A few weeks ago I read and reviewed The Guns Above, a military sci-fi novel featuring airships. Author Robyn Bennis then agreed to an interview!
Thank you for doing this interview! Let's start by asking how you got into writing science fiction. Were you "born into it" or was it something that you discovered later in life?
I came to it pretty early. My first short story was a Star Trek knockoff, and almost everything I wrote as a teenager had at least one robot in it. I liked SF because it gave me so much more to play with as a writer. You can tell human stories in any setting, so why not one with a robot? Or, for that matter, an airship.
Can you tell us a bit about your day job? I hear you're a biologist.
I’m a molecular biology bench scientist, which means I concoct arcane mixtures from components which are forged in fire, dredged from deep below the Earth, or even stolen from the bodies of tiny monsters. Once my potions are complete, I imbue them with the vital energies of life itself and command invisible amino-machines dwelling within to do my bidding.
In other words, I add colorless liquids together all day.
What got you into biology?
I blame The Discovery Channel. I used to come home from school, turn it on, and watch nature shows all afternoon and surgery shows all evening. This was back in the days before reality television, when you could still learn something on a cable learning channel, and I just drank it in. By 9 or 10 years old, I knew I was going to pursue a career in biology.
I considered a similar career around the same age, except I wanted to study wolves. Didn't pan out, mostly because I was unwilling to give up wi-fi for weeks if not months of field study and/or lug my library with me across the Canadian wilderness. So, kudos to you.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both! It’s funny how the things and people you love can be such a paradox, isn’t it? At the end of a long writing day, I’m so mentally exhausted I can barely think well enough to decide on dinner. And yet, I wake up the next morning, my head buzzing with ideas, so eager to get back to it that I have to force myself to stop for a second and brush my teeth. Life just isn’t the same if I’m not writing something. I get grumpy, mopey, and tired, and it doesn’t stop until I have another writing project to work on.
I think one of the coolest things about The Guns Above is Bernat and Josette's relationship. Almost every other action story like yours would include a romantic subplot between these two main characters. You didn't. Did you consciously put them in a platonic rather than romantic story or did it just happen?
It wasn’t only conscious, it was present from the earliest versions of the characters. That said, I wasn’t trying to make a statement or anything. I just knew the sort of relationship I wanted them to have, and I didn’t want romance to spoil that. I mean, even as buddies, they’re rather abusive to each other. As a couple, you’d want to call the police to separate them.
The Guns Above tackles gender issues and sexism head-on. You're a woman. What would you say is the hardest thing about writing the male characters in the society you've created?
Making them funny. Almost all of the horrible sexism in the book is based on actual behaviors and incidents I’ve either witnessed or been on the pointy end of during my career. It wasn’t easy to pour those incidents into characters and still have them bring the laughs. Writing Bernat, in particular, felt like walking a tightrope. However, it was also strangely thrilling, and he’s easily my favorite character to write. Yeah, I know, I’m a weirdo.
What did you edit out of this book?
Wow, if you only saw the amount of technical jargon I cut out, you would never again think that the published version of the book has a lot of tech in it. An early chapter was originally 6000 words worth of airship description, with frequent tangents about the value of one structural material against another, methods of purifying lifting gases, and the relative merits of various rigging schemes. It was an absolute disaster of literature, interesting only to the most hardcore of technophiles, and it was not alone. Most of that was ripped out over subsequent drafts. I forced myself to convey only the vital information, and to convey it organically whenever possible.
Thank you for not making us read a textbook. :)
How do you handle negative book reviews?
Easy. The only negative book reviews I get are from people who have poor taste—as evidenced by the fact that they didn’t like my book. QED, I can safely ignore them.
What advice do you have for young authors?
Stick with it. That’s the most vital and relevant piece of writing advice you’ll ever get. People who can write a great story the first time are so rare, your chances of being one are hardly worth mentioning. For the rest of us, we just have to write trash until we get better.
Robyn, thank you so much for coming onto Dragons, Zombies and Aliens! I look forward to reading your next book.
Where to find Robyn:
-on her website
-and on Goodreads
Otherwise known as the angel Moses punched in the face.
Moses was one hundred and twenty years old and had just found the Promised Land when God decided, Yeah, that’s long enough. He sent Azrael, the archangel of death, to bring him to Heaven.
Azrael flew down to Moses’s house straightaway. “Good news!” he said. “Your lifetime is officially over. You get to come with me and spend the rest of eternity in literal paradise. Isn’t that great?”
Moses...did not react well. In fact, he punched Azrael in the face.
We don’t get any confirmation in the Good Book, but Moses’ thought process was probably along the lines of, “Seriously?! I’ve gone through all this shit to get to the Promised Land--dealt with that jerk Pharaoh, put up with way too much crap from my so-called ‘loyal’ followers, and wandered through the stinking desert for forty years--all to get to the Promised Land. And now that I’m literally spitting distance away from that, you decide that now is the best time to kill me? It ain’t happening!”
Azrael returned to Heaven with a black eye and no Moses. “He’s being real mature about it,” he said.
God healed the eye and said, “Go back to Earth--”
“Oh, so he can punch my other eye out? Great plan, Boss.”
“--and tell him to put his hand on the back of a calf. For every hair under his palm, I’ll give him an extra year of life.”
Azrael stared at Him. “You’re going to reward the guy who punched an angel. Not just any angel, the angel of death. ‘If you give Azrael a black eye, you get an extension!’ What do you give out for hair-pulling and breaking bones? You realize this is going to make my job exponentially harder, right?”
