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The Alternate Lavender Island: Brent Harris

Marooned Guest: Brent Harris.


Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.



The guest for this exercise in marooning is an expert in time-travelling astronaut dinosaurs, which seems to cover the interests of many youths. He’s also written about misunderstood orcs, conflicted AIs, and a universe where Dickens meets steampunk. It’s an eclectic mix.

 

Our marooned guest today is, of course, the two-time alternate history Sideways Award finalist Brent Harris. He’s another of the “interesting background brigade” that seems to be the mark of Alternate History. He holds a Masters in Creative Writing and Film from National University, and puts this to use in pounding a keyboard while chugging caffeine, playing board games and DnD, and arguing why there is still hope for Marvel movies. His Masters in creative writing has clearly done something, as we can see from his books.

 

As part of a military family, Brent’s travelled the world and lived in four different countries, yet still can’t speak a second language. He currently lives abroad with “a broad and a brood” in Okinawa, Japan.

 

At the moment, he is longlisted for a BSFA for his alternate history short The Story That Never Was, so if you’re a BSFA member or know someone who is, Brent would appreciate it if you voted for his story Here.

 

Welcome to the isolation of Lavender Island, Brent. You’ll have a number of things you can take.

I overpack like a pack of rabid Boy Scouts on a campout. I’m always carrying at least two paperbacks with me that I’ll never find the time to read on holiday, but if I don’t pack them, then I know my plane will pull a Tom Hanks and I’ll be left looking for a volleyball to befriend. I’ve a number of choices for my (hopefully short) stay on Lavender Island.

 

So, moving on to your specific choices. What’s the first AH book you’ve chosen?

 

The Ultimate Dinosaur is one of my favourite books and childhood memories. I still have my original copy. Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder, first introduced to me in this anthology, has shaped so much of my science fiction and AH writing. Bradbury is my bedrock. But this book contains many more great stories and writers, from Harry Harrison and Harry Turtledove to Gregory Benford and beyond. Turtledove’s entry, The Green Buffalo, was my gateway into his writing and the alternate history genre.


Picture courtesy Amazon.


And the second AH book you’ve selected?

All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai.

 

I’ve always enjoyed alternate history where the past was different but due to meddling, it becomes our past instead. Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubillee executes this concept well: the South really won the American Civil War but our narrator bumbles his time-machine trip and tilts the course of a battle to Northern victory.

 

But my favourite is All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai. The futuristic SF of the 1950s has all come to fruition: spaceships, flying cars, peace and prosperity, until one man and a time machine messes it all up for everyone in the name of love and, ergo, the world we’re living here and now is all his fault. This book acts as sort of confession to his time-travel crime. I’d love to see a movie made.


Picture courtesy Amazon.


Moving on to your third book. What have you chosen?

Timeline, by Michael Crichton.

 

There’s a place for chewy tome of deeply rich and heavily researched alternate history that you can sink your teeth into, but my tropical island is for lighter fare.

 

With that said, I’d go with the more time-travel (and less AH) read of Michael Crichton’s Timeline. Where would we be without his books? I’ve loved them all, cough Jurassic park but more so. I’m fascinated with Crichton’s breezy prose of heavy subjects such as the power (and danger) of technology.

 

Alternate history is an amazing genre but it’s a genre at its best when it’s easily accessible. In early attempts to discover my own unique writerly voice, I’ve trained on his, and I don’t think I’m the only writer to have done so. Even now when I’m stuck with how to show an event unfolding, I’ve gone back to his books for inspiration, so it’s necessary to take something of his if I’m on a desert island as I’d presumably be writing my next book.


Picture courtesy Amazon.


Can you talk about your fourth book?

Superman: Red Son, by Mark Millar and others.

 

I don’t suppose there’s anyway for me to take my comic book collection to this Lavender Island? Because there are worlds (and Elseworlds) that I’d love to bury myself in. Marvel’s What If? springs to mind. But, if I could only take one, it would be a toss-up between The Nail (a reference to Robert Sobel’s For Want of a Nail, an honourable mention) and Superman: Red Son. This comic twists the titular midwestern hero in a compelling tale of nature vs nurture. Red Son was the Injustice League that I was raised on, and that comic kills, much like a Soviet Supes.


