Author Interview: Alexander Hellene

Bio

Alexander Hellene is either a Renaissance man or a dilettante, depending on whom you ask. A musician, athlete, artist, and law school graduate, Alexander has always been attracted to fantastical tales, since they tend to do a better job of explaining how the world works than just about anything else.

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Author Interview: Alexander Hellene

We sit down with the author of sword and planet adventure The Last Ancestor to discuss The Second Sojourn

Available Now on Amazon!

Publisher’s Description:

Terror strikes the heart of Pysh!

The Global Union has tracked the Canaanites across the galaxy, hellbent on finishing the job of extermination. But first they need to recover a secret, one that will explain everything.

A distress signal from the East brings Garrett, Ghryxa, and their friends closer to the answers about what happened on Earth. The lost ship survives! But to find it they must cross the Waran Steppes, and an endless swamp filled with ancient, deadly creatures.

Pursued by assassins, Garrett must make the hard choices and be a hero like his late father. Escaping the High Lord was just the beginning.

The Second Sojourn is available, and I have already snagged myself a copy!

I can’t wait to crack it open (metaphorically…my Kindle wouldn’t take kindly to being actually cracked), but if it has the panache of The Last Ancestor, I’m confident it will be a hit! (You can read our positive, long-form review of the first book in The Swordbringer series here.)

Alexander Hellene generously agreed to answer some questions about his series and this sequel in particular. Prepare to have your appetite whetted for the continuation of this classic sword and planet adventure!

The Last Ancestor was a great sword and planet adventure. Where did you draw inspiration for this series?

Thank you! I’m glad you liked it! Inspiration came from many places. I had recently read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs and I loved the strangeness of it, and the freaky aliens. I took inspiration from that, but also from the old Masters of the Universe cartoon and toys. Eternita was a big inspiration for the planet Yxakh—it felt so ancient and primordial and lived in.

I also loved the idea of animal-men. I’ve always been a big fan of anthropomorphic animals and settled on anthropomorphic dogs, which became the Growlers. I thought that having man’s best friend be these hostile, deadly creatures would be fun. It was originally to be solely animal people, with Princess Dhaxiha being the main character.

But I also had this image of a young American teen exploring such a world with one of these dog creatures, and the idea of crashed humans on this world grew from that. The religious aspect came next: Why were humans there? Why had they left Earth? Religious persecution seemed a perfect reason. The Canaanites in The Last Ancestor were pilgrims in a way, maybe a resulting inspiration of my having grown up in New England.

Although The Swordbringer series is intended for Young Adults, it probably isn’t typical of modern YA science fiction in terms of character or theme. Would you say that is accurate?

I’d say that’s very accurate. Interestingly, I never intended The Swordbringer as being YA, though having a teenaged human protagonist and what is essentially a teenaged alien puts it in that category. Still, I didn’t want the series to be “mature” in the violence and sex way, just thematically. Lots of heady stuff I tried to wrap in a package of fun and exploration. I’d like to think I succeeded and that young people can enjoy it as much as adults.

The cover for The Second Sojourn looks exciting! I remember when I was reading The Last Ancestor, I was really pleased to discover that the scene depicted on that cover actually took place within the story. Can we look forward to something similar occurring in the sequel?

Thank you! All credit to Manuel Guzman, aka Lolo. He’s truly a remarkable artist and I’m glad to have found him. Yes, there is definitely a scene in The Second Sojourn like that depicted on the cover. I’ve always been a big fan of books that do that, and wanted my own to capture that same spirit instead of something more generic or just an action pose.

What were some key challenges or highlights you had while writing The Second Sojourn?

I had never written a sequel before, let alone part two in a trilogy. The big challenges were making sure to ramp up the stakes and create a self-contained story with a satisfying arc that also acts as an arc, or crisis point, for the overall story. That, and creating new characters that were not redundant and didn’t overwhelm the reader. I’m particularly proud of Rikkert and Tarleo.

Other than that, it took some work getting the prologue right—should it be in the present and then flash back in chapter one to explain how our crew got to Pysh, or vice versa? At my awesome editor Emily Red’s advice, I kept it chronological. Then, at my great beta reader’s advice, I made the journey start with a bang before getting into the more prosaic travel portion. I think it worked much better.

