You may already know Ben Van Dongen from Adventure Worlds Press. He’s the other half of the collection of science fiction short stories in No Light Tomorrow, and one third of the crime fiction stories in All These Crooked Streets. Now, he’s written a pocket-sized sci-fi novella entitled, The Thinking Machine.
The Thinking Machine
A Man and a Monster with the Same Name
In a city that spans most of the eastern seaboard, there is a creature that used to be a man. A stranger, from the shrinking wilds of the north, is called by a spirit to enter the city and destroy the abomination. The thing that shares his name. Zed.
We thought we’d ask Ben a few questions in light of his new release;
Hi Ben, what’s your ideal writing spot?
I do my best writing out of the house, often at a cafe. I go to Anchor Coffee house every day I can to get some writing done. Tim’s if Anchor isn’t open.
How Canadian of you! For our non-Canadian readers, Tim’s is shorthand for Tim Hortons, a very famous Canadian coffee shop franchise. In your opinion what’s the hardest part of writing?
The hardest part is likely a tie between starting and finishing. I tend to struggle often when I sit down to write. Sometimes I fight my way through a couple sentences before things start flowing, sometimes I take a good half hour of faffing about before I can focus. Once I get going, I am good, but starting is a grind. As for finishing, it’s usually at the point where I’m spending more time imagining the next story throughout a day than the one that needs to be finished. It takes some discipline to stay focused and power through to the end. There may be something about reaching the end of a story and not feeling like I’ve accomplished everything I set out to do, or really captured the original idea, but I’m not ready to unpack that feeling, so I’ll say it’s thinking about the next story.
Are there other books or media that you try and emulate or take inspiration from?
I get a lot of inspiration from 80s science fiction movies. I started out as a movie fanatic before discovering books. The visual elements of my stories often have some inspiration from those films. Philip K. Dick is someone who I try to, not emulate, but maybe keep in mind when I write. He was an idea focused writer and that is what first caught my attention with reading a writing. I try to make sure my ideas have something novel to them and that I don’t lose the story (or that idea) in the description or drama.
I’m also hugely inspired by music. I’m the kind of person who always has to have some music playing when I’m not doing something that precludes it (say working at the day job or watching a movie). I take a lot of time (probably too much if you look at my answer to the second question) picking out what to listen to each time I sit down to write.
Tell us a little bit about your novella, The Thinking Machine.
It’s part of an interconnected series. I tried to write something fun, fast, and with a strong idea pulling the plot along. To clarify, the idea is really a question about what makes us human, and when will technology change the definition?
Would you say you write ‘what you know’ or do you create ‘pure fancy’?
I write what I think about. Since I mostly write science fiction, there is a mix of fantasy and some science or technology rooted in reality. Sometimes that science and tech is an extrapolation I make from current theories, so I make up aspects or ignore limitations for the sake of the fantasy, but I try to have some idea of what I’m talking about. For my last story, the novella in the Crime Anthology All These Crooked Streets, I used what little I new about photography and did some research to fill in any gaps. I didn’t study photography for the sake of the story, just grounded it in some kind of reality. It’s the same with my science fiction. In The Thinking Machine, I too some current cutting edge technology, (like prosthetic eyes) and made the implants. I’m no expert in computer aided prosthetic, but I wanted to give the technology of the story some kind of realistic origin. So, my long winded cop-out answer is both.
Ben Van Dongen grew up in Windsor Ontario. He likes to think that if he tried harder he could have been an Astronaut, but he is happier writing science fiction anyway. He co-authored the books No Light Tomorrow and All These Crooked streets, and is one half of the founding team of Adventure Worlds Press. His newest book, The Thinking Machine, a cyberpunk novella, is out now.
You can read more of his crazy notions on his website: BenVanDongen.com