Can you fall in love with a literary genre? Absolutely. Writer Steve Benton is proof. The man dearly loves his sci-fi. He loves the speculative genre so much, he wasn’t merely content to simply read or watch it, he urgently needed to create it. After years of experiencing strange new galaxies, wild worlds and rampaging aliens as an admiring civilian, this unrepentant Steve McQueen fan (he actually wears McQueen’s sunglasses) became a published sci-fi author. Here we chat about his formative science fiction influences, the creative direction and tone of his own work, and how he feels about classic sci-fi influences such as Star Trek, Star Wars and the Marvel Comics universe.
It’s A Sci-Fi Universe
LT: I clearly remember watching original Star Trek for the first time at about 4 years old. I didn’t know quite what it was, but I was utterly fascinated by the colorful spectacle of it all. When did you first know you were a big sci-fi fan? How old were you?
SB: I can say, without a doubt, that I’m a fan of TOS. I was maybe six when it went into syndication. Times were simpler back then. Everything was so new in the series: transporters, phasers, Vulcans, Andorians. And Cpt. Kirk looked a lot like my dad. Plus, Kirk always got the girl.
LT: What were your favorite sci-fi or horror novels as a kid? Who are the writers who motivated you?
SB: I was never a big horror fan. I guess I’m a huge chicken. I read It, by Stephen King and couldn’t sleep without the lights on for a week. As for sci-fi novels, I really enjoyed Ringworld, by Larry Niven – Because it’s epic! The Ringworld is unstable! I also really liked The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury – I like how Bradbury used a thin frame to link various unrelated short stories. And I have to list 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke.
LT: Comic book fan? DC or Marvel fan equally, or do you have a distinct preference over one company or favorite characters?
SB: I’m a Marvel fan all the way. In fact, I used to own the very first issue of Peter Parker the Spectacular Spiderman (where he battles Tarantula). I also collected X-Men and Thor comics faithfully. Then I got married. Do the math.
LT: Of classic TV sci-fi creators, who are your favorites? Why?
SB: Rod Serling definitely had a huge influence on me as far as writing my short stories for OMNI Magazine (hit the link for a free copy). Like the Twilight Zone anthology, my short stories end in macabre or unexpected twists. In modern times, I really liked Firefly, by Joss Whedon. He created a plausible future that we can all relate to. It’s truly a shame the series was canceled.
LT: Are you a Whovian? Is Doctor Who something you enjoy? If not, how about other European/international sci-fi such as Space: 1999 or UFO?
SB: I have watched every episode of UFO and Space: 1999 multiple times. You just couldn’t beat the modeling work of Brian Johnson and Gerry Anderson. Sure, it looks cheesy now, but back in the day it was fantastic.
LT: Like the TV shows, what classic sci-fi films are among your favorites?
SB: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Avatar and District 9 are among my favorites. I know the last two don’t really qualify as “classic” sci-fi, but Avatar brought CGI to a whole, new level and D9 was just awesome.
Gene Roddenberry & Captain Kirk
LT: What does Star Trek mean to you and why? Are you more a fan of the classic series with Captain Kirk and the feature films or the Next Generation era with Captain Picard, Captain Sisko and Captain Janeway?
SB: TOS simply meant hope for the future. Gene Roddenberry kept the social construct of the future vague enough that our imaginations took over. That’s good writing. When I was a kid, we played with Tonka trucks and little green army soldiers. We had the basics, but were required to apply names and functions to everything. Our imagination was spurred on. Today, everything has a name, place, purpose and function. Creativity is no longer required in the minds of our youth. In all honesty, I yearn for the old days.
A New Hope
LT: Did the first Star Wars movie in 1977 alter your perception and notions of what sci-fi or space opera could be? Was it as transformative an experience for you as it is/was for so many fans?
SB: Definitely. Star Wars brought a wild, new universe where the lawless roamed almost unimpeded, as compared to Star Trek, where everything was hunk-dory (at least on Earth). But most of all it was the special effects for me. Nothing like that had been produced since 2001: A Space Odyssey. Plus, I’m all about epic space battles..
LT: Is your fiction work more pro or con about the future world we’re creating now? Are you more generally a Dystopian themed writer or a Utopian one?
SB: Azul (Spanish for the color blue), the human-colonized world of 2819 is neither dystopian nor utopian. Humanity has created a system where they have brought over the best of what they had developed over centuries. But this is not to say it’s without its problems: people will be people. The power-hungry still seek to manipulate by circumventing laws. FYI, there are no named political parties on Azul, per se. I can tell you that the descendants of vampires tend to be very bad people, and make even worse politicians. I write stories that everyone can enjoy, no matter their place in the realm of political thought.