God rolled His eyes. “You’ve been reaping souls for thousands of years now. You can’t tell me none of them tried to knock your teeth in.”
“None of them can because they’re just regular humans. Only prophets can do that, and they tend to be a lot more obedient to your will.”
“Yes, and they don’t complain nearly as much,” God said.
Sulking, Azrael went back down to Earth and delivered God’s message to Moses, who asked, “What happens after all those years are up?”
“Then you die,” Azrael said. “For real.”
Moses thought about it for a minute, then shook his head. “Nah. Let’s go.”
“You heard me. I’m done. Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”
Azrael sputtered. “Why didn’t you do that last time?!”
“Because you didn’t give me a choice,” Moses argued.
“I rarely do.”
Moses sighed. “Look, you caught me off guard. And I’m not going to lie, the idea of dying is terrifying. But if I choose to stick around for however many decades, all I’m going to do is dread the day you come back.”
“Wow. Love you, too, sugar,” the angel deadpanned. He took Moses’ hand and they went to Heaven.
This story of Moses only appears in Islamic tradition, which is why Azrael is never mentioned by name in the Bible and is only briefly mentioned in Judaism.
While I may have made up all of the dialogue in this story, the rest of it is faithful to what’s recorded in the Sahih al-Bukhari (a collection of Muslim sayings and teachings). Moses legit punched an archangel to stave off death, only to turn around and agree to go without a fuss.
You can’t blame him, though. Death is terrifying. Problem is, we’ve all got to deal with it. You can kick and scream and fight all you want, and it might even buy you a few extra years, but eventually we all die.
The other moral is don’t procrastinate. You can’t push it off forever; that boss/teacher will come back. And if you went with Moses’ method, they might be bringing police charges with them.
They say it’s not the fall that kills you.
For Josette Dupre, the Corps’ first female airship captain, it might just be a bullet in the back.
On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested deathtrap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat, a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. Bernat’s own secret assignment is to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision.
So when the enemy makes an unprecedented move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself?
There are few things in life more satisfying than reading an incredible book you got for free. (Yay, giveaways!) Robin Bennis’ The Guns Above is a jam-packed, military fantasy adventure about sexism and friendship. I’ve rarely read a book so fast. If I didn’t work full-time, I probably would’ve finished it in a day.
There are many awesome things about this book. The first is the characters themselves. Every single one of them is a sarcastic smartass. None more so than the two main characters: Josette and Bernat. It is beautiful.
Normally I’m not a fan of cliches or tropes. This book has managed to find one of the very few tropes I like, the Sexist Pig Spends Time With Awesome Woman And Stops Being A Sexist Pig narrative arc, and it does it very well. Bernat is horrible at the start of the book: spoiled, misogynistic, a complete and total idiot. By the end of the book, he’s still spoiled, but a hell of a lot less misogynistic and a bit more intelligent. You go from hating his guts the first page you meet him to wanting to hug him at the end.
Josette herself is one of those amazing, kickass military women who does a spectacular job of hiding all of her insecurities and doubts. She has zero tolerance for incompetence from anyone, including her superior officers and herself. In a world that is 100% patriarchal and full of people who want to bring her down, she is her own harshest critic. I’d hug her, but I’m pretty sure she’d stab me for implying she needs it.
Bennis manages to show the horrors of war and how such circumstances bring out the best and worst of humanity in eighteen short chapters. Nobody seems to be sure what they’re fighting for (Bernat), and those who do know understand it’s a pretty dumb reason, but they’ll do it anyway because it’s what their country demands of them (Josette). It’s a very skeptical view of war, but done in a way that doesn’t bash soldiers who are honestly just protecting their home. It’s a rare tightrope ability.
The best thing about this book for me is probably the chemistry between Bernat and Josette. It’s not romantic. There is zero romance or sexual tension between these two. It’s established from the start that Bernat prefers women at least a decade older than him, and Josette never mentions any past lovers or desires. It’s purely a platonic relationship. By the end of the book, they’re more like brother and sister. Words cannot express how grateful I was to find a story that centered on two characters of the opposite sex who did not pursue a romantic relationship between them. I was ecstatic.
Hands down, this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard, and I’m rarely so invested in the characters. The front cover says it’s the first of a series, and I sincerely hope we see many more airship adventures to come.
It's giveaway time! This week's giveaway is extra special. We have not only the fourth installment of the Earth's Final Chapter series, but also a free poster to go with it!
The image is one of the cover designs for book one, Avinon. It's the one on the right down below with the glowing red sword. While 25 lucky stars will win a free download of book four, one winner will receive an 11 x 17-inch poster!
The book-winners will receive a copy of Kay: Capital City Arena Champion. This story throws a bit of Gladiator into the sci-fi universe. Check out the description:
Far from home and in a foreign land, Kaytherine must fight for her life in the Federation Capital City arena. Mutants, Cyborgs, and other creatures will face off, in the next adventure in "Earth's Final Chapter."
Review by Mark Angelides:
"Kay," the fourth book in Earth’s Final Chapter, has a very different feel to it in terms of character development and getting to know the different people. The Kay character is a real trooper that keeps you turning pages, in anticipation of the next key to her history. In some ways it’s a sad book as it examines what a life of slavery can do to a person, but the gritty characters keep it fast-paced.
The artwork for this volume is of a very different style. A lot more “savage” in interpretation, but it fits in well with the bloodiness of the plot. With a fantastic and gory finale, this is my firm favorite of the series so far.
Once again: 25 people will receive the code for a free download, and one lucky winner will receive a free poster.
Hurry! This giveaway ends Thursday, September 21st.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!