Wednesday, December 10, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Brian Burt, Science Fiction Author

Brian Burt, Author
(To be published Feb. 2015)
Please welcome science fiction author Brian Burt. Reviewers tout his first book, AQUARIUS RISING BOOK 1: IN THE TEARS OF GOD, as an “apocalyptic/dystopian aquatic tale of impressive scope and remarkable vision.” He describes it as a “cautionary tale,” a “what if”  story that tells what might happen if we don’t listen. It won the 2014 EPIC e-book award for Science Fiction. You can check out an excerpt from this book following the interview.

Burt's second book, AQUARIUS RISING BOOK 2: BLOOD TIDE, to be released in February 2015, features a human-dolphin hybrid trying to survive from the outcome of climate change. 

Burt is a father of three boys, although he hints that he might really be the fourth “boy” in the family.  When he’s not writing, he enjoys his day job as an information security engineer, protecting us against hackers. The award-winning author has published more than 20 short stories in addition to his novels and is already working on the third book in the Aquarius Rising Trilogy.

Q: I’m always amazed and impressed with how you science fiction authors envision your “what if” story. Reviewers tout your plot as an “apocalyptic/ dystopian aquatic tale of impressive scope and remarkable vision.” How do you do it? What inspired you to create the story for AQUARIUS RISING?

Brian Burt: I'm a dad.  I have three boys, ages 8 to 18, and (despite my chronic immaturity) it's my job to look after them.  I've always believed that means I'm supposed to ensure that the world they inherit is at least a bit better than the one in which I grew up.  Lately, when I consider the trends, I struggle to convince myself that I'm living up to that responsibility.

Climate change is one of the "inconvenient truths" that keep me awake at night.  I'm not a scientist or a climate expert, but I do read what the experts have to say, and it's not encouraging.  We seem determined to conduct a massive, uncontrolled experiment with the Earth as our laboratory.  If things go wrong and the experiment blows up in our faces, we can't just leave the building until somebody else cleans up the mess.

That concern over "what if" emerged as one of the central themes that inspired my debut novel, AQUARIUS RISING: IN THE TEARS OF GOD. The characters in this story, Book 1 of the Aquarius Rising trilogy, find themselves fighting for survival on an Earth where a disastrous attempt to reverse global warming has had the opposite effect.  Most of the planet has become harsh and inhospitable.  To adjust to the brutal conditions, humans have adapted themselves through bioengineering.  We (humanity) have become the parent race to a variety of child species, all of them competing to dominate the ecological niches that still support life.  In this series, we're too often unfit parents.

So, yes, it has dystopian elements.  But I think of this as a cautionary tale, a fictional exploration of one possible future — one we as a species ought to fight like hell to avoid!

Q: How important is credibility to a science fiction thriller? One reviewer credited you with “incredible technical tools made believable.” What do you do to make your story and its characters believable?

Brian Burt: I'll admit to feelings of insecurity on this.  I don't have formal education in the hard sciences, so I often worry about messing up the technical details, especially in a series of novels of this complexity.  So I begged for help.  I ended up soliciting feedback from three very gracious scientists, experts in marine biology and oceanography, who reviewed the first draft of AQUARIUS RISING: IN THE TEARS OF GOD and helped me avoid obvious gaffes.  I think in any fiction genre, but especially science fiction, making a glaring mistake of scientific fact alienates a good chunk of your audience.

Q: Reviewers also embrace your characters as “well thought out” and characters “that you really care about.” Why do you think they like your characters? Did you copy real people?

Brian Burt: That's a great question, and a tricky one!  I think every author is a voyeur — a quiet student of human nature who observes and records unobtrusively all the time.  I definitely draw on aspects of the personalities of real people when I create fictional characters.  But, of course, no character in the novel is a "carbon copy" of somebody I know.  Good characters in fiction take on lives of their own and branch off in directions that you, as their "creator," never imagined up-front.  That's a big part of the fun and challenge of being a writer.  You have to give your characters (like your kids) space to evolve and not be constrained by your own biases or preconceptions.  If you do that, you can end up with characters who are compelling to you... and if they grab the writer's attention, they have a much better chance of appealing to readers.

Q: How relevant is the concept of hero-versus-villain to telling your story? What are the attributes of an effective villain?

Brian Burt: I've never been a fan of the "pure evil" villain, the cartoon bad guy who has no redeeming qualities.  In AQUARIUS RISING: IN THE TEARS OF GOD, I wound up with a villain named Edmund Bryce who was a pretty nasty dude; he did some truly despicable things.  But he genuinely believed he was doing them to achieve a greater good.  He had some worthy goals, and he was haunted by painful episodes in his own past that marked him indelibly.  I didn't much like him, but I did feel sympathy for him.  So, I think readers generally enjoy having somebody to root for and somebody to root against... but I think they're smart and sophisticated, savoring protagonists with some flaws and antagonists with some virtues.  Speculative fiction readers strike me as a very savvy bunch, and anyone who reads books these days is probably a pretty discriminating judge of storytelling!

