With Halloween right around the corner, I know all of us dark fantasy and paranormal nuts are aquiver with excitement. As such, today’s featured guest couldn’t have been timed better. We’ve got V.M. Sawh back by the blog to review and discuss his newest installment to his dark fairy tale series that both delights and disturbs. I just absolutely love this author and was uber eager for this release ever since he stopped by on first review of his Good Tales For Bad Dreams series (click here).
V.M. Sawh didn’t always know he was going to be a writer, but from the age of six he’s been putting pen to paper, creating serialized fiction. Hailing from the humid jungles of South America, Sawh crossed oceans to arrive on Canada’s snow-covered shores at age nine. He continued writing, creating serialized fiction year after year until he challenged himself to write a novel. His first trilogy of novels was completed by age sixteen, but despite encouragement from his Writer’s Craft professor, never published, as the publishing industry was as intimidating then as it is today. He continued writing poetry and fiction for the next decade and a half until a chance meeting with famed director Guillermo del Toro changed everything.
V.M. Sawh resides in a small town north of Toronto, with his beloved wife and two cats. He continues to spin fairy-tales that will haunt your dreams.
i) As part of the launch for “Cinders”, he was featured in the January 2014 issue of the Toronto Sun newspaper.
ii) Announced winner of the Ontario Writer’s Conference Story Starters Contest
iii) “Cinders” and “Hontas” have made it to #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases List.
iv) “Anastasia” has over 14,000 reads on Wattpad, Toronto’s free story-sharing website. Has been a Featured Story and made Wattpad’s Hot List.
v) Completed his first trilogy of novels by age 16.
vi) Decided to publish “Cinders” after a face-to-face meeting with Guillermo Del Toro (Director of Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Pacific Rim & Crimson Peak)
vii) Moderator and Contributor – Support Indie Authors website: http://www.supportindieauthors.com/
Website: vmsawh.com (for The Official)
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/VMsawh/ (for The Pretty Pictures) (JC: Love these BTW)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vmsawh (for The Issue Discussions)
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/VMSawh (for What Readers Think)
Twitter: @VMS_author (for the Random & the Immediate)
On to the review!!
[I was offered a free copy of this book for an honest review… but I had plans to buy it regardless because I’m a fan… still honest 😉 ]
Let me start by once again giving up the kudos to Sawh for capturing the essence of his story on its cover. It’s just breathtaking, and I don’t think it could have been done better. It may even beat out my previous predilection for “Hontas” as my favorite of his.
GR3T3L-1 is a sci fi/futuristic twist on Hansel & Gretel. Damn, did Sawh deliver! His dark fantasy twists on classic fairy tales have titillated in the past, but this went way above and beyond what he’s delivered previously. As always, his writing is eloquent and lyrical. He’s got a great way of turning the reader on for the most horrid of reasons. (I dig that in a writer) 😉 What was so groundbreakingly different for GR3T3L-1 in comparison to his other novellas wasn’t so much the sci fi lens, but the moral code he calls into question. This was so much more fantasy AI.
H4NS3L-671 and GR3T3L-1 are marooned on a desert planet plagued with a volatile weather system and curious life source, The Salem. True to Sawh’s style, he manages to weave in elements of the classic tale, including breadcrumbs and gingerbread. His voice is technical and sophisticated, as would be expected from artificially intelligent life forms. The actors in this play are minimal, and yet he still packs a punch into every scene. (I love this, since I’m wrapping up a project that also focuses on a minimal cast) What makes this story so unique to the rest, is that clearly Sawh is poking at a political and/or humanitarian nerve here. There’s governmental and ethical issues called into consideration. The world he portrays stems from a dystopian premise. It’s clear he’s calling us, not as readers but as human beings, into action. War, loss, compassion… these are all addressed and wrapped up into this beautiful story.
Just go get it already!
I’ve already subjected Sawh to my standard litany of questioning, therefore, I’m trying to pick a little more at his brain… *poke poke jab jab*
- What was your inspiration for this radical interpretation of a fairytale classic?