LT: Of all the characters you’ve created, who’s the most like you – either intentionally or unintentionally? Often, I’ll create a character – even a minor one, then I’ll look over it later and think, ‘Wow, there’s a lot here that’s a lot like me.
SB: One would think I modeled Max Gunnarsson after myself. But actually it’s Draagh. He has a goofy sensibility about him, tends to forget things and doesn’t pay attention to detail. I’ve had ADD all my life and have to really concentrate on getting things completed. On another note, I pepper my books with the names of family and friends, and the date of Jennie’s first assignment on the ADF Revolution is my birthday, but nearly a thousand years later.
LT: Do you properly classify your books as sci-fi horror, sci-fi fantasy, or plain sci-fi? Do you think it really matters – genre classification? Or is it just for Barnes & Noble and Amazon and other sellers to categorize their stock?
Magic Or Technology?
SB: I think genre classifications are necessary in order to give readers some guidance in finding titles that will appeal to their tastes. However, my books would be more properly classified as “science fantasy”.
The Prīmulī Prophecies not only provides readers with a solid, futuristic conflict, but also injects a healthy dose of what I call “natural technology” (a.k.a. magic) and massive DNA tampering. Arthur C. Clarke once said any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and I take this to heart in my writings.
I have developed a universe where there is a scientific explanation for everything from magic to enhanced subspecies (lycans, vampires, etc.). I even came up with a biological reason why lycans are forced through the transformation on the full moon (it’s probably not what you would think). Everything has a purpose in my stories, but it doesn’t come off as buzz-kill, like the midichlorians did in Star Wars. I think the only other author I’ve personally seen who successfully mixes science and the mystical is Piers Anthony, and he does quite a good job of it.
Casting His Characters
LT: Have you thought on which actors and actresses you’d like to see portray your characters in movies or TV shows? And on the subject of live action or animated adaptations, do you feel your books make better movies or TV shows?
SB: I recently wrote a pitch based on LIVES OF FUTURE-PAST, the first novel in the Prīmulī Prophecies. Designed to be a three-season television series, each of the three books are spanned out over 12 episode seasons. This worked out well, because I am an extremely visual person. I see my stories happen as I write, so I feel they’ll translate well to both the big screen and the small.
As for actors, I played around with a list of the actors who could play various characters. This is so hard, as the characters in The Prīmulī Prophecies really don’t age (except for Liliana). I think the best choice for Draagh (the father of the Prīmulī) would be someone like Jeff Bridges. He emotes a goofy sensibility into his characters and can sport a mad beard. However, he’d have to lose the tobacco-mouthed western accent and adopt something more European.
The actress who portrayed Lara in LOGAN, Dafne Keen, could really do justice to Liliana, the mischievous and violent orphan lycan/mage girl, but she is already too old for the part, as Liliana is ten-years-old in the first book.
The protagonists, Max and Jennie, are from Córdoba, Nueva Argentina, are in their late twenties and speak English and Spanish (in the Argentine Porteño dialect). Spanish dialog is limited, so they wouldn’t have to actually be bilingual.
Jennie Escalante would have to be an absolutely stunning Latina (think Ana de Armas from Blade Runner: 2049). But if you want a look at how I envision Jennie, take a gander at the cover for my book LIVES OF FUTURE-PAST.
The actor portraying Max Gunnarsson would need to be able to start off as a smart, socially awkward scientist who gradually becomes a self-confident warrior (Aussie actor Thomas Cocquerel fits the look). Max evolves more than anyone in the first book. Still, my characters are definitely not one-dimensional. There are no Mary Sues. Each one has faults and/or weaknesses, which they must either overcome or simply deal with.
Admiral Bagatelle is a very stoic character. While he displays his softer side and some humility in LIVES OF LOST ANGELS, he doesn’t show a whole lot of personality, and is written that way on purpose. I think an actor like Keanu Reeves would pull him off well.
King Krynos would be well-portrayed by someone massive and exuberant, like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I can already hear the groans, but Krynos lives in Central Germany of the 43rd century, and Arnold’s accent and goofy presence would make the character come alive.
Some other honorable mentions include:
Gabriel: Alexander Ludwig (Vikings). A battle angel, Gabriel is grumpy, violent and big. All qualities carried by this fine actor.
Anaita: Alice Eve (Star Trek: Into Darkness). Alice is heterochromatic, like Anaita (one green eye and one blue). Plus, she has “Athena-level” looks and a proper English accent.
Of course, these are listed to just give the reader an idea of how I envision the characters. Casting agents would be in charge of this, and it probably wouldn’t be for a number of years, so you could scratch most off this list.