Q: Did you write AQUARIUS RISING to entertain only, or did you intend to deliver a message or educate your readers?

Brian Burt: I wanted to write a story with plenty of action and compelling characters, but I was aiming for more than that.  I'm not an activist, and I don't mean to get overly political.  But I do hope the novel makes readers think: are we willing to bet the future of our planet on a roll of the climate dice, praying that the scientific consensus is wrong and that the bones won't come up snake-eyes?  Is this really the kind of world we would bequeath to our grandchildren?  Can we trust ourselves as a species to "play god" to some extent and manipulate our own genetics?  If we try to "geo-engineer" a fix to global problems, will we be better or worse off in the long run?  These aren't easy questions, and I certainly don't know the answers.  But if readers end up contemplating them, I'll feel satisfied that the novel had some value.

It was reassuring to learn that the novel won the 2014 EPIC eBook Award for Science Fiction.  We all need validation once in a while, and this renewed my determination to keep working and striving to become a better storyteller.

Q: What draws you to write in your genre? Why “dystopia” rather than “utopia?” Can there not be an interesting story in “utopia?”

Brian Burt: I think utopias can be intriguing as well, but I'd have to confess that most of the memorable stories that leap to mind (from classics like 1984, Brave New World, or Farenheit 451 to more contemporary novels like the Hunger Games) seem to focus on the shadows in our future rather than the light.  I suspect it's easier to create drama and tension in a dystopian setting, sad to say.  The works of speculative fiction that stick with us are often haunting, not necessarily predictive but provocative.

Q: Why write a series rather than a standalone book?

Brian Burt: Believe it or not, the Aquarius Rising series began its life as a short story.  For most of my writing career, I've only written short fiction; in fact, my first big break as a writer was winning the Gold Award (grand prize) in the Writers of the Future contest for a short story entitled "The Last Indian War."  So I wrote a (somewhat long) short story called "Neptune's Children" that was set in the fictional world that became Aquarius, but it was a dismal failure.  I couldn't do the idea justice in that format.  So, when I finally decided (gulp!) to get over my fear of commitment and try a full-length novel, the world of Aquarius Rising seemed perfect, but I still strongly suspected that it would expand beyond the boundaries of a single novel.

Q: Reviewers are pleased with the “unremitting tension” and say you did a “good job of balancing action, exposition and scene-setting to create a highly colorful page-turner.” How do you build tension and suspense? Are there any tricks?

Brian Burt: I'm a rookie novelist, so I wouldn't presume to imply that I've mastered the tricks!  But I'm a longtime, voracious reader, and I've learned some valuable lessons from the brilliant authors who have hooked me with their writing styles.  I tried to approach my debut novel with the assumption that each chapter was in some sense a short story unto itself, but one that could end on a cliff-hanger without cheating the reader.  So I tried to build tension within most chapters, leaving some unresolved challenge for the point-of-view character to confront at chapter's end.  That can certainly be overdone, and the pace needs to be varied, but I tried my best to ramp up the tension steadily throughout the novel.

Q: What’s next?

Brian Burt: AQUARIUS RISING BOOK 2: BLOOD TIDE is scheduled for release in early 2015.  I'm hard at work on BOOK 3: THE PRICE OF EDEN, which will conclude the Aquarius Rising trilogy.  After that, I'm looking forward to building a totally new fictional world, but it will likely still draw on environmental themes since these evoke passion in me as a writer and as a person.

Q:  Tell us about Brian Burt. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Brian Burt: My wife would say that I'm an overgrown kid (maturity-wise, at least), so I love goofing around with my three boys.  I also enjoy my day job as an information security engineer.  Anyone who reads the headlines knows that the cyber-crooks keep breaching the digital barriers and stealing precious personal information from company after company.  I love the challenge of trying to block them, to put on the "white hat" and counter the black-hat hackers.  These days, it definitely feels like there are a lot more attackers than defenders.  Talk about job security!

About Brian Burt

Brian Burt works as an information security engineer in West Michigan, where some of his most bizarre and twisted imaginings wind up in threat assessments.  His wife and three boys tolerate his strange imagination and constantly inspire new flights of fancy, whether they mean to or not.  He enjoys reading, cycling, hiking, horseplay, red wine, and local micro-brews (so hopefully the virtues balance the vices, more or less).  At every opportunity, he uses his sons as an excuse to act like an unruly child (which is why his wife enjoys rum, school days, and migraine medication).

