Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Spotlight -- Ryan Mahan

Shah Fazli
Ryan Mahan, Welcome to Spotlight live event, as an author we would love to know you a little bit before we ask you about Per Astra Ad Aspera, you may want to say anything that you think we should know about you please?

Ryan Mahan Well, I guess there's not a whole lot to say about myself. I first knew I wanted to be a writer when I won a short story contest back in the fourth grade, and I've been working towards that goal ever since. My first novel, "But Whether Men Do," was published by FutureWord in 2010 when I was 19, and even got nominated for the Georgia Author of the Year Award. With my new novel, "Per Astra Ad Aspera," I took a different route and chose to self-publish.

Shah Fazli Thanks, what exactly you mean by Per Astra Ad Aspera, can you describe the title a little before we go into the book please?

Ryan Mahan It's a twist on the Latin phrase "Per Aspera Ad Astra" ("Through hardships to the stars"), which is used as the official logo of NASA, among other things. Since the book is about someone going into space only to be emotionally tormented, I inverted the phrase into "Per Astra Ad Aspera," or "Through the stars to hardships."

Shah Fazli Now tell us about the book a little bit in detail please?

Ryan Mahan It's a little difficult to be concise, but I guess the best way to put it is a mixture of hard science fiction and psychological drama. I tried to handle the subjects of long-term space travel and planetary colonization as realistically as possible. If these concepts were to materialize, it would raise not only scientific concerns ("What do we do about gravity? How do we heat the colonies?") but political ones as well. ("What happens if a colony in space declares independence?"), and the book attempts to tackle that. At its core, though, the book is a sort of coming of age story. The main character has spent his whole life longing to go into outer space, but he ends up spending two years trapped in this isolated setting. That fact, coupled with how everything he's familiar with in life has been abandoned, gradually takes its toll on his mind.

Shah Fazli Tell us about your main character, his name, and a little bit more about him please, what is his actual job?

Ryan Mahan The main character is a young man named Timothy Clear, and he's volunteered to train for becoming a science officer for the League of Interplanetary Relations. At first, he's a very optimistic, childlike character. He's spent so long wanting to go into space and be a hero, and he's ecstatic that his dream is finally being realized. As time passes stuck in space, though, he begins to sort of...degrade. With each chapter, he's less cheerful than before, he starts getting angrier and more hostile with other characters, until by the end he's changed into a completely different person. He's basically a child that's been thrust into the cruelties of the adult world without warning.

Shah Fazli It's interesting, have you given descriptions to the area where Timothy lives, how is it like there, does it have a particular name?

Ryan Mahan Most of the book takes place on a large spaceship called the Cervantes. The ship is on a diplomatic mission to the colony on Saturn's moon of Enceladus, a trip which takes two years to complete. Part of why Tim's mind degrades is because he's stuck within the confines of this ship for two years.

Shah Fazli Fascinating, tell us a little bit about the thoughts and certain actions that Tim go through in this journey, what are some of his thoughts, that he will have to do suicide, hoping to come back to the earth, what?

Ryan Mahan The whole reason Tim wants to go into space is because he's dreamed of being a hero. The book as a whole is sort of meant to be a subversion of space opera. Tim basically thinks he's in a space opera, and he's destined to stop the Enceladeans and save the day. Soon, though, it becomes clear nobody back on Earth cares about the Enceladus mission. While Tim imagines himself as a hero at first, as time passes he feels more and more helpless. Events beyond his control constantly happen, and it soon becomes clear to Tim that he can't even stop two people from arguing, much less become a hero. As the trip progresses, Tim keeps looking forward to when they finally arrive at Enceladus, hoping all his suffering will finally pay off when they get there. But when they reach Enceladus...well, I don't want to spoil too much.

Shah Fazli Thanks, do you want to read a few lines from your book please?

