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September 14, 2009

Science Fiction vs. Mysteries: A Matter of Perception

 DSC_0075                                                                                 TLC favorite James O. Born is back with us for Manly Mondays. He returns as a new man – a writer of science fiction. Jim talks about how he became a cross-genre author named James O’Neal.

Science Fiction vs. Mysteries: A Matter of Perception

By James O. Born/James O’Neal


The last time I wrote for the Chronicles, it concerned buying lacrosse equipment for my daughter and suffering the prejudice of the Sports Authority clerk who couldn't believe a cute little girl could be involved in such a rough sport. I can assure you, from my career in law enforcement, that women are just as capable of drawing blood as men.

Perceptions are exactly what I want to talk about today.

I've written five crime novels under the name James O. Born. Because I have spent much of my life involved in law enforcement, people perceived the novels as being autobiographical when, in fact, they were anti-biographical. The novels contained all the quips and quick action that I wish I had taken in real life but the books were simply novels. I made the procedure and interactions between cops as realistic as possible but the plots were largely from my imagination. In magazine interviews or even casual conversations at Bouchercon, I could rarely convince people that the stories were made up.

A couple of months ago I published my first science fiction novel. It's called The Human Disguise and it's under the pen name of James O'Neal. Several crime fiction friends and bookstore owners asked me why I did something so different. The real answer is that it is not that different. In fact, the police procedure and tactics in The Human Disguise is quite a bit more realistic than many of the popular TV shows about crime today. I've yet to find a cop who didn't think The Human Disguise was more realistic than CSI. HumanDisguisesmall


follows detective Tom Wilner as he tries to piece together a gangland shooting in southern Florida twenty years in the future. That's the storyline. It's the setting and subplots which set it apart from crime stories. Like many cops, his personal life is a mess. And one of the men he’s investigating has hooked up with Wilner’s estranged wife. In real life today no cop would be allowed to investigate someone who had stolen his wife. But in the future, when manpower is short and resources are almost nonexistent, the boss tells Wilner, "We don't have time for conflicts of interest. Find out who did the shooting and why, then close the case." And that's what adds a wrinkle to the story.

As a native Floridian, I looked at the way things were when I was growing up in the 1960s, how Florida looked when I moved away in the 1980s and how it looks today, then simply extrapolated the changes to the next generation. I took into account possible pandemics, the effect of terrorism, floundering economies and a few other more fanciful possibilities.

Although I completed the book three years ago, a few of my projections are starting to emerge. In The Human Disguise, Florida's tax structure has crumbled, forcing all the public safety services to be combined into one agency called the Unified Police Force or UPF. Several different pandemics have swept the globe and Florida is depopulated to the point of near wasteland. A report recently came out that showed Florida's population decreasing for the first time in fifty years. That was just a lucky guess.

I've been a fan of science fiction since I could first read. A story is as real and believable as the author makes it. I wanted more of a challenge than just writing about the things I hear other cops say. So I embarked on this new adventure to write something completely different than anything I had tried before. What I found is no matter how unusual you try to make things, somehow the world and society catches up to the point that it's no longer science fiction.

The truth is largely a matter of perception.



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Anti-biographical." How come I never thought to use that term before when talking about my writing??

Great stuff, James. No man could be more manly for the TLC readers. (Except maybe Blond Bond, but we won't go there today.) Thanks for being our guest!

And if the population of Florida is truly decreasing, maybe we'll be able to afford that beachside condo after all. Thanks for the tip!

Great blog and thanks for being part of our Manly Mondays!

I am not normally a SciFi fan, but I enjoyed your other books, so I'm looking forward to this one!

Both of your books look like interesting reads. I will have to add them to my shopping list.

The nice things about fiction. You get to say what you wanted to say without getting fired. You can also lose that 20 lbs. without going to the gym.

I was a fan of science fiction for years before I seriously read mystery. I didn't like either genre as a kid but right around the time I was searching for strong women characters (usually written by strong women) s.f. underwent momentous changes and I discovered exactly what i wanted to read. And discovered the s.f. fan community which is home to me. Around the time some of those authors were having problems getting published, mystery underwent the same huge change. And I began reading in THIS genre. And it too is home to me.
I will say, though, interestingly enough that while s.f. readers and fans never disregard mystery and many of us read it, I've encountered a lot less respect from mystery readers - including outright "I won't read that stuff" when I talk about my love of science fiction.

Andi---I used to write romances. There's no prejudice in the world like the massive one against romance reading. Add the assumption that the books are only read by women, and you get the double whammy.

Maybe we need a sf reading list. What's cool right now? Any suggestions for newbies?

Welcome to TLC and to another genre, Jim.
I love classic sci-fi, including Ray Bradbury, but welcome new reads.
Tell us your favorites, TLC.

Hitchhiker's Guide!

"..so long and thanks for all the fish..."

Thanks for the welcome. I love TLC .

