Saturday 3 September 2011

Guest Post by Stephen Wallenfels (author of POD)

Since I started The Book Zone I have occasionally expressed my disappointment at the lack of good space/alien-centric science fiction stories for the 11+ age group. Keith Mansfield has been leading the way with his excellent Johnny Mackintosh series, and now Stephen Wallenfels has entered the fray with POD. Thanks to the good people at Templar I have already read Stephen's book, and did so in a single sitting as I enjoyed it so much. My review will appear on The Book Zone soon but in the meantime Stephen has embarked on a blog tour (more details here) and has kindly written a piece about some of the science fiction books and films he enjoyed as a boy.


I read a lot of sci-fi books as a kid, but three stand out as especially important. The first was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne. What impressed me most about that book was that when he wrote it the idea of breathing and living under water was science fiction, and now it is science fact. That set the stage for helping me believe that as crazy as these books and concepts may sound, there is a chance that they can become real.

My creativity gene was twitching.

Then I read War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells (actually I think my father read it to me). That book presented an alien invasion in such a realistic way I had trouble sleeping for weeks. And the third book was one a lot of people haven’t heard about these days but is a classic, and also gave me quite a scare: The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham. Combine that with plenty of Flash Gordon comics, short stories by Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, the Dune trilogy by Frank Herbert, and I was hooked like a fish. Not only could I write about the future, I could predict it. I could create worlds along with the amazing creatures that inhabit them! My creativity gene mutated into an uncontrollable force.

Meanwhile, as my brain is being fed the written word, my eyes are feeding me visions on the screen through TV shows and movies. I watched every episode of Star Trek and would even miss baseball practice to do it. Old movie classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still, Planet of the Apes, Journey to the Center of the Earth kept me on the edge of my seat. Then came Star Wars, 2001 Space Odyssey, The Thing, and of course (wait for it…) Alien. With a diet like that I couldn’t help but give in to my destiny: write a science fiction novel.

An important point to note is that these two movies, The Thing and Alien had a profound impact on how I structured POD. In those movies, the most frightening parts are leading up to the alien reveal. The parts where you don’t know what the alien looks like (and neither do the characters) that are the most frightening—and I took that approach with POD. I decided not to reveal the aliens for two reasons—one, I wanted to prolong the sense of dread to the bitter end, and two—I wanted to focus on the characters rather than the aliens. Their role was to create a situation that stressed people to the point that they were capable of doing things (great and not so great) that under normal circumstances they would never do. That is the true test of the human spirit and that is what I wanted in POD.

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