Brent A Harris talks alternate histories and the American monomyth

SciFiPulse recently had the privilege of interviewing Brent A. Harris.
brent a harris

SciFiPulse recently had the privilege of interviewing Brent A. HarrisHarris is the author of the alternate history novels A Twist in Time and A Christmas TwistOther work includes A Time Of Need, an alternate history of the War of Independence. During this interview, Mr. Harris discusses the difference between sci-fi protagonists and superheroes as well as his favorite alternate history stories.

 

SFP: Why do you think alternate histories or Elseworlds have struck such a chord in people’s imaginations?

 

Brent A. Harris: Disenchantment. When I was younger, many alternate histories and elseworlds showed worlds worse than ours. They were meant as warnings, not roadmaps. The cultural zeitgeist has shifted away from dystopia to alternate histories as escapism where worlds are better. Elan Mastai‘s All Our Wrong Todays is a fantastic example of that shift.

 

Also, take into consideration that as more women and people of diverse backgrounds have their voices heard, shockingly, we’re getting broader, wider stories than the rote “What if The South Won the Civil War?” And shows like the upcoming Marvel’s “What If” is really going to boost the genre into the mainstream. (Check out DC’s Elseworlds titles too. Top notch).

 

There are more stories and storytellers out there now than ever before and that means more chances for great reads and shows that stick to our imaginations.

 

SFP: Would you ever write scripts for Star Trek or The Mandalorian?

 

Brent A. Harris: I’d have to work on a script for Star Trek. Like really work. Hard. Lots of dialogue. Lots of complicated Timey-Wimey Astrophysics. Lots of character drama. The stories that I’ve written in tribute to Trek have been challenging. Yet, I would LOVE to pen scripts for any Trek show.

 

Star Wars is fun sandbox to play in and in no way would I ever turn down Disney Dollars. In fact, here’s my completed script for The Mandalorian:

 

Believer

 

Intro:

Mando is set against a vivid backdrop, cape blowing in the wind. Title music plays.

 

{Insert non-sensical, time-consuming, videogame side-quest}

 

Mando’s head tilts.

 

Mando:

Agreed.

 

{insert pew pew pew scene}

 

Show Baby Yoda in danger.

 

Explosion.

 

Show Baby Yoda not in danger. Steals/eats something.

 

Outro: Mando flying off into space, just a little more disparate from the Mando creed than before]

 

Fade to black.

 

Disney, I’ll be waiting for your call!

 

 

SFP: How much do you think the American monomyth (a peaceful settlement is threatened by external dark forces, a hero rises to overcome them and does so before fading into obscurity) is present in your work?

 

Brent A. Harris: Read Regeneration Through Violence by Richard Slotkin who writes on this extensively. The Atlantic monomyth structure is there, even if I’m trying to write away from it. Then again, many of us are hardwired to ‘expect’ that sort of story and reject those that don’t adhere to it. I know my own take on the Lone Ranger didn’t do well, simply because I deliberately subverted those expectations. Famous examples of subversion are rare. Anyone remember Chinatown? How much did you like that ending? (film students notwithstanding).

 

Before anyone says Avengers: Infinity War, just keep in mind that Thanos was the film’s hero. It’s true. Take a beat sheet and plot it out. It’ll match up, I promise. Ultimately, it’s the galaxy as a settlement and it’s he who barely defeats ‘dark forces’(from his POV) and then Thanos simply fades away into obscurity to farm on a distant planet to a sunrise on a thankful universe.

 

So, I think we need to do a better job of redefining the monomyth structure if we ever want a chance at surprising audiences, yet we still must leave them with a since of fulfillment. For that, we must turn to new and unexpected ways of telling stories. We may not find the tools to do that in western culture.

 

 

SFP: Do you think that spec fic novels have an advantage over films and TV in being able to show complexities and shades of grey that a show or film might not be able to?

 

Brent A. Harris: Absolutely not. Novels have an advantage of allowing a reader to immerse themselves within the head of a character. But is that character reliable? What’s a shade of grey to a character convinced they are doing right? A book doesn’t necessarily have any advantage. Have you ever played a videogame or read a story where you where it turns out that you were tricked into rooting for the villain all along?

 

Ultimately, it’s up to the storyteller to shadow their stories within greys, whether that’s novels or films and TV. I will say that TV, specifically streaming services, tend to do a better job of fleshing out characters beyond what a two-hour film can do, but again, it’s mostly up to a writer’s desire and prowess with a pen.

 

 

SFP: What are some of your favourite alternate history stories and why?

 

Brent A. Harris: Oh, hell… there’s too many. Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee is the bedrock of the genre. Ruled Britannia by Harry Turtledove is the book I always recommend for those wanting to dip their toes into a bottomless lake, and for those more visually minded, Timeless is grand and Quantum Leap shows that some of the most heartfelt stories are the ones that are small. In fact, at the VERY TOP of my bucket list is to write for a continuation of Quantum Leap. Not a reboot. Just pick up with certain characters at Project Quantum Leap looking for Sam.

 

 

SFP: What are you currently working on?

 

Brent A. Harris: I’m excited to announce here that beginning in 2021, I’ll return to my roots to write the sequel to A Time of Need, the follow-up to my Sidewise Award shortlisted alternate take of the American Revolution. The tentative title of the second entry is: Tests of Loyalty.

 

In the meantime, I’ve just released A Christmas Twist, a steampunk take on Dickens’ Christmas Carol. It’s book II of A Twist in Time which takes place in a different version of Oliver Twist. An alternate history of a book? I hope you’re thinking that sounds awesome.

 

In January, I go full SF/Horror with Alyx: An AI’s Guide to Love and Murder with the tagline: What if your home wanted you dead? I cannot wait for people to get ahold of this book!

 

I gotta make ends meet, so head on over to my website at www.BrentAHarris.com so you can keep up with all my upcoming work. Help a hungry writer.

 

 

SFP: What do you think is the difference between the protagonist of a spec fic novel and a superhero? At what point does the former become the latter, eg like Sherlock Holmes?

 

Brent A. Harris: As a comics aficionado I find the best written are those that keep their superhero stories kept to the human side of the character. Spider-Man isn’t one of the most popular comics because he can catch thieves just like flies, it’s because Peter Parker is struggling at school, forgetting the cranberry sauce his aunt asked him to pick up, and must fight against friends-turned-adversaries.

 

I tend to find that spec-fic novels are written the same way. Protagonists are ‘heroic’ in the sense that they typically don’t die (or they spring back to life. Looking at you, Holmes), they lead a series, and they overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable.

 

The difference is in the medium: how the story is told. Sequential panels of drawings or a deep dive into the thoughts of a character? It’s once again down to the writer/artist in figuring out the best way to convey their story as each has their own strengths.

 

 

SFP: And finally, if you had a time machine, when and where would you go and why?

 

Brent A. Harris: Never to the past. I like hot-showers and not dying of smallpox. I’d go to the future, to see how things turned out. And it’s there I would go to live out the rest of my days. In a way, I’m doing that right now.

 

SciFiPulse would like to extend our warmest thanks and best wishes to Brent A. Harris for so graciously taking the time to answer our questions.

 

Mr. Harris’s website: https://www.BrentAHarris.com

 

His Twitter: @BrentAHarris1

 

 Check out our interviews with Sarah Pinborough, Adrian Tchaikovsky and A. K. Larkwood

I'm a writer on the autistic spectrum who loves sci-fi, cosplay and poetry. I'm also an actor with Theatre of the Senses.
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