Andi, yu hit it on the nose. What most people don't realize is that SF encompasses a wide range of stories just ike mystery goes from serial kilers to intelligent cozies.


Jim, good for you for doing another genre. I was addicted to Edmund Hamilton's "Captain Future" series when I was a kid, and it's good to see science-fiction is alive and well.

And remember.... "42"....

Oh, goodie! I love Sci-fi, and I love Jim Born (Don't tell Mrs. Born).

Has anyone noticed the striking resemblance between our Jim and another Jim?

I think you should always introduce yourself this way:
"The name is Born. James Born."

And Robert Ferrigno married the thriller genre to sci fi to produce the amazing PRAYERS FOR THE ASSASSIN and the subsequent SINS OF THE ASSASSIN, so you're in good company, Jim.

I forgot about the "Hitchhiker's Guide." What a hilarious series. It slipped under the snob radar because it wasn't marketed as science fiction.

I don't normally read sci fi, but I do like sci fi movies. Strange, I know. (I particularly liked Mystery Science Theatre 3000.) But Jim, it's weird that the situations you wrote as sci fi in THE HUMAN DISGUISE are starting to come true today. Scary!

If you want to read Science Fiction about women's issues written by a strong woman then pick up anything by Sherri Tepper. I love it when SF & Mystery mix. .... Mo

Welcome, James!

I haven't been reading tons of SF lately, but here are a few favorites I go back to time and time again.

"Califia's Daughters" by Leigh Richardson (aka Laurie R. King) is King's answer to "The Handmaiden's Tale" -- a utopian/dystopian world which includes a pandemic virus that preferentially kills male children. Great, great stuff on every level.

Naomi Novik's "Temeraire" series is a sort of speculative historical work set during the Napoleonic wars -- only everyone has dragons as well as ships. Her world is conceived in outstanding detail, including how dragon riders fit into the rigid class structure of England and how dragons from different country might be treated. Super fun.

Steven Brust's work is always excellent, but I especially recommend his older books "The Phoenix Guard" and "500 Years After". If Dumas wrote SF, and wrote better, and employed more humor, these are the books he'd write. Lots of swashes buckled, palace intrigues, and the best comrades-in-arms to deal with it all.

For straight-up military SF, my two favorites are Tanya Huff's "Valor" series and David Weber's "Honor Harrington" series (note that Weber's work can still be understood if you skip the long expositions on military hardware and tactics -- and some of the politics -- if you want to hang more with the action).

Then there's fantasy . . .

Soooo....WOW! You all have a lot to say!
I'm still stuck in 1984.
You go Jim!
Just saying.

Hey James - do you wear different hats when you write so you can remember which name you are writing as . . . kidding.

Ha Ha, Kerry! I read David Weber and yes I skip the military jargon, amazes me how much of that can be skipped and the story picked up no problem. I like Tanya Huff's Valor series as well.

Here are a few more:

S.L. Viehl, Stardoc series (writing gets better as the series goes on)
Michael Z. Williamson, Freehold
Catherine Asaro, Catch the Lightening
Greg Bear, Darwin's Radio
Alexander Besher, RIM
Emma Bull, Finder
Stephen L. Burns, Flesh & Silver
Mark Fabi, Wyrm
James Alan Gardner, Expendable
William Gibson, Neuromancer
Karin Lowachee, Burndive (first of three books)
Susan R. Matthews, An Exchange of Hostages
Elizabeth Moon, Once a Hero

Wait, wait! I can't write down these titles fast enough!

(But keep 'em coming.)

If you want romance, corporate intrigue, historical romance, mystery, first love, love lost, chocolate, love regained, chocolate, smuggling, snuggling, chocolate smuggling, and tall ships on the bounding main (with a sprinkling of immortal cyborgs), you want Kage Baker's 'Company' novels and collections.

Strong, strong female characters she writes; Mendoza, Mother Egypt and The Empress of Mars and more. Several of you will be in love with Lewis, if not Joseph, in nothing flat.

No sliderules required.

Someone is dissing science fiction? DUNE is science fiction.

I rest my case.

Jim, I look forward to reading the new book. Whenever I read an author saying things like "I wanted more of a challenge" and "I embarked on this new adventure to write something completely different" my respect skyrockets. Good for you!

Becky said it was "weird" that my predictions are coming true. I would prefer the term "Brilliant".

You guys rock. Harley has starred in at least one SF piece on the Showtime series remake of Outer Limits and it is a really great episode. My Sf is not like that. Just speculation.


I really like the writing style of JAMES O NEAL its feel good to read anything about hum keep sharing..!

'm working on a science fiction novel about a group of college students who are being hunted down by people in another country. How can I present large quantities of information at the beginning of the book without it sounding cheesy or boring?

I don't think there's anybody living who has done everything throughout their life perfectly in every way.

People I doubt that the world be perfect, but often act as if they were. make mistakes in different ways, making mistakes is human. but even so the world is beautiful with all of us living in it.

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