Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our fourth guest is a much-missed Star Wars author – the late Aaron Allston.
Lightsabre – Aaron, welcome to Lightsabre.
AA – Glad to be here.
Lightsabre – What are your major influences as a writer?
AA – Well, there are lots of influences. I mean, since there are writers in my family for the two generations before mine, and others further back, one influence is probably genetic. If you mean literary influences, that’s sort of a tricky question. When I was a kid, good writers didn’t make me want to write — they made me want to read. When I did begin writing, I tended to emulate several florid fantasy and science fiction writers whom I adored then but find nearly unreadable today. I won’t mention their names, I don’t intend to disparage them — they were writers who were good for kids, who got kids interested in reading and kept them that way. They’re just not to my taste now. Other writers, ones I enjoyed as an adolescent and still enjoy today, in no particular order, include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexandre Dumas, Homer, Robert A. Heinlein, Mark Twain, and many others.
Lightsabre – Which of the four films stands out as your personal favourite, and why?
AA –The Empire Strikes Back. As lovable as A New Hope was, Empire added depth to what were essentially quite shallow characters and began putting them through hell in a very interesting fashion. We saw the consequences of characters’ pasts catching up to them, with Han’s difficulties with Jabba finally becoming more than an inconvenience. We saw Luke exhibit traits — recklessness, lack of resoluteness in or understanding of his training — that looked like the seeds of the Tragic Flaw of the Tragic Hero, and that made us really worry about his fate. We had the revelation about Vader being Luke’s father, which opened a whole can of emotional whoop-ass. I left A New Hope feeling as though I’d seen a marvellously updated 1940s Republic serial; I left Empire feeling as though I’d seen one chapter of an unfolding epic.
Lightsabre – Tell us something of your career. How did you begin as a writer and how did you end up taking this career path?
AA – Actually, I never anticipated that it *would* be a career path, though that was something I hoped for. I started writing creatively in grade school — poems, short stories, most of them oriented toward fantasy and horror. By the time I was in high school I’d had a couple of stories published in school literary magazines, had written one novel (which has never seen, and will never see, the light of day), and was pretty sure that I was always going to write, that it was an infection I was never going to be cured of. But I was also pretty realistic and had done some research on the publishing industry. I was not hopeful that I’d be able to make my living as a writer. So I finished high school with an eye toward studying journalism and law in college — two professions that those high school tests said were among my aptitudes. But I dropped out of college after my first semester, for financial reasons — I did intend to go back once I got my feet back under me. I went to work for an Austin, TX game manufacturer, Steve Jackson Games, and found a new outlet for writing, in the field of role-playing games.
Things started to snowball from there — I wrote game supplements for my employer, then went freelance and began writing them for a bunch of different companies. Finally, one of those companies launched a new game line and decided to support it with a series of novels, and the editor of the line, who was familiar with my work and believed I could write fiction as well, tapped me to write the first novel in the series. This is pretty much backwards of the path most people take when getting their first novel into print, so I can’t tell new writers to do it the way I did it — “Wait around until a publisher comes to you and asks you for a novel.” Usually that doesn’t work. And I did have to hustle and work in the usual fashion to get my second and subsequent novels accepted. Anyway, after that I gradually began writing fewer game supplements and more novels. These days, I write five or six novels for every game project of any length. And I never did manage to go back to college. Maybe when I hit retirement age…
Lightsabre – How did it feel continuing the X-wing stories, so established in novel and comics form by Mike Stackpole? Was it a major challenge or just another job?
AA – It was a challenge, definitely, but it wasn’t as big as the challenge of ramping up to be able to write about the Star Wars universe in general. I had to do so much research so fast that I really didn’t have time to be spooked by the challenge. The big question with my taking over the X-Wing series was whether or not I could please Mike Stackpole’s fans. And the answer turned out to be yes and no. Some of them loved the differences I brought to the series, others hated them. I’ve had people write to tell me that our styles were so similar that they didn’t realize until much later that another writer had taken over; others wrote to tell me that my style was so different from Mike’s that I ought to be working in another genre, or serving up fries at McDonald’s. So I just had to shrug and get back to doing the best job I knew how, and hoping everything turned out well in the end. Which it did. These days, Mike has his fans, and I have my fans, and we share a large common pool of fans in between.
Lightsabre – In your opinion, what makes for a good book?
