steampunk

Ester Meets District 9 – Digging Into Ellie Ann’s The Silver Sickle

SilverSickle-EllieAnn-FullCover-4Today I have a special interview for you. As you might imagine, as an editor, I have a difficult time reading for pleasure. So when I find a book I do enjoy, I like to tell people about it. Recently, I read The Silver Sickle by Ellie Ann, and as soon as I finished, I emailed to ask if she’d be willing to answer a few interview questions. I really wanted to share some of the fascinating elements of her novel with all of you!

What’s The Silver Sickle about? I’m glad you asked. Before we jump into the interview, here’s the description from Amazon.

The end of humanity will come through the Silver Sickle . . .

Farissa lives every moment with reckless abandon, for it may be her last. Any day now, the alien goddesses will harvest her and take her to the mysterious Silver Sickle, never to return. She’s accepted that. What she can’t accept is this new idea of freedom Zel has planted in her head. She’d give almost anything to be with Zel, but how can she run from her destiny if it means putting the whole kingdom in danger?

Everyone in the desert kingdom believes the goddesses are immortal, but Zel has invented a way to kill them. Now all he has to do is convince Farissa to run away with him and plant a seed of hope in her heart that she’s not destined to die. Little does he know that one seed of hope could change the course of the future.

And now for the questions. Please welcome Ellie Ann!

(1) As I was reading The Silver Sickle, I felt like I was reading a steampunk version of the story of Ester, the Jewish girl who was selected by the Persian king to become his new queen and had to risk his anger in order to stop the massacre of her people. How much did the story of Ester influence you and how did you decide what parts of Ester’s story to use and what parts to change?

The Silver Sickle is Esther meets District 9 (the science fiction movie). With robots.

I’ve always loved the story of Esther. It’s an epic father-daughter tale, fraught with danger and the fate of an entire nation. It’s also a great story in which a woman takes control of her life and she isn’t punished for it. Esther used her rare beauty, her sexual skills, prayer, and relying on friends to survive in the harem and then save her people. It’s a story rife with great tension and high stakes, and I wanted to make a science fiction version.

Once I started plotting I didn’t keep much of the original story, but it is definitely the inspiration for it.

I’d love to write about the life of David one day. Lots of horrible things happened to him, which makes for a good book. He was an underdog but he had monumental victories, both personal and political, which is the kind of story that draws lots of people.

(2) The “villain” race in your book is the Amar. For those who haven’t read the book yet, the Amar are considered goddesses by most of the human population. They harvest the humans they’ve set apart as consecrated and send them to the Silver Sickle (which they’ve told them is paradise). From the way you’ve described the Amar in the book, they sound like the worst nightmare for someone who’s afraid of insects—like giant, steel-shelled Praying Mantises. Was there a particular bug that inspired the Amar?

Ew, yes. They’re like roaches. The prawns from District 9 were the inspiration for the Amar, except the Amar have a human face with recognizable expressions. If these two pictures collided, you’d have the Amar.

district-9-alien

Gira

(3) You’ve classified this book as a YA science fiction/steampunk. What would you say a book absolutely must include to be considered steampunk? Do you feel The Silver Sickle broke any of the expectations surrounding steampunk?

I consider my book steampunk because it’s based in a world where steam is the major power source. It also has robots. But technically, it’s more cyberpunk than steampunk. The best way to describe it is science fantasy.

The Silver Sickle broke the Victorian England trope of steampunk, as it takes place in a Persian-inspired setting. I’m delighted to see more and more steampunk stories take place in a non-western setting. My favorite of all time is the Leviathan series, by Scott Westerfield. The second book takes place in an Ottoman Empire inspired setting. It’s brilliant!

(4) One thing that always interests me is “Why this story? Why now?” Most writers have many ideas floating around in their heads, so why did you choose to write this particular one before the others?

It has to be challenging and fun.

I try to challenge myself with every book. The Silver Sickle was hard for me, but not too far above my skill set. These characters were also so FUN to write. I couldn’t wait to get back to their world every day. When I feel like that, I know I’m writing a story at the right time. It’s meant to be.

(5) What message/theme did you hope readers would take away with them after finishing your book?

Farissa learns that you need to hold onto what you love, and not give up on it.

Zel learns to not be obsessed with what you love, to set it free, to let it go.

If readers feel that along with them, I did my job.

Thanks so much for being here Ellie 🙂

Ellie Ann and a fan

Ellie Ann and a fan

Ellie Ann is a NYT and USA Today bestseller of thrillers, science fiction, and comics. Her latest work is Tale of Frida, a comic published by Motionworks Entertainment about a female werewolf in the Dark Ages. She’s a watcher, runner, reader, geek, and maker of egg rolls.

Twitter: @elliesoderstrom

Facebook: Ellie Ann Author

Website: ellieann.net

If you’d like to buy The Silver Sickle, you can find it on Amazon in print and as an ebook.