The Last Ancestor boasted some spectacular locations, but the ending took the characters out of the bounds of the established setting. Can we look forward to equally detailed new settings in the sequel?

You sure can. I’m a big fan of incremental world building. I like teasing new locations and then getting to them later on. Hence the relative mystery of Pysh, save for the one Pyshan character in The Last Ancestor (Pason) to hopefully whet the reader’s appetite to see what Pysh and its culture and society are like in The Second Sojourn. I do more of that in The Second Sojourn as well. A little mystery goes a long way, as long as there is some payoff.

What about new monsters and people/alien groups?

Lots of them. We have the Pyshans and their more refined culture, as well as the Waran, nomadic warriors who live far across the river to the east. And both lands are filled with flora and especially fauna both domesticated and deadly. That’s not even getting to the disgusting things that live in the giant swamp our heroes have to cross…

How did changing up the characters’ situation impact the thematic message of the story?

Our characters are still strangers in a strange land without a home, exiled from Earth and still not safe despite Pysh’s relatively welcoming nature. Compared to Kharvalar it’s like heaven, but danger abounds and the Canaanites have gotten soft in the intervening year. So thematically there’s still a lot of danger and a sense of being unsettled as the Canaanites try yet again to rebuild their lives in an alien environment. And of course, they’re still being chased by those hellbent on their destruction. Nothing is easy!

Thematically, there’s still the sense that, no matter how they try to fit in, the humans and their faith bring changes that are not always welcome to their host nation.

Who was your favorite character in The Last Ancestor? Are there new characters in the sequel that you are excited to share with readers? Do we get to see more from any of the supporting cast?

Garrett and Ghryxa are my favorite. Their relationship is fun to write, and I wanted to make sure they each had their arc and that Ghryxa wasn’t just along for the ride. Dhaxiha and Yhtax were also fun. I liked how their personal changes drove the story.

As far as supporting characters in The Second Sojourn, I had a good time giving Tracy an expanded role and getting to know him more than just his little part in The Last Ancestor. It was also good to give Julie and Gregory a very satisfying arc that will continue into book three. My favorite new character was Rikkert. Always cool to write that “frenemy” character. The Waran were also a personal favorite that I hope readers dig as well.

What do you think The Last Ancestor did well that you hope to continue or expand on in the sequel?

I like to think The Last Ancestor took relatively simple themes of bravery and faith in the face of deadly peril, and trying to live up to obligations, and couched them in a fresh, exciting way. Those themes are expanded, as well as that of being a disruptive agent of change, even if unintentionally. Lots of the importance of duty and obligation and staying true to oneself and one’s beliefs despite temptation to throw it all away for an easy out.

Do we get to meet any other human survivors of the original crash onto this alien planet?

That would be telling, but let’s just say that our characters are just as interested in this, and wanting to know that is what drives the bulk of The Second Sojourn. Are they still there? Who sent that signal, and are they friendly? That sort of thing. Some journeys are worth undertaking even if the answer isn’t clear. You have to have hope and you have to have faith that all of your struggles are worth it. Leave no man behind, or more appropriately, if you have 99 sheep safely with you and one goes missing, you go after that one!

What do you hope your audience comes away with from The Swordbringer stories?

Great question! A few things: that family and duty and honor matter. That it is important to maintain your culture and your ways, but that some changes are good even if they are tough. That leaders make the hard choices and try to salvage the worst situations. That reading can be fun and exciting and not dragged down by despair and nihilism—there is always hope!

And ultimately that you can have “Christian fiction,” or at least fiction with Christian themes, that is still fun for anyone regardless of their faith, if any, and that it doesn’t have to be boring or preachy. And lastly, that it’s good to forgive and it’s never too late to make amends.

Read The Second Sojourn today!

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The Swordbringer Book II Call for Beta Readers

The Sword Bringer Book II Call for Beta Readers

Alexander Hellene invites Twitter DMs from anyone interested in providing an honest review of The Second Sojourn

Today, Sept. 29th, 2020, Alexander Hellene announced on Twitter that The Second Sojourn, book two in The Swordbringer series, was complete barring the glossary. He welcomes anyone interested in beta reading in exchange for an honest review to contact him via direct message.

On his website, Hellene has a copy for this story:

“Pursued by assassins, Garrett must make the hard choices and be a hero like his late father. Escaping the High Lord was just the beginning.”

