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A u t h o r   S p o t l i g h t

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Scott Westerfeld has a string of best-selling SF titles to his name already and seems capable of turning out high-quality stories at an alarming rate. Last month's Fantasy/SF Book of the Month was Scott's EXTRAS, the fourth book in a trilogy that includes UGLIES, PRETTIES and SPECIALS and tells the story of a future world in which all sixteen-year-olds undergo life-changing (and brain-changing) surgery to make them all "pretty". It is when Tally Youngblood discovers the sinister aspects of the surgery that she decides to make a stand and change the world forever. It's superlative science fiction, and adults will love it just as much as kids - what's more, there's a movie in the offing. In this issue I catch up with Scott and have a look at the UGLIES "trilogy" and his other works, including the MIDNIGHTERS series. Read the interview here....

Although Scott now apparently writes for YA (Young Adults), it's my considered opinion that his books are suitable for all ages - adults will like the UGLIES trilogy just as much as young adults, and they're equally suitable for young teens, too. What's more, they are pure SF, as potent and powerful in their own way as the great nightmare futuristic visions of authors like Aldous Huxley and even H G Wells. Just because the heroes and heroines are all in their late teens it doesn't mean that it's only suitable for children. Far from it. Scott's descriptions of the post-apocalyptic post-oil world which saw only a fraction of the Earth's population survive are compelling and believable. Hoverboards, hovercams, magnetic-levity trains, feeds, hole-in-the-wall replicators (echoes of Star Trek here!) and chameleon-like suits that help you blend into the background are all within the realms of believability - you could almost imagine Bill Gates introducing his mansion of the future, where one entire wall becomes a games console and entertainment centre. But it's how the people interact with each other and the world in which they find themselves that is so compelling and enjoyable. But UGLIES, PRETTIES, SPECIALS and EXTRAS are just the latest in a long line of fantastic fiction from the world's favourite SF author....

The MIDNIGHTERS series (all published in the UK by ATOM) tells the story of small town Bixby, where newcomer Jessica Day discovers to her horror that it is a place where extraordinary beasts from prehistoric times have survived but have to exist in just one hour of every day, the midnight hour. Only certain people are aware of this special hour, Jessica being one of them, when the rest of the town is frozen in time. There's danger around every corner, and Jessica has to team up with the other "Midnighters" in order to survive. This is superlative SF - once again it doesn't matter that the heroes are young adults, it's the premise of the series that is important, that and the expert way Scott tells the story. There's a record programme on Classic FM in the UK called "If you like that, you'll love this...". One thing is for certain - if you like UGLIES, you'll love MIDNIGHTERS!

SECRET HOUR (Book One) Strange things happen at midnight in the town of Bixby, Oklahoma. Time freezes. Nobody moves. For one secret hour each night, the town belongs to the dark creatures that haunt the shadows. Only a small group of people know about the secret hour - only they are free to move about the midnight time. These people call themselves Midnighters. Each one has a different power that is strongest at midnight: Seer, Mindcaster, Acrobat, Polymath. For years the Midnighters and the dark creatures have shared the secret hour, uneasily avoiding one another. All that changes when the new girl with an unmistakable midnight aura appears at Bixby High School. Jessica Day is not an outsider like the other Midnighters. She acts perfectly normal in every way. But it soon becomes clear that the dark creatures sense a hidden power in Jessica ...and they're determined to stop her before she can use it.

BLUE NOON (Book Two) The Midnighters have emerged victorious from their greatest challenge. They now know much more about the secret history of Bixby and, with the halfling dead, the Grayfoots' link to the darklings has been severed. But the cost is high. Rex's horrific experience in the desert has left him damaged, painfully suspended between light and dark. Melissa's violation of Dess's mind and the shameful revelations of her past deeds have shattered the uneasy bond among the five teenagers. What they need now is some time to heal, but what they get is the surprise of their lives when the blue time arrives in the middle of the day. It seems the walls between the secret hour and real time are crumbling, and soon the dark creatures will break through to hunt after centuries of waiting. And as if that wasn't enough for Jessica to deal with, her little sister, Beth, is becoming more and more determined to crack the secret of midnight - a goal that could have consequences more dire than she can ever have imagined.

