Dave Creek has been writing regularly for Analog for 15 years. He survived the regime change from longtime Analog editor Stanley Schmidt to new Analog editor Trevor Quachri. He recently graduated to novels. Now he’s tapped some of his fellow Analog writers for an anthology.
Here, Dave talks with Carl Slaughter about the fiction writing of “future history,” the characters in his fictional universe, his experience with Analog, his sequel to H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, his new anthology of space exploration stories by himself and other Analog writers, and his awesome cover art.
CARL SLAUGHTER: Define future history.
DAVE CREEK: Future histories have a long tradition in the SF field. Robert Heinlein is usually credited with coming up with the concept of a series of stories set against a common science-fictional background. In turn, he’s said to have gotten the idea from the mainstream writer Sinclair Lewis who wrote a series of stories, including the novels Main Street and Babbitt, set in the fictional city of Zenith, supposedly located in a county, also fictional, called Winnemac.
CS: Why use future history?
DC: The advantage of a future history is that you can give a series of stories a feeling of reality beyond an individual tale. I have at least six characters that I’ve written more than one story about. I’ve also written crossover stories where a couple of my characters have adventures together. And various supporting characters have been in more than one story. I’ve also used many of the same planets and alien races in several stories.
One advantage to such a series is that the more stories you write against a common background, the more detail your future history has. Some writers see that as a burden as more and more continuity is established, but I’ve found that I get more story ideas as I go along. Any fictional background you create is not going to be as detailed as the real world, of course, and I don’t hear writers complaining that reality has too much backstory established.
One danger of such a future history, though is that a writer can become lazy, recycling previous characters and backgrounds and themes in subsequent stories. But I have a rule with myself that whenever I feature any previously-established character, planet, or alien race that we learn something new about them in each story.
CS: How many timelines do you have in your stories and what are the settings for each timeline?
DC: I have a single timeline. Even though we call such things a “future history,” my timeline extends back as far as the year 1407, when my story “Zheng He and the Dragon” takes place. If you really go back, I establish in my novel Some Distant Shore that a planet my character Mike Christopher travels to called Moruteb formed seven billion years earlier. So far I’ve set stories as far into the future as 2151.
I’ve also published mysteries set in the past and in the present day that are also included in my timeline. Some of those stories are connected to the SF ones in subtle ways.
CS: Who are the main protagonists?
DC: The protagonists I’ve written the most about are Mike Christopher and Chanda Kasmira.
Mike is what I call an “artificial Human.” That is, he was created “from scratch” by scientists, not conceived in the natural way. I describe his features as “a lesson in Human variation.” His skin is a light brown, his dark brown hair is tightly curled, almost nappy. His eyes are a bright blue, but have epicanthic folds. His nose is thin and straight. Stories about him sometimes have a subtext of him being an outsider. He literally has no relatives, and so he’s had no experience with family structures that most people take for granted. It gives him an unusual outlook on things sometimes.
Mike is the Contact Officer on the starcraft Asaph Hall. That lets me send him out on a lot of different adventures where he becomes involved in first contacts with aliens or has to unravel problems involving alien races Humanity has already contacted. He’s the protagonist of my novel Some Distant Shore, in which he and the crew of the Asaph Hall, accompanied by ships from the Cetronen, Drodusarel, and Sobrenian races, investigate the collision of two star systems. A second novel featuring Mike, All Human Things, is forthcoming.
Chanda Kasmira is a diplomat for the Earth Unity, which you might say is my equivalent of Star Trek’s Federation. So far, all of her stories have taken place on a planet called Splendor, which is under a death sentence to be delivered in about nine decades. A nearby star has gone supernova, and the gas nebula from that explosion will scour all life from Splendor’s surface.
Chanda’s mission is to evacuate Splendor’s population, a process expected to take years if not decades. The problem is that Splendor has two intelligent species living on its surface. The highlanders live in a wintery environment, while the valley dwellers live in the volcanically-heated valleys. The two species, while they live in very different environments, are tied together by trade, religion, and tradition.
Chanda’s challenge (hey, that would be a good title) is to find a planet where both the highlanders and valley dwellers can live. But there are none with an ecology like Splendor to be found. That raises the prospect of the two Splendorian species having to learn to live on separate planets.
The collection A Glimpse of Splendor and the forthcoming novel Chanda’s Awakening tell most of Chanda’s story so far. A Glimpse of Splendor also features several Mike Christopher stories; in fact, the first adventure of his that I chronicled was the title story, which actually takes place on Splendor, with Chanda coming along later for her solo adventures. The collection concludes with a crossover story featuring both Mike and Chanda.