We reviewed the first book in this series The Last Ancestor here on Periapsis Press. We are looking forward to this next installment in this sword and planet series!

 

Check out our positive, long-form review of the first The Swordbringer novel!

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Review: The Last Ancestor

Publisher Description:

They killed his father, oppress his people, and threaten them with extinction . . . and one of them is his best friend.

The Growlers rule their corner of the planet Yxakh with an iron fist, intent on driving the human refugees from their land. They almost did eight years ago, killing Garrett’s father in the process. Only their guns, and lots of them, keep the Growlers at bay. Now a young man, Garrett burns for revenge, but finds it hard to reconcile this hatred given that his best friend is a Growler youth named Ghryxa.

Desperate to cleanse his land of the invaders, the Growlers’ High Lord dispatches his trusted heir on a mission to acquire the humans’ superior weaponry. The Earthlings barely won the last war . . . but this time the High Lord will leave nothing up to chance.

Garrett and Ghryxa run headlong into the High Lord’s conspiracy and find themselves the only thing standing between their two peoples and all-out war. Now Garrett must participate in an ancient rite with the fate of humanity on his shoulders. It’s a chance to be a hero like his father . . . but only if he makes it out of the Growlers’ forbidden city alive.

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Review: The Last Ancestor by Alexander Hellene

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Last Ancestor. I encourage you to check it out!

The Last Ancestor is a dynamic sword and planet romp of faith and daring. Alien-dog people, the ruins of a crashed spaceship, and a secret church populate this exciting first installment in The Swordbringer series.

Raising the Stakes

Hellene does a great job of ratcheting up the tension throughout this story. The beginning is a bit slow, taking time to introduce the main character Garret’s family and do a bit of exposition, but the events of the story consistently build upon one another from standing up to bullies on a playground, to foiling a kidnapping, to fighting to prevent a war.

Even during the final conflict, a duel to the death with humanity’s survival on the line, the stakes were raised!

The only element that slows down the action is the multiple point of view characters, particularly the politicians. I didn’t find that they contributed much; in fact, they tended to deflate the suspense at certain points.

Strong Theme

The Last Ancestor is built consistently around “doing the right thing,” despite the consequences. This begins with the opening scene in which Garret saves a potential enemy, who becomes his best friend Ghryxa, and ends with the choice of martyrdom over renouncing his faith. In fact, almost each event of the story involves Garret choosing to put his well-being on the line in order to do what he believes is right, usually help someone else.

This theme would be wholesome enough on its own, but it is underscored by two parallel themes.

The first is perhaps less glamorous, or at least less lauded, than being willing to die for a cause, but it is no easier: embracing weakness and any accompanying humiliation in order to do the right thing. While Garret faces death and injury, his friend Ghryxa confronts his desire for his people’s acceptance and chooses to do the right thing at the expense of his reputation.

The other theme that contributes to both of these is the importance of a father’s role in teaching morality to his children and to others through them. Garret’s father died in the war, sacrificing his life to save others. Garret remembers him throughout the story, usually when he is considering what action to take. It is clear that his father continues to have a great impact on his conception of right and wrong and his role in society. Furthermore, Ghryxa’s understanding of these things is largely based on his relationship with Garret.

Honestly, I would love to see a story about this man, who left Earth with his family in a shoddy spaceship, fought to make a home for them, and died to protect others!

Kind Character

Garret is a unique character, and one that I enjoyed following on this adventure. He behaves consistently with kindness and honesty, and while he is not necessarily slow to anger, he is slow to act out of anger. His affection for his younger sister is endearing and refreshing for a youthful lead character, especially a teenage boy.

I appreciated how Hellene built his themes out of Garret’s consistency as a character, rather than a repentance. Cringe in the beginning of a story may set up a character for development over its course, and portray an important moral lesson, but I rarely enjoy it. The Last Ancestor presents another important lesson, one that is not overrepresented in fiction: Garret’s journey is all about persistent diligence, rather than changing behavior.

Planet

I cannot go without mentioning the setting in this review! Hellene has done an excellent job crafting a tangible world with geography, monsters, and alien culture.

The alure of exploring caves for a crashed spaceship filled with treasures of a bygone world, the exhilaration of sneaking into a forbidden city, the resolve of holding firm in your beliefs against fearful pressure – all of these can be attributed to the deliberate worldbuilding and intriguing setting, and they contribute to the plot’s emotional payoff.

