Northwest NEWS

July 19, 1999

Features

Through Alien Eyes

Local science fiction author's reputation grows with third novel

by Deborah Stone, features writer

   Alien species and their worlds have long been a fascination with many people. Films, television shows, and books abound with mystifying tales that seek to push the boundaries of imaginations further and create an insatiable curiosity for more of this type of science fiction genre.

   Local award-winning author Amy Thomson of Woodinville started reading science fiction when she was about twelve. She was soon captivated by stories of fantasy and the unknown, never realizing that her fascination would lead her to write her own books in the future. While in college, Thomson started attending science fiction conventions and meeting writers. She began doing her own writing in 1983.

   "I have always been intrigued with science fiction, as it's so full of possibilities," explains Thomson. "I can literally write about anything, and I'm not stuck with the parameters of the real world. The horizons are wide open."

   After graduating from the University of Idaho with a degree in agriculture (she had once thought she would live on the side of a mountain and work the land), she moved to Seattle and attended the Clarion West Writer's Workshop.

   "The workshop honed my writing skills and made me think of myself as a professional writer," comments Thomson.

   It was another nine years before her first book, Virtual Girl, was published, garnering her the coveted John W. Campbell Award for best new science fiction writer. Her second book, The Color of Distance, was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick award.

   A third book, Through Alien Eyes, has recently been published, and is currently receiving praise from Kirkus Reviews and from Publisher's Weekly, which called Thomson "an excellent prose stylist."

   Through Alien Eyes is a follow-up novel to The Color of Distance. With this two-part series, Thomson shows how two alien cultures change themselves as they discover each other.

   In The Color of Distance, the alien amphibian species Tendu live in a rainforest on the planet Tiangi, an uninhabitable world for humans. Dr. Juna Saari, a human, was accidentally left on Tiangi and now must learn to survive in this world or die. With the help of the Tendu, she is totally transformed and altered to adapt to the alien environment, and through this process, she begins to see herself in a different way.

   Through Alien Eyes details Juna's return to Earth accompanied by two Tendu. The Tendu must learn how to adapt to a human environment, but they encounter fear and negativity in an environmentally distressed Earth of the future and it is unclear whether humanity will accept the Tendu and the biological gifts they can offer.

   This science fiction series reflects Thomson's interest and expertise in rainforest ecology and biology, linguistics, and anthropology. "In order to bring an entire planet to life in your head," Thomson says, "you have to create an endless array of details, many of which never actually appear in the book. The picture is bigger than the frame. For instance, the alien Tendu speak in color and pattern. I had to transform that visual language into dialogue the reader could understand."

   The author's extensive travels helped inspire her writing and her experiences with other cultures enabled her to create the Tendu culture. For Tendu names and vocabulary, she mostly used an Australian Aboriginal language dictionary.

   "I collect dictionaries of obscure foreign languages," says Thomson, "and when I would get stuck about what to call something, I would pull out a dictionary and flip through it until a word caught my eye. Then I would sometimes alter the spelling if it seemed appropriate."

   All three of Thomson's books have a strong female protagonist who learns to become more assertive and independent in a changing society. According to the author, these female characters are created to provide strong and technologically competent role models for the girls and young women who read her books.

   Thomson spends at least four hours a day writing and keeps a notebook to jot down ideas, library references, and quotes, as well as makes drawings of what she thinks her characters look like. She says, "The really good ideas and the characters stay in my head, though and I don't need to write them down. The story builds inside and it's like a jigsaw puzzle as I fit the pieces together."

   Thomson's work has received much positive feedback and she is thrilled that readers like her characters and the worlds she creates. The only negative comments she has heard stem from the use of her stories to make commentaries on various social issues such as homelessness and the rainforests.

   "My writing has a strong sense of morals, and this sometimes makes people uncomfortable," explains Thomson. "I try to write stories that challenge people and make them think about the conditions that exist in society. If this makes people uncomfortable, that's okay. The fact that they were affected by my work is good."

   She will be facilitating the science fiction book group at Barnes & Noble in Woodinville on the second Thursday of each month.