Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Batman could exist, but Heaven could not? (10 1/2 Questions)

 Can playing hockey on another world help save all of creation? Maybe so, if you turn out to be...

...wait, if I tell you that then I'm giving away one of the big plot twists that populate Slipstream, a fantastic sci-fi YA novel written by Michael Offutt.

Slipstream is book one of what I believe is going to be a trilogy called A Crisis of Two Worlds, and as a book, it manages to pack in an incredible amount of information to set up that story while also moving along briskly, with enough action setpieces to keep movie producers, who I assume are reading this book or who ought to be, happy.

Slipstream centers on Jordan Pendragon and his twin sister and their adventures once they slip through a rabbit hole between worlds -- a rabbit hole Jordan has some control over.  It begins with their seemingly ordinary life in Utah, but in the very first portion of the book calamaties begin to befall them and it isn't long before these two high school seniors, who once had little more to worry about than a trip to the local fair, are stumbling over crystalline spiders in a blasted wasteland of a twin-Earth called Avalon.

From there, the book moves forward even more quickly, introducing a plethora of concepts and characters that bring Avalon startingly, and differently, to life:  on Avalon, unlike our own planet, a horrible catastrophe (is there any other kind) has befallen humanity, leading AI to try to rescue civilization by building huge contained cities that were to be governed by a divine being, only that divine being started a war with itself and then started to go mad.

I'll be honest: I'm still digesting much of the mythology of Slipstream: while Offutt does a great job of setting it all out, mixing enough action with the information to keep the book moving, Slipstream would benefit from one of those companion-style books that lay out all the characters and background and cities and hockey teams.  (ATTENTION MICHAEL OFFUTT: That is a golden merchandising idea and you can use it but I get a 90% cut.)

The strength of Slipstream is in those details:  Offutt has created not just a world but an entire set of universes with a mythology that only gets cracked open in this book, promising even greater things to come, and with a series that starts off at the high level Slipstream does, that leaves much to look forward to. 

In any event, Slipstream moves smoothly from the early sequences in our world to the world of Avalon, with Jordan and his sister hooking up (in more ways than one) with a band of savvy people who explain to them what happened on Avalon, and then taking on some of the powers that be in a plan that requires not only exploring underneath the AI-built cities but infiltrating the power structure of the bad guys, as well.  Offutt creates memorable action sequences, such as when Jordan uses the slipstream (an ability to control time and space) to dominate a hockey game -- an ultraviolent form of ice hockey -- and strong supporting characters that interact in realistic ways.

And even though it's pitched as a YA novel, Slipstream contains enough satisfying sex and action and information to keep adults happy.  It's a must-read, if you haven't already.

Although I typically reserve 10 1/2 questions for indie authors, I decided to make big-time real-publisher author Michael Offutt submit to the indignity of my questioning, and he was kind enough to comply in between hobnobbing with celebrities or whatever it is he does all day now that he's a real published writer. 

As always, "10 1/2 questions" involves three questions about the book, three questions about the author, three questions I just feel like asking, plus an impossible-to-answer question and the half-question.  Here's Michael's answers:


1. From the protagonist's surname to the bad guys who help defend the Skyscraper during the attack, Slipstream incorporates a variety of myths and legends. I caught those two plus there were the references to archangels: were there other legends, religions, or myths that you drew on to help create the worlds? How much research did you do to use those ideas?

I used Mesoamerican mythology, Christianity, and Arthurian allegory to infuse into the story. I did a lot of research, essentially spending six months to plot out my story. I read up on the Lords of Night, nine gods associated with a Mesoamerican calendar.

Jordan's surname is Pendragon and that is completely intentional. The Light tells him at the end of the book that he needs to find a weapon to defeat the Horcus. That weapon is a sword called Caledfwlch (the Welsh name for Excalibur). It's also the title of the third book in the series (the second is called Oculus). The sword is going to be really cool, able to change into any weapon or tool that Jordan needs by altering it through the Slipstream field that he can create. I plan on him being able to turn it into a gun, a motorcycle, or even a sexy snowboard. But he won't be the one to retrieve it...that will fall to his sister Kathy. I plan on being kind of clever with the whole "lady of the lake" myth in that the knight that tossed the sword into the lake saw a female hand rise from the water and grab it following the battle of Camlaan. That hand is going to be Kathy's, using a portal into space-time to grab it after Jordan figures the exact time this event takes place using events that I detail in the book "Oculus". She might get a little wet, but she'll get a sword out of it. And it explains why no one has found the sword. It jumped from then to the modern time so it essentially didn't exist in the in-between time.

