I recently reviewed John Love’s debut novel FAITH. A brilliant novel, FAITH is the story of who we are and what we’ve become, of our place in the larger universe. More intimately speaking, it’s the story of Commander Aaron Foord, the sociopathic crew of his Outsider ship the Charles Manson, and the alien spacecraft know as Faith that they’ve been sent to destroy. The Charles Manson is the last hope of the Commonwealth, but which is worse, the cure or the disease?
Captivating and frightening, once I picked FAITH up I could not put it down. You can read my review here, and visit John Love’s website for more information about the book and links to other reviews and interviews. If you like what you see, I encourage you to buy the book from your favorite local bookstore (no local bookstore? here’s the Amazon link for trade paperback and kindle).
Please welcome author John Love, as he answers a few questions and sheds some light on how this brilliant novel came into existence. By the way, for those of you who are keeping count, this is my very first author interview!
Thanks for joining us, can you tell us a little more about yourself? What do you do when you’re not writing?
I spent most of my working life in the music industry. I was Managing Director of PPL, the world’s largest record industry copyright organisation. When I retired I started doing things in the community aimed at quality-of-life issues: I belong to a number of safer neighbourhood, conservation and community development bodies. I’m also a Governor of a local school for special-needs children.
Apart from my family, London and cats, my favourite things include books and book collecting, cars and driving, football and Tottenham Hotspur, old movies and music.
For a debut novel, FAITH is incredibly impressive. Can you tell us a little bit about what went into creating it?
Thank you. Perhaps I could answer in two parts: Process, and Research.
Process first, by which I mean how the idea – the basic premise – of the book came to me. I could list some of the books or films or other influences which I’d carried for years and which combined to make the premise of FAITH (I won’t, because they come up later) but I’m not sure what else they combined with, and where it came from. And (most relevant to your question) how it came.
I do know that the premise for FAITH came fully-formed, and all at once – I could actually tell you the day it came, what I was doing and where I was. It came years before I sat down to write it, because of the demands of my job. But when I did write it, the premise remained completely unaltered.
That seems to be how the process works with me. I’m writing a second novel now whose premise also came to me earlier and has, so far, also stayed the same.
But if FAITH’s premise remained unchanged, its moving parts didn’t. Things like plotting, characters, and back-stories changed as I wrote the book. I found it a bit like assembling an engineering construction: while writing I might have an idea for a back-story or a character-trait which would strengthen the construction like a strut, passing through it three-dimensionally and reinforcing every bit it touched. The process of fitting it into the structure where it could do most good was one I found fascinating.
And Research. I’ve always liked reading authors like Stephen Hawking to get an idea of how physics might develop new views of the universe – the clockwork of Newton, the apparent chaos of Einstein, the apparent illogic of quantum mechanics – and playing with ideas of what might come next. Similarly, I’ve always had what gender-stereotypers would call a typical male interest in things like spaceships and cars and military hardware, and how they might develop in the future.
So I had a headstart for a lot of the research into those areas, but while writing the book I also did some reading on psychological conditions. I didn’t do that before, because it was only as the characters developed and started striking sparks off each other that I realised there was a need for it.
Even the opening scene is quite surprising. Was that always the opening scene?
You’re the first person to ask that. Did you sense something about the opening?
If you did, you’re right.
No, it wasn’t always the opening scene. I’m glad it is now, because it seems to work well – particularly the first sentence – but originally there was a short chapter, about 700 words, in front of it. Nightshade’s Jeremy Lassen suggested it should be cut and its content partly redistributed through the book – a suggestion which made sense.
Incidentally, that was Jeremy’s only substantive edit. His others were much more specific; some actually involved additions rather than cuts, and all of them made sense. I’ll always be grateful (and relieved) to have found an editor who left the book almost unchanged.
Many reviewers (myself included) have identified Moby Dick as a possible influence to FAITH. Can you confirm? What other books and authors have influenced you?
Imagine if Moby Dick had only just been written, and a modern Melville had to pitch it to an agent. Or if Melville’s agent had to pitch it to a publisher. The easiest job in the world! It works artistically and commercially, and works supremely well, on so many levels. It’s a great literary work, a great page-turner with wonderful action sequences, a deep psychological study, and even a fine piece of social commentary.
Very early on, the ship Faith is described as “the bastard child of Moby Dick and Kafka, invincible and strange.” Moby Dick was a huge influence, but not the only one. FAITH was pitched as a mixture of some of the elements of Moby Dick and Kafka. Kafka’s elements are as important as Melville’s in the book; and there are other things as well.
When I’ve been asked this question in other interviews, I’ve quoted a post I did for Nightshade, in the Night Bazaar website. If I may, I’d like to quote it again:
“If FAITH has any political resonances, they’re at best oblique. But I hope it has some other resonances. About identity and free will: what makes us what we are, and what makes us what we do. About love and friendship: what forces bring us together, or keep us apart, and why we don’t recognise them. And about the absence of simple good and evil: the complexities which make each of them part of each other.”
Those are some of the other things I wanted the book to say.
Much of the book is an epic space battle, yet those scenes feel like they take place in claustrophobically close quarters, more like a boxing match or a submarine chase. With an entire solar system to play in, what led to the choice to give the space battles such an intimate feel?
It was deliberate. I wanted that contrast. Two individual opponents, fighting with the intimacy of single combat, but looming behind them is what each of them represents. One of the book’s recurrent themes is Orders of Magnitude.
The claustrophobic feel, and the shift from macro- to micro- , is something I wanted so I could focus more closely on the individual characters – the psychological effect on individuals of the looming and unknowable menace they were facing. Without that, the space battle wouldn’t have had its particular texture. With it, the space battle doesn’t only have texture, it has ambiguity: at times it doesn’t seem like a battle at all, but something else, possibly larger.
That, at least, is what I wanted and tried to do.
The end offers what is undeniably the most unique reveal in years. Without spoiling the ending for people who haven’t read the book, can you tell us how you got going in that direction? Did you know the ending before you starting writing FAITH?
I can’t answer this as fully as I’d like without the possibility of giving something away. The idea which underlies the ending is something I’ve had since I was a child. Since I first started looking up at the night sky.
There are so many ideas in FAITH that are touched upon, and we’re given just glimpses of the larger political picture. Do you have plans to write more in this universe?
When I finished FAITH, I had an unexpected reaction: I closed the file on it and didn’t want to look at it any more. It certainly wasn’t because I’d turned against it – I enjoyed writing it, I put a lot into it, and I was proud of it. I asked my agent, Jason Yarn of Paradigm, if my reaction was unusual, and he said it wasn’t. He suggested it was because I felt I’d said everything I wanted to say about those people and that universe.
So the short answer is No, I don’t, for that reason. I’ve never been enthusiastic about sequels or prequels. But you’re not the first interviewer to ask that, and it’s flattering to know that FAITH’s universe worked well.
The book I’m writing at the moment is also SF, but very different, and deliberately so. It will be a kind of political thriller, but with strange edges. I set it in the future (about fifty years from now) so I could explore ideas about how politics, economics, technology, culture and religion might develop by then. And that’s why I love the SF genre. Whenever I get an idea for a book, I turn almost automatically to SF as the genre in which to express it. SF gives the freedom to explore and develop ideas. It’s not impossible in other genres, but it’s more possible in SF.
Thank you, Andrea, for your review, and for seeing so much of what I wanted my book to say.
And thank you so very much John for writing FAITH, for hanging out at Little Red Reviewer today and for giving us readers something new to think about. I’ll be watching out for your next science fiction novel, and the one after that, and the one after that too.