DC: Mostly my characters’ problems are personal or at least local. Chanda has to focus on saving the entire population of Splendor, but a story will be about a specific tribe that’s being affected by her efforts. Mike Christopher’s stories often focus on a few people, perhaps on a space station or a particular area of a planet. My forthcoming novel, All Human Things, though, will widen the scope of his concerns.
CS: Who are the main antagonists and what’s their motivation for causing trouble?
DC: The antagonists I’ve used the most are the Sobrenians. They’re an aggressive race, and they consider weapons technology their highest art form. An adult Sobrenian has a torso three times the thickness of a Human’s. Their eyes swivel independently in their sockets. They wear elaborate robes, and the number of colors running through the fabric of those robes indicate their social status.
I like the Sobrenians because although they can play the role of the typical villains in a story, I’ve also established that they’re often just full of bluster about their weapons and their potential for violence and don’t actually squeeze the trigger. On the other hand, sometimes they do squeeze the trigger, so they’ve kind of unpredictable. They can go from serious threat to rather comical non-threat back to serious threat again, in an instant.
Another quality I enjoy about them is that they’re just kinda smarmy. They believe they’re simply better than most other Galactic intelligences they encounter, including Humans. They constantly refer to other races as “pre-sentient.” That can lead to some misunderstandings when dealing with them, and Chanda, for instance, has had to urge the occasional Sobrenian to consider that although they consider Humans to be “pre-sentient,” that Humans insist upon acting “as if” they have sentience.
Chanda’s had to deal with Sobrenians in several of the Splendor stories.
CS: Analog is hard science oriented. What hard science do you include in your stories and how do you integrate them into the plots?
DC: I’m not a trained scientist, so I depend upon science books, internet research, and any other sources I can come up with. I also know when to keep things vague scientifically and keep the focus on my characters and their interactions. I always think of the movie Star Trek: First Contact, in which a Borg spacecraft thrusts itself back in time as the Enterprise flies through the resulting “temporal wake.” The Enterprise crew realizes the Borg have conquered the Earth while back in the past. Data explains that “somehow” the temporal wake protected them from the Borg’s actions, allowing the Enterprise to follow them back in time. The word “somehow” carries a lot of freight there, but keeps the story moving without a lot of technobabble.
CS: Have all your stories been published in Analog? If not, which have been published elsewhere? Which have been published first/exclusively in your own anthologies and other editor’s anthologies? How many are novels? Any of your future history stories not currently available in any venue?
DC: I’ve had twenty stories published in Analog, with another on the way. I’ve also been published in the anthologies Far Orbit Apogee, Touching the Face of the Cosmos, and Dystopian Express. My only novel so far is the Mike Christopher tale Some Distant Shore. But later this year should see the release of Chanda’s Awakening. Right now the plan is for my publisher, Hydra Publications, to issue the novel as an ebook serial, probably in four parts. Once the serial version is complete, it’ll be issued in a single ebook volume and in print.
Most of my future history stories have been collected in A Glimpse of Splendor and The Human Equations. The novel Some Distant Shore is an expansion of the Analog novella. And a couple Analog stories, “All Human Things” and “The Jenregar and the Light” are going to be incorporated into upcoming novels.
CS: Any of your stories been rejected by Analog?
DC: I’m proud to say I’ve had stories rejected by the finest editors in the field, including both Stanley Schmidt and Trevor Quachri at Analog, Sheila Williams at Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and Gordon Van Gelder and Charlie Finlay at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, along with many others. But hey, once even Isaac Asimov received a rejection from Asimov’s. There’s no one who sells every story.
CS: Analog recently changed regimes. How did you fare during the transition?
DC: I’ve sold several stories to Trevor Quachri since he took over, so it’s been a smooth transition.
CS: A lot of your stories have been self-published. How has your self-published experience contrasted with your corporate-published experience?
DC: I’ve found that although I don’t much care for a lot of the mechanics of self-publishing, that it allows me to put material out there that otherwise wouldn’t have found a home. In the last year and a half, I’ve published the novellas The Silent Sentinel, A Crowd of Stars, Tranquility, and The Fallen Sun. These are all stories too short for traditional publishers to be interested in, and too long to send to magazines.
Tranquility, in particular, came about when I decided to write a new story featuring Dacia Stark, who’s a detective on the Moon. In coming up with new material, I realized it could encompass three earlier stories I’d written about Dacia, making a much longer story. The new material wouldn’t have stood on its own, so combining it with the older tales gave me an opportunity I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
And I’m getting faster with the formatting and other issues. I’ve made a conscious decision so far to self-publish only on Amazon, since it accounts for the majority of sales for most authors.
CS: Which authors are included in your anthologies, what are the themes/subgenres, what was the criteria for inclusion, and how did you connect with these people?
DC: Trajectories is the first anthology I’ve edited, so my experience here is limited. I knew I wanted to feature stories about space exploration, so I contacted people I knew had written any number of such stories. I approached a lot of writers who had been published in Analog, and it’s a pretty distinguished crowd. Bud Sparhawk has been writing for Analog since the sixties, and Marianne Dyson just published a book, Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet, written in collaboration with Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
CS: What’s on the horizon for Dave Creek?
DC: I enjoyed Trajectories enough that I’d like to do another volume in the series. That, of course, depends on whether the first one sells. We should find out soon. I have several short stories I’m waiting to hear back on, at Analog and various other magazines and anthologies. And the novels Chanda’s Awakening and All Human Things are waiting in the wings.
I also intend to write some more Chanda stories, but they will take her off of Splendor to some diplomatic adventures in a new venue. I’m not sure yet whether these will be a full novel or a series of shorter works that would eventually be collected into a book.
Looking at my career as such, I’m eager to find more ways to get the word out about my work and reach a broader audience. I have my Facebook, Twitter, and GoodReads presences as well as my website, but you have to be careful not to promote yourself constantly. I try to share things I think would be of interest to SF fans, whether it’s a review of a new book on GoodReads or a link to the latest pictures of Pluto on Facebook and Twitter.
CS: Who does that AWESOME cover art for your books?
DC: There’s a lot of backstory on the covers. My first book, the collection A Glimpse of Splendor, has a cover by David Lee Anderson. He does a lot of work for Yard Dog Press, my first publisher. He also did the artwork featured on the “Future History” page of my website. He’s very talented, especially with scenes of spaceships and planets. You can see more of his work at www.davidleeanderson.com.
My first novel, Some Distant Shore, has a cover by the great astronomical artist David Hardy. This particular image was created for the novella version of the book, which was an Analog cover story. David and I have corresponded over the years since, and I was glad my current publisher, Hydra Publications, was able to arrange to use that same image as the book cover.
David also provided the cover for a new edition of The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, for which I provided a short story sequel and some commentary. I was amazed that image hadn’t been used on a book before. Its previous appearance had been on a videotape release of a documentary about the book.
David has done covers for such luminaries as Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov, and I consider it an honor to have his work on two of my covers. You can find out more about his work at www.astroart.org.
The other covers are from services such as Shutterstock and Dreamstime that provide images that can be used for book covers, album art, or any other commercial purposes. You can buy the rights to such images pretty inexpensively. It’s one of the aspects of self-publishing that I actually consider fun. Sometimes I find myself just looking at various images for my own enjoyment and have to remember I’m on a mission to find a cover image.
Such images are often non-exclusive, so you take the chance that someone else might use it. So far I’ve never heard of that being a problem.
CS: OK, for fans who might be interested in the whole series, give us the fiction chronology and where to find the stories.
DC: Here’s the link to my website that lists all of my future history stories in the order in which they occur in my chronology. Keep I mind the list includes some stories that take place in the past and the present despite the “future history” terminology.
The list indicates where each story was originally published and whether I’ve included it in a collection. Those not in a collection currently will eventually appear in one once I have enough stories for a large enough volume.
For more info, check out Dave Creek’s future history stories in fiction chronological order.
Carl Slaughter wrote many reviews for Tangent before moving to Diabolical Plots as a reviewer and later an interviewer. He conducted 50 plus interviews for Diabolical Plots. For the past 14 years, he has traveled the globe teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) in 6 countries on 3 continents. Carl has traveled to 18 countries and counting. (He’s tired.) In college, Carl studied journalism, broadcasting, advertising, English, speech, and history. For several years, he was a stringer for the Associated Press. His essay on Chinese culture was published in Beijing Review. His essay on Korean culture was published in The Korea Times, as was his expose on the Korean ESL industry. His travel/education reports about Thailand occasionally appear on the Ajarn website. Carl subscribes to the Mike Resnick philosophy of fiction: It’s all about the characters. Check out Carl’s Diabolical Plots interviews, his Facebook photos with his students of all ages from around the world, and a short Youtube video of Carl with some VERY excited Thai kindergarteners.