2. Much of Slipstream introduces our sister world, with the book serving as a fast-paced, action-packed tour guide. I know you're working on the sequel: Do the characters spend more time on Avalon?


The bulk of the story in Oculus takes place at Cornell University. Jordan goes into collegiate hockey and also majors in physics (a first among college athletes). Jordan is basically a genius. He uses the particle collider at Cornell to hunt through Antarctic ice cores for elements he associates with the Black Tower (because he believes it's buried under miles of ice). He becomes the research assistant to Dr. Elizabeth Wolfson who is head of a climate change project at Cornell. He assists her in blasting ice cores with the most powerful x-rays on the planet and keeps his eyes on the streams of data looking for those trace elements.

Meanwhile Kathy and crew uncover a very disturbing prophecy about angels and demons related to suicides on campus. Jordan has to play hockey because in the prophecy, it says he must protect the Boy Who Cannot Die and that this person is someone on his team (but they have no idea who it is).

3. The science in Slipstream seems pretty sound, the way good science fiction does; I'm not sure it would work in our world but the concepts seem grounded in reality. Did you work to make sure that you had the background science right before expanding on it to create parallel worlds and the slipstream itself?

Yes. I'm a nerd and probably would have liked to have been an astrophysicist. I read Hawking and Michio Kaku for fun (yes I said for fun). I was never worried that Einstein's relativity would prove that neutrinos from Cern did not go faster than light (I have faith in Einstein). I knew what I wanted to do with the Slipstream, and that was to explain certain angel abilities. Example, Jordan can match the velocity of one particle of matter with another. Hence, how he can use the slipstream field to alter his own velocity to cheat at hockey by giving his speed a boost by matching to degrees, the speed of a moving puck.

In Oculus, Jordan figures out that light is both a particle and a wave, and that he can take people he doesn't like, force their molecules to accelerate to the speed of light, which then gives them infinite inertia and throws them out of the universe (because things with infinite inertia cannot exist in this universe). And since anything that moves at the speed of light is frozen in time, he can essentially hurtle bad guys into a dimension where they will live forever traveling at the speed of light. In later books, he's going to learn how to accelerate molecules to varying degrees of the speed of light, making them extremely hot. I plan on writing a scene where he destroys an entire city by raining fire down upon it, just like the angels that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.

Kathy's Slipstream field is different than Jordan's, but no less powerful. Hers is based upon transformation and manipulation. She'll be able to turn people into pillars of salt.

The parallel worlds thing came about because for years, I have thought about Schrodinger's Cat and the implications of having an observer outside of our universe, forcing everything to collapse into what we can quantitatively measure. So I spun a yarn of a designer universe (borrowing a page from Intelligent Design--which I don't believe in by the way). I figured there were three universes. One with Earth, one with Avalon, and a third in the middle that for lack of a better word shall be called Eden. Angels are the only creatures that can cross between the universes using the slipstream. And only the most powerful (archangels) actually have a slipstream field. Jordan will eventually have to go here, but I've no idea how I will portray it yet. And going along with the designer universe thing, I decided to have a pair of towers which are "banks" for very important boxes which run a computer program that defines the way everything works within the cosmos in mathematical terms. I felt by doing this, I could easily explain all of the weird stuff that I use in my novels. Jordan's powers (as an example) are defined specifically within the boxes. They won't work in any universe that doesn't have one of the boxes.

Questions About The Author: 

4. Your blog's web address is "SLCKismet.blogspot.com." Explain the use of "kismet" in that title.

The definition of kismet is fate, destiny, or fortune. When I started my blog, I thought I would blog about stuff I saw here in Salt Lake City where I live. So I named it SLC Kismet and planned on blogging about my favorite things that I found in the city so that others could use it as a reference. I quickly grew bored of that though and just use it as an outlet for all the things I want to discuss.

5. Your online writing frequently mentions television: you seem to be an avid consumer of movies and TV shows and have expressed opinions on everything from "Game Of Thrones" to "Jersey Shore." What are your three favorite television shows ever, and why? 

 Three favorite are 1) Battlestar Galactica, 2) Breaking Bad, and 3) The Walking Dead.

 Battlestar Galactica's second series (not the original) was just really really good.

NOTE: I'm interrupting Michael to point out that while I loved Battlestar Galactica for the most part, when it came to the ending... well, thisBACK TO MICHAEL:

It had a storyline that was epic, solid special effects, hot guys and gals, and heartbreaking drama. I cried when Cat died. That was so awful. And don't get me started on Starbuck saying her final goodbye to Apollo in the final episode. Man...tear jerker.

