Fri 16 Mar 2012
Humor slices through science fiction in Every Day Fiction’s top story for February, “Captain Quasar and the Popularity Contest on Goobalox Five,” by Milo James Fowler, in a space opera that pops the reader into a conflict between Captain Quasar and a heckling pirate.
Flash Fiction Chronicles interviewed Fowler about his use of humor; character-building; accessibility versus genre loyalty; student involvement in his writing process; and the advantages and drawbacks of flash fiction versus novellas and novels, for the writer of science fiction.
FFC: Humor is featured throughout “Captain Quasar and the Popularity Contest on Goobalox Five”—in the contest premise, dialogue and vocabulary, and character mannerisms and interaction. In fact, I think the humorous aspects overshadow the speculative ones.
Why did you choose to make humor such a prominent aspect?
Fowler: When I created Captain Quasar back in the spring of 2010, I was going for a mash-up between William Shatner’s James T. Kirk and Dudley Do-Right from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (but in Quasar’s case, things seldom ever go right). He’s a classic, iconic hero with a heart of gold whose narcissistic tendencies often land him in hot water. The humor is just a byproduct of who he is, I guess.
FFC: You’ve written other stories that feature Captain Quasar. How has he developed or changed as a character, from story to story?
Fowler: Well, in my first Quasar tale, “The ‘If Only’ Elixir of Opsanus Tau Prime,” he ended up dying (SPOILER! – oops, too late), but by the time the kind folks at Every Day Fiction published it, I’d really gotten to like the character, and I knew that story wouldn’t be his last. Honestly, the captain hasn’t changed a whole lot—other than being brought back to life in “The Insurmountable Barrier of Space Junk” at Ray Gun Revival and in a handful of other tales I’m currently shopping around. But his relationship with Hank and the other characters is deepening with every story I write, as Quasar realizes he needs them in order to continue being as awesome as (he thinks) he is.
FFC: Disclosure: I haven’t read much science fiction, partly because it requires familiarity with other-worldbuilding, conventions of the genre in general, and also those of individual authors. Yet, I found the situation and characters in “Captain Quasar and the Popularity Contest on Goobalox Five,” to be accessible and thoroughly entertaining.
The readership of Every Day Fiction is diverse. When writing this story, how did you balance making it accessible to science fiction neophytes like me, but genre-specific enough for science fiction enthusiasts?
Fowler: I don’t write hard science fiction with a whole lot of actual science in it. I focus on the characters, and everything else I just make up—or I rely on osmosis to filter enough jargon into my brain from all the Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies. I’m a big SF fan, but I know not everyone out there shares my love of aliens and ray guns; so I do my best to aim for universal themes and relatable characters. I shoot for a high entertainment value that transcends any barriers to enjoying my work.
FFC: You teach English to junior high school students. In general, 12-14 year olds are relentlessly curious and resourceful.
Do you involve your students in your writing process in any fashion, for example by sharing finished stories, soliciting their input on drafts, or brainstorming with them for ideas?
Fowler: I start each semester of my creative writing class with a brief “Get to know Mr. Fowler” session, which includes a reading of my first Captain Quasar tale. But from then on out, the class is all about my students and their writing. I’ll share the occasional acceptance letter or harsh rejection letter, of course, just to give them some insight into the process, but other than that, their work remains in the spotlight. I’ve got to say, though, that teaching this age has given me a strong ear for dialogue: my students love class discussions! Sometimes I should be the one taking notes.
FFC: Other than the fact that they are quicker to write, what advantages and drawbacks do flash fiction length stories offer the science fiction writer, compared to novella and novel length works?
Fowler: Writing flash is a real challenge for anybody and especially so for the genre writer. We’re building worlds and realities that don’t exist, so we have to allude to these larger worlds without spending the first 250 words info-dumping on our poor readers. What could be a paragraph or two of description in a novella or novel must become a phrase or a sentence strategically placed in a flash fiction piece. But I enjoy the challenge, and I’m glad to see Captain Quasar’s popularity grow at Every Day Fiction. Hopefully, this will translate into more readers for the novel-length project I’m currently working on!
Milo James Fowler is a junior high English teacher by day and a writer by night. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction, Shimmer, and Macmillan’s Criminal Element. In his spare time, he collects rejection letters. To learn more about Milo, visit his website, In Media Res, and like him on Facebook.
Sue Ann Connaughton writes fiction, poetry, and nonfiction from the witch capital of North America, Salem, Massachusetts. Her work has recently been published in Barnwood, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Meadowland Review; and is forthcoming in The Linnet’s Wings; Boston Literary Magazine; The Citron Review; and Pendragon Press, Nasty Snips II Anthology.