10 Questions with Alf Fry
When he was a child, Alf Fry (AKA George Adams and Farrold Saxon) immigrated to New Zealand from a small town in Sussex in the 1960s. He’s been a counselling psychologist for many years, working mainly in the field of recovery from sexual abuse and assault trauma. Writing fiction provides him some escape and emotional outlet from his work, though his work nearly always brings him in touch with the wonder of personal recovery. His work is also why he frequently finds himself writing stories that explore good and okay sex rather than abusive sex. Science fiction writing, in particular, has been a platform for self-exploration and expression and for reaching out to engage and entertain.
Tell us a bit about yourself! Where do you call home and what do you write?
My life is ruled by my dog, Greta Frootey Barker, who also has her own ‘Dog of Love’ Facebook page, which she makes me keep for her public profile.
With my parents and younger sister, I was exported to New Zealand at age eight, in 1965, from the UK. As an eight year-old immigrant, I sometimes had the experience of being an alien, surrounded by a different culture even though we spoke the same language.
Throughout much of my life, the question of whether our family should have come to New Zealand or stayed in England was never far from mind. In some ways, my late childhood and teen life were built around showing my parents they had made the right choice, despite the isolation from extended family—and the fact that through the 70s and 90s, the UK flourished while the NZ economy struggled.
As an adult, I fell in love with the Karioi Mountain area, west of Whaingaroa Harbour, where this delightful mountain goes right down to the Tasman Ocean. Frances and I now own a trailer home and an acre of mostly very steep land on Karioi (with native and a few exotic nut trees) overlooking the west coast up to Auckland. While Hamilton has been my home for most of my life, and I often identify myself as a ‘Hamiltonian’, Karioi is where I feel most refreshed and connected with nature.
A lot of my writing is about cultural relativity, reflections on different political and religious systems, the experience of sometimes feeling like an alien, and also comparing thoughtful with rigid ideas of what is right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy, and so on. My writing is all existential science fiction and is often about families, groups or individuals going to new worlds to start a new and better life, but sacrificing links with their family and communities of origin, and making discoveries about themselves as well as their surroundings. This is what my characters walk through in whatever quest or adventure they are engaged in.
I’m also interested in the interplay of technology, culture, and social engineering. For the last twenty years or more, I’ve been particularly interested in imagining a society in which sex robots have become an accepted part of everyday life and how this might make our species more healthy, and how it might make us less healthy.
I tend to write stuff that others wouldn’t write and mainstream publishers would run away from. I also like setting myself challenges, such as writing a novel with no human characters but aliens whose biology and society are different from ours, and are sexually dimorphous but with the dimorphism expressed mentally rather than physically.
In another novel, I set up a premise of a remote planet whose inhabitants don’t know how babies are made and have had none for three decades. Then a character from this culture visits a world of sexual entertainment. There’s a fair bit of romance and discovery of emotional and sexual intimacy in most of my writing.
What drew you to that particular genre?
Freedom of imagination (so long as it’s embedded in credible science) in science fiction. You can take a social or technological concept and extrapolate it, to create the foundation of a story. There’s not often much need to do masses of research, but rather to find ways of being convincing about something imaginary, like a world where adults have no idea how babies are made. This suits me. I was twelve years old in 1969, so both the Apollo space programme and Star Trek confirmed my interest in science fiction, which was born out of an interest in astronomy. Science fiction doesn’t need to be embedded in historical accuracy or in the present time—rather, it can challenge the cultural assumptions of the current time and explore possibilities rather than realities. The challenge is making all this seem convincing. It’s an exploration, for me, of the human condition in ordinary or radically imagined settings.
What’s your best known work?
My best known work is Postcards, under the nom de plume George Adams. It’s a light-hearted science fiction family drama set in 2011 Waikato and explores the dynamics and impact of genetic manipulation of one family group by aliens. (Oh, the joys of describing the pungent, resinous fragrance of Manuka trees for an international readership.) If you got a laugh or some warm fuzzies out of The Almighty Johnsons, or 800 Words on TV, you would likely enjoy Postcards. Postcards has sold best in the UK where its New Zealand flavour seems to be appreciated as something special, particularly by people who have visited here.
I consider my biggest writing achievements so far are The Game in Sector 218 by A H Fry and Where-Stand-All: episodes in the foundation of Hodrin civilization, translated into human language by Farrold Saxon. The latter is a folk history of an alien species, with no human characters involved. It was quite a challenge to write; lots of world-building without becoming boring and making these aliens relatable yet radically different from us.
What inspired you to write it?
The Game in Sector 218 is published under my own name, something I felt very brave to do because it is a sort of tribute to (or maybe parody of) 1970s sexualised science fiction. It took me out of my own comfort zone putting my name to it. I wanted to write about sex as something that is okay to value and celebrate. I think sex gets lots of bad press, sometimes deserved, but it’s time for people to be reminded it’s not always a bad or problematic thing. Sexual violence in novels and TV and movies is accepted far too much.