TOUCHING DARKNESS (Book Three) The Midnighters of Bixby, Oklahoma, know that their town is full of secrets - especially since they keep the biggest secret of all: knowledge of the secret hour, the mysterious time at midnight when the world freezes, except for them and the creatures that inhabit the darkness. What they don't know is why earlier generations of Midnighters all disappeared, or why they are now the only Midnighters in town. As they learn more about the secret hour's twists and turns, they uncover terrifying mysteries woven into the very fabric of Bixby's history, and a conspiracy that touches both the midnight hour and the world of daylight. At the same time, the Midnighters' own secrets start to emerge, including some that were never meant to come to light, changing the fragile dynamics among the five. This time Jessica Day is not the only Midnighter in mortal danger. If the group can't find a way to overcome their differences, they could lose one of their own - forever.

Hi Scott, many thanks for taking the time out to answer afew questions for Gateway! Here goes:

 

GM: First question has to be ~ is EXTRAS the start of a whole new set of adventures for the people from the trilogy? Is Aya Fuse going to have her own "trilogy", or at least a sequel?

SW: I haven't planned a new trilogy, but it's possible that if I get another new idea we'll see Aya again. With all the New Systems popping up across the world, there's bound to be more interesting stories to tell.

GM: Did you deliberately aim these at kids or was that a publisher's decision? I think they are among the very best SF I have ever read, and I believe crumblies will enjoy them just as much as the bubbleheads among us. Would you be tempted to write a volume in this series aimed at adults?

SW: These were always teen books, but only because of their themes, not for any lack of sophistication. Teens are awesome readers, after all. Think about it: At any given moment, far more teenagers than adults are learning a new language, creating slang, writing poetry, memorizing song lyrics, or keeping a journal. Who would write down to an audience like that? (But I do occasionally explain things simply for the adults reading.)

GM: Is there any news on the filming of the UGLIES trilogy? Who would you choose to play Tally? It's a very visual series, though I think the UK version covers are less attractive than those featuring (very attractive) human faces published in the US.

SW: The movie company is still looking for the right script to get a green light. In my imagination, all the meetings about making the film feature a powerful producer raising an eyebrow and asking, "Wait a minute. You want to make a movie about UGLY PEOPLE?"

GM: I've seen talk of a guide to Tally's world; is that something you would want to compile yourself, or would you be happy to let someone else do it, like Robin Furth's excellent guide to Stephen King's DARK TOWER series?

SW: It turns out I'm doing it myself, with lots of help from my blog commenters. They're the ones telling me what to put it.

GM: Can I ask if SpagBol is a favourite or a disliked dish? I know you're not Tally Youngblood, but authors often use their characters to put their own views across. I found the whole SpagBol episode very amusing, and totally sympathised with Tally – I don't like it at all!

SW: When my sister-in-law was very young, she ate only spagbol for a year. Her family was horrified, but she was perfectly happy. (As a vegetarian, I am agnostic about spagbol.) And another piece of trivia: we Americans don't use that abbreviation, so it sounds like wacky future speak to us. But I picked it up in Australia.

GM: When do you think we'll hear anything official about LEVIATHAN, your new alternative 1914 series? How far down the line with it are you, and does that mean we'll have to wait some time for a sequel to EXTRAS, if, that is, you intend to write one?

SW: The release date for Leviathan is Fall 2009, but that's all I'm allowed to say. (And yes, it has put the Uglies universe on hold, except for the guide.)

GM: In some articles I've read, you're described as a former adult writer now writing for children – does that mean you've given up on writing adult SF altogether, or is LEVIATHAN a return to SF for adults?

SW: Leviathan is still for teens, and I'm not writing for adults in the foreseeable future.

GM: In one of your interviews you say you write very fast. How long did it take you to write UGLIES, for example? Have you ever had two different books on the go at the same time or do you focus all your efforts on the one book until it's finished?

SW: One book at a time. Uglies took about three months to write, which is crazy fast. I'm older and slower now.

GM: How did you get your first break in publishing? How many failed novels were there before you were successful?

SW: I do have one unpublished (and unpublishable) novel around somewhere. I got lucky and found the perfect agent very quickly. Just wrote a query letter and she got back to me a few days later. Persistence and talent are often rewarded, but good luck is awesome.

GM: When did you first get interested in science fiction? I notice you talk about Samuel Delany, Joanna Russ and Iain M Banks as having an influence on your writing but did you start with them?

SW: I think I was born an sf fan, since some very bad juveniles I read as a kid. (Can't remember any titles, alas.) And when I turned 12, some relative gave me a subscription to Asimov's, which had just started. Somewhere at my dad's house must be a full run of the first few years in appalling condition.

GM: Do you have a similar interest in fantasy, or are you only interested in SF?

SW: I like fantasy a lot, but probably not quite as much as sf. (I think this relatively recent fad for realism can't last too much longer.)