Check It Out!

The Last Ancestor is an entertaining adventure on a distant alien planet that does not relegate the Christian faith to a footnote of history, but incorporates its young character’s convictions into the plot in a satisfying way. I look forward to reading the rest of The Swordbringer series!

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Review: Corona-Chan

Publisher Description:

Stuck inside? Quarantine got you feeling down… or even worse, BORED? 

Corona-Chan: Spreading the Love is here to rescue you from the existential horror of indoor life, by offering you a glimpse into other worlds of wonder, whimsy, and warped humor.

Tales of high adventure, escapist fantasies, and thrilling stories of suspense await within, from some of the keenest and most rebellious minds in pulp fiction, with a foreword by the infamous Daddy Warpig.

With 200,000 words of exciting fiction, most never before published, including four books, Corona-Chan is serious about spreading the love!

Read it today!

The complete catalog of collected chronicles:
“Quarantine” by artist Jesse White
Anacyclosis by Brian Niemeier
“A Song of I.C.E. and Fire” by Jon Del Arroz
In the Forest of Wast by Alexander Hellene
“Exiled in the Desert” by John Daker
“Iron and Steel” by KP Kalvaitis
“Someone is Aiming for You” by JD Cowan
Immortal Thunder by Matt Wellman
“Bringing down the Mountain” by Nathan Dabney
“At the Feet of Neptune’s Queen” by Abraham Strongjohn
“Going Native” and “Warrior Soul” by Manfred Weichsel
The Battle of the Turasa Nebula by Yakov Merkin
“An Eye for Eligos” by Alexandru Constantin
Adventure Constant (full-length novel) by Jon Mollison
“Star Support” by Val Hull
“The Age of Petty States” by Rawle Nyanzi
And
The Crown of Sight by David V. Stewart

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Review: Corona-Chan: Spreading the Love organized by David V. Stewart

Here on the Periapsis Project, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Corona-chan. I encourage you to check it out!

Corona-chan is a fantasy / sci-fi short story anthology spearheaded by David Stewart and featuring 17 authors and their works that delivers adventure in a kaleidoscope of settings, characters, and tones, sure to leave you looking for more! Every tale has something to offer: action, suspense, heroics, and even the weird. This anthology is full of entertainment value. It can “rescue” you from boredom in the ordinary and mundane (no quarantine required)!

Don’t Skip the Forward!

Daddy Warpig’s foreword to this anthology is a gem. It starts off the collection with humor and the very focus on entertainment value that he touts: “Put entertainment first, put the audience first, and stop worshiping things that don’t matter.”

This anthology delivers on that promise of entertainment!

His comments certainly philosophize about writing and its purpose, particularly regarding the stated goal of this anthology, but if you are expecting the boring, puffed-up, academic air of superiority usually associated with traditionally published anthologies, you are in for a pleasant treat!

“Tales” vs. “Short Stories”

In my initial description of this anthology, I called Corona-chan a collection of short stories. However, that is not a term used in the anthology itself. That would be “tales.”

This is, perhaps, a more appropriate label, as the “short story” has almost become a genre unto itself, piling expectations of form and story events on top of those within the primary genre. In particular, it pushes an element of surprise or a “gotcha” moment. I find them disorienting at best, off-putting at worst, and nearly always unsatisfying.

It was such a breath of fresh air to read stories—written for adults—that were each “sized to fit” without also being twisty or gimmicky. Instead, they are complete stories with momentum, build, and even foreshadowing. They just don’t take as long to read!

Jon Del Arroz’s “Song of I.C.E. and Fire” is a particularly good example of this. Reading on my Kindle (with my font size at a reasonable setting), the story was only 26 pages long. But it is undeniably a complete story with engaging action, sympathetic characters, and a satisfying “got the bad guys” conclusion!

Compelling Plots

None of these tales could be accused of wasting my time when it came to getting the plot up and running. They were all fast-paced without skimping out on either character development or immersive settings. Even when the action slowed, there was a momentum that continued, pulling the reader forward with anticipation. This momentum continued to build, never leaving me stagnant or tapped out.

This resulted in a series of very entertaining stories, united by a common, engaging pace.

