Today we're talking with Roland Allnach, author of Remnant: An Anthology
FQ: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. I first want to say that the book is intriguing, to say the least. With the first story, I was wondering if “images” of certain movies or books were in the back of your mind when writing locations. Reading through certain scenes, I was taken back to that fantastic world that George Lucas created so long ago.
When I write, or I should say when I'm constructing scenes and environments in my head, I think of that process more along the lines of cinematography, in that my initial impressions are visual and I then translate them to the words I put to paper. So even though my knowledge of cinematography is very limited, I do appreciate the ways in which shots are composed and put to film. And likewise, writing in the sci-fi genre, there are certain films that have contributed a great deal to the various aesthetic themes that are encountered within the written field of the genre. Indeed, the stark contrasts Lucas depicted so well between the sterile modernity of the 'Empire' versus the rugged and dated industrialism of the 'Rebellion' have impacted me in their own ways, and the way in which they display the dichotomy of Lucas' universe. I tend to dwell a little more in the 'industrial' aesthetic of films like Bladerunner and Alien, particularly when dealing with the military, or space ships and travel, for the simple reason that if you look at the military or space vehicles we have today, they embody a certain rugged, tech-heavy practicality that stems from their very nature. These pieces of equipment are not meant for comfort, but function, and a definite economy of material, resource and space, all of which leave little or no room for creature comforts.
FQ: Hermium, with the glittering blue oceans and beauty was a perfect backdrop. Are your theories, perhaps, based on the fact that Hermium would have been the perfect Earth? (Before, of course, many messed it up with war, etc.)
My initial concern when creating the setting for Hermium was more the way in which it played into the thematic arc of 'All the Fallen Angels' and the symbolism it contained rather than an actual commentary on what has happened to Earth. Specifically, Hermium is meant to be the too-perfect paradise, a fantastical contrast to the cold, industrial existence the characters know onboard Nexus 9 and their transport ship. That said, the idea of Hermium being 'too perfect' is symbolic for hopes and dreams that, like the planet, can be too perfect in their conception, and broken failures in their realization. The process of idealized thoughts turning to misguided failure is reflected in all the misery underlying Hermium's surface appeal- for all its blue water, white sand, and serene fauna, there is revolt, murder, child prostitution and abduction, and, of course, Stohko's own misguided dreams, displaced from a future with his wife to Ellen Fortas, the woman he meets during his time on Hermium. So, like the garden of Eden, Hermium is a perfection of sorts, but it too is defeated by its own proverbial apple. In the case of Hermium, the apple is what the residents bring with them to the planet, lurking in their hidden inclinations and desires.
FQ: The “feeling” through all was the fact that reality and imaginary - real vs. fake - was a deep “thought” of yours as an author. Can you give our readers a little more information on your theory behind fact vs. fiction?
This is something near and dear to me and something I play with in just about everything I write. On a momentary philosophical aside, I consider that there are a multitude of realities surrounding us. There is the absolute reality we share, which at its base we do not dispute, such as the sky being blue. But intertwined with that absolute reality are all the subjective realities which are formed by our individual impressions. Consider the old legal game of five people witnessing a crime. There is the absolute reality of what happened, which, if not witnessed, is interestingly enough lost from human record, and in essence not part of reality. This blends into what the five people witness of the crime: each will focus on certain aspects of what they witness based on the inclinations, subconscious judgment, and life experience they carry inside. So what you have is a fun-house mirror of composites, and somewhere inbetween or averaged between them, one image that is not distorted and therefore the absolute, but perhaps one hidden to subjective perception. So when I write my characters and stories, I try to base my characeters' inclinations and motivations not necessarily on the solid facts around them, but more so on the baggage they carry inside them. I think- if I pull it off effectively- that this creates characters that feel real, as they struggle to operate on a knowledge base of the world around them that is incomplete, and perhaps even corrupted. And that, to me, is part of what defines our life experience, and the decisions we make, as full-formed, living individuals.
FQ: The details of war and soldiers are extremely interesting. Is there any military service in your background?
Two members in my family have seen military service, my grandfather and my father-in-law. My grandfather didn't speak very much about his experiences, so most of what I know there was relayed to me by my father. On the other hand, my father-in-law has shared many fascinating stories of his service. I'm also an avid reader of military history, and perhaps more importantly, historians who enrich their accounts with ground-view experiences from people who lived through certain moments in history. Off the top of my head, two books by Antony Beevor, Stalingrad, and the follow up, The Fall of Berlin, are incredible accounts of two titanic conflicts. What draws me to these types of historical accounts is that they somewhat forego the greater political implications and summations of history to depict all the odd ways humans adapt to that most extreme of human endeavors, warfare. It's one thing to understand that a certain force had to take a certain objective and used certain strategic and tactical plans, but its another to understand what it took in human terms to make those things a reality. Reflecting back to movies, I really appreciate the level of detail protrayed by films like Platoonor Saving Private Ryan, or the German film Das Boot (The Boat), which I think is the best submarine movie ever made.
FQ: On that same wavelength…with the “injuries” in the hospitals, etc. - your bio states you worked a long time on the night shift in a hospital - so was there inspiration pulled from that particular profession?
