Tag Archives: Arthur C. Clarke

Interview: Matt Williams

Greetings all. Today’s interview is with Matt Williams. He’s another author I’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting face to face, but one of these days I’ll do a west coast swing and hopefully get a chance to share a beverage with him.

Interview: Matt Williams

What is your quest?

I guess you could say my quest has always been to write the kind of science fiction that I would want to read, the kind of stuff that inspired me growing up and made me want to become a writer myself. This comes down to hard science fiction mostly, and the classics that have remained relevant and influential long after they were written. Examples include the venerable Frank Herbert and his magnum opus, the Dune series. He was the author that taught people to take science fiction seriously, myself included.

And of course, there is 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, perhaps the most-influential works of the 20th century and the stories that taught me how science fiction is also a commentary on the present as much as a vision of the future. And then there was William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Sprawl Trilogy, which not only taught me about gritty, cyberpunk realism, but that all science fiction is about the time period in which it is written.

I also derived a lot of inspiration from Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey series and Rendezvous with Rama, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe, Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and The Outcasts, Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, and various works by Charles Stross and Kim Stanley Robinson. All of these books helped me learn to dream in hard science fiction, and to weave tales of my won.

And of course, I wouldn’t be where I am now were it not for the opportunity I’ve had to write about astronomy, science, and space exploration for Universe Today. All of my published work owes its existence to what I have learned from my job, which is how to take space-related news and knowledge and make it accessible for public consumption. You might say there’s some crossover there with being a science fiction writer! 😉

What is your favorite color?

I’m not too picky, as long as the colors are appropriate to the setting. That’s one thing I like about settings, they need to be detailed so that people can get an image in their mind of what it’s like to be there. This includes not only what things look like, but also smell like and feel like. Space and place are very important when it comes to creating atmosphere and setting the mood. This is as true for science fiction as it is in real life.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

The challenges have been numerous and belligerent! But that’s pretty much how it goes and that which does not kill you makes you stronger. For starters, I found that you have to make all the mistakes before you can expect to identify them. You also have to learn that reality does not conform to expectations. Much of these lessons were learned from my first novel, which was self-published and really didn’t do that well.

And even after learning all that, I’ve found I still have some serious difficulties with the writing process. Some of these are typical while others feel like they are particular. For instance, I have a hell of a time writing the middle parts of stories. Beginnings are easy for me, which is why I start projects all the time that I never finish. Endings are great too, that’s where most of the exciting stuff happens. But those middle chapters? Ick! This seems like an example of a typical problem for writers.

But what I think may be particular to myself is the difficulty I have with writing third installments. Not sure why, but the third book in a series is always the hardest for me to write. The first book is a challenge since it involves setting the stage and all that, but it’s creatively fun and rewarding. The second book seems easy by comparison, since you’ve already set the stage and the second act is all about turning up the heat and taking things to the next level! But the third book? That’s where everything has to come together and conclude in a nice, tidy package. So many details to remember, so many threads that need to be tied!

 What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I would say my most effective technique is visualization, specifically the ability to picture how things will look in a story before committing them to paper. I’ve always had a fertile imagination, which could be a liability at times! In grade school, I was accused more than once of being lazy, inattentive, and stupid for the way I would be constantly daydreaming. Luckily, my educators saw the potential and recommended I channel my imagination into my work. Now my work is based on my ability to imagine things. I believe they call that “check” and “mate”!

This has led to many reviewers and commenters saying that they liked my “world-building”. I have to admit, that’s one of my favorite aspects of creating a story, picturing how everything fits into a narrative universe and fleshing it out from there. And since people seem to respond to that, I am happy to keep doing it!  

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Kermit
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Crunchy
  • Favorite Sports Team? BC Lions
  • Cake or Pie? Cake
  • Lime or Lemon? Lime
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Onion and Chive
  • Wet or Dry? Dry
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Shawn Pigott
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Whiskey
  • Favorite Superhero? Iron Man
  • Steak Temperature? Hot, but still pink in the middle
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? M*A*S*H
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Spring
  • Favorite Pet? Jasper
  • Best Game Ever? Skyrim
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Sci-Fi (hello!)

What question(s) would you like to ask me?

