Carleton Chinner on Xhosa storytelling and space opera
Carleton Chinner writes near-future space opera. He is the author of the Cities of the Moon series—The Hills of Mare Imbrium, and Plato Crater. He also reviews new releases of predominantly science fiction for the Aussie Speculative Fiction Review where he enjoys reading stories that explore what science means to humanity. Carleton is known to enjoy solid science and will grumble at stories where fires burn in a vacuum or scuba divers spend hours underwater without needing decompression. I detect a healthy dose of scepticism in a writer with no need to suspend disbelief.
Welcome, Carleton, and thanks for joining me on Last Word of the Week. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?
Carleton: I’m more a storyteller than a writer. I guess that comes with the territory when you spend your childhood on an African farm where old Xhosa women spin marvellous tales of river serpents and white-painted, clay-clad women who return from the dead. I absorbed the craft of stories from these Xhosa ladies: the pull of suspense, the impact of vivid imagery, and the all-important need to suspend disbelief. There was no book learning, but learning nonetheless, in the deep organic sense of stories told in voice and rhythm. Learning in the way of things told and remembered.
That’s the best description of storytelling I’ve encountered! Lucky you. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?
Just one scene? If I had to choose it would be a scene from my second book, Plato Crater, where two characters who cannot be together meet as remotely piloted droids in an uninhabited lunar crater. Circumstances mean there is no way they will get together soon, but they still find a way to share a kiss under the endless stars.
I love this scene because it captures an idea that is quite central to my writing; no matter how whizzbang the future technology is, people will still be people with human needs and desires.
That’s really romantic, especially for droids! If I told one of your characters that they were imaginary, how would they respond?
Brother Jonas is a monk in a collection of short stories I am writing who may be something other than human. It would be great fun to tell him he was imaginary. I suspect it would lead him to deep introspection about who we are and what makes us real.
Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?
I’ve always been drawn to descriptions of our first interactions with aliens that cast light on who we are as humans. One of the first books I read like this was Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land where a child raised by Martians comes to Earth and has to comprehend human culture. Heinlein’s description of laughter as a human response to the suffering of another had me sit back and go “Whoa! I never thought of it like that.”
I’m a big fan of China Miéville’s creative worldbuilding, but his Embassytown stands head and shoulders above the rest with its twin-brained aliens who get high on language, in a world where hyperspace is like travelling on the sea complete with seasickness and sharks.
More recently, I’ve been reading Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis series which is packed with a diverse array of ideas about race, sexuality, violence, and even body modification.
Wonderful books in that list! Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?
Don’t be afraid of rejection. Just write! Tell the stories you want to tell.
I wasted so much time wondering if I should write instead of just getting on and writing.
Good point! What’s next for you in the world of writing?
Planning for the GenreCon * conference in November is taking up a lot of my writing time right now. It’s hard work, but worth it. GenreCon is going to be great.
When I’m not busy with that I’m working on a new technothriller about how Australia implements a reputation system like the new Chinese system.
*Genrecon will be a three-day feast of genre held in Brisbane from Nov 22, 2019, with fantastic speakers and panels.
Oooh, that sounds interesting! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?
An oldie, but I would love to be Phillip Linx from Alan Dean Foster’s Flinx stories as he explores crazy worlds in the Humanx Commonwealth. More importantly I’d be Flinx for his pet Alaspinian mini-dragon Pip. How cool would it be to have your own dragon?
Super cool! Thank you for sharing with me today, Carleton, and all the best with Genrecon.