Interview – Hal J. Friesen

Interview with Hal J. Friesen, author of “Lines of Fire” in the Megan Survival Anthology.


Your main character, Hanako, is a bit of an outsider in the colony. What or who was your inspiration for her character?

I’ve always self-identified as an outsider, so outsiders are a common thread in many of my stories. I also have a keen interest in writing the less-heard perspective, so I am naturally drawn to characters whose views differ from the paradigm they find themselves in. Hanako was created as a counterbalance to the exploratory and adventurous spirit the Mega colonists would generally have in common. She is, in some ways, the sober second opinion on whether or not the decision to go to Mega was a good one.

The colony remains split in their decision to stay or leave. If this story were to continue, would you predict a fight for resources ending in less than civil disagreements?

I could see a fight for resources after significant population growth, perhaps, but a planet is a big place and I think there is enough to go around especially when one half of the colony is willing to travel to find it. Considering the ship didn’t land where they’d intended, and they still managed to survive, I think there are plenty of land and resources for everyone. That said, there is still the element of ego and pride that could play a role within the colony’s dynamic, and when stress escalates from hunger or other constraints I could see people from either side looking for scapegoats, and things ending poorly.

Hanako appears to be a victim of ageism, as she is undermined by the colony leader when she explains the horrific act of nature she witnessed. What is the significance of ageism overall in the story?

The ageism is more of a reflection of Baki Tadeas’ character, and how he exploits any perceived weakness he can find to undermine those who might threaten him. It’s also a key element of Hanako’s outsider nature, and why she becomes the only person who can save the colony from destruction. What I tried to convey in the story is the way this type of prejudice can be perpetuated by a strong leader, even when the followers wouldn’t otherwise discriminate against Hanako for that reason. [SPOILER ALERT] When Baki’s influence is gone at the end of the story, everyone wakes up from their stupor and treats Hanako the way she ought to be treated.

Along with being a science fiction writer, you are a research and developmental scientist. What do you believe the strongest link is between present-day science capabilities and the science described in science fiction?

I think Ursula K. Le Guin said that science fiction is descriptive rather than predictive. I believe science is driven by societal, political, environmental, and intellectual needs, which are a reflection of where humanity finds itself. Science fiction has the power to describe and highlight the human condition, often using technologies that are either highly desired or extensions of what currently exists. Where scientific investigation can often be very insular and narrow in scope, science fiction can broaden the discussion and view for much-needed perspective. The link between science’s intellectual progress and science fiction’s reflective introspection is the strongest, and in my opinion, the most important.

Do you often find inspiration for your science fiction works when developments are being made in your work as a scientist?

The biggest inspirations are actually when things fail. I think there’s a lot of sci-fi that downplays just how hard and frustrating it can be to do science, and so I try to put the realistic-but-interesting failures into my stories as a way to more accurately represent science in fiction. I also think there’s a mystique about science being more glorious than it actually is, and so I get inspired when I see and experience “backyard science” that goes against the lab-coat, clean-room stereotype.

Reality Skimming Press brands itself as optimistic sci-fi. What does that phrase mean to you?

Optimistic sci-fi is the glass-half-full description of reality in a way that is meaningfully reinforced by deeper truth. Stories that inspire and tell about the better timelines humanity can steer toward.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on getting my short stories from the Odyssey Writing Workshop into shape for submission to professional magazines. I received a tremendous amount of feedback from great writers there this past summer, and I’m still in the process of taking their advice to heart. The story I’m working on right now is about two friends joined at the hip who start to drift apart when they try to find jobs in an absurd fantasy world. It’s funnier than it sounds, I promise.

Ellen Michelle is the managing editor for Reality Skimming Press. She is also a freelance editor at ellenmichelle.com and volunteers in the editing and science fiction communities in western Canada.

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