I love Breaking Bad because again, the writing is the kind of stuff that puts you on the edge of your seat. And Jessie is nice to look at. I've never seen anything like it.

And I love the Walking Dead because I love a good zombie apocalypse setting. It's such a great place for an ongoing story, and it's thrilling to be able to stay with characters for longer than 2-hours.

 6. Do you collect anything? If so, what and why? If not, why not?

 I don't collect anything anymore.

I used to collect comic books, but I gave them away/sold those.

I also used to collect magic cards. I strive to no longer collect things because they are a waste of money, and they clutter up your home. I hate clutter. I'm so happy I no longer have to buy paper books. They were so heavy to move. I hated packing them around.

Three things I just feel like asking: 

 7. There's always a food related question, and here's yours : Recently, Kraft started adding cheese to cheese, while Burger King added bacon to ice cream. Invent the next food trend.

 I hope someone invents actual sugar that has zero calories and puts it in everything. That way I can eat ten chocolate chip cookies for the calories of one. Maybe that way, I won't be fat and at risk of diabetes and cancer.

 8. Many fairy tales and fables start out "Once upon a time." Why do you suppose they say upon "a" time?

Because that time no longer exists. The world has changed. What they are saying is that it wasn't always so...there was a time when magic actually existed.

 9. If you have to choose one city to live in for the rest of your life and your choices were Houston, Texas, or St. Paul, Minnesota, how would you secretly and passively-aggressively display your resentment of that unfair situation to the world?

I would say, "It must be nice having options in your life."

 The Impossible Question: 

10. Thomas Lyn Bradford was an early 20th century spiritualist who came up with a plan to prove the existence of the afterlife, which he believed to be a place called "Summerland." He teamed up with another spiritualist and agreed that he would die, and then would shout back from Summerland to prove that it existed. He then turned on the gas in his house and asphyxiated. The other psychic, Ruth Doran, dutifully waited but after several days reported she had heard nothing. Come up with a foolproof way to prove that the afterlife exists... or does not.

The afterlife does not exist. I need no foolproof way to prove this. It's a fact; anyone that disputes this is just using wishful thinking because they want it to be true. Just because you want something doesn't mean that you get it. No one has any evidence of ghosts or anything substantial to the contrary. Remember, you're talking to an atheist here.

But to that end, I wish there was one. I wish that when people died, we didn't just become decomposing matter. If I had to prove an afterlife existed, all that would be necessary for me to believe would be to witness an actual miracle. If miracles exist, then so can an afterlife. Now, be careful here...I define a miracle the same as Stephen Hawking does in his book "The Grand Design". A miracle is something that defies the known laws of physics. A miracle would be to somehow exceed plutonium's critical mass and for it NOT to explode. That would be a miracle. If a so-called prophet can do that, I'll believe. But they can't. They're all liars. They say, "Oh I prayed and it rained." Sorry...it was gonna rain anyway whether or not you said your silly prayers. A miracle would be for a man who has no leg to suddenly regrow that leg in front of my eyes. Again, the charlatans and con men of religion cannot do this. Instead they do the hand on forehead thing and some silly hocus pocus which just makes me roll my eyes in disgust. Snake oil salesmen.

11. The half question: Finish, then answer, this question: What do I have to do to bring a superhero ...

into real life?

I'm thinking of Batman...the easiest of the superheroes since he doesn't have actual superpowers. To bring him into real life would just take a few billion dollars for all the equipment and a genetically blessed offspring (perhaps one resulting from Tom Brady's genes) that would be both strong and handsome and extremely athletic. Then we'd have to train them from childhood in self-defense before allowing them to buy all the cool stuff to go out and fight crime.

Thank you Briane, your questions were awesome :)

Click here to go to Michael Offutt's Blog and find out what he thinks about stuff including but not limited to Pixar movies.

Click here to buy Slipstream on Amazon.

Click here to find out more about Slipstream on Goodreads. 

Want your book reviewed and your own shot at 10 1/2 questions?  Email me at thetroublewithroy[at]yahoo.com.


Rusty Webb said...


Great interview.

Stephen Hayes said...

Thanks to your interview I feel like a know Michael better. Thanks.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

Thank you Briane. You are awesome. If you get an opportunity, can you post it on Amazon?

Andrew Leon said...

It's still coming up on my list...

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