If a writer cites Monty Python And The Holy Grail as having influenced one of their stories, you’d probably expect that story to be something in the historical or fantastical realms. But in the following email interview about his sci-fi short story collection Written In Light (paperback, Kindle), writer Jeff Young explains that the Python’s iconic Arthurian comedy was an inspiration to one of these genre tales as well.
To start, is there an overall theme to the stories in Written In Light?
I think the theme is the future, from the day after tomorrow to the point where humanity has moved out into the galaxy and discovered, not only are we not alone, but it’s crowded out there. The collection has several stories that have Twilight Zone– and Black Mirror-esque natures, in that they look at one change that causes paradigm shifts for the characters. Others are speculation on what we as a species will do once we get out into the galaxy. Finally, there’s also ones where I looked at the idea of how aliens are very different from us in their views and cultures.
If you are looking for a connective theme, that’s more my other book, Spirit Seeker, a collection of steampunk stories focused around one character. Written In Light is a bit broader. If nothing else, the stories look at how humanity’s attitudes will change over time. There’s a mixture here where the one’s closer to our time are darker and the ones that are farther along in the timeline tend to be more optimistic. However, humanity is still capable of making mistakes and those provide the conflict. But on the whole, we’ve survived, our future looks pretty good, we’ve just found new challenges that aren’t relevant to today.
As you said, the stories in Written In Light are all sci-fi, but are there any that also incorporate other genres?
Yes, there are one or two stories that have elements that may appear magical, such as “Liar’s Globe” and “A Talent Beyond My Talents.” On the whole, though, I generally try to avoid too much hand-wavium. I will admit that I fall back on nanotech a number of times.
The reader will also find two stories with military backgrounds, “Blankets” and “Viewpoint.” I was invited to write for eSpec Books’ Defending The Future, a military science fiction series, and am happy to be part of most of their anthologies so far. And then “Written Tn Light” and “No Visitors Beyond This Point” are both space operas and are the ones in the most distant future.
I’m sure there are writers who you consider to be the big influences on your writing style. But are any stories in Written In Light influenced by someone who isn’t as fundamental an influence on your style?
I am an absolute fan of Larry Niven’s aliens, especially those in the Ringworld books. I really want to try to make mine as believable as his. If I am world building, I will definitely sink the time into why and how the aliens do what they do.
With regards to “A Talent Beyond My Talents,” I really wanted to write something that reminded me of Roger Zelanzy or Jack Vance, especially reminiscent of Jack Of Shadows or The Dying Earth series, respectively. I hope that it’s close.
How about non-literary influences; were any of the stories in Written In Light influenced by any movies, TV show, or games?
Funny story, “A Talent Beyond My Talents” has a part to it that was in response to a line from Monty Python And The Holy Grail: The “How do you know she is a witch” scene, as part of identifying the witch implies that witches are made of wood. One of the mob of villagers replies to the original question with, “Build a bridge out of her.” It’s tremendously non sequitur and easily quotable and stuck with me. For some reason I decided I wanted a story where a character became built into something, in this case toys. Hopefully, that’s intriguing enough a tale.
You’ve had some stories appear in various anthologies. Were any of the stories in Written In Light published elsewhere beforehand?
Half of the stories in Written In Light have appeared elsewhere, and half are brand new. The stories appeared in By Other Means (Defending The Future), If We Had Known, Fantastic Futures 13, In A Flash, and Writers Of The Future, v.26, as well as the magazines Trail of Indiscretion and The Realm Beyond.
Are the versions in Written In Light the same as they were in those collections and magazines, or did you make any major changes to them?
They are the same, for the most part, but with some additional edits since we got a chance to take another look at them before publishing. I have no firm policy about rewriting things, but I tend to like to get on to the next work.
It’s been my experience that short story collections are a good way to get to know a writer. Well, usually. Do you think the stories in Written In Light give people a good idea of what to expect from your future writings?
I hope so. I’d like to think that the variety would indicate that I’m not a one trick pony. That I can play in a bunch of sandboxes. If military sci-fi isn’t your thing, you can try out my space opera instead or maybe the near future sci-fi.
Speaking of which, some people who write sci-fi short stories will later expand them into novels or novellas, or write more stories about those people or their worlds. Are you planning on doing that with any of the stories in Written In Light?
Yes, there are definitely seeds for other works in the stories. In fact, “No Visitors Beyond This Point” is a prequel to “Written In Light.” The Diversiform, the milieu of “Written In Light,” has already given me a novel length idea that I will get around to writing at some point. There is a story called “Bucket Brigade,” that appeared in the anthology called In Harm’s Way, which is a prequel to “Blankets.” “Userer’s Circle” is part of another collection of stories (from the Defending The Future anthologies) that fall under the heading The In Rim / Out Rim war, looking at conflicts in our own solar system and may appear in the future as their own collection. Other stories by their nature are closed systems, but it’s hard to pass up on the incentive of an interesting idea.
Hollywood loves making movies out of short stories. Are there any short stories in Written In Light that you think would work well as a movie?
One of my editors, John French, picked out “Userer’s Circle” as one of his favorites. I think it’s probably the easiest to adapt and expand at points into a feature film. It has the fortune of being similar enough to the popular TV series The Expanse, so there would already be an audience. It’s got heroes, sex, violence, and explosions, which work for movie makers, too. Given the opportunity, I would love to see someone do something with “The Janus Choice” as a big budget sci-fi movie, but it’s got a dark ending and Hollywood would want to somehow make it into a different thing. I’m not against them paying me for the rights, mind you. As for casting, I think I will leave that for the experts, but somebody should definitely be calling Claudia Black and Ben Browder.
Finally, if someone enjoys Written In Light, what sci-fi short story collection of someone else’s would you suggest they read next and why that one?
The collection I am reading right now would be a good one: Lockdown Tales by Neal Asher. Neal likes his alien biology and gets deep into his world building. This is the type of collection that readers of his Polity series will enjoy, and at the same time it provides a good introduction despite the fact that the cover asks, “What comes after the Polity?” Neal’s been doing quite a few novels recently and the pandemic gave him the chance to revisit some of his shorter fiction and write some novellas.