Hey guys — I’m excited to welcome author Julie E. Czerneda to The Arched Doorway today, as part of her blog tour for her upcoming novel This Gulf of Time and Stars (November 3rd!)
Read below to find out how she created her creepiest alien villains, Assemblers.
We’ve also been generously given a hardcover copy and an audiobook of her upcoming novel to give away. Find details about that, and a preview, below!
Happy Hallowe’en, and enjoy!
What scares me?
I can remember being terrified by a story to the point of immobility three times in my life. So far. Sitting in the family car at a dusk-to-dawn drive-in. The first movie had been for me, something with horses. The second was for my older brother. It started well enough. A sea voyage, magic–
Then skeletons came to life, picked up swords, and attacked! The 7th Voyage of Sinbad featured special effects by Ray Harryhausen. Really good special effects. Gave me the chills for years, just to remember. Brr!
Sitting on the family couch, while the adults had a New Year’s party downstairs. My mom thought it would be a treat for me to watch the first-time-on-tv airing of The Wizard of Oz. It was.
Then flying monkeys attacked! I couldn’t even scream, let alone move. Chills again. Brr!
The latest? I was a teen. Our local station aired B movies right after school and I’d watch them with my brother because by then I was tough, you know. In black and white, of course, which didn’t make the movies any less thrilling. I developed a deep love of monsters with morals, especially Godzilla, and a fondness for the Blob.
Then, a movie I didn’t love. A movie to freeze me in place, tv dinner going cold. Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Pod people are a terrifying concept! I can laugh now, but for years that chill would creep over me and I’d recurring nightmares my family had been…replaced. Brr! I had an excellent family and they certainly didn’t deserve that.
Today, as a story teller, I see the common theme in what didn’t and did scare me: monsters are fine, as long as they aren’t disguised by the familiar. I had a secure and very happy childhood. As an adult, I take people at face value and believe the best of them. In sixty years, I’ve been disappointed so rarely I see no reason to stop. Yet in stories, where anything can happen and I, as a reader, know that? I still dread things being not as they seem. Suffice to say I avoid horror, written or in movies (except very old and funny ones).
When I look back at my own story-telling, I don’t think in terms of villains. I create situations that put my characters at risk and must be dealt with or overcome. Occasionally those are funny. Still, every so often? A story needs a talking bit of nasty.
A Thousand Words for Stranger was my first published novel, and features my first such character: Roraqk, the nasty, spitting, eater-of-helpless-pink-furry-things, pirate captain. I’ve talked about how I created his species during my interview in an earlier post. The reason I needed a villain was because my main character, Sira, had to encounter someone even she, new to the seamy side of a shipcity, would know to fear and distrust. At the same time, Roraqk was my chance to let Morgan (my other main character) show readers his capabilities in handling such a villain.
In later books, I’ve members of Roraqk’s species who are more—I can’t say civilized, a Scat wouldn’t think it a compliment—but capable of productive cooperation. I abhor stereotypes.
In Stratification, the prequel trilogy, I created antagonistic species who create dire situations, but aren’t of themselves villains. When I needed more of those?
Fine. I went back to space pirates. They worked and, well, were fun to write. I also included the subtler sort of scary: the individual who seems civil but whose motives aren’t. At all. Worrisome. Fraught! In Stratification, I used such individuals to create situations more than be actual foils for the characters.
The Assembler, Lawren Louli. When I started, it was a Tuckerization, i.e. I was to use Lawren’s name in Rift in the Sky. Lawren was wearing an amazing hat. There was a conversation–maybe a dare.
The result? I created a character, her species, and a situation with her hat.
And scared myself.
“Lawren Louli. This is my place. Doc’s Dive. Do you like the name? It’s a little joke. Not everyone gets that. Gurdo tells me you have a problem that could mean profit. Profit I like. Wasting time, I don’t. You look like a waste of time. You get that?”
Bemused by this rapid stream of words — Louli seemed to not need to breathe — Aryl missed the tiny pause that was her chance to speak.
“That’s a lot of offworlders to settle. Private and safe, I hear. Quick, too. Why’s that? Why quick?”
“We don’t waste time,” Enris countered, smiling. “Can you help?”
This Human female was different from the others Aryl had seen, beginning with her clothing. Every colorful section was a different eye-twisting pattern. There were two sections for each arm, and left and right arms didn’t match. Each shoulder differed from the torso, which was itself, though shaped like a snug-fitting jacket, in four fabrics. The sleek pants were divided into three down each leg, neither leg coordinated to the other. Each foot, Aryl noticed when she snuck a peek under the table, wore a different kind of shoe.
The only item of clothing spared the battle of color was the white cap on Louli’s short-cropped white hair. Was ‘cap’ the right word? The object in question was taller than any cap Aryl remembered, and sat neatly on the back of the Human’s head. It did add height, she decided.
Seems harmless enough, right? Not so fast. You see, I needed a logical reason, indoors, to chase the hat. No wind. Hmm. I decided the hat would move on its own.
Louli had been backing away. Now she leapt forward to snatch the glittering artifact from the table. Aryl swept the force blade down as she would a knife …
Only to have Louli’s arms come apart before the line of force touched them. Not only her arms, but her chest and legs and shoulders!
Every piece snapped neatly away from the others, where the differing fabric met. Once apart, they landed on the floor and sprouted fleshy limbs. They scurried in various directions, ran around legs and circled back to dive under the one table. “What is that — them!?” Naryn demanded with a horror Aryl shared.
“Assembler,” the Human informed them. “Did you think she was Human?”
The head had landed on top of the table. Having lost — or absorbed — its face, the thing looked like a large hairless pox but still wore its tall white cap. It pounced on the artifact, stuffed it under its cap, then leapt to the floor and scurried under the table with the rest.
“Get the hat!” KaeCee shouted.
Suddenly, what you think you see and know, is some things else. Brr! I was surprised and rather proud how unnerving that idea was, of having what appeared an individual, someone like us, revealed as a conglomerate of not-us! bits. Reason with a disembodied kneecap? What had seemed a shoulder? Not to mention the startling instant when an Assembler breaks into parts, each scampering on its own. At long last, I’d added “BOO!” to my repertoire!
In an earlier post along this tour, I talked about “going dark.” An essential aspect was to produce a physical threat to the Clan Sira couldn’t ignore—and possibly couldn’t overcome. I had it now.
Not one Assembler.
Far, far more.
Beings literally held together by self-interest. Who don’t play nice, with anyone or anything. All I can say, without spoiling things?
Before reading Gulf, turn up the lights and check under the furniture. There. Get comfy. But if you hear a faint sound, like fingers scratching at your window?
The giveaway is open only to residents of Canada and the US, and one winner for each prize will be chosen at random. You will have 24 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen. Enter using the widget below!
Since 1997, Canadian author/editor Julie E. Czerneda has shared her love and curiosity about living things through her science fiction, writing about shapechanging semi-immortals, terraformed worlds, salmon researchers, and the perils of power. Her fourteenth novel from DAW Books was her debut fantasy, A Turn of Light, winner of the 2014 Aurora Award for Best English Novel, and now Book One of her Night`s Edge series. Her most recent publications:
a special omnibus edition of her acclaimed near-future SF Species Imperative, as well as Book Two of Night`s Edge, A Play of Shadow, a finalist for this year’s Aurora.
Julie’s presently back in science fiction, writing the finale to her Clan Chronicles series. Book #1 of Reunification, This Gulf of Time and Stars, will be released by DAW November 2015. For more about her work, visit www.czerneda.com or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.