To fans of science fiction, Ian Whates will need no introduction. An award-winning writer, editor and publisher, I was delighted when he agreed to submit a story to SHARKPUNK.
Sharkpunk: What, do you think, is the reason for people's enduring fascination with sharks?
Ian Whates: Sharks are streamlined killing machines, perfectly adapted to their environment. Enough of the hunter-gatherer’s fear of predation lurks in our genetic heritage to make them unnerving. At the same time we can’t help but admire just how fit for purpose they are. Add to that the fact that because of their habitat you don’t see a shark coming (unless you’re tooled up with specialist equipment) until that ominous fin breaks the surface (cue theme music to Jaws), and how could we not be fascinated? People are intrigued by killers in general, whether human or animal – raptors, big cats, wolves – sharks have all that going for them with an added dose of the sinister.
SP: What was the inspiration behind your story “Sharkadelic”?
IW: A few years ago I watched a documentary investigating why great white sharks had disappeared for more than a year from a territory they were known to frequent. The conclusion was that a pod of orcas were responsible, that this particular group had perfected a method of preying on sharks, even great whites, and their presence was enough to cause the sharks to flee. I found the idea that even an apex predator such as the great white had reason to fear, and possessed the intelligence to know it was outmatched and communicate that to others of its kind, remarkable. That was the starting point for the story. Where the rest of it came from, I’ve no idea, except that I was able to weave in persistent but unsubstantiated reports of great whites being spotted off the coast of Cornwall. Other than that, well… making stuff up is what I do.
SP: What challenges, or surprises, did you encounter in writing your story?
IW: I’d never honestly considered writing a shark-related story before being approached for this anthology. When I was, two stories occurred to me, both very different. One was a fairly action-packed pulp-ish tale involving genetically enhanced sharks being utilised to guard a precious shipping convoy (which seemed perfectly in line with the anthology’s brief), the other was a psychological horror set in the art world. It was the latter story that gripped me, that demanded to be written. To be honest, the story itself flowed with uncharacteristic ease, though I reworked the end section a couple of times before I was happy with it. My greatest challenge was whether or not the anthology’s editor would like a story whose nature veered away from the guidelines. Fortunately, he did, and “Sharkaneer”, the sharks-guarding-shipping story, remains unwritten. Sharkpunk 2, maybe? [SP: Definitely!]
SP: If you had to pick a favourite shark, which would it be?
IW: Ooh, that’s a toughie. I’m going to keep the definition of ‘shark’ pretty narrow, so that I’m not tempted to consider such graceful giants as the manta ray, but even then I’m not sure I can decide between three: the basking shark because they’re so huge and atypically harmless, and because I stand a chance of actually seeing one off the UK coast someday (I haven’t yet, though I have twice been out on boats looking for them), the great white because they are so formidable, not to mention persecuted, and the hammerhead, because, I mean, how could you not? They are so stunningly bizarre. Okay, three is cheating, but hey, I’m an author, I’m allowed to bend the rules.
SP: Do you have a favourite fictional shark (in books, comics, films, or video games)?
IW: I’m going to have to be very predictable here and go with the shark in Jaws, primarily because I’ve never really taken note of sharks in fiction, being fascinated enough by them in real life. So, when it comes to picking a favourite fictional shark I’m choosing from a field of, ehm… one. (Unless you include the sequels, but hey, we all know that the first was the best.)
Ian Whates lives in a quiet Cambridgeshire village with his partner, Helen, and Honey, a manic cocker spaniel. Ian is the author of six novels to date, most recently Pelquin’s Comet, released in April 2015. Also, the Helen, a manic cocker spaniel, and a tailless black cat. He City of 100 Rowstrilogy (Angry Robot), and the Noise duology (Solaris). Sixty-odd of his short stories have appeared in various venues, two of which were shortlisted for BSFA Awards, and his second collection Growing Pains (PS Publishing) appeared in 2013. Ian has edited some two dozen anthologies and in 2014 one of these, Solaris Rising 2, was shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award. He has served a term as Overseas Director of SFWA and spent five years as chairman the BSFA, stepping down in 2013. In his spare time Ian runs multiple award-winning independent publisher NewCon Press, which he founded by accident in 2006. Find out more at www.ianwhates.co.uk.
And don't forget - SHARKPUNK is published on Friday!
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