LT: What’s the most dynamic or thrilling new sci-fi film you’ve seen recently? For me, it was Blade Runner: 2049. I’m so excited and impressed by it. The film completely knocked me over. I also loved Black Panther – one of the greatest comic book films – period.
SB: I get pretty excited about any new sci-fi film, but I’m also critical of them in terms of plot. I really liked Prometheus and anything from the Marvel Extended Universe. My favorite sci-fi film of all time is The Fifth Element. Think about it—the Supreme Being, spaceships, the lost hero.
LT: Any books you’re reading now which are good enough to recommend to the readers?
SB: I am currently reading a lot of Shakespeare, as well as Don Quixote (in Spanish), so I can’t really make any sci-fi recommendations at the moment. I would recommend the Ringworld series to anyone. It’s totally up my alley.
The Future Beckons
LT: What’s the future of sci-fi for you as both writer and passionate fan? What’s the importance of science fiction as you see it, as we as a society become more computerized, and ever more dependent on technology?
SB: As sci-fi writers we have to constantly stay on top of our genre, as well as pay apt attention to current technology.
On a personal level, I see massive problems on the horizon with what we call “social media”. Kids’ attention spans have been nearly eliminated, and this isn’t good for inspiring new generations of readers. So, we need to develop new content, new worlds for readers to explore. With everything these days seeming to be a “reboot” or a “re-imagining”, fresh, original content is a must. I believe The Prīmulī Prophecies offers this.
To Be Or Not To Be – Klingon Or Latin?
LT: How do you handle alien or foreign languages in your novels?
SB: I once wrote an article for OMNI Magazine, called Creating an Alien Language for your Manuscript. I detail a couple of different ways to not only create and display an alien language, but also crafty ways to have characters speak to each other in something from Earth other than English. It can be a huge turnoff to someone who encounters foreign script but doesn’t know the language. Here is an example from LIVES OF LOST ANGELS.
“¡Tío! ¡Buenos días! ¿Tenés hambre?”
“Good morning to you, too, Liliana. And yes, I am quite hungry.”
Now, we have injected some Spanish in the dialog, and properly had Bagatelle respond in a manner that not only answers Liliana’s greeting and question, but also lets the reader know exactly what she said.
The other language included in The Prīmulī Prophecies is Latin, as it is required for all cantuses (magic spells). The really cool thing about this is that a whole new generation of fans can create their own cantuses simply by utilizing Google Translate. I imagine cosplayers at ComicCon dressing like my characters and comparing devastating new cantuses. This is imagination in play, and can only serve to further the popularity of this fantastic universe.
Plus: Latin is much easier to learn than Klingon.
LT: What’s next for you? New books? New video projects?
SB: I recently completed a spinoff YA novel of The Prīmulī Prophecies universe, called LILI G MUST DIE. It follows the adventures of Liliana, the violent and (former) orphan girl first introduced in LIVES OF FUTURE-PAST. The Vrol war is over, and she is living on Azul while attending St. Mary’s Academy. Lili must maintain a secret identity while she studies, but has been targeted by escapees from the Vrol war who want to kill her. Lili could be viewed as Harry Potter’s opposite: her world the antithesis of his. While Harry lives in a hidden, magical place with those of his own ilk, Lili is alone, being the only magic-capable girl on her planet. If the two were to fight, I personally believe Lili would melt Harry’s brain without a second thought. Or, she’d develop a crush on him. She’s unpredictable, to say the least. I am currently seeking representation for this novel. FYI – I am currently editing the follow-up novel, called LILI G: HYPERION.
My other recently completed book is a novella, called HOW TO NOT DIE IN POST-APOCALYPTIC HOLLYWOOD, and returns to the world depicted in LIVES OF LOST ANGELS. I wrote and published this (Smashwords, iBooks, Barnes & Noble) because I had so many readers ask for more writings on the fractured, alternate dimension Hollywood. I think the thing that is so appealing about this world is that it offers so much familiarity to the reader. Of course it has magic, lycans, vampires, nekos and Vrol, but it also takes place in Hollywood, CA. Being a SoCal resident, I am very detailed on every location, street and turn made by the protagonist; a normal everyman who gets stuck without a way to get back. In fact, I only write real-world locations in my novels where I have actually been. So, yes, I’ve been to Lima, Machu Picchu, Germany, Hollywood, and many other places depicted in the books.
I also have a medical/political conspiracy thriller called AUgmenTISM awaiting completion. However, the book has a lot of action in St. Petersburg Russia.
So, guess where I’m going this summer…
Find out all about the author at his website: stevebenton.com