Monday, April 2, 2018

Crossroads of Darkover Author Interviews: Robin Rowland

Coming in May, an all-new Darkover anthology featuring tales of decisions, turning points, love lost and found, all in the beloved world of the Bloody Sun. Stories by Jenna Rhodes, Pat MacEwen, Gabrielle Harbowy, Evey Brett, Rosemary and India Edghill, Diana L. Paxson, and more!  Order yours today at: iBookKindleKoboNookTable of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: What about the world of Darkover drew you in?

Robin Rowland: I live in the mountainous coast of British Columbia, where we often experience what I like to call “Darkover weather.” This year winter started early, in mid-November. It started with rain, which changed to freezing rain, to wet snow to snow. One day we had 24 hours of heavy snow, followed again by sleet and then rain, and then another 24 hours of heavy snow. One day, I dug out my driveway four times, the next, the sun came out and it was warm and there was a heavy snow melt underway. Now in mid-January, we have had a lot less snow than usual, but over this weekend we had freezing rain that left layers of ice everywhere.

Many years ago Marion Zimmer Bradley told me in the Darkover Suite at Westercon that she was first inspired by the snow in upstate New York and later, in California, by the Sierras. Every science fiction fan brings their own experience to their enjoyment of stories. I grew up in Kitimat and retired here. In a local First Nations (Native Canadian) language Kitimat means “people of the snow. The valley at the end of an 80 kilometre fjord has a unique micro climate. Four times we’ve had a record one day snowfall for all of Canada. The weather can change to warm to wet in a half hour. Winters can see snow up to the roof of a typical Kitimat 1950s two story ranch style house or sometimes so little snow I only use a half bag of snow melter. Summers can either be dreary, overcast and wet or warm to very hot with the occasional drought. So for me, that unique micro climate of the Kitimat valley is perhaps the closest thing on Terra to Darkover.

DJR: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.

RR: My family moved to Toronto when I was fifteen. As my only income at the time was an allowance, I haunted a huge used book store in downtown Toronto called “Old Favourites” which had a large science fiction section. I bought Star of Danger, the boys were my own age and the description of Darkover made the planet sound like the home town I had just left. I kept buying Darkover books, first used and then when I got after school jobs, new releases from a variety store near my home which always stocked with a lot of science fiction in the late 1960s. What convinced me that I loved the planet was Darkover Landfall, which again, reminded me of Kitimat.

DJR: What do you see as the future of Darkover? How has its readership changed over the decades? What book would you recommend for someone new to Darkover?

RR: I'd always recommend Darkover Landfall as a starter for any one who wants to get into the series, it is a great introduction.

One factor that is emphasized in today's fiction overall, is that in a diverse society more readers have to see themselves in the stories.

Marion Bradley began writing Darkover in the late 60s, early 70s, at the time that the women's and gay movements were just beginning. That was one of the factors that attracted the younger readers of the time, who saw themselves or what they fantasized they'd like to be by immersing themselves on Darkover. (There were about a dozen young gay men in the Darkover Suite in San Francisco at Westercon 79).

I suspect that although Darkover is still attracting some younger readers, it is likely that the core audience is loyal but aging.

So the future should be to find new ways of attracting a wide, diverse, millennial reader for whom science fiction is mostly just Star Wars and Star Trek and fantasy are a series of Lord of the Rings clones. When I talk to many younger science fiction fans in the LGBT community, many have never heard of Darkover, so I encourage them to go to Amazon if they can't find the books in the (shrinking number of) local stores.

I would encourage the Trust to reach out to published millennial science fiction or fantasy writers, even if they are not current Darkover fans, to be published in a special anthology, to bring new blood and a new perspective. They should include not just those of Celtic or Spanish heritage (always a strong part of the audience) but a wide diverse group of millennial writers from all cultural backgrounds, including indigenous writers, who can bring Darkover into the 21st century . (A number of indigenous writers in both the US and Canada are producing some amazing fantasy and magic realism these days. Afrofuturist stories are increasingly popular. The first anthology of Iraqi science fiction and fantasy in English was published in the UK in 2017).

Back in 1972, in Darkover Landfall, Marion Bradley said the crashed ship was originally destined for a mining colony. As one who lives in a region where there are many extractive industries, it is clear in the 21st century that those industries these days are extremely diverse with employees from all over the world (especially if they have specific engineering or technical expertise). Although she concentrated on the New Hebrides commune, she also said the passengers worked for companies that would be operated on the Coronis Colony.

