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Five Minutes With: R.J. Fitzharris, Author, “No Hope From Nowhere”

“We are in danger of taking some of our flaws into the stars with us.” Space colonialism, like colonialism of the 1500s, relies on science and technology for its success. But, as R.J. Fitzharris highlights in his novel, this technological advancement is built around the most primitive and unhinged of human impulses: fear, rage, lust and greed. But there is an alternative to war, and No Hope From Nowhere is just a cautionary tale. The author explains to us his vision of the future: evolved belief systems, new social structure, deep space explorations, and the human potential for enlightenment.

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R.J. Fitzharris: “I wanted No Hope From Nowhere to be a cautionary tale of the risks posed by our journey to the cosmos”. Image: ©R.J. Fitzharris / Austin Macauley Publishers

Is No Hope From Nowhere the first of a series about a human odyssey in space? I try not to make comparison with Battlestar Galactica – which was an epic TV series, not a book – but it feels like this novel sets us up for a bigger story. It has to be told in several volumes.

It would be amazing to create a literary equivalent of Battlestar Galactica, that’s the dream, ha ha. No Hope From Nowhere is indeed the first of a planned series. It originally started as a prelude and was a piece of writing that was just for my eyes. But as it grew I realised that it stood apart and would make a great way to start the tale of Nowhere.

It’s a grand story, or Odyssey as you so aptly put it, that takes place over the course of thirty six years originally and that felt too much for one book. No Hope From Nowhere is the beginning of a journey that is as much about the worlds humanity now inhabits as it is about the people who inhabit them, such as the Montiz family, and the challenges we may bring to the stars.

The planet Hakon IV is a human colony torn apart by civil war. In the novel, you describe a warfare that uses drones, militarisation by robotics and advanced combat medicine. How much does the present day inform your story? How do science and technology inform your vision of the future?

I am both incredibly interested in and equally concerned by the amount modern warfare relies on technology, and how that technology could be misused. When writing No Hope From Nowhere, I was influenced heavily by the harrowing stories coming out of the Middle Eastern conflicts, and those that were affected.

Technology has played a huge part in these growing conflicts, and the more research I did into what technologies the more concerned I became. The warfare exhibited in No Hope From Nowhere was thusly centred around this sort of conflict but moved up a notch in line with the deep space them, asking the question that if we use such technology now, then if it becomes more advanced, will we ever stop?

I believe there is a danger in that and that is the danger I sought to portray in No Hope From Nowhere. Technology will be incredibly important in allowing humanity to journey to new frontiers, as we are witnessing now with companies such as Space X and the continued work of space agencies the world over, but this also poses risks of misuse. If this is the case who will pay the price? I looked to emphasis this in the conflict in the book.

“I believe that we are in danger of taking some of our flaws into the stars with us.”

We are intrigued by the ideals upheld by the two protagonists, Nishfar Montiz and his brother, Keifar. Nishfar is the scholar and Keifar is the soldier. You also use what we may recognise as Near East, Persian or Mediterranean names, but your characters can be anyone regardless of culture and ethnicity. How did you develop them? The characters say “by the stars” frequently, indicating a belief system of some sort. What aspects of that and social decorum do you look at in order to develop your universe?

Multiculturalism is on the rise in the modern world and I foresee that that will not change as we journey into the cosmos. Nishfar is a Near East name that was actually a combination of two names I couldn’t decide between, Mahira is a feminine version of Mahir which means skilled, Cassandra is a European name derived from Ancient Greek, and Keifar was again a name formed from Turkish and Persian naming conventions.

There is already an element of cross pollination so to speak, with both the cultures themselves as well as their naming conventions. Love, as they say, can cross boundaries. With this in mind I wanted to give a wide range of names to the main characters to emphasise that now humanity is among the stars, centuries into the future, a name is more than the sum of the culture it comes from and that everyone is no doubt descended from a multitude of cultures in the smelting pot that is humanity. This is not to say that individual cultures will necessarily be lost but there are many conventions that were known two centuries ago that no longer exist to this. Humanity is always changing, I sought to convey that in the way I named my characters.

