Monday, July 18, 2011

Meet the Author: P. A. Baines

Hey everyone! Last week I reviewed a great science fiction book, Alpha Redemption, and today, I'm pleased to share an interview with the author, P. A. Baines!

How do you get ideas for stories? Specifically, how did you get the idea for Alpha Redemption?

It's hard to say where my ideas come from. I tend to daydream quite a lot, especially during my daily commute. I cycle to work, which means I'm doing nothing constructive for almost two hours each day. I've taken to listening to audio-books while I cycle, which means I actually do most of my reading during my commute. I listen to the Bible on the way in and a novel or something else on the way out. The only problem with listening to novels is I find my mind tends to wander more than if I were reading a physical book. Sometimes, just the act of listening to a story will set my mind off on a tangent and I will start thinking of a story of my own. The idea for Alpha Redemption came while I was following a debate between a group of atheists and Christians. Someone suggested that belief in God is illogical. That got me thinking about what a purely logical creature (such as a sentient computer) would make of God. Would such a creature see belief in God as illogical? I then saw a computer and a man debating the existence of God but, instead of having the man trying to convince the machine, I saw it unfolding the other way around. The next step was to think of a scenario in which a man and a sentient machine could be stuck together for a long time with plenty of opportunity to talk. What better place than a spaceship on a long-distance voyage?

When did you start writing? Do you feel like it's something God called you to do, or just something that personally challenged you?

I discovered the pleasure of writing fiction while at school. Instead of writing the serious essays we were given, I would often go off on some wild tangent and write my own story. Of course, then I would have to go back and write the original essay later on. As for writing with any purpose, this started a long time ago when I asked God what I could do for Him. I imagined a ministry of some sort. Over the next couple of weeks I found I had this story rattling around in my head that I had the urge to write down. It was a sci-fi story with a Christian world-view. So, yes, I definitely feel a calling to write.

Do any of your characters take over the story, or do they generally stay well-behaved?

I don't mind them getting out of hand if it helps make them more real. So long as they don't completely destroy the plot, I'm quite happy for my characters to take over a little bit. I usually work out the premise and main character at the same time. Then I build the plot. Once this is done, I flesh out my characters. There is always some room for the characters to misbehave a little if they need to.

Why did you decide to write science fiction?

I love the big questions raised by science fiction. I work in the computer industry, so already have an interest in technology. When I compare my first computer bought in 1989 to the machine I built just last year, my mind boggles at how far technology has advanced in a relatively short period of time. For me, writing science fiction is about taking the technology of today and letting your imagination decide what the world will be like ten or twenty or a hundred years from now. The challenge when writing sci-fi from an obviously Christian world-view is to make sure your story is not just interesting but also theologically sound.

Some Christians might have problems with your AI computer, Jay, becoming sentient (objections could be something like, "A computer could never be sentient" or "That shows an evolutionary mindset"). How would you address those concerns?

It may happen that we will never create a machine capable of sentience, but part of the fun of sci-fi is asking: what if? Moore's Law has been pretty accurate over the past half century, predicting a doubling of the number of transistors on an integrated circuit every two years. The exponential growth of advances in technology suggests that anything is possible. We now have robots that can climb stairs and even run so, for me, it seems only a matter of time before we have machines that can learn. And when that happens, it is not a huge leap to imagine sentience. When I came up with Jay, I saw him as being like a small child with enormous potential and access to a huge amount of information. I didn't see him evolving so much as developing the way a gifted child might. The big question for me is not, did Jay (or his technology) evolve, but rather, would a man-made sentient being such as Jay have an eternal soul? The Bible says that God gives us the breath of life, so what about a man-made being? Hopefully, we will never have to answer that question but, scientists often rush ahead without thinking of the consequences. They are so keen to see if something can be done that they don't stop to ask if something should be done. One of my aims in writing Christian science-fiction is to get people to think about these things and, in doing so, reflect on their own relationship with God.

Who is your favourite character that you've read about? That you've created?

My favourite character is Rincewind in the Discworld series of books written by Terry Pratchett. He is a gentle anti-hero whose main goal in life is to avoid trouble, yet he always finds himself neck deep in it. My favourite character in Alpha Redemption is Jay. He stole the show for me with his naive innocence and his desire to understand human emotion.

How do you start when beginning a new story?

I try to think of an interesting opening scene that sets the tone for the story while (hopefully) raising questions in the reader's mind. I then try to work out the plot in my head until I have a good idea how the story will run. Before I start writing, I like to be able to think of the story as if it were a film I can remember watching a long time ago. I don't recall the exact details but I remember how it made me feel. I remember certain scenes, but not everything. Once I have this, then I start writing, filling in the gaps as I go.

What do you do if you have a severe case of writer's block?

I usually read something from one of my favourite authors. Most times this is enough to get my own mind ticking over. Sometimes I take breaks from writing to give my batteries a chance to recharge. If that doesn't work, then I just dive in and start writing. So it's a combination of reading, resting, and writing that gets me through any blockages.

Do you have a favourite funny writing quote?

My favourite is from Samuel Johnson:

"Read over your compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out."

Thanks for taking the time to visit on Magical Ink! Take a minute to visit P. A. Baines at his website and check out Alpha Redemption on the Splashdown Books website!

4 responses:

Mary Ruth Pursselley said...

Great interview, Heather. Thanks for posting it.
And thank you, P.A. Baines, for sharing, and for not being afraid to take on tough issues like artificial intelligence. More Christian writers need to have that kind of courage.

Galadriel said...

Thanks for the review

Laura Elizabeth said...

This was a good interview, Heather :) And that book sounds interesting. I'm not usually into Sci-Fi, but this might be something I'd read.

pabaines said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by and thanks for taking the time to comment.

One of the nice things about sci-fi is that you get to explore tough issues from the safety of your armchair. Science fiction has a habit of turning into science fact, so I think it's important that we think about where technology is taking us, especially when it has a potential impact on issues of faith.

Laura, don't worry, it isn't your usual sci-fi. A few people have told me that it isn't at all what they expected. I like to think of it as a human drama set in outer space. The sci-fi is really just a backdrop for Brett's story.

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