We speak to the British author Patrick G. Cox whose first novel Out Of Time is already out in print and his second novel, The Enemy Within is just coming out. Both books are part of an ongoing series about a trio of nineteenth century sailors who find themselves transported into the near future where they face adventure amongst the stars.
Q. How did you find yourself coming to write Out Of Time?
A. I’ve been fascinated by sci-fi from an early age, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Jet Ace Logan, Jason January were all my comic book heroes. My parents had a collection of Pan anthologies which included some sci-fi and it was through these that I encountered Arthur C Clark, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. Writing stories has been a hobby of mine for some time and I have edited newsletters and even magazines well as contributing to technical journals and study guides and notes – again in a technical sense. I have one text book in print and have just been approached to write another – so I suppose its not surprising that an idea I had been playing with for some time eventually turned into my first serious attempt at sci-fi, as one reviewer put it, a cross between Hornblower and Babylon 5! I found I enjoyed writing that so much that a second almost had to be written and I have a third in preparation as well.
Q. Has your technical writing experience been of help writing fiction?
A. I’m not sure. I’ve always been an avid reader and wrote lengthy essays at school, though my punctuation always seems to have attracted the red pen of my teachers. It has developed a lot in the last thirty years as I have written technical papers, training manuals and technical study notes for a variety of purposes, mostly related to my work in the fire and emergency services. That has certainly helped me to develop my descriptive writing and more recently I have had to develop the technical writing for conference papers where the audience are not necessarily English speakers – that certainly focuses the attention on being able to convey detail without straying into language that might confuse the audience. For dialogue I try to write as people – or my characters – would speak. Sometimes I end up editing and polishing this until it looks and feels right for the character. Its been quite a learning curve.
Q. Can you name a few of your literary influences?
A. There’s quite a number including, dare I admit it, Enid Blyton, Georgette Heyer, C S Foresster, Douglas Reeman (Alexander Kent), Arthur C Clarke, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Terry Pratchett. Naturally I would have to add Will Shakespeare, Dickens and all the others I had to study at school and some I even enjoyed!
Q. Did your work for organizations provide a basis for the governmental structures seen in the novel?
A. Well, I am a cynic when it comes to governments of any flavour, most appear to me, as someone who has worked under civil servants and politicians most of my career, to be set up to perpetuate those who are in government, in government. I see no distinction between the politicians and the civil servants primarily because the civil servants are about making sure that they retain control of the ‘interpretation’ of policy and the money flowing through any department and the politicians are only interested in being re-elected so they can keep their snouts firmly in the trough. So my cynical view is that the government of the future will be similar to the one we now have, but larger with more passengers and more covert corruption than is already there. The civil servants will have expanded their empires to the point where the ministers of state will find it difficult to actually change anything at all and will simply surrender to allow the bureaucrats to have it their way as long as the gravy train keeps rolling along. The only thing that might change or challenge that is if Big Business finds that it is unable to continue to operate profitably under those circumstances. “Yes Minister” wasn’t a fiction – it was a documentary. Believe me, I’ve seen senior civil servants at work manipulating the ministers … Plato’s De Republica describes very well the stages any form of government goes through and the last stage is Oligarchy, which we are now entering.
Q. Is the humanoid race that allies themselves with Harry making things easier to deal with on an imaginative and interactional point?
A. It’s unlikely that the alien races we meet if we can ever get ourselves into space and out of the solar system as all sci-fi authors believe we will, will be anything like us at all. In fact they probably won’t even be able to communicate with us or interact with us – but that doesn’t make for an interesting story. I hope I’ve been creative within the bounds of scientific possibility with that, creating a race evolved from a lizard-like creature that walks upright, another that exists as a form of energy field able to slip into our electronic equipment. There are vegetable based life forms and others I am toying with – one thing that is quite difficult here is to come up with aliens that are original – so many great authors have already walked this path, including Edgar Rice Burroughs with his Martian marsupial like humans and his even more exotic inhabitants of Venus. So far I haven’t attempted to go too far into the social mores of the Lacertian race, the main group of aliens I have used so far. They have a culture which is very different to ours, based on clans and a Sersan who is the Ruling figure. The Lacertain’s are a female dominated society with few males who rarely travel and are not featured at all.
Q. How much of the story leans on the ‘forgotten’ skills of the 19th century in the characters who arrive in the future?
A. I began by exploring the skills and knowledge they would bring with them, then I tried to imagine how these would or could be used in the future. In each generation we lose some skill or knowledge that is not carried over or has become redundant, for example pickling vegetables for the winter, or calculating square roots or even logarithms. My father could calculate logarithms, but I can’t. I can calculate a square root, but my son never learned this at school – he was taught to use a calculator. Making a map using a Plane Table is another skill which could be lost in another generation. Having found ways to put those sort of skills to use, I gave a lot of thought to how they would learn the new knowledge and skills necessary to catch up and be able to fit in. I think I found a way which is both novel and possible since the technology is already being used in a different way. Then there is the question of attitudes – in the Napoleonic period certain standards of behaviour were expected and enforced, while some of what we accept would have been taboo. Likewise some of their social practices are today totally unacceptable.
Q. Your primary character comes to a new world as an ‘old fashioned’ sailor, albeit with some ‘modernisation’. Why did you place him in that position – a castaway in a very alien world?
A. Two reasons. First, any development of a new, life-bearing world will lead us into conflict with life forms very unlike anything we have encountered before. Shipwrecked seafarers in earlier times probably faced similar challenges; unfamiliar vegetation, strange animals and a lack of some of the things they relied on. In those circumstances people will be required to be capable and self-reliant, exactly as Harry and Ferghal are. Second, it gave an opening to explore some of the skills, knowledge and attitudes that they would have brought with them to this situation and which their companions would not have.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the rest of the series, and when we can expect the next book.
A: I’ve planned several more books in the series; the next installment, On the Run, is under construction. The next book explores the struggle for supremacy between the Consortium and its allies and the World Treaty Organisation alliance. Our heroes once again find themselves in an alien environment – this time without any of their modern equipment initially. They make a crucial discovery during this saga which will be explored and developed in future novels – but you’ll have to wait for the book to discover what!
Q: How easy did you find the path to publishing a story you needed to write?
A: Very, very difficult. I have a folder full of rejections for both the first novel and the second. Some agents didn’t even bother to send more than a compliments slip with the returned MS, most without even bothering to read it. On the first novel, Out of Time, I eventually, after two years of frustration, decided to test the market myself and published it through AuthorHouse and by and large it has been well received and reviewed selling steadily on Amazon and even through some small bookshop sales! The Enemy Is Within is being published by Hallmark Press and has had the benefit of editorial review and the publishers editor’s overview and their marketing support. I’m hoping this will be the beginning of a good partnership.
Q: Given the teen audience most likely targeted with the first novel, Out of Time, how important do you see as encouraging new readers to both Sf and reading in general?
A: Vital! Look at the great leaps forward in modern space travel and exploration, almost all of it has its origins in the imagination of men like Jules Verne and others. OK, so the technology they predicted didn’t quite work like that, but I remember visiting a professor’s office at a large university. He had the plans for something like Battlestar Galactica on his wall, with the legend emblazoned across the top – “Don’t tell me it’s impossible – Prove it!” All the great leaps in technology start off as an idea in someone’s imagination and I believe that SF is a great simulator of the imagination. The earlier you can get people thinking on these lines, the more likely they are to mature into someone determined to make their imagination reality. Asimov, Clark, Heinlein are or were all scientists. Go figure!
Patrick G. Cox
Out Of Time