Picture courtesy Amazon.


What’s the fifth and final AH book you’ve chosen?

The Worldwar Series, by Harry Turtledove.

 

My fifth book is cheating, as it’s many, many books, but in the words of Gimli: “It still only counts as one!” Games like Axis and Allies stoked my curiosity of WWII in such a way that I studied it in school. In fact, my first attempt at a novel was what if Japan had invaded Hawaii until I saw Days of Infamy in bookstores. But this is an overlong way of me saying that Worldwar combines two passions: WWII and dinosaurs (as space invaders). I mean, what’s not to love? If there’s anything from Turtledove that begs for an adaptation into a streaming series, this is it. And I greatly desire to be part of that writer’s room – I’d get coffee for the guy getting coffee.


Picture courtesy Amazon.


You’re also allowed one history book of OTL history. What will you be taking?

Washington, a Life, by Ron Chernow.

 

Non-fiction books are where I chow down. I rarely read fiction fiction these days as I’m often too busy reading for research. And I try to avoid AH so as to not unduly influence my work. I’ve read Ron Chernow’s Washington and listened to the audio recording by Scott Brick. I’ve also visited Mount Vernon and I’ve spent hours reading Washington’s own words. Washington was a complex figure, who did some very inspiring things and some equally shitty things, and I appreciate that Chernow does not hold back.

 

This book was important to me for laying out both the voice and character of Washington for my novel: A Time of Need (which, coincidentally, is looking for a new publisher). Plus, Chernow’s biography is a hefty tome, so it might hold up to squashing spiders on Lavender Island. More on that later.

 

Moving on, those are your books. Music. What AH music would you like to have with you?

Danny Elfman’s score for Tim Burton’s Batman Continues.

 

When it comes to AH art, it’s easy to say something like The Beatles or the never made third Tim Burton’s Batman movie. I have to say – wait, no I want Time Burton’s third Batman, Batman Continues... despite its ridiculous title. We missed out on Billy Dee William’s Two Face, Robin Williams; Riddler, and a third outing for Michael Keaton. Those of us of a certain age were robbed of this movie and then slapped in the face with latex Bat Nipples. Since the question specifies AH music, I’ll assume that Danny Elfman has returned to score this third film and that I have the means to listen to it while I’m on my island awaiting rescue...

 

The final item you are allowed is a luxury item taken from Alternate History. What have you chosen?

Speaking of rescue, my luxury item is an airship. It’s not only how I’ll make my escape from Lavender Island, it’s a perfect way for an AH writer to fly. There’s a reason that airships are so heavily troped in this genre – it’s because of how badass they are. Just think of that opening from Batman: The Animated Series with those airships hovering over Gotham with their spotlights out. So cool. So, that’s my luxury item and convenient means of getting off the island because, as you’ll see with my final answer, I wouldn’t want to live on Lavender Island for long.

 

Those are all your items. How well do you think you will cope on Lavender Island? Why wouldn’t you want to live there for long?

Well, I mean, I live on the relatively small and subtropical island of Okinawa already, so I suppose that I have some practical experience with this mental exercise. And I can tell you without equivocation that I would not do well at all, especially if we’re talking summer months. The humidity alone is absolutely brutal for books.

 

Then there’s the wildlife you’d have to fend off while attempting to read: snakes, big-ass spiders, and all manner of creatures that will happily kill you if you touch them. I imagine I wouldn’t fare very well at all, and reading would be quite low on my list of things to do during my seclusion. Unfortunately, island life isn’t for me unless it’s at a five-star resort or my apartment, with strong WiFi and working A/C.

 

With that said, come visit me on my real-life island and thanks for having me.

 

*Slams book on spider.

 

*Book crawls away with spider unharmed.

 

 

Discuss this interview Here.

 

 

 

 

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