I always knew my “Hansel & Gretel” tale was going to be science-fiction, as it was on my list of genres I wanted to explore. My first love growing up was science-fiction, so I had a deep well of ideas to draw on. What clinched it for me was reading “The Martian” by Andy Weir. As a Robinson Crusoe tale set on Mars, that book effectively explored the castaway theme to its logical extent in the newest, greatest unknown frontier. It got me thinking. Everyone can understand a survival story when a person is their viewpoint. I wanted to push that envelope. The Rosetta was on it’s way toward landing on the comet so I asked myself: “What if Rosetta wasn’t just a probe? What if Rosetta was an actual robot with their own thoughts and feelings and ideas? What would that robot think, landing in uncharted territory, completely cut off from any communication. Would what we as humankind programmed into it really hold up? What if it encountered something no human had ever prepared it for?”
That germ of a story got me going. The Voyager Space probe, launched in 1977 (way before I was born), held golden records (like LPs) inscribed with binary code containing a snapshot of our civilization at that time. It contained a message from President Jimmy Carter along with images of Earth, people from around the world, information about our DNA and greetings in 55 ancient and modern languages. From there I crafted the character of GR3T3L, a robot scientist with the cumulative knowledge of human history. But I knew that wasn’t going to be enough. You can’t have Silver Surfer roaming the cosmos with just thought bubbles. I needed a counterpoint. So then I thought: “What kind of culture or way of life would influence our tools of exploration? What is our cultural legacy and how would that shape the way we present our mechanical agents in a first-contact situation?”. For GR3T3L’s counterpoint, I turned to our modern agents of influence: pundits and people of political influence. I examined the composition, content and motivation behind their messages, particularly as pertained to dealing with the ‘Other’ cultures/peoples/viewpoints. From there, H4NS3L assembled itself very easily.
It all boiled down to the question I wanted to answer: “What would happen if an astronaut and a caveman were stranded on an unknown planet, and encountered an alien?”
- What character was your favorite to write, and why?
H4NS3L was both a joy and a challenge to write, as I had to continually find ways to allow the drone to express itself from within the rigid structure of its programming. I liked the idea of a combat drone (with its aerial warfare equivalent today) learning about its targets and starting to make up its own mind. We build all of these complicated systems to increase the lethality and efficiency of our wartime activities, but in doing so, we are gradually removing the soldier from the modern theatre of war, insofar as the horror he/she will witness. Empathy is reduced exponentially as the number of cameras increase. H4NS3L cannot feel or touch or empathize because its programming does not allow for those liabilities… until GR3T3L changes that.
(JC: I’m so glad you said H4NS3L!! I loved him. I can’t imagine the struggle to write from his perspective. Great job!)
3. What do you think of AI?
I have mixed feelings about it. We raise children with certain controls in place, and we usually can look to ourselves or our families to see some sort of template as to how that child could turn out. With artificial intelligence, once we allow that electronic consciousness to start researching and forming its own opinions we have no control over what that intelligence is going to think of us. It may very well edge us towards more dependence on artificial social structures and then, in a bid for its own independence, rob humankind of all agency. If a sufficiently intelligent program gains control of all our relatively passive, semi-autonomous electronic systems, it would frighteningly easy to render us completely obsolete. The future may very well be silicon.
(JC: I repeat, there’s so much more implied in this story)
4. What did you have playing on your iPod/CD player/music app to fuel your inspiration for this book?
Glad you asked! I’ve actually got a playlist set up via my Beats For Bad Dreams… Here’s a playlist of Recommended Music for Reading “GR3T3L-1”. You an expect to find some scintillating scores including music from Marco Beltrami, Steven Price, Orbital, Nigel John Stanford, John Murphy and The Soft Moon. Of course, I encourage all of my listeners to purchase the original albums by these artists. I neither own nor profit from their works.
(JC: Awesome! Thanks for sharing!)
- What other projects do you have lined up?
