Mark Roman is the pen-name of a bioinformatics scientist who works at a research institute near Cambridge, UK. He lives in London with his wife and two children, aged 9 and 10. He wrote his sci-fi comedy, The Ultimate Inferior Beings, many years ago when he was young and foolish. Now that he is old and foolish he has had it published by Cogwheel Press.
You can find Mark on Facebook pretty much anytime, no matter what your time zone. Read on for the full interview!
For me, writing has always been just a fun hobby, nothing more. I love devising silly, humorous stories that lack all pretentions of depth or meaning, and are peopled by bonkers characters embroiled in crazy situations. A bit like home life, in fact. My friends and family tend to humour my literary aspirations. (Many of them either know a proper author personally, or, in some cases, are a proper author themselves!) But I don’t mind. If my fun can transmit itself to the reader of the book, then it is job done. Several people have told me the book really cheered them up … although I don’t know how miserable they were to start off with.
I grew up watching the half-hour Tom Baker episodes of Dr Who on public television. Do you think there’s something quintessentially British about blending science fiction and humor (humour)?
The funny thing is, when I was a little nipper, watching the very first Dr Who stories in black-and-white (yes, I am that old), the programme wasn’t about humour at all. It was about scaring the living daylights out of little kiddies like me – which it managed to do quite successfully. The humour, such as it was, came with subsequent doctors.
I don’t think it’s just a British thing, though. I used to find Star Trek hilarious – though maybe not always for the right reasons. And there have been plenty of US movies mixing comedy and sci-fi, my fave being Men in Black.
These giants don’t bother me at all as I’m not trying to compete with them. I’m just carving out my own barmy little world, hoping that a few visitors will swing by and enjoy it with me.
I really liked the fact that the humans in your story have the “weird” names, and the aliens have the old-fashioned, respectably English ones. Were you trying to say something about the nature of perspective in defining “us” versus “them?”
Believe me, there are no deep-seated messages in this book. If there are, they got there by accident. The name thing was just a little joke – a reaction against the very silly names one often gets in sci-fi. So the humans have silly names – jixX, anaX, twaX – while the aliens have sensible names like Chris, Jeremy and Sir Roderick, although Sir Roderick is borderline (with apologies to any Sir Rodericks who might be reading this).
What’s on your bookshelf right now? What makes you devour one book, and never get around to finishing another?
I’m keen to read Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies as I loved Wolf Hall. (But I am also leaving space on my shelf for the other Cogwheel Press books when they come out in paperback!) I love anything with a bit of mystery, a few laughs, lovely writing and containing something clever or original. Often I don’t finish a book just because I’ve been attracted by the charms of another.
Yes, small presses can identify books that provide a good read but which, for one reason or another, a traditional publisher might not see dollars in. I have read several small-press, and even self-published, books recently that I loved, and cannot understand why they are not in my local Waterstones.
The premise for my current series came to me on a trip to my mailbox. Did The Ultimate Inferior Beings take shape in a flash of insight, or was it a gradual process?
Not so much a flash as a feeble glow of such low intensity that I spent months groping about in the dark for a plot. I would have preferred the flash thing.
Having said that, the ending did come in a bit of a flash. I’d been wondering how on Earth to draw together all the loopy strands I’d started, when, suddenly, I had it. It was so obvious! And the last third of the book virtually wrote itself. Anyone reading it might think I planned it all, just like clever writers do. So please tell them I did.
Are you going to be bringing us more stories in the same universe? What else are you working on?
I’m shifting universes a little for the next one as I’m collaborating with another writer. It’s about the first human colony on Mars in 2089. A small workforce of builder robots have been sent ahead to build the base and make it ready for the human colonists. Unfortunately, the robots are a bit useless and make a hash of things. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but I’m still waiting for that flash.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your book(s)?
The Ultimate Inferior Beings will be available for free on Kindle on the 10th and 11th of November. Of course, you can always buy the paperback version, which costs proper money, but is better for certain jobs around the house, like propping up that wonky table leg in the spare bedroom. (You wouldn’t do that with a Kindle, would you). Plus, having the paperback version makes it easier to solve the puzzle at the back of the book, to sell it on to your local second-hand bookshop, or to wrap up and give to your favourite nephew for Christmas.