My questions are a bit eclectic and my I’m heavily-biased when it comes to them, so feel free to pass on any or all of them:

Beer or wine? Beer
Favorite beer? Schlafly Tasmanian IPA
How much ya’ bench? Both pounds
Best sci-fi movie of all time? Empire Strikes Back
Best recent sci-fi movie? Guardians of the Galaxy
Best sci-fi novel/writer of all time? Isaac Asimov
Terraforming or space habitats? Both
FTL, yay or nay? Eventually. There’s too much fuzziness in time and space for there not to be a way of circumventing.
What is the central question posed by the Fermi Paradox? Why the human race can’t get a date.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

Here are the links of interest:

And where can we find you?

I am still contemplating attending TitanCon, which is being held in Belfast this year. It’s a bit of a hop, but one that would be worth it.

Do you have a creator biography?

Matthew S. Williams is an author, a writer for Universe Today and the curator of their Guide to Space section. His works include sci-fi/mystery The Cronian Incident and his articles have been featured in Phys.org, HeroX, Popular Mechanics, Business Insider, Gizmodo and IO9, Science Alert, Knowridge Science Report, and Real Clear Science, with topics ranging from astronomy and Earth sciences to technological innovation and environmental issues. He is also a former educator and a 5th degree Black Belt Tae Kwon Do instructor. He lives on Vancouver Island with his wife and family.

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not?

 How about best science fiction series of all time? Opinions on this are usually divisive and varied, but for me, it’s Babylon 5. No other sci-fi series that I have experienced before or since has managed to capture J.M. Straczynski’s ability to weave a tale, set the stage, and connect it all in a brilliantly-circular fashion. At least as far as I am concerned.

Here are a couple of reviews of his first two novels.

“The Cronian Incident, which I recommended to my audience as my top Sci-Fi read of the year, is a treasure of planetary science.“ –Heather Archulette (aka. Pillownaut)

 “Exciting plot with a good foundation in science. This is not surprising given the author’s expertise as an excellent science writer for Universe Today. Inspiring ending. Highly recommended!” –Prof. Avi Loeb, Harvard University


Thanks to Matt for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: Dr. Robert E. Hampson

This guy is brilliant. He’s a neuroscientist working on how humans remember stuff and he’s a science fiction writer as well. He’s also a very nice guy and fun to chat with. If you can, sit down with him. You’ll learn something, I guarantee it.

Interview: Dr. Robert E. Hampson
Dr. Robert E. Hampson
Dr. Robert E. Hampson

What is your quest?

My quest is to entertain and inform.  An online friend once remarked that I teach as naturally as I breathe.  I’m a scientist, so much of my nonfiction writing is basically: “How do I break this down so that the average reader can understand (with maybe some recourse to Google)?”  Sometimes while writing nonfiction I hit on something that I think would make a good plot point for fiction.  I grew up reading Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, so I want to write stories that take people on adventures in a future that has a certain hope for spreading mankind to the stars.

Then again, one of my strongest influences was James P. Hogan, so I also lean toward having sympathetic scientist/engineer characters and include the human side: love, laughter, longing and loss.

In person at conventions, I definitely like to entertain, and often I find myself in the position where my main contribution is to be the comic relief.  Strangely, that doesn’t make it into my fiction very often.  “Headspace and Timing” in Tales from the Lyon’s Den is the rare exception, and I hope folks like it. (Rob’s Note: This was released on 25 September as the first of a new set of Four Horsemen anthologies. You should buy it. You should especially buy the second one, Luck is Not a Factor, because I have a story in it 😀 )

What is your favorite color?

I like to take something from my education and professional work and weave it into the story.  Again, I tend to have sciency-type characters, although I’ve also shamelessly borrowed from friends’ careers as well.  For “Unto the Last, Stand Fast” in The Good, the Bad and the Merc I was heavily influenced by “The Last Stand” by Sabaton.  I’ve also written stories that draw heavily from dreams.  My stories for John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising series were influenced by some things I remember from free-association musing and dreaming after reading John’s stories.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

I think any writer has this – there’s something we think is funny, or cute, or an essential reference – and the reader doesn’t get it.  One of the problems with having lots of ideas, writing them down, even writing the stories (but not selling them) is that I create a character.  I *like* the character.  The character has adventures.  In my mind, I know all of these things, so when I write something else in that universe or with that character, I incorporate the known background.  Unfortunately, if the other stories never see the light of day, the reader has no idea why the fact that “Mr. Davis” was a Boy Scout camp counselor should mean anything.

