Monday, November 9, 2020

Bennett R. Coles

Bennett R. Coles served as an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy for fifteen years, where he saw many adventures and also had many boring times to think about writing. As his career shifted to one of international business development he continued to explore all corners of the Earth, but now had thirteen-hour flights across the Pacific where he could churn out chapter after chapter of military space adventures. He is a recipient of the Cygnus Award for military science fiction and the Cygnus Grand Prize for science fiction. He attends SF cons across North America whenever he can, but is far more likely to be spotted at cons closer to his home in Victoria, Canada.

Coles's new novel is Dark Star Rising.

My Q&A with the author:

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

I’ve been a science fiction fan since, like, forever and I never really grew out of my childhood fascination with dinosaurs. By high school I’d realized that sailing ships were pretty cool and I’d mostly made up my mind that I was going to join the Navy.

So if you said, “Hey, Teenage Ben, in 2020 you’re going to publish a novel with a swashbuckling star frigate hunting down space pirates… with dinosaurs,” Teenage Ben would probably nod thoughtfully and say, “Yeah, that sounds like me.”

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Interesting question. With Dark Star Rising I knew the ending before anything else and it never really changed (except for the ongoing debate of exactly how I was going to get my heroes to actually swing on a rope in space… spoiler alert: they don’t). The beginning of the book took quite a few tries, though, as I had to walk back from my ending and figure out exactly what the moment was that started my heroes on their inevitable path to the climax.

It’s interesting because this is my sixth published novel but it’s the only one where I knew the ending first. With all the others, it was the beginning that came naturally and the ending which I had to labor over. Literary growth?

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I was four years old when Star Wars launched and it forever shaped my literary worldview. Basically, my mind works like this: “that’s pretty cool, but it’d be even cooler if it was in space!” It’s why I write science fiction. My career as a Navy officer also had a big impact on my writing. I like stories of well-disciplined, hard-working teams who struggle together against powerful (and sometimes anonymous) foes, where loyalty is a strength and competence (not luck or brash, self-centered “heroism”) carries the day.

What's in a name?

I’m glad you asked, because I actually put a fair bit of thought into the naming conventions in the Blackwood and Virtue series. My intent was to make the names as culturally neutral as possible, while still using real names. I didn’t want to invent all new names – to me that just creates an obstacle for the reader. Instead I wanted to use familiar names to make it easy to grasp each character while avoiding any obvious connection to our contemporary culture. But I used two different approaches for surnames and given names

These stories are based in a far-off galactic cluster with no connection to Earth as we know it, so I wanted to completely avoid surnames that carry any cultural background (like
MacBeth, Hernandez, Wu, Sakiyama, Mehta, al-Assad, etc.). Instead, I developed two simple rules for all my characters’ surnames:
  1.  if the character is a commoner, their surname is a simple trade or concept (like Butcher or Swift);
  2.  if the character is a noble, their surname is a description of a place or a symbol (like Highcastle or Silverhawk).
My editor initially commented that my names all sounded very English, so was I not just assigning a single nationality to everyone? No. The names are simply descriptions, and they only sound English because we’re reading them in English.

For example, our hero Liam Blackwood would be Liam Boisnoir in French or Liam Schwarzw√§lder in German. His loyal enforcer Harper Sky would be Harper Ciel in French or Harper Himmel in German. (I kinda like Harper Himmel – nice ring to it…)

For first names, I didn’t want to create any barriers between the reader and the characters, so I chose a different tack. I went to the 100 Top Names for Baby lists and chose my favorites. I figured this way all the characters would have names that most readers would be so familiar with that no-one would trip over them. Liam, Amelia, Mason, Sophia… As a reader you can just grab these names and run with them, focusing your attention on the characters rather than puzzling over where their names came from or how to pronounce them.
Visit Bennett R. Coles's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dark Star Rising.

My Book, The Movie: Dark Star Rising.

--Marshal Zeringue