The Game in Sector 218 is also about a network of Artificial Intelligences governing human affairs and about those humans who aren’t happy about this, amongst other themes. The opening premise is a world where the pampered, now adult, generation of childhood settlers on an isolated planet don’t know how babies are made, then one of them, in his late 40’s, asks their guardian AI about it, initiating ‘The Baby Game’.
Where-Stand-All: episodes in the foundation of Hodrin civilization was inspired by the thought of writing a novel with only aliens in it; where there are real differences in the mental capacities of male and female. Females have verbal and reasoning skills, males having telepathic powers. In essence, it’s a novel about difference being accepted, understood, worked with compassionately, with implied (not explicit) comparison with human societies characterised by prejudice. Plenty of adventure and alien sex in the mix, of course.
Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter, panster or somewhere in between?
I do a bit of plotting out but am essentially a panster. This is what I most enjoy. It’s also what makes me take so long to complete a novel because this approach requires such a lot of ongoing revision to maintain internal consistency. There have been occasions where I’ve got a fair way through a book and realised it would be better to start it a generation earlier!
I’ve also found when writing a sequel thatI do better by being more of a plotter. As a panster, it’s not just the bit of the book on the horizon that develops, but new elements that fit in the previous chapters make themselves known. This can be exciting, but again makes the job of completing a book so much longer. Right now, I’ve got a handful of books where I’ve completed the first chapters or a full draft, so I will need to become more of a plotter so I can finish them before I’m 110. I just hope it doesn’t take the life out of the stories
What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve researched for your writing?
The potential for sex robots to make our society safer or more dangerous, more or less humane, healthier or unhealthier, is something I researched for my novel The Game in Sector 218. There are various moral and philosophical debates around sex robots, actual research into their use, and discussions about the difficulties of conducting research into it, particularly as it relates to paedophilia.
We’re a messed up species around managing our wide range of sexualities and misunderstandings and abuses in this aspect of human relationships. It is conceivable that in some ways, and not in others, sex robots may provide a lot of benefit in the near future. I think this is something important to explore.
What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?
Various ‘coming of age’ themes, such as taking charge and recognising having taken charge of one’s own life, are close to my heart. I write about emotional connection growing out of sexual attraction and sexual relationship, about loss of emotional-sexually intimate relationships through death, about intimate relationships that seem to have ended but are then recovered, and also about moving on incidents, such as one of the aliens in one of my stories finds all her years of ambition for herself and her tribe have failed but then chances across a new adventure.
The Game in Sector 218 includes a fair number of scenes of genuine emotional/sexual intimacy and others with the portrayal of sex as a commodity. In the final page of this novel, the main character recognises he has taken charge of his own life (compared with his previous life in which all his needs were provided for). He realises that he wants to protect and nurture his relationship with his life-partner, her two sons and their baby daughter, and that he has had the courage and personal resources to play his part in making this happen and will continue to do so. (A conventional, heterosexual ending to an unconventional story, I admit.)
I do think, for most of us in New Zealand, we still have enough personal freedom and power so that, by the time we’re 40 or 50, we must confront the notion that, whatever our background, the life we have is largely the life we have made for ourselves or allowed to happen to ourselves.
Who are your literary influences? In what way?
I consider Robert Silverberg and Stanislaw Lem my models in the exploration through science fiction of the human condition—worlds within and worlds without. They explore this business of humans having or dreaming of having close and intimate relationships that must always end in sorrow one way or another. They also cover the stuff of individuals experiencing inclusion and acceptance versus exclusion and rejection.
I’m not much into space operas, though there seems to be a trend towards them having greater depth of characterisation and social insight in the last few years. James Tiptree Junior (Alice Bradley Sheldon) was exploring themes of human existence such as suicide and euthanasia when I was a young adult. When I was twenty, I read Janet Morris’ High Couch of Silistra set on a world where prostitute is a highly elevated social position, and flora and fauna are described in some detail, creating a strong backdrop of natural environment. I find the sanitised cover of the 2016 edition of High Couch of Silistra quite disappointing and misleading about the content of the book, compared with the 1977 cover. I’m 63 now, so I’ve had quite a few ‘standout moments’ in reading science fiction and where it can go.
What books are on your bedside table right now?
I’ve just finished reading Multitude by Peter Joseph Swanson—a corrupted and disintegrating human clone research station located inside an asteroid. Swanson is quite a prolific writer in various genres, published through Indie publishers. This was a captivating story, with quirky and relatably authentic characters and well-constructed and original plot, with some engaging existential themes, and about one spelling mistake per page in the true tradition of self-publishing.
In contrast to this, early this year I obtained a first edition copy (1962) in paperback of Alfred Coppel’s Dark December. It’s a small novel written in a style that hasn’t dated, despite the pages now being browned and brittle—a real treasure.
Last and most important, where can we find your books/stories?
All of my books can be found in paperback or on Kindle on Amazon. The best way to find them is to go to Amazon or Amazon Kindle, search on the title and author name. For Postcards and sequel Holly and Rebekah it’s George Adams; for Where-Stand-All: episodes in the foundation of Hodrin civilisation it’s Farrold Saxon. For The Game in Sector 218, it’s A H Fry.
Follow Alf’s writing on these platforms!
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