I’ve had an anthology editor tell me I’m just not ready for prime time… after I’d already sold 4 stories to anthologies.  Granted, I haven’t sold to big name magazines (Analog, etc) yet, and I definitely known that I have much to learn.  But it’s certainly amusing to contemplate that 10 stories sold (by now) is “not ready.”

Rob Hampson playing the trumpet.
Rob Hampson playing the trumpet.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

My proudest production is a story that was submitted to the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command’s (TRADOC) Mad Science Writing contest.  My story “To Serve and Serve Again” is one of my favorites.  It has a bit of history, though – I wrote the story “They Also Serve” about a cardiovascular surgeon dealing with his own version of PTSD having to patch up soldiers and send them back to war.  It was for Tom Kratman’s Riding the Red Horse and he wanted a sequel that would continue the story. (Alien invasion, and a treatment the doc developed was key to allowing human soldiers to survive).  TAS was around 10k words, TSaSA told the tale of a combat medic, since one of my best friends served two combat tours as a medic – and it came in at almost 15k… I actually figure I could probably write 3-4 more stories in that setting and compile into a book if I ever get the time.

…And then the sequel anthology fell through.  The TRADOC contest wanted stories of no more than 5k words.  The problem from my perspective was that TSaSA was just right for the contest (and I was right – it was a finalist) so I had to cut it.  So I trimmed some of the explicit character development and left scenes that would allow the reader to fill in the gap.  I had to cut what I thought was important backstory, but it had to go.  The final product was lean but read well.  I was proud of it, and obviously the jurists liked it – it was in the finalist compilation of the best 25 stories submitted.

Interestingly enough, someone did an analysis of how the stories submitted to the contest were a pretty close match to the Department of Defense’s advanced research solicitations.  It seems that a keyword search of the “research wanted” announcements by DoD was a pretty close match to a keyword search of the stories submitted.  The article singled out one particular story to illustrate a fictional “portable medical record” that was nearly identical to a DoD solicitation for a “portable medical record” … and that story was mine.  So, yeah, I’m particularly proud of that one.   Military SF, ripped from the pages of actual research… kinda.  .

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? The “Doctor Russ” muppet.  This one’s pretty obscure, but a long-time friend of mine worked with Sesame Street to develop educational videos for children of deployed and returning service members.  For Russell’s retirement from the Navy and DARPA, one of the Sesame Street producers showed a video featuring Elmo and Dr. Russ and presented him with the Dr. Russ muppet.
  • Crunchy or Creamy?  Crunchy.  More character
  • Favorite Sports Team? San Antonio Spurs.
  • Cake or Pie? Why not both?  (actually, Pecan Pie, but I can no longer eat it due to the high sugar content)
  • Lime or Lemon? Again, both.  Lymon.
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  French Onion
  • Wet or Dry? I’m a big guy who’s always sweating.  Definitely prefer dry.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of?  Not a performer, but I’m a fan of video game music.  The guys composing music for Halo, Mass Effect, Destiny, etc. are composing fantastic symphonic epics.
  •  Whisky or Whiskey? Shame on you!  There is no “e” in whisky.  Single malt. Neat.  Preferably old enough to pour itself another.
  • Favorite Superhero? DC:  The Flash, Marvel: Captain America
  • Steak Temperature? Medium rare, especially if it’s well-aged beef.  The longer the aging, the rarer I would cook it.
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? The Six Million Dollar Man… it influenced my career, so this is a no-brainer.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

And where can we find you?

  • June 1-3, Guest, ConCarolinas, Charlotte, NC
  • June 29-July 1,  Guest, LibertyCon, Chattanooga, TN.
  • July 13-15, Guest,  ConGregate, High Point, NC.
  • August 30-September 3, Guest, Dragon*Con, Atlanta, GA.

Thanks to Dr. Hampson for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell