A confession: Iambik’s description of Toby Frost’s Space Captain Smith sounds frightfully similar to descriptions of jobs I’ve had. And I’d be willing to bet that I’m not the only one “destined to take on the alien threat because nobody else is available. Together with his bold crew- a skull-collecting alien lunatic, an android pilot who is actually a fugitive sex toy and a hamster called Gerald- he must collect new-age herbalist Rhianna Mitchell from the New Francisco orbiter and bring her back to the Empire in safety.”
If not, you should consider yourselves lucky. Or send some sympathy my way. Or both.
In the meantime, Clive Catterall was clearly a narrator born for this book, which will be obvious to anyone listening. Below, he and I had a few select questions for author Toby Frost.
Clive Catterall: Toby, I must say I had an absolute gas narrating your book. I have rarely enjoyed myself as much, though it did cause some problems during the recording. Sometimes things creep up on you from behind, because it’s a strange business reading out loud. However carefully you read through beforehand, when you start to read out loud you pick up funny bits that you missed. I had to go for a walk a couple of times when I got the giggles. Made myself a strong cup of tea. Sorted.
You reference a lot of sci-fi in this book! As well as Asimov, Anthony Burgess and steampunk, there are a lot of references to sci-fi movies. But all of the sci-fi is handled with a great deal of affection, even though you poke fun at it. Do you remember when your interest in sci-fi started, and who were the first authors who hooked you?
Toby Frost: I’m very glad you enjoyed narrating the book. I think you did a really good job and seemed to capture the characters very easily. As to when my interest in science fiction started, I’m not sure – I think I always liked spaceships. But I can remember reading H.G. Wells when I was about 10 and the Golden Age authors slightly later – Asimov, Clarke and co. And of course Dune.
CC: Besides those mentioned in the book, what sci-fi authors excite you?
TF: I think it’s very rare for me to parody a writer I don’t like, so almost all the authors/books that get a mention are ones I’ve enjoyed. In science fiction Wells, William Gibson, John Wyndham, H.P. Lovecraft are all interesting writers. None of them is perfect, but they all produced some very good work.
CC: What inspired you to weave elements of satire and comedy through your story rather than write a “straight” sci-fi story?
TF: I think it just felt more fun this way. In a lot of ways, I just wrote the story I would have liked to read. For a long time I felt that there was a link between the British Empire and the sort of generic space empires you see in science fiction, and it seemed interesting to compare the two. A lot of the comedy flows from the idea of transposing the Victorian outlook onto outer space.
CC: Some sci-fi authors seem to want the science bits to take centre stage and the characters seem almost secondary. Your books don’t strike me that way; you seem to be more interested in story and characters. Just how important are the future world elements to you? Could you imagine yourself writing in other genres? Maybe even satirising other genres?
TF: Although the world of Space Captain Smith does interest me a lot – and is meant to have a sort of bizarre internal logic of its own – the characters are what produce a lot of the story and the comedy. The four main characters were created so that no matter who was in the room, they could still have an argument and still come out with funny things. I like to think that the books make sense in their own weird way, though.
I have tried writing a serious novel set in a sort of fantastical Renaissance, where Leonardo’s machines all work. It’s a sort of thriller and is as yet unpublished, but you never know…
CC: Many authors say that to create characters they have to build on elements of their own character. How much of Captain Smith do you see in yourself? Do you actually come from Surrey? (I’m not actually asking if you are a qualified Space Captain… Are you, by the way?). And my wife wants to know if you look like Suruk at all?
TF: I don’t come from Surrey – thspae Woking reference is a nod to War of the Worlds – but there is a reasonable amount of Smith in me. All four of the main characters have varying amounts of me in them. I don’t resemble Suruk, although I do find his sense of being slightly baffled by the ways of Earth familiar – I suspect a lot of people secretly do!
CC: You now have three Isambard Smith novels. How long will you keep the series up? Do you have another character you’d like to pursue? Lastly, that for this. Would you like a nice cup of tea now?
TF: I don’t know how much of the series I’ll do. I’ve really enjoyed writing them, and it would be fun to do a fourth, but there are a lot of other things going on at the moment, so it’s hard to say. But I do enjoy spending time in their world and would love to write about more of Smith’s adventures. And now, I will have a cup of tea, thanks!
Miette Elm: Did you have any reservations about allowing Space Captain Smith to be turned into an audiobook?
TF: Yes: I was worried that the reader wouldn’t capture the feel of the story or be able to deliver the jokes properly. In fact, Clive has made a great job of it.
ME: Have you listened to any of the audiobook of Space Captain Smith? Did anything in the voicing or Clive’s delivery surprise you?
TF: Yes, I really enjoyed it. I was quite surprised by the range of voices Clive does really well. On balance, Captain Gilead is slightly more quietly insane than I imagined, but I think that works out fine in the reading.
ME: Do you listen to audiobooks at all? If so, do you have any favourite titles?
TF: I used to listen to a lot of audiobooks, but I’ve not done so for a while. When I was young I had a lot of Sherlock Holmes on tape, as well as a version of Treasure Island. I think that was my favourite: it’s a great book.
ME: Do you still work within the legal system by day? Do your colleagues or superiors know of your literary moonlighting? What has been the reaction to your double life?
TF: My colleagues do know, but are surprisingly low-key about it. I do still work in the legal system, but I do a lot of writing for work as well, except with less spaceships.
ME: Is anyone else writing smart satiric sci-fi these days? Anyone else you can think of whose work we should be turning into audio?
TF: Tricky one. Robert Rankin writes steampunk-influenced comedy science fiction with a very wacky sense of humour. Kim Newman did a great book called Anno Dracula, set in Victorian London, in which various characters from older novels try to catch Jack the Ripper. It’s much more serious, but has a slight tongue-in-cheek feel.
ME: Thanks so much for Space Captain Smith and for letting us make the audiobook!
TF: No problem. I think the audiobook is really good!
Toby Frost’s Space Captain Smith, published by Myrmidon, is available from Iambik as an audiobook for only $6.99. You can also buy it as part of our Complete Science-Fiction & Fantasy Collection of 9 titles for $43.00. May your next job be free of hamsters and lunatics, unless that’s your cup of tea.