AA – A book, a novel anyway, is a sort of vicarious experience, so my feeling that it’s a good book when the experience is one worth having. If the reader comes out of it feeling that he’s better off for having read it, it’s probably a good one. If I can turn pseudo-analytical for a moment, science fiction is all about exploring the effects on people of the introduction of changes to technology or to society; fantasy is all about the interaction of people with symbols, such as monsters and phenomena, that represent human interests, needs, and fears. The common element between the two is humanity, and the Star Wars universe is at an interesting halfway point between science fiction and fantasy. What I’m getting at is that the most important thing with a novel is finding the humanity of the story. For example, readers, aspiring writers especially, sometimes ask me what themes I was exploring with the Wraith Squadron novels. I tell them that all three explored the same theme. They usually can’t figure out what it was, so I tell them, and it’s an answer they usually haven’t anticipated: Forgiveness. The Wraith novels look at forgiveness, what happens to us if we deny it to others, what happens to us if we deny it to ourselves, what it sometimes costs us to offer it. And that’s the human center of those novels.
Lightsabre – How would you like to see the Star Wars books continue? With the death of Chewbacca in Vector Prime they’ve really thrown it open – nothing is safe. Would you continue with that?
AA – I can find stories to tell in the Vong storyline, certainly, but once the Vong stories are done I’d prefer to see the Star Wars universe go in different directions. I’d like to see more novels invoke a sense of wonder through the exploration of the galaxy and the workings of the Force. I’d also like to see later-era characters patching up the gaps in their historical knowledge — the Empire years serve as sort of a firebreak between the NJO era and the prequel trilogy era, and it would be interesting to see the post-NJO characters rediscovering the past, digging up mysteries buried since Palpatine came to power.
Lightsabre – You’ve established your skills in novels and other fields, but if you had the choice of what you were good at, what would it be?
AA – Well, I’d want to retain any writing skills I have, regardless of any other changes. But if I were able to add a set of skills, I’d like to have some musical aptitude. There are a number of musicians in my family and among my friends, and I’ve always envied them.
Lightsabre – You can bump off any major sci-fi or fantasy character in any way you wish. Who would it be and how?
AA – Well, I’d only want to do this if I had a sense that, once killed, he or she would stay dead. I mean, in the last twenty years we’ve seen several major characters die only to be needlessly brought back again. Spock died in a wonderful, appropriate, and heart-tugging manner in The Wrath of Khan. Then he was brought back, unravelling all of that emotional build-up. Godzilla died spectacularly and wrenchingly in Godzilla vs. Destroyah… and then popped up without explanation in Godzilla 2000. Kirk bought it in Generations, then, if I understand correctly, was revived in the novels in some way. And don’t get me started on comic-book superheroes. There’s just no point to it if they don’t stay dead. That said, I’d want to pick a character who had some substantial symbolic meaning for his or her audience, and that symbolism, and the effect on the audience of its loss, would be the emotional heart of the event. My personal interests would point me at someone like, say, the Shadow. That’s an event that could be cast in the light of a change in eras, at the border between the first half of the 20th century and the second, a point in time when he discovers that there’s just no place for the way he does things but there’s still one last thing for him to do. But I suspect that there’s not much of an audience for that story these days. Ellen Ripley, maybe. She deserved a much better send-off than she got in Alien III, and she sort of ducks my complaint about “staying dead” because it wasn’t actually her in Alien Resurrection. The original Ripley and the clone Ripley have such different paths that it’s not the same as with Spock’s revival!
Lightsabre – Do you have any new Star Wars projects lined up? Indulge us please!
AA – Oh, yes. I’ll be doing two novels in the New Jedi Order series. I can’t say much about them at this time, but I have received explicit permission to answer the two questions I’m getting most often about them: Yes, Wedge Antilles and the Wraiths will be making an appearance in them. I also hope to do some work for Star Wars Gamer magazine — I just have to make the time to do it.
Lightsabre – What do you foresee in the future for yourself outside of the Star Wars universe? More fantasy?
AA – More everything, I hope. My next novel to come into print will be Sidhe-Devil, which is a sequel to my earlier pulp-heroes/urban fantasy/Celtic mythology novel Doc Sidhe. Then I have two original-universe SF novels, sort of in the X-Wing tradition; the first is called Mongoose Among Cobras. Then the two New Jedi Order novels. After that — more fantasy and science fiction. I have lots on my back burners. I also want to do some mystery, some horror.
Lightsabre – What surprises are you anticipating when Attack of the Clones arrives on Thursday May 16th 2002?
AA – I’m actually trying to keep from anticipating anything. I don’t want to go into it with a set of expectations. That puts an unfair burden on the movie to entertain me when I’ve already decided on the elements I want to see.
Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest on Lightsabre. Just one final question. An alien invasion fleet lands on Earth and within hours the human race is entirely subjugated to their evil rule. You uncover a secret starship that could set you and four others free. Do you:
1 – Raise a people’s army and recapture control of the planet?
2 – Cram your three cats and dog in and blast off to safety?
3 – Something else?
Which character do you choose to tackle, in which scene are they depicted and why?
AA – I raise a people’s army and recapture control of the planet so that the human race is entirely subjugated to my evil rule.
This interview was originally posted on lightsabre.co.uk on 11th December 2000.