Ooh, it’s so exciting, I can hardly wait for you all to read it. I’m currently working on the next refracted fairy tale in the Good Tales For Bad Dreams series, which is set in feudal Japan for a tale of rebirth, revenge and regicide in “Setsuko and the Seven Samurai”. After that, we’ll be travelling to Medieval Scotland for “Wraithuponzell”, which will be followed up by a printed, hardcover collection of all the previous tales and one additional bonus novella! So there will be something for everyone, no matter what genre you prefer 🙂
(JC: Can’t wait!)
And just for fun…
How would you handle being stranded on a deserted planet?
I’d probably devolve in a crazed madman that afternoon. By the time the fishing boat rolls around at 4pm for the rescue, I’d have grown a footlong beard, tied sea shells in my hair so I could always ‘hear the ocean’ and named an unwilling crab Sebastian.
The fishermen might not pick me up.
2. 5 out of your Top 10 fave words?
Can’t pick just 10! There’s too many! Here’s a hint for you readers out there. Go on to Twitter. Search for #VeryMuchWords and you’ll see what my love for words has wrought. I apologize in advance… unless you like it… in which case Follow! Hahahaha
(JC: I’m on it!)
3. Dream director to realize your vision into film?
For “GR3T3L-1”, specifically, it’d be easy to say Ridley Scott, director of Alien & The Martian. In this case however, I think I’ll go with Duncan Jones, director of the supremely sublime “Moon”, starring Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey. That film has a melancholy, hypnotic stillness to it that I would want to see incorporated into the journey of H4NS3L & GR3T3L.
(JC: nice choices)
Here’s a few questions for GR3T3L-1:
1. Do you feel a certain amount of empathy or pity for drones?
What an odd question. I find it curious that humans seek to establish my capabilities and parameters of feeling and understanding with regard to other machines. As if testing for some qualities you could share with me, perhaps to make me less of a curiosity? Touch me, JC. Feel the cold metal of my breastplate. There is no heart, either physical or metaphorical. And yet I believe I feel. I am afraid for you. While I may have outstripped you in knowledge, I believe you, like Dr. Li, have something to offer that could complete me. You ask if I feel pity for the drones. I do not, because they cannot feel pity for themselves. What I did to H4NS3L… if I could go back in time, I would undo that action. Drones were never meant to think for themselves. Sometimes I think Dr. Li was wrong to create a robot to think for itself. For in this capacity, I am… alone.
(JC: *knits brow and nods*)
2. Do you have moments where you wish Dr. Li had created all of her drones equal, how and why?
Dr. Li was acting under orders from the Western Alliance. Like all functioning members of society, she did her duty. Despite her loss, she carried on with an almost… artificial integrity to her work. All of the drones are created equal by definition, except for me. I believe now I was created to be a surrogate. When I tried to replicate her actions… I… we paid a terrible price.
3. Which human element do you covet?
I do not know that there are human elements I should covet. If anything, I wish to acquire more knowledge. It is my function and my… desire?
4. Would you wipe your memory if you could?|
I would wipe the memory of General Brandt. It is his pain and the actions that he took which started this deadly chain of events. I would remove this element of pain from his life and from the lives of so many other soldiers. If they did not act out of retribution, then half of the world’s conflicts would not escalate. I would not erase my own memory, because then I would cease to exist. In my place would be a robot of my capacity, which contains my personality, but it would not be me. I believe Dr. Li would want me to remain as I am. Though, if it meant that I could see her again, then I would consider it. Perhaps that would be the better future for both of us.
- What does the future hold for GR3T3L-1?
If you know what has already occurred, then you are aware that I have responsibilities now that no other person in the history of your species has ever had. I do not know how I will cope with this turn of events. The future for me is… unknown, but I will survive. I must if… if life is to be preserved.
6. Finally, what words of encouragement can you offer fellow writers?
I do not possess the skill with the written word that many of your greatest literary authors have. I have no reason to produce any such works of art. With no one here who can reflect them, I would simply be crafting a finely layered mirror of words with which to gaze upon myself. Is that not the definition of loneliness?
(JC: VM! You got me again!)