August 22, 2014

The Ultra Thin Man Blog Tour: Guest Post

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Ultra Thin Man by Peter Swenson! Today I have a great guest post written by the author to share with you - and don't forget to enter my giveaway to win a hardcover copy of your own! You can find the link to the giveaway in my right sidebar.

The Ultra Thin Man

Author: Peter Swenson
Genre: Science Fiction
Release Date: August 12, 2014
Publisher: Tor Books


In the twenty-second century, a future in which mortaline wire controls the weather on the settled planets and entire refugee camps drowse in drug-induced slumber, no one—alive or dead, human or alien—is quite what they seem. When terrorists manage to crash Coral, the moon, into its home planet of Ribon, forcing evacuation, it’s up to Dave Crowell and Alan Brindos, contract detectives for the Network Intelligence Organization, to solve a case of interplanetary consequences. Crowell’s and Brindos’s investigation plunges them neck-deep into a conspiracy much more dangerous than anything they could have imagined.

The two detectives soon find themselves separated, chasing opposite leads: Brindos has to hunt down the massive Helk alien Terl Plenko, shadow leader of the terrorist Movement of Worlds. Crowell, meanwhile, runs into something far more sinister—an elaborate frame job that puts our heroes on the hook for treason.

Crowell and Brindos are forced to fight through the intrigue to discover the depths of an interstellar conspiracy. And to answer the all-important question: Who, and what, is the Ultra Thin Man?

The Fantasy of Science Fiction
By Patrick Swenson

The Ultra Thin Man is a science fiction story.

Or is it?

If you could travel back in time to an early hunter-gatherer culture and give the inhabitants MP3 players and ear buds and crank the tunes long and loud in their ears, they’d either gasp in awe and wonder, or run away in fear. Would they see the MP3 player as a technology, or would it be a fantasy? Would it be magic?

There’s a story by the late Henry Slesar called “Chief,” where white men have come to an isolated island after a great atomic war. They are men of science, and they tell the chief that the little box they have with them is simply a play thing of science. What it really is, though, is a Geiger counter. The Geiger counter shows that the tribe is not radioactive; the box doesn’t “click.” But when the scientists point the counter at themselves, it “clicks.” Oh boy, the chief is impressed, and he declares it “great magic.” Here’s proof that these white men are gods. And as is their custom, they eat their gods, so naturally, they skin and cook the scientists and serve them at their evening meal. They’re feeling dang good about themselves, too, because now? The tribespeople are gods too. The boxes have started clicking for them.

It’s a fabulous piece of science fiction, a strong commentary on the horrors of war and the fears of technology gone unchecked. From the point of view of the chief on the island, however, the white men’s science is nothing short of magic, something only afforded to gods. Arthur C. Clarke famously stated that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Indeed, if you went forward in time 1000 years, you might have much the same reaction to that culture’s technological marvels as those hunter-gatherers did to your MP3 player.

One of my favorite writers is Ray Bradbury. I teach some short fiction from the loosely connected stories of The Martian Chronicles, and the book seems like science fiction, but it is mostly fantasy. When he wrote it, Bradbury understood there was no evidence of life on Mars. There were no canals. He wrote about the colonization of Mars, but he more or less fantasized about the existence of canals, looking instead at the power behind symbol and metaphor instead of latching on to any rigorous scientific extrapolations.

By definition, science fiction is any story that shows a possible or plausible change in technology or society. (To spell out one of many definitions.) It’s more about what’s possible, while fantasy is more about what’s impossible. When writing The Ultra Thin Man, I believed it fell, without a doubt, into the category of science fiction. It was a nod to the space opera and Golden Age pulp stories of my youth. Did I use science concepts in there? Yes. Was it believable science? Well, not always. (Sometimes you give a plausible explanation, and then hand wave the rest of it.) Remember that trip backwards in time? In reality, time travel is fantasy, because science hasn’t proven that time travel is even remotely possible. We’d have to crank up the volume and generate some super advanced technology (aka magic) to make it happen.

The margins between science fiction and fantasy blur even more when SF and fantasy team up. Consider Louise Marley’s The Singers of Nevya. The story reads as a pure fantasy world, but the specially trained Singers use psi power when they sing, thereby creating warmth on an ice planet. In the winters, the people need these singers to survive.

You could argue that the SF film Forbidden Planet is, to a degree, part fantasy. It’s even based on a fantasy, a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It’s the 22nd century. There’s a space cruiser. There’s that famous robot, Robby. But then you’ve also got the “id monster.” Turns out the character named Morbius can’t control his subconscious, which is sending its Id monster out and killing people. Science? Well, no. Right now, we don’t have the ability to turn our fears into reality, which is probably a good thing.

The novel that had a huge impact on my love of science fiction (and on my own writing) was Dune. Some believe that its space opera underpinnings touch on the metaphysical. Maybe so. Dune goes the extra distance, though. Author Frank Herbert takes this SFnal universe and makes us understand that, in an almost fantastical way, the people populating it have life-or-death stakes in the outcome of the story.

Whether fantasy or science fiction, every good story blends what is possible and what is not. Sometimes it’s wrapped around a rip-roaring adventure. Sometimes it’s a thoughtful extrapolation of known science or pseudo-science. Sometimes it’s an exploration of the unknown—in outer space, or inner space.

The Ultra Thin Man is a science fiction story. Or is it? Like many speculative stories, it attempts to convince the reader to look beyond what is factual and consider the possibility that imagination does not always look like real life, regardless of the technology or the society in control of it. Sometimes it’s just great magic.

Thanks for stopping by and chatting with us today Patrick!
Patrick is a writer, publisher, editor, and teacher. His first novel is entitled The Ultra Thin Man, forthcoming from Tor in 2014. He has sold stories to the anthology Like Water for Quarks, and magazines such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, Figment, and others. (Taken from Goodreads)

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