Ryan Mahan “Attention Cervantes,” said the voice of Captain O’Brien over the ship’s speakers. “This is your captain speaking. I just wanted to inform you that we’re now beginning our flyby of Jupiter. The planet’s gravity will increase our own speed, which will hopefully make the trip to Enceladus just a little bit shorter for us. It’ll take some time for our bodies to adjust to the new speed, so expect some discomfort for the next day or so. Lastly, to those of you who wish to view Jupiter, it should be viewable from any window. If necessary, we can tell you the best viewing time from your room. Thank you.” The speakers turned off. Hearing the announcement, Arthur ran to the closet in his room.
“What are you doing?” asked Tim. His voice sounded deeper, more mature. It had been seven months since Ceres. Time was having its effect on him. Arthur pulled a blanket out from his closet and put it over his office’s window, checking repeatedly to make sure he couldn’t see through it.
“Is everything OK?” Tim asked again. “Why are you covering up the window?” Arthur turned around to face Tim.
“They said God was so powerful that to merely look upon his face was death. Do me a favor, kid. I know the captain said you could, but don’t try to look at Jupiter.”
“Really?” replied Tim, his voice tinged with disappointment. “But why?”
“It just…does something to people. This sort of thing’s happened on Jupiter flybys before. Doesn’t happen to everybody, but it happens enough for me to know. People look at Jupiter and just…I don’t know, I guess it messes up their brain somehow. It knocks them out, makes them delirious…you know what I think?”
“What is it?” asked Tim curiously.
“Evolution works slow. As far as it’s concerned, we’re still cavemen. Civilization’s too recent for the forces of evolution to even recognize. It doesn’t know we’re capable of space travel. It doesn’t know we have the potential to stare Jupiter in the face. Earth could fit inside Jupiter over a thousand times. Can you imagine that, something so much bigger than home? Evolution never intended for our eyes to look at something that huge, and it never intended for our brains to process the image. I guess that when some people look at Jupiter they just…break.”

Shah Fazli Do you want to tell us a little bit about your other novels please, before we turn back to this, their names, and briefly what they are about?

Ryan Mahan My first book was called "But Whether Men Do," and it was about a company that made robots that behaved almost exactly like human beings, which led to people mistrusting them. I wrote most of it when I was in high school, and looking back I'm kind of ashamed of it.

Shah Fazli What do you find the most fascinating about your new novel, that some of your readers would also approve of it, the idea, the shape of the ship, Tim as a character, what?

Ryan Mahan I'd say that overall I'm most proud of the dramatic element to the book. Outer space has always been seen in fiction as a setting for adventure, though here I use it as a backdrop for something more psychological. Tim, as well as the supporting characters Arthur and Christine, all have their own reasons for being on this mission, to sort of answer the question "Why would someone give up everything to go into space?", and all of them are affected by the trip.

Shah Fazli Describe one scene of the book for us please in your own words, what happens in that scene, where it happens and who are involved?

Ryan Mahan Early on in the book Tim meets a girl on the ship named Christine, one of the few friends he has during his trip. Later on, Tim sees Christine eating lunch with the other girls on the ship. After a conversation he can't hear, Christine runs out of the cafeteria, with Tim following after her. Christine reveals to Tim that she's a transsexual, and the reason she's on this mission is because her decision to transition led to everyone she knew, even her family, shunning her back home. The League is sort of a group for the world's pariahs. Most of its volunteers are people who'd want to leave the Earth for some reason. Writing Christine was a real challenge, but overall I think I pulled it off.

Shah Fazli Thanks, what else can you tell us about Christine, how much importance you have given her as a character, is she also the main character in the book?

Ryan Mahan Christine is sort of a romantic interest to Tim, grateful that there's someone who accepts her for who she is, but at the same time she's something of a foil. She's gone through even worse than Tim has, but while she manages to stay relatively composed, Tim loses his mind. Tim is very...weak, in a lot of ways, very mentally unstable. Christine tries to serve as sort of an anchor to keep Tim from completely losing it, but that's a difficult struggle.

Shah Fazli Fascinating, the whole story, tell us please what else happens in the book, anything you may want to say please?

Ryan Mahan Unfortunately, there's not much else I can say without getting into spoiler territory. I'll just say that I'm really proud of how the book turned out, especially the ending. With my first book I didn't really know what I was doing, and since I didn't have an ending planned I was sort of forced to half-ass things in the end. Here I knew from the very beginning how things would turn out, and so I was able to gradually work towards that conclusion, so the ending makes sense when you reach it. I really enjoyed working on Per Astra, and I hope you'll all enjoy reading it!

Shah Fazli Ryan, before we let you go, what have you learnt from your writing that you may want to share please?

Ryan Mahan I've learned that writing, especially if you want others to read it, is an exercise in agony. It's painful having people ignore something you've poured years of work into. But I'm still going, and hopefully in the end it will pay off.

Shah Fazli Thanks, it was a pleasure, hope to see you again soon. Visit: http://shahsightshop.blogspot.de/2012/09/per-astra-ad-aspera-by-r-anthony-mahan.html

ShahSight Literary Book Shop: Per Astra Ad Aspera by R. Anthony Mahanshahsightshop.blogspot.com

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