mull's books over at Amazon.

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