Saturday, July 14, 2012


Steph Bennion, author of Hollow Moon, answers questions about her novel and discusses her views on science fiction. Visit her website or Follow her on Twitter.

What was the inspiration for the hollow asteroid that serves as Ravana’s home?

Space opera loves its tropes and one is the ‘big dumb object’; for instance, the alien ship from Arthur C Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama, the sci-fi version of the discworld in Terry Pratchett’s Strata, Larry Niven’s Ringworld, Bob Shaw’s Orbitsville and so on. In the accompanying stories, it’s nearly always an everyday hero from a sprawling interstellar civilisation who goes off in search of the mysterious “thing,” but I wanted to tell a tale from the opposite point of view, where it was the isolated inhabitants of the object in question who were suddenly forced to deal with visitors from beyond. The idea of a forgotten colony ship came quickly, but it was when I was trying to think of a catchy title for the book that the concept of a “hollow moon”—an asteroid hollowed out to make a sub-light-speed starship—came to mind. The icing on the cake was when I started researching this idea and came across Beyond Tomorrow by futurist Dandridge M Cole. This book contains some wonderful illustrations of Cole’s ideas by Roy Scarfo, including one of the interior of a hollow asteroid. After that it seemed right that I name the hollow moon colony ship in Cole’s honour.

In Hollow Moon, the dominant interplanetary powers are China and India. Why these Eastern powers as opposed to Western ones?

I reasoned that future endeavours in space would be driven by commercial needs—not to explore, but exploit, as Ravana contemplates at some point—by starting with asteroid mining and then moving on from there. China and India seemed likely candidates to make the first serious attempts at industrialising space, given the relative state of their economies and need for raw materials compared to the developed but debt-ridden West; China in particular is catching up fast as far as space technology is concerned. That’s not to say that the West is standing still—the recent Space X mission to the International Space Station is an amazing milestone in commercial space flight. Here in Britain, the UK engineering firm Reaction Engines recently showcased its Skylon spaceplane engine at the Farnborough International Airshow; Skylon itself is an incredible project that has high-level backing from the UK Government and European Space Agency. But as far as Hollow Moon is concerned, another answer would be that in my imagined twenty-third century, most major nations have made their mark somewhere in the five systems but it’s just that the story never ventures to where the Americans or others have staked their claims. The fact that I imagined the colonies in the Barnard’s Star system to be British is just wishful thinking!

What can you tell us about the technology of Hollow Moon? How much of it is based on science fact?

I do enjoy “hard sci-fi,” which aims to use reasonable scientific principles behind fictional technology and I think science fiction serves to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. The works of Arthur C Clarke were a big influence on Hollow Moon; for example, 2001: A Space Odyssey features the use of centrifugal force to create artificial gravity in space, which I adopted for the spinning hollow moon and the rotating passenger cabin onboard the heroes’ spacecraft. I also did some research into the possibility of native life on a planet orbiting close to a red dwarf star, which resulted in some nice scenes in Ascension’s Eden Ravines. A lot of the day-to-day gadgets in Hollow Moon were pure speculation; the story features some that have artificial intelligence, which I do think will be achieved through bioengineering rather than computing, but hopefully not by harvesting alien brains! Ravana’s monocycle just seemed a cool thing to put in and it brought a smile to my lips when I saw that Will Smith gets to ride one in Men in Black 3. The extra-dimensional drive is pure invention of course, but a space opera has to have a planet-hopping plot!

Hollow Moon features a large and colorful cast of characters. Are any particular inspirations behind them? What prompted you to choose names such as Ravana and Zotz?

Many of the main characters were defined by their place in the story, in the way that fantasy epics often have a band of heroes who each have some unique talent that helps resolve the problems thrown their way. Some had definite prototypes: Gadget-builder Zotz was based upon a character called Septimus from Ivor Melbourne’s Secret Agents All, one of my all-time favourite books from childhood. The inspiration for rebel henchmen Namtar and Inari was Croup and Vandemar from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, while mercenaries Hanuman and Ganesa were largely based upon Mal and Zoë from the TV show Firefly. The politician Governor Jaggarneth, who continually spouts nonsensical idioms, is a caricature of a certain type of civil servant I often come across in meetings in my day job!

I often struggle to think of convincing character names. For Hollow Moon, I was researching Chinese and Indian mythology to decide names for the various planets and colonies in the Epsilon Eridani system, then I decided that if my twenty-third-century space farers had turned to mythology to name their new worlds, maybe they would do the same for their children. That’s when I sat down with a dictionary of myths and legends and went through from A to Z, selecting those I liked the sound of to name the cast of Hollow Moon. I tried to keep the origin of the name in mind when allocating them to characters; for instance, Zotz is a Maya bat god, which given his alter ego I though was very appropriate.

One of the most memorable and amusing aspects of Hollow Moon is that robotic cat. Why a cat? And why leave it unnamed?

I am very fond of cats, as I love their independence and the cheeky way they seem to treat a house as their own. The concept of a life-like robot pet came from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and a cat seemed the right companion to give Ravana to illustrate her solitary nature. As for the lack of name, my flatmate and I once had a cat called Buster, which never responded when addressed by that name but would always come running whenever it heard the refrigerator door being opened!

Are you planning any sequels to Hollow Moon? Will Ravana and company be returning for more adventures?

I am working on another one, which revolves around an archaeological dig on a long-dead alien planet, a cake-obsessed secret agent and more close encounters with the mysterious greys. The Hollow Moon “universe” is broad enough for me to use it as a backdrop to a wide variety of stories, so there’s certainly scope for more. Late last year I put out the free short story To Dance Amongst The Stars, a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of Cinderella featuring characters from Hollow Moon and I hope to publish another silly seasonal story at the end of this year. It’s my attempt to bring the British tradition of pantomime to space opera, although I freely admit I stole the idea from Toby Frost, author of the very funny Space Captain Smith series.

Describe your ideal writing location. Where would you be, and what would you have handy?

It would have to be a cabin overlooking a deserted beach, where the only distractions were the distant murmur of sea upon sand, a mug of freshly-brewed tea and an electric cat purring gently at my feet...

Hollow Moon is available at: Smashwords (multiple e-formats)

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