“Humanity in No Hope From Nowhere has transcended a belief in God or Gods, and instead the stars form an important part of everyone’s being.”

 

With regards to their belief system, my thought process was so. Carl Sagan once quoted: “We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff.”

My intention in No Hope From Nowhere was never to say that particular belief systems no longer exist but that instead they have evolved and combined with elements of science. This gave birth to my concepts for their belief system, that the stars are why we are here, why we survive, and why we have spread our wings into the cosmos. Humanity in No Hope From Nowhere has transcended a belief in God or Gods, and instead the stars form an important part of everyone’s being. Although religion may remain, it’s framed by this understanding. Because of this “by the stars” and similar language has become the norm. It is polite to use such language, and everyone, regardless of colony, understands as much.

“Humanities cannot be trusted with the stars,” says Nishfar in Chapter Six. At the Science Museum event in May 2019, Dr Brian May and Prof Martin Rees raised their concerns on a space race funded by private companies. On one hand, they praised the spirit of space exploration. On the other hand, they weren’t sure if the human character is reformed enough for a life in outer space. Your story is about “space colonialism”. Are your hopeful of our future missions to the stars? Or is No Hope From Nowhere a cautionary tale?

Space is something I am incredibly passionate about and I am excited for what the future holds with regards to our potential in space. But I agree with Dr Brian May and Prof Martin Rees’s concerns on the space race and these are concerns that I wanted the central protagonist, Nishfar, to embody.

A learned man himself, Nishfar was raised to question the status quo and to challenge assumptions. As a historian as well he was aware of humanities’ mistakes on earth. I believe that we are in danger of taking some of our flaws into the stars with us. So I reflected this in Nishfar’s feelings on violence and conflict.

I believe we, as a species, have a lot we can offer the cosmos with regards to innovation and exploration. But we still have a lot of learning to do, and evolving, or we could take a great many of our flaws with is. As such in answer to your question I wanted No Hope From Nowhere to be a cautionary tale of the risks posed by our journey to the cosmos, with conflict being a big part of that, and indeed the odyssey I intend to build is based heavily on this as well as many other technological, sociological, and ecological concerns.

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Dr Brian May and Prof Martin Rees say that next phase of space exploration could well be “post-human”, with robots and AI primed to take on the space race. The biggest challenge isn’t just the harsh outer space environment (Reform human character, save the earth, then go to Mars: Dr Brian May at the Science Museum, 16 June 2019)

In the prologue, you mentioned the Gateway to Nowhere on Pluto, the milestone that humanity has to pass before venturing to the great unknown. The “Stellar-Travellers” human cargoes are divided into two classes: The Sleepers, who sleep throughout the journey to wake up centuries later at their destinations; and The Navigators, who are authorised to navigate space. They can have families and pass on the responsibilities of navigation to their younger generations. What inspires you to create this social structure?

I’ve often pondered the challenge faced in deep space exploration. In all likelihood, it will take incredibly long periods of time, regardless of the technology used to traverse the stars. That brought me to my own Nowhere, how did they get there? How long did it take? How would it work? It then dawned on me that maybe if most people were in cryogenic sleep, who would look after them?

That’s where the navigators came in, a group of people whose sole purpose was to protect and navigate the precious cargo throughout countless generations. Passing responsibility down through the ages, and what a great honour it could be to have that responsibility. If I had more time I would love to have written more on this structure and indeed my mind has played with many stories that could take place onboard these Arks, and whether they could play a bigger part in the odyssey. We shall see.

“I believe we, as a species, have a lot we can offer the cosmos with regards to innovation and exploration. But we still have a lot of learning to do.”

 

What book did you last read?

I’m actually reading The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke.

E-book, PDF or print?

It’s in print, part of the science fiction masterworks series.

About No Hope From Nowhere

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