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A Crash Course in Science Fiction Sub-Genres

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

We’re into the third episode of my exploration of genres, and today we’re going to look at science fiction. (I’m currently planning to also cover suspense/thrillers, mystery, romance, and horror. If there are any other genres you’d like me to delve into or you have any other questions about genres, please let me know in the comments.) Keep in mind as we go through these posts together that the lines aren’t immovable, and they aren’t always perfectly clear. Some books cross genres. What I’m trying to do here is bring a little more clarity to a particularly murky area.

What is Science Fiction?

Science Fiction Genres

Image Credit: Fred Fokkelman

A week ago in our discussion of fantasy sub-genres, I touched just lightly on the difference between science fiction and fantasy. I suggested the difference was one of possibility. Fantasy is always set in the realm of the impossible. Science fiction, on the other hand, is based in what we either wish or fear the future might bring.

Science fiction looks toward the future and asks what might be possible–technological and cultural changes, space travel, alien races, and yes, sometimes even parallel universes and time travel.

Please notice that I said possible. Something can be possible while still being highly improbable. It’s highly improbable that we’ll ever be able to travel faster than light or that we’ll ever establish colonies on alien planets. But it’s not impossible because we don’t know everything there is to know about natural laws, future technological advances, and life outside our solar system.

Science fiction takes what we’re only just beginning to think of or wonder about and extrapolates from it. More than any other genre, science fiction asks you to suspend your disbelief and ask what if. Part of what makes science fiction great, and what many who’ve never read scifi fail to realize, is the way it often explores questions of morality and identity and forces us to really consider what the future might be like if we follow certain paths.

Star Trek fans will also be happy to tell you about the influence science fiction and science fiction writers have on the present. The man who invented the first cell phone got his inspiration from Star Trek tri-corders and comm badges. And automatic doors appeared in Star Trek before they ever made their way into stores all around the world.

Defining Science Fiction Sub-Genres

Cyberpunk – Cyberpunk plots (if you couldn’t guess from the name) revolve around computers, artificial intelligence, cyberspace, virtual reality, hackers, mega-corporations, or some combination of those elements. Rather than being set far in the future, they’re usually set in the near future. These books are often dark and focus on the dangers of technology.

Steampunk – Steampunk plots often take place in Victorian England or another real-world setting (though Lindsey Buroker has had success with her Emperor’s Edge series, which is steampunk set in a secondary universe). They combine the technology of the time with future technology as the people of that era imagined it would be (rather than how it really turned out). Not surprisingly H. G. Wells and Jules Verne are the grandfathers of this genre. Steampunk can be a lot of fun if you don’t take yourself too seriously. (There’s also some argument about whether steampunk should be classified as science fiction or fantasy. In the end, it comes down to the content of the individual book. For example, because Lindsey Buroker sets her steampunk in a secondary world, they’re technically fantasy, not science fiction.)

Dystopian/Utopian – These novels look at the extremes that our world might one day come to, either good or bad. The Road by Cormac McCarthy and I Am Legend by Richard Matheson typify the dystopian sub-genre. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a YA example. Dystopian also goes by the name Apocalyptic.

Time Travel – As the name implies, time travel novels take you either forward or backward in time. Before you object that this should be fantasy rather than science fiction because time travel isn’t possible, keep in mind what sets science fiction and fantasy apart. This is science fiction because the writers are working on the assumption that at some point in the future scientists might invent technology that would allow us to travel through time. If they can make the technology sound believable, then it falls firmly into the science fiction realm. (If you’re sent back in time because of magic, you’re back in the fantasy genre. Clear as cement, right?)

Military Science Fiction – Nations, planets, or races are at war in military SF, and the focus is often on the technology and military protocol and procedures of the combatants. Consequently, these stories end up being told through the POV of one (or more) of the soldiers involved. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein is one of the early landmark works of military SF. Shard of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold, Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber, and Old Man’s War by John Scalzi are other examples.

Space Opera – Although this term can have a derogatory tone to it, this is another SF genre that’s a lot of fun if you let yourself just sit back and enjoy. These novels are set on distant planets and focus more on the adventure than on the science.

The fraternal twin sister of space opera is Space Westerns like the television series Firefly. They take the fist-fighting, gun-fighting, and themes of westerns and set them in outer space.

Hard Science Fiction – So named because it takes current knowledge of the “hard” sciences of mathematics, chemistry, physics, or biology and speculates on where they might lead in the future, this is the sub-genre of science fiction where accuracy and attention to detail make or break your story. Most of the successful hard SF writers work (or have worked) in one of the hard-science fields.

Soft Science Fiction – Soft SF takes its what if from the “soft” sciences like psychology, sociology, or anthropology. The lines between hard SF, soft SF, and dystopian SF can blur at times, but a good rule of thumb is that dystopian often deals with an end-of-the-world type scenario where a catastrophe has happened, while soft SF looks at what would happen if certain soft-science theories were taken to their extremes or logical conclusions.

People often have strong opinions either pro or con science fiction? Do you love it? Hate it? Which sub-genre best fits your book?

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including How to Write Dialogue and Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction.

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