Certainly I've taken advantage of my work experience to blend some credibility into certain situations of my stories. The saying goes you should write what you know, and even though I have no interest in writing a 'hospital' story (that would feel like bringing work home) I'm not going to hesitate to tap that knowledge base when I need to. Having had the benefit of some education in physiology and anatomy, and the so-called privilege to see real-world stabbings, gunshots, and assorted traumas, I think that allows me to accurately describe the conditions of my characters over the physical rigors they might endure in the course of a particular story. But I think the more important consideration of working at night in a hospital is that I've had the chance to see behaviors in people you don't normally encounter, and certainly might not encounter during daylight hours. The human mind is a fascinating three pound lump of neurons, and when it's not functioning quite properly, the illusions and delusions it can create seem to be without limit.
FQ: Peter in Remnant speaks volumes to readers. Can you tell us about the character? How he evolved?
With the story Remnant I did something I hadn't done before, which was to portray a character and setting quite close to the reality I live in. That started as a mental exercise to push me out of my comfort zone of writing in the far-away and not-now. I try to do something at least a little different with each story, novella, or book that I endeavor to create, not just to keep things fresh, but to help develop my narrative skills. To give my characters a valid emotional base I look at things I hold near and dear in my life and transpose them to certain degrees to a character. I then consider how altering such things might effect me, and then in turn transpose that to the character I am currently putting through the wringer. So in considering a story and character closer to home, so to speak, Peter had his initial roots in my own life. Parallel to that consideration ran a certain idea that I've long held, which is the utter fragility of our modern life in our dependance on a supply chain that is tenuous at best. This was imparted to me while growing up when my family would go to upstate New York for vacation, and I would look out over what seemed to be endless square miles of undeveloped woodland. The comfort and security of modern life is really just an illusion, and if the power goes out, well, it's not too long before all vestiges of what we consider our ubiquitous lifestyle simply don't exist anymore. These ideas coupled with my initial thoughts for Peter, and when they combined, the concept for Remnant was born. I would take a seemingly everyday person, pull the rug out from underneath him, and leave him stranded in a life devoid of all relation to the life he knew. Mix in a healthy dose of resentment for the mess of our current day world, baste with the emotional trauma of losing those who meant most in Peter's life, and let simmer for several months of isolation and deprivation. The extension and evolution of those concerns seemed a natural thing at that point: Peter would have to redefine his morality, and make sense of things he had to do by law of pragmatism against a law of morality that would be required to kindle any notion of social interaction. It's a train wreck of opposing forces, but I think one that is very natural. Don't we all, to some extent, have an impulse for anarchy? Nobody likes to pay taxes, but if taxes go away, that means many other things are going away, so you can't have your cake and eat it too, so to speak.
FQ: What, personally, would you like to see in the world? Such as, the changes that could be made to increase awareness and stop war?
I think, as a very broad and general statement, I'd like to see people more personally invested in the issues around us. In many cases I have the feeling that people may have a genuine concern for certain issues, as long as dealing with those issues don't create any incoveniences in day to day life. As I said in the last question, there is a natural and inherent inclination in the human mind to want to have your cake and eat it too, but like all things in human society, the challenge is to rise above our more selfish inclinations, as long as pragmatism remains a guiding element- blind idealism is just as destructive as apathy. Getting to the meat of this question, though, I think that as a species we need to take a very hard look at where we are going, in terms of the stress we are placing on our increasingly limited environment. Many civilizations have failed due to exhausting their local resources, and as a rule of history, when human populations reach their most dense, intense periods of warfare always follow. If we don't address global population and soon, I fear the repercussions may be both devastating and long lasting. Greater demand is being placed on dwindling resources, and that's not a formula for sustained stability. There is a Malthusian balance to humanity, and to neglect that is to become victim to the nightmares of famine and war. The easiest way to stop a war is to correct the forces leading toward hostility. That said, I think that perhaps the most effective way to end conflict is to provide people with a valid alternative to a violent, short-lived existence. I think that given the choice, the vast majority of people would chose a quiet home life rather than mayhem and carnage.
FQ: Could you tell readers a bit about the Pushcart Prize?
The Pushcart Prize is a literary prize celebrating the best fiction of small press literary journals. Journals who participate in the Pushcart Prize review their published fiction for the year, and an editorial decision is made as to which stories will be nominated to Pushcart. The editorial board at Pushcart then reviews the nominated submissions and from that pool selects the final stories to be published in the yearly Pushcart Prize anthology. As such, authors can't submit on their own. So to even get nominated to the Pushcart entails an extensive process of editorial review, as it means that not only did a given piece of fiction make it past initial editorial selection to appear in a given issue, but also had editorial approval above many other pieces of selected fiction for a journal's publication year. My story Creep was a Pushcart nominee, and I have to thank Regina Williams at Storyteller for that honor (excuse the plug, but the story can be read at my website, (www.rolandallnach.com). Although the stories of Remnant are geared toward the sci-fi/speculative realm, I try to write as many different kinds of stories as I can to keep my mind open. Most of my writing inspiration is derived from classical literature, particularly of the late nineteenth century, in great part due to the exquisite depths of character development in fiction from that period. As a result, having a Pushcart nomination is one of my most satisfying writing credentials.
FQ: Good luck with the book. We’ll look forward to much, much more.
To learn more about Remnant: An Anthology please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.