That would open opportunities for millennial writers who can repeat Darkover's earlier success by, while staying as true as possible to the Darkover canon, give the younger audience a way of seeing themselves living on Darkover in the various ages of its history just as we did back in the 70s.

DJR: What inspired your story in Crossroads of Darkover? How did you balance writing in someone else’s world and being true to your own creative imagination?

RR: In 1976, after I read The Shattered Chain and the story of how Magda Lorne took an oath under duress, I wrote a fan letter to Marion Bradley about how my father, as prisoner of war of the Japanese in the Second World War, was forced to take an oath under duress not to escape. Deborah found the letter in the files and asked for a story based on that idea. The story went through at least a dozen different drafts, and the initial problem (in retrospect) was that the balance was trying to make a “based on a true story” approach into the creative world of Darkover. The endings were always a problem until Deborah suggested a new approach that took the story further away from the true story and more into the world of Darkover.

DJR: Is there another Darkover story you would particularly like to write?

RR: The Darkover stories are often about winter snows or summer forest fires. If you live in a mountain valley like I do, with heavy snow in the winter and perhaps forest fires in the summer, there’s a third story creating hazard that in all my years of reading about Darkover, that has never been tackled. Flooding. In a normal year, rivers rise twice with what are called “freshettes” when the snow melt flows into the river. The first freshette comes in the valleys (usually in March here) as the snow melts, but the second freshette happens in May as the snow melts at the higher elevations, and the water accumulates from hundreds of small streams into the creeks and then the rivers. In years that aren’t “normal” with heavier snow or rain, of if forest fires have created the right conditions, then there are floods, sometimes heavy floods. Very heavy rain at any time can cause flash flooding in the valleys as all the water quickly races down the mountains.

The terrible mud floods recently in southern California show just how devastating a post-fire flood can be, destroying everything in its path.

How would be people of Darkover (with or without laran) deal with floods? That could create stories in any era of Darkover history.

DJR: What have you written recently? What is your favorite of your published works and why?

RR: Most of my writing has been non-fiction.

My favourite was published a couple of magazine articles when I was just staring out in the 1970s, about the Canadian journalist Kathleen Blake “Kit” Coleman, who was the first woman ever officially accredited by the United States government as a war correspondent during the Spanish American War. Unfortunately, as I was following up and working up a book on her story (as a then unpublished book writer) an academic study of Coleman's career was published and that killed the market for a possible more popular account.

I am best known for co-writing the first computer manual on how to search the Internet (five years before Google started) Researching on the Internet,  published in 1995.

I have written three non-fiction investigative histories. The first, and my second favourite work, was King of the Mob Rocco Perri and the Women Who Ran His Rackets, story of Rocco Perri “the Al Capone of Canada” and his wife Bessie Perri. It was Bessie who really ran the gang, so she was the only woman and the only Jewish woman in history to run an Italian Mafia outfit. The sequel was Undercover,Cases of the RCMP's Most Secret Operative,  the story of Frank Zaneth, which retold the story of Canada's Prohibition booze and drug rackets from the cop's point of view. The third was A River Kwai Story The Sonkrai Tribunal, about the River Kwai “Railway of Death” and the post war war crimes trials.

DJR: What lies ahead for you?

RR: I am working (or juggling) three projects at the moment. One is a science fiction murder mystery set in northwestern British Columbia in the far future, which is in its early stages. I am working on investigative non-fiction account of the copyright wars from the creators' (as opposed to the lawyers') point of view which I hope to wrap up by the middle of 2018. I am beginning preliminary research on a family history after I f0und from genealogical research that the “family business” for many of my eighteenth century ancestors was for at least five generations from 1700 to 1800 were acting as privateers during the various age of fighting sail wars of the period.

DJR: Anything else you’d like our readers to know about you, Darkover, or life in general?

RR: I wanted a creative hobby that got me away from writing so when I have the time I scratch build space ships and science fiction scenes. You can find them at

Robin Rowland lives in Kitimat, British Columbia, a town in a northern mountain valley, which he says has a microclimate that closely resembles Darkover. Before retiring to his old
home town, he spent 30 years as a news producer and photographer for Canada's television networks. In 1995, he co-wrote Researching on the Internet, the first computer manual on how to search the internet. He is mostly a non-fiction author, specializing in historical investigation, including two books on Canada's Prohibition gangsters. During the Second World his father, who became a prisoner of war after the Japanese occupied Singapore, was forced along with the other prisoners to take an oath not to escape from the prison camp. That became known as the Seralang Barracks incident and a full account is found in Robin's book A River Kwai Story: The Sonkrai Tribunal, and the original idea behind this story.

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