Today we have Science Fiction author Albert Wendland talking about his characters and how he writes and develops them. We’re happy to welcome Albert to Ink Heist and we hope you enjoy his post as much as we do.
Writing and Developing My Main Characters
By Albert Wendland, author of In a Suspect Universe
The novel, In a Suspect Universe, as well as the book that preceded it, The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes, takes place in an interstellar future where human society is dominated by “Clips,” pieces of alien technology left over from the galactic past. These artifacts have been very beneficial to humanity, but they’ve also weakened our self-reliance, our human sense of purpose, and a clear direction to our future.
The protagonist in both novels is Mykol Ranglen, a loner, a space wanderer, an admirer of alien landscapes (because of what he finds in them, a substitute for the relationships he can’t seem to establish), and a believer in the universe’s capacity for wonder and the sublime. In some ways he feels he depends on alien worlds more than people, because he sees people as too obsessed with self-interest or the pursuit of Clips. He’s both “lost, and found” on other planets, knowing he can’t “escape his own humanity” and yet not really wanting to. Though he’s a reclusive writer, he always will answer a call from the people who need him. The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes is an introduction to his ways, his attitudes, and his determined yet elusive self (he’s pushed out of his solitude to help a friend find a buried artifact on a foreign planet, before she or other people are killed).
In a Suspect Universe, the prequel but second novel of the series, is more special in terms of Ranglen. It’s a deep probe into his past to discover his hidden motivations, the start of his fears of what the Clips are doing to humanity, the root of why he’s both a romantic and yet alone, the beginning of his disturbing discoveries about the aliens who built the Clips, and his one-time innocent dream of escape to another world. In short, it tells the story of how he became the private but compassionate figure we’ve seen in him.
A major factor in his development here is another character who gets a lot of attention in the book (a third of it is in her point-of-view), Riley Campanera, the woman who finds Ranglen in the desert at the start of the story and who at first is very reluctant to help him. She too is a loner, preoccupied with the ruins of the galactic past, and yet she’s bitter over being abandoned by both her parents and an ex-lover (she’s the result of what might be wrong with this future society). Because of their similarities, you’d expect a romance to build between them, but it doesn’t happen. He already wants someone else. She becomes his counter foil instead, his unwanted companion, his critic, his fellow traveler in other worlds, his “alter ego,” his “conscience,” until they realize just how entwined their stories are, how each is a crisis for the other’s development.
I don’t want to say more and give away plot, but I will stress that for all the interstellar world-hopping in the book, for all the threats of ancient secrets from the past, the dangers of exotic alien planets, and the many mysterious and unexplained happenings, the story is still primarily about character, about people struggling to find who they are, what they want, and how to relate to a universe that intends either to victimize, or to ignore them—a “suspect” universe.
About Albert Wendland
Albert Wendland has made a career out of his life-long interests in science fiction–and photography, art, film, and travel. He teaches popular fiction, literature, and writing at Seton Hill University, where he has been director of its MFA in Writing Popular Fiction (the program famous for its exclusive attention to genre writing). His SF novel, The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes, was a starred pick-of-the-week by Publisher’s Weekly, and the prequel, In a Suspect Universe, was published in 2018, describing a story from the protagonist’s past. He’s now writing a book of poetry supposedly written by the protagonist of both works. He’s also written and published a book-length study of science fiction, a chapter in Many Genres, One Craft, a poem in Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books, and several articles on SF and writing. He enjoys landscape photography, astronomy, graphic novels, and the”sublime.”