GM: Do you still find time to read other people's SF? Or, for that matter, other people's books full stop?

SW: I read all the time, but Leviathan is a historical, so I've switched to tons of non-fiction lately. But I'm still keeping up with my manga/graphic habit: especially Nana, Monster, Scott Pilgrim, Runaways, and Ex Machina.

GM: If I asked you to name your top five favourite books, would those SF authors be in there or do you have favourites in other genres?

SW: I'm really bad at these questions, but they'd probably be all sf.

GM: For all the warnings there are in the UGLIES trilogy and EXTRAS, there is still the overriding feeling that, whatever world they inhabit, teens will still need to have something to rebel against. It's something like a universal constant, really, and it's encapsulated brilliantly in your books. Were you a rebel, or a wild child yourself? Is that why everything Tally and Aya get up to seems so personal? You really have a way of getting inside teens' minds – I know you're comparatively young – do you stay in touch with how young people live, and is that what makes your YA books so special, because of your understanding of young people?

SW: The last time I was in the UK, in October of 2006, the great Black Hoodie Crisis was in the news. It reminded me of my teen days, when we all got into skateboards, and suddenly there were NO SKATEBOARDING signs everywhere. Whatever teens do—file sharing, MySpacing, wearing hoodies, listening to whatever music—instantly becomes a crisis. And that's really what the uglies in my book are: those 13-16 year olds who are big enough to threaten someone, but not old enough to have been brainwashed (sorry, civilized) yet.

As I like to say, a half dozen nine-year-olds in your store is cute. A half dozen adults is good business. But that many fifteen-year-olds together in one place and it's time to have a parliamentary inquiry! So I'm not sure it's always the teens rebelling. Sometimes it's just the crumblies going mad.

I really do remember being a teen well. It was such an intense stage of life, I'm surprised how many of my fellow crumblies have forgotten it. Back when I wrote Uglies, I didn't know that many real-life teens, but since then I get a lot of mail, etc., which is fantastic. I basically just like them, as a whole, better than adults.

(But yes, I had my own necessary challenges to authority as a teen, up to and including the police. No one can prove it, though, because the records have all been erased.)

GM: Most of my questions have focused on UGLIES and EXTRAS, for the simple reason that they're the ones I've read – but your other UK publisher, Orbit/Atom are sending me a selection of your other titles which I'm looking forward to immensely. But there is a final question about Tally Youngblood: the Simon Pulse edition of UGLIES has a rather beautiful young lady on the front cover – is that your vision of Tally, or that of the publisher or designer? Similarly the picture on EXTRAS is presumably Rodrigo Corral's vision of Aya Fuse – again, is that how you visualise her?

SW: Corral is a great designer, and I'm glad he's had so much success in the last few years. But as the series got more popular, I had more input into the design, which probably happens a lot. I sent S&S pictures of Maori tattoos for Specials, and actually got a say in choosing the model for Extras. They're both about as close as I can imagine them to the real thing.

My only quibble is with the cover of Pretties. The operation averages racial characteristics, so the pretties should look about a third African, a third European, and third Asian. Like a slightly vacuous computer composite of sorts.

GM: Were you happy with the UK covers for theUGLIES trilogy and EXTRAS? I much prefer the Simon Pulse editions myself, but I guess it goes to show that it isn't always front covers that get people hooked on a really good book. I was sent EXTRAS by the UK publicist with a recommendation that I read it. I was hooked from page one, of course. I just think I would have been automatically attracted to it if it had the US cover.

SW: The UK covers are much creepier, certainly. And I think that leads to a darker readings of the books themselves (especially the razor blade on Specials, which focuses too much on the cutting). So I think I prefer the US covers.

Interestingly, the German covers are the coolest, with three almost doll-like heads showing Tally at different phases. I also like the Japanese covers, which are all about the hoverboards.

GM: I made the mistake of reading EXTRAS first (only because it arrived first); having then read UGLIES, PRETTIES and SPECIALS, I then went back and re-read EXTRAS immediately. Although they're all standalone, it's much better to read them in sequence, and I was much more prepared for Tally's appearance in EXTRAS. Although EXTRAS was my SF book of the month last month, I urged my readers to start with UGLIES and work through the series. I made the same mistake with John Flanagan's THE RANGER'S APPRENTICE and had to catch up with volumes one and two after reading an excellent volume three. Now I'm looking forward to playing catch up with all your other work! Thanks again for finding the time to answer the questions, good luck with LEVIATHAN and let's hope UGLIES isn't too far away from making it onto the big screen!

 

 

 

 


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