Toby Frost is the author extraordinaire of the excellent Space Captain Smith novels, comedic science fiction of the highest order! Since reading the first book, Space Captain Smith (review), last year and then the excellent follow up with God Emperor of Didcot (review), I’m hooked. Wrath of the Lemming-Men, the third book in this series, is released in June and if it delivers half of what we’ve had so far we’re all in for a treat!
Toby kindly gave up some of his time to answer some questions, enjoy!
Many thanks for taking the time out of your undoubtedly busy schedule to answer a few questions. First off, could you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write – and why science fiction?
For me a lot of the appeal about writing is creating things and seeing them come alive, and I think this is most clearly seen in science fiction and fantasy, where not just individuals but whole worlds can be created. There’s something very appealing about being able to zoom from an entire galactic empire down to a few people arguing on a spaceship – although it’s not easy to pull off. On and off I’ve been writing since I was about 10, but it’s only quite recently that I’ve seen it as anything other than a hobby.
What books and authors have influenced you and your writing?
Oddly, for someone who writes comedy, I’ve found George Orwell and Raymond Chandler to be great sources of inspiration. Their writing has a simple clarity that is very hard to achieve, and is often overlooked. I also love H.G. Wells’ science fiction – The Island of Doctor Moreau is one of my favourite books.
Do you still find time to read, and if so anything in particular?
Just about. I read quite a bit of history, as well as novels. I don’t go for one genre in particular: recent reads include Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household, which is intense and sinister, and The Peshawar Lancers by S.M. Stirling – good fun.
How do you go about your writing – are you a meticulous planner, make it up as you go or somewhere in between?
A bit of both. You have to know where you’re going and where you are, to ensure consistency and create a working plot. But you can become too inflexible, and it’s easy to waste time over-planning.
Do you have a specific routine when you’re writing?
Not really. I tend to write in the evenings, as I have a full-time job, but at weekends I write whenever it’s possible to do so.
Without giving away too much can you briefly outline Wrath of the Lemming Men?
Certainly: the fearless – and somewhat foolhardy – lemming men of Yull have started a vicious war against mankind, leaving the British Space Empire fighting on two fronts. Colonel Vock, a disgraced leader of the lemming men, has sworn to kill Smith’s crew in order to regain his name. When Smith is sent on a secret mission to stop the Ghast Empire acquiring a deadly bioweapon, he finds himself facing not just a horde of enraged lemmings but his old enemy, Commander 462.
Can we expect anything more from Isambard Smith and his crew in the future?
I certainly hope so! There are still a lot of aliens out there needing to be civilised, and plenty more adventures for Smith and his crew. I’d like to do something about the war in space, as well as adventures on planets: gunboat diplomacy with spaceships.
I know it’s a question that most authors hate, but where did you get the initial idea for the Isambard Smith books?
I don’t mind the question at all! It came out of a conversation with a friend: I had an image of a Victorian spaceman, sitting in his club and demanding more gin from the alien servants. I wrote a few scenes about him – more sketches than short stories – my friends thought I should continue, and it grew from there!
The books have a unique feel to them and read so easily, the British Empire in space theme working extremely well – I’m sure many readers can relate to Smith and his ways! Why did you decide to use this as the basis for a science fiction novel?
For one thing, the Victorian imperial mentality lends itself well to colonising space and makes adventure virtually inevitable. That spirit of discovery and adventure (and the duty to “civilise” the world) translates very well to an SF setting. Britain seems to produce a lot of eccentrics, which historically has worked in its favour, and such people are always fun to write about.
It’s pretty clear that you’ve been influenced by many things within the genre that you have referenced in your novels, from a semi-parody on the predator films with Suruk to the War of the World-esque Aresians. How easy (or hard!) do these references come?
Parodies tend to crop up in the story: I’m careful not to alienate readers who aren’t party to the joke. I try to keep things accessible – if an amusing parody crops up, great, but I wouldn’t want to make the stories a sci-fi in-joke. But what is this “Predator” thing of which you speak?
Will you be doing any signings or appearances for the release of Wrath of the Lemming Men? If so, where will these be held for any readers that want to go along?
I will: I’ll certainly be doing signings for Wrath over the summer, and I hope to be able to do a few more conventions, time permitting. Details are still being sorted out, but I’ll put the dates on the Space Captain Smith website and facebook group as soon as I know for sure, at www.spacecaptainsmith.com.
What do you think your strengths are as a writer and storyteller?
Tricky one… I think I’ve got a good eye for characters and a good imagination, and quite a clear prose style. I’m very opposed to the idea that a book is only clever if the readers can’t work out what’s going on.
And any weaknesses or areas that you feel you need to work on or improve?
I’m always keen to improve, and I feel that the books have got better as they’ve gone along. I think it’s dangerous to sit back and think that you don’t need to improve. A good comedy is a good novel with jokes, so the same standards of writing have to apply.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Only to say thanks for the interview, and to add that Wrath of the Lemming Men will be out in this June – keep watching the skies!