Brian has published more than twenty short stories in various markets, including print magazines, anthologies, and electronic publications.  He won the L. Ron Hubbard Gold Award in 1992 for his short story, “The Last Indian War,” which was anthologized in WRITERS OF THE FUTURE VOLUME VIII.  His story “Phantom Pain” received an Honorable Mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Tenth Annual Collection, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.  He’s a card-carrying member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  His debut novel, AQUARIUS RISING: IN THE TEARS OF GOD, won the 2014 EPIC eBook Award for Science Fiction.

*Winner of the 2014 EPIC Award for Best Science Fiction* 

On an Earth ravaged by global warming, human-dolphin hybrids called Aquarians have built thriving reef colonies among the drowned cities of the coast. Now their world is under siege from an enemy whose invisible weapon leaves no survivors. Only Ocypode the Atavism—half-human and half-Aquarian, marooned in the genetic limbo between species—knows why. Disclosing the reason could be as deadly to Aquarius as the Medusa plague itself. Ocypode and his comrades must face the perils of flight into the open ocean, a friend’s betrayal, a killer storm, a lethal kelp forest haunted by mutant monsters, and a fundamental challenge to their most cherished beliefs if they are to have any hope of saving Aquarius from destruction. They must enlist allies of the most unexpected sort from the most unlikely of places. Even then—when confronted by rogue scientists determined to resurrect the land by slaughtering the sea—it may not be enough.

We were born in the tears of God.
When the First Creator wept at the fate of His Creation, His tears fell like burning rain to melt the polar ice and swell the seas, the cradle of all life.  His grief swallowed the mighty human cities of the coast and gave them over to the realm of Mother Ocean.  Humanity, who did not aggrieve the Maker out of malice but out of ignorance, wished to atone for their sins against the Earth.  We are that atonement.  We are Humankind's offering to the First Creator, the Maker of All.  The Great Father — a man, and nothing more — crafted his transforming virus and infected his own kind, so that we might be born as the children of Man and Mother Ocean.  Humanity became the Second Creator, Aquarius the Second Creation, and we the stewards of its bounty.
We owe much to Man, who is our father and our brother.  We must honor our debt to him.  But we must always remember this: he who has the power to Create also has the power to Destroy.
— Delphis, Third Pod Leader of Tillamook Reef Colony, from a speech to commemorate the Fiftieth Aquarian Birth Day


Ocypode dove through the turquoise waters of Tillamook Reef toward the fringes of the celebration.  Revelers floated everywhere.  Strings of limpets, whelks, and periwinkles glittered around their necks, clicking when they moved.  Brightly colored pigments stained their skin of blue and gray and silver with pictograms symbolizing the history of Aquarius.  Ocypode ghosted through the crowd in silence.  His own flesh bore no ornaments.
Ocypode of Tillamook had no desire to draw attention to himself.
He slipped through the window of an ancient building, its barnacle-encrusted frame long devoid of panes, and hovered in the opening like a misshapen eye thrust into the socket of a skull.  Birth Day throngs made him want to flee toward open ocean.  He preferred to watch from the shadows.
The surface shimmered overhead as sunlight filtered down to paint the reef.  The drowned Human city had been reborn, bones of steel and concrete covered with a growth of corals. Fish darted between caves marked by crumbling doors and windows, danced across the reef like fragments of a shattered rainbow.  Waves soughed beneath the chatter of the crowd.  When he listened, Ocypode could almost grasp the secrets hidden in that ceaseless whisper.
Ocypode hated secrets.  They had ruled his life for far too long...but not today.

Scheduled for release by Double Dragon Publishing in 2015

Megalops is an Aquarian, a human-dolphin hybrid who lives in one of the many reef-cities that thrive beneath the waves on an Earth ravaged by climate change.  Some of the Humans who cling to the barren lands blame Aquarius for their plight and unleashed the Medusa Plague that entombed Megalops's wife and daughter in stone.  Tormented by that loss, Megalops dedicates everything to avenging his murdered family, no matter what the cost.  He unleashes a Vendetta Virus as cruel and lethal as the Medusa Plague, a bio-weapon that transforms living Humans into Aquarian corpses.

Ocypode — one of the heroes who stopped the Medusa Plague — and his band of Human and Aquarian allies battle desperate odds to prevent Megalops from committing an act of genocide that will escalate into global conflict, dragging the Earth's other humanoid species into the chaos.  War demands sacrifice.  If Mother Earth and Mother Ocean wage war against each other, will anyone survive?


Purchase Links:

Author Links

Twitter - @btburt 

No comments:

Post a Comment