Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot (with blogger/contributor Keri Heath)! We are happy to present an author feature today: Lance Parkin, a British author best known for his work with the science fiction and fantasy genres. In addition to his own original fiction, he has written guidebooks for works such as Stark Trek, Emmerdale (a British soap that he also wrote storylines for) and the His Dark Materials trilogy. But Parkin has written most prolifically about the outrageously popular science fiction drama Doctor Who. In today’s feature, Parkin reveals why he loves the science fiction genre and how he delves into a new universe.
Lance Parkin has been writing about the television show Doctor Who since the early 1990s. Since his first professional novel, Just War, he has written books for BBC’s Doctor Who series and a History of the Universe of Doctor Who. In addition to his work with the Doctor Who universe, he has written guidebooks for Stark Trek, His Dark Materials, and Emmerdale, among others. His most recent work, published in 2013, is a biography of Alan Moore, who wrote comics such as The Watchman and V for Vendetta.
To learn more about Parkin, visit his website at www.lanceparkin.wordpress.com.
Interview with Who? Lance Parkin!
- Most of your work centers on the fantasy or science fiction genre. What compels you about these genres?
Science fiction gives an author a license to go off on tangents, stretch a point, ignore inconvenient facts. So you can set a story in a more focused, exaggerated environment. In the end, though, you can do that with most fiction. The most ‘realistic’ and ‘grounded’ novels have coincidences and weird little moments in them that seem more like magic. I wouldn’t defend ‘science fiction’ as a whole entity, it’s something that encompasses all sorts of storytelling. There’s science fiction that’s really lazy – uses the genre to skimp on the research, or the characterization, or to smooth over the spiky, awkward bits of reality. Or that’s just derivative or playing to existing fans.
We live in an age where we understand that the system we have is flawed. Just about everyone sees that we’re damaging the planet, the economy is geared in a way that’s cruel to a lot of people, technology allows terrifying levels of surveillance and control, where we see lots of things that need to be done that aren’t being done … and we also have got it into our heads that there’s no alternative, that society has to look like this, give or take. Science fiction is a way of exploring alternatives. What do we want the world to look like, what is it we’re really troubled by? What do good guys look like? At its best, science fiction is the best tool we have for seeing our world differently.
- Why are you so fascinated with the Doctor Who universe?
I’ve been watching Doctor Who since I was a very small child, and so I know the terrain. It’s sort of a hub for so much of British culture, a show that just about every British actor has been involved with. It’s hard to find much British science fiction that isn’t reacting to it in some way. The internal mythos of the show is rich and wonderful, but it’s the format that makes it perfect. The whole point of the show is that it switches genres from week to week, that it’s a playful deconstruction of anything and everything. It was doing steampunk and mashups and metafiction and everything like that for decades. It’s a funny show, made by people who are smarter than me, but who don’t wear it on their sleeve. It’s almost impossible to overestimate it. And there’s so much of it that you can pick one strand and get a set of stories that conform to that style. If you want dumb, flashy action, you can find ten stories like that pretty easily, but if you want twisty, weird stuff that looks like a pop video you can find ten of those, too. There’s very little it can’t do.
- In writing the Doctor Who novels, do you ever experience any trouble staying true to the characters’ personalities?
It’s an interesting challenge, because you’ve got to tell your story, you’ve got to move things along, and you’re often taking TV characters, who tend to be all surfaces, and turning them into characters in novels, where it’s all about what they’re thinking. So there are balances to be found – but that’s really what all writing is about: finding the balance between not telling your readers enough versus lecturing them; being evocative without being obscure; being faithful to the past, but saying something new and relevant.
- When making a guidebook, what is your process for delving into a fictional universe?