“Anacyclosis” by Brian Niemeier stands out in this regard. The central drive of his main character is simple, but that allows it to be both sympathetic and quickly communicated. The action that grows out of this drive builds rapidly before falling off. At that point, I was invested in both the character and his situation, and a sense of anticipation pulled me forward. When the action was not there, the story did not stall. I pressed forward, eager to know what would happen next.

Efficient Character Development

The stories in Corona-chan vary a great deal in length. However, even the longer tales were extremely efficient.

Character development is particularly important in this regard. Rather than waste time and space in their stories with scenes that served no purpose except to introduce their characters, the authors threw their characters into action to demonstrate their mettle. This resulted in characters who were quickly sympathetic, especially in those stories which had limited point-of-view characters.

I really enjoyed the character development “Star Support” by Val Hull for this reason. The situation was unique, featuring a woman at a call center for space ship technical support. I found her particularly relatable in her office job, dealing with the public and overbearing management. When she is suddenly thrown into an intense situation a mere six paragraphs into the story, her character begins to emerge and grow beyond her job. I couldn’t wait to see how she would handle the next complication that came her way!

Effective World Building

The stories in this anthology also shared a tendency for effective world building. Not that there isn’t a place for lengthy anecdotes about a world’s system of government or readers who will obsess over details of a magic system, but due to the length limitations there had to be minimal ponderous descriptions of elements irrelevant to the story at hand.

That is not to say that there was nothing to hint at a bigger universe, however. Science Fiction and Fantasy are largely defined by the worlds that they immerse us in! Settings, political situation, timelines, etc. were all hinted at with tantalizing brevity. I finished several of these stories with my appetite whetted for more.

So many of the stories are worth mentioning here, particularly those stories that obviously came out of a larger established concept such as “Someone is Aiming for You” by JD Cowan. The longer, “full-length” novels that the anthology boasts – “Immortal Thunder” by Matt Wellman, “Adventure Constant” by Jon Mollison, “The Crown of Sight” by David V. Stewart, and “The Battle of the Turasa Nebula” by Yakov Merkin – had significantly more space to work in, but I found that they were similarly streamlined.

“The Battle of the Turasa Nebula,” in particular, exposed me to a complex world with characters from opposing factions, who had intricate histories relating to each other and the larger political powers.  However, I never felt like I was being over-burdened with extraneous information. Merkin gave me just the information I needed to understand the characters, their motivations, and the action and only when I needed it. This resulted in a suspenseful story in which both parties were sympathetic and compelling, and when it ended, I was eager for more from both them and the larger scope of the conflict.

Weaknesses

I would like to touch very briefly on a couple of weaknesses in this anthology. I did not find these to be disqualifying in their scope, but in the spirit of complete honesty, I want to acknowledge them.

Thrown Together

It is sadly apparent that this anthology was thrown together in a very short amount of time. This in itself is not bad, but it is the cause of an unfortunate lack of polish. There were many errors that could easily have been caught with a bit of review, even with a word processor. Of course, the number and types of errors fluctuated between stories, some having minimal problems and others having an abundance.

That being said, most of them were forgivable and decipherable. I did not find them so distracting that I could not enjoy the experience.

Lacked an Explanation of Context

I enjoyed Daddy Warpig’s foreword, as I said in the beginning of this review, and the tone of humor and even irreverence it lent to the collection.

However, the anthology lacked the standard formal introduction: a word from the editor to explain why these particular stories were included and in the chosen order. Even the formatting, particularly the attributions and calls to action following each tale, was irregular. Obviously, this also has to do with the haste involved in Corona-chan’s implementation.

I found the tales to be unified in many of the components I have discussed, but I felt this almost coincidental. Perhaps the shared elements could be explained by the term “pulp,” which appears in the tagline, “Infectious Tales of Fantasy and Suspense Designed to Spread the Pulpdemic.” However, as someone who had no context for the term at the time of reading, this only highlights for me the need for some official comment, some explanation of what makes these tales qualify for that descriptor.

Again, I understand that there was not time for this kind of curation, let alone explanation, but perhaps then the claim that it was “designed” to do anything is a stretch.

Check it Out!

Those frustrations being recognized, Corona-chan: Spreading the Love succeeded in delivering entertainment. Furthermore, it is an excellent collection featuring this group of authors, whether you have never read any before or are familiar with all of them.

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