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05 June 2023

NZ Book Awards Q&A: Brian Falkner

Sci-fi fan and keen Hooked on NZ Books He Ao Ano reviewer Nell Mace-David (14) chats with Brian Falkner about Andromeda Bond in Trouble Deep, which is a finalist for the Young Adult Fiction Award in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Nell: Can you tell me a bit about where you got the idea for the Brainjack series?

Brian: I was working in the internet field at the time, and had just published ‘The Tomorrow Code’, a YA science fiction adventure, so I was looking for a follow up, and really wanted to write something in the techno-thriller genre. While I was casting about for story ideas, I saw a news story about a neuro-headset, and I instantly knew that was what my next book would be about.

If you were given the chance, would you compete in Trouble Deep?

What a great question, and absolutely yes! Zero gravity games in outer space! How fantastic would that be! I think that is part of the wish-fulfillment of this book. My original concept for ABITD was that it would be a book about VR gaming, but then I had a moment of realization. When people read books they immerse themselves in the story, in other words it becomes their reality while they are reading. The same thing happens with videogames, especially VR games.

But to write a book about someone playing VR games is removing the reader two steps from the action. So for this book the games had to be real, and the danger had to be real. I started re-working the story around this and that’s when I came up with the idea of setting it on the International Space Station.

Which Trouble Deep competitor do you think you’re most like? What one would you most want to be?

As much as I hate to admit it, probably Spuke, but only because I am really nothing like any of the other characters. I probably do share many of Spuke’s traits, although not his tendency to anger. Which one would I want to be? Tigersnake, I think (or at least a male version of her). She is extremely cool and confident and dangerous.

How do you feel about the way AI is taking over in the real world? Did this affect your writing about the subject?

When I wrote this novel, AI wasn’t really a thing yet. I mean it was on the horizon and there were a lot of self-learning systems, but compared to what we have now with ChatGTP and image creators like Dell-E, there was nothing. The type of AI that has emerged in the last year or so really is a bit scary, not because of what it can do, but because of what it might be able to do. These systems are in their infancy. Where will they be in ten years’ time? Can we even imagine that? I mean when the internet first started, could anyone predict YouTube, or Social Media, or Troll Farms?

“When I was a teenager I went through a phase in which I would only read science fiction. I subscribed to science fiction magazines and any stories I wrote were science fiction. I still enjoy the genre, if it is done well.”

You write a lot of science fiction. What got you interested in this genre? Is it something you also enjoy reading?

Only seven of my books are science fiction, perhaps eight if you count ‘The Most Boring Book in the World’. That’s out of twenty-two published books. But you are correct that I do love this genre. When I was a teenager I went through a phase in which I would only read science fiction. I subscribed to science fiction magazines and any stories I wrote were science fiction. I still enjoy the genre, if it is done well. These days I have a preference for reading hard science fiction, which extrapolates from known science. Andy Weir’s ‘The Martian’ and ‘Project Hail Mary’ are good examples of this.

When did you decide you wanted to be an author? What would you have been had a career in writing not worked out?

I was very young when I decided I wanted to be an author. Possibly even at primary school although peering that far back through the misty whorls of time things get a little hazy. Prior to becoming a full time author I had a career in radio, and then re-invented myself as a web-developer when the internet came along. I think I would still be writing code now, if it wasn’t writing stories.

Whenever I write, I find it difficult to get that much writing about something. How do you go from having an idea or a short piece of writing to having a whole book?

I think this has become a habit for me. When I get an idea for a story, I immediately start to see it in terms of a long form story, made up of chapters, rather than a short story. For someone else with a simple story idea, I believe the best thing is to take that idea and expand on it as much as possible. Then take what you have come up with and expand on that. The ‘Snowflake method’, developed by Randy Ingermanson is a way of structuring this. So, to make up a random example: A chicken wants to cross a road. Simple concept huh. So now we ask some questions: Why does the chicken want to cross the road? What is at stake if this chicken is unable to cross the road? What are the risks in crossing the road? Is someone trying to stop the chicken from crossing the road, and if so, why? And do they own a car!? Who is this chicken anyway. And so on and so on and so on.

Another good way to look at this is the oyster/pearl analogy. A grain of sand gets into an oyster. This annoys the oyster which cannot get rid of it, so it covers it with a layer of nacre. Then another layer, then another layer. Fairly soon a grain of sand turns into a beautiful pearl.

Do you have anything you know now that you wish you had known when you started out as an author?

Oh, so many things. Too many to mention.

I’ve left the hardest question for last. What was your favorite book when you were a teenager?

It is still my favourite book now. ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert. A magnificent read. The recent movies try very hard to capture the essence of the book, and to a large extent succeed, but they cannot capture the magic. You have to read ‘Dune’ to truly experience ‘Dune’.

About the interviewer

Nell Mace-David is a 14-year-old homeschooled student from Dunedin. She loves reading, especially fantasy and science fiction, so says having the opportunity to read this book and write an interview was amazing!

About the author

Brian wanted to be an author ever since he was a child, but it took him thirty years to realise that dream. Along the way he worked as a reporter, advertising copywriter, radio announcer, graphic designer, and Internet developer. Now an award-winning author, Brian has had twenty-one books published internationally. He is also an internationally acclaimed writing coach, running workshops and writing camps around Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Read more on Brian's Writers File.