The very first thing I do with any non-fiction is work out exactly what it’s for, exactly why people would take it down from the shelf. That’s the test for me. It’s a reference book, so when would you refer to it? I make a very careful study of the other books that are out there. The internet is there for the basic facts, these days. I wrote a biography of Alan Moore … well, anyone with a laptop can assemble a functioning biography of someone like him, even if they’ve only just heard his name the first time, all they need is Google and in a few minutes you’d have a framework for his life story. The role of a book is to go beyond the objective facts, to bring the author’s experience and perspective in there. I’m working on a guide to Doctor Who planets at the moment, and I’m trying to inject some personality into it. If you want a list of things that happened on Telos, planet of the Cybermen, then it’s easy enough to find. So to make it a book people are going to be interested in, I need to find some quirky or weird stuff, pick up on a detail from a story that other people have overlooked.
- You also do reviews of different media. What do you look for when you watch a show or movie that you are reviewing?
I’ve been lucky that most of the things I’ve reviewed are things I’ve asked to review. There’s enough snark and pedantry on the internet – and I can be as snarky and pedantic as the best of them – so when I review, I try to look for things I enjoyed, things that worked. That’s not to say every review is positive, or needlessly sunny. The top tips I would have are not to be afraid of expressing your own opinion, and don’t waste too much time double guessing what other people will think. And review the thing in front of you, not the book you’d have written instead. Respect and explore the choices the author has made – if they’re taking an angle on the material, they’ve chosen not to do something else, so explore those choices. As a rule of thumb, I’ve found that any review which asks questions is a waste of time. ‘What was the author hoping to achieve by putting this character into the mix?’. I don’t know – so why not go away and think about it, and come back and write your review when you’ve worked it out? On the whole, I’m the sort of person who finds it really difficult to mark a book or movie out of ten, or go ‘three stars!’. There are some lousy movies with one line of dialogue or image that I love … how many stars is that worth? There are some fantastic movies that leave me utterly cold.
- Do you have any forthcoming work that fans should look out for?
I’m keeping myself busy. I’ve got that guide to Doctor Who planets; a biography of Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek; I’m working on another Doctor Who project I can’t talk about yet; I’ve got a couple of articles coming out about Alan Moore, and the paperback version of my biography of him; a book of essays about comics, another on Sherlock Holmes, and in my spare time, I’m writing an original steampunk novel.
- Do you have any favorite authors?
Oh, tons of them. I’m lucky enough to have friends and acquaintances whose work I enjoy, so let’s start with the nepotism: Paul Magrs, Paul Cornell, Kate Orman, Mark Clapham, Ben Aaronovitch, Phil Purser-Hallard, Eddie Robson. Sorry if I missed anyone out, there, I mean no offence! I’m a completist for Douglas Adams, Michael Chabon, Borges, Iain Banks, Nicholas Christopher, Ken MacLeod, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, David Liss, Umberto Eco, Stephen Baxter, Paul Pope, Matt Kindt, Philip Pullman. Too many to name, I’m going to think of half a dozen more in a minute. I enjoy Christopher Bennett’s Star Trek novels. In terms of the reference book stuff, I’m blown away by the Making of Star Wars series by JW Rinzler. One thing those writers all have in common is … um … well, actually, looking at that list it’s not exactly a full spectrum of racial and gender diversity is it? … hmmmmm … OK … need to work on that. Another thing they have in common is that they entertain me, they make me go ‘ooh, that’s clever’, they just connect things up in fun ways. When I write, I think some of the appeal is puzzle solving – the challenge of ‘making it work’. All of those writers have completed Rubik’s Cubes I wouldn’t have been able to, they’ve surprised me and squared circles.
Thanks to Lance Parkin for taking the time to speak with “Fiction Reboot”!
ABOUT THE BLOGGER:
Keri Heath is a writer and journalist from Austin, Texas. She has written professionally for Austin Fit, Totally Dublin, Austin Woman, and ATX Man magazines. She has also seen her creative work published in NEAT and Straylight magazines, among others. When she isn’t writing, she loves to read, run, and play mandolin. You can view Keri’s work at readkh.wix.com/keri-heath or by following her @HeathKeri.