Author Interview: Jason Bengtson on "The Reaches"

Ana: Jason, an excerpt from your novel “The Reaches” was submitted in the ABNA 2010 contest. I remember being delighted with the character of Justin Abelard - an embittered detective who is first introduced to us as he idly considers whether or not to commit suicide that morning; I’m ashamed to say that I laughed out loud while he sardonically weighed whether or not the shame of his survivors having to sort through his porn collection was enough to keep him alive another day. I really liked how you added an undercurrent of cynical witticism to the “science fiction detective” framework you were working from. Can you tell us more about your novel and where it goes from the end of the excerpt? What sorts of themes do you explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience?

Jason: You shouldn't be ashamed. Like so many things we people do, suicide is the perfect setting for a combination of the of the tragic and the ridiculous. Abelard is a strange and formidable figure, but he's still just a person. And people have ridiculous, base, and odd thoughts as a matter of course. Anything else just isn't interesting or realistic in a character. As the book goes on Abelard teams up with a deputy U.N. Marshal who is clearly interested in a former case of Abelard's (and who is more than a little impressed with his legendary status). We discover that Abelard hears voices... voices that give him information about the cases he investigates. It's not until later in the book that we discover how Abelard acquired this horrible gift, and the strange relationship it affords him to the killer. I hope that the ending is as surprising to the reader as it is inevitable.

There's a lot going on in the book... whether that's a good thing or not is up for grabs. There are lots of intentional incongruities designed to raise questions, like why the U.N., with a motto that speaks to equality has as its anthem a composition celebrating emperor Napoleon I, or why the protagonist would dream of falling (something most of us would instead characterize as a nightmare). Probably the biggest theme in the book is the question about the nature of progress. What kind of progress should we aspire towards? This is an important question in America, especially these days. In the novel, progress is symbolized through spatial progress out into the Reaches. Yet this progress, which is a process of acquisition, does nothing for humanity. As a species we're still plagued by poverty, crime, war, and cruelty of every stripe. The colonies are run down, with technology and cultural trappings that seem almost stagnant. Many colonists are so desperate that the only salvation they can imagine has to come from 'angels'. There is a continuous inquiry throughout the text; should we have colonized space? Were we ready? Or should we, rather than trying to acquire more, have been trying to raise our standard of existence? Should we have been trying to advance as a species? In America if you can't sell it, it isn't worth anything anymore. We've become a very one dimensional culture and as a result we're falling behind. It may be time to reexamine our values.

There is also a consistent theme in the novel about the limitations and nature of reality. Is something real just because we all agree that it is? The killer in the book is driven mad when his reality comes crashing down. Is this the risk we all run, when we become too invested in a particular perspective? Or is perspective a legitimate reality in and of itself?

Ana: I really like that your science fiction future faces the same challenges and sorrows that have been with the human race for so long - you haven't just magically wiped out poverty and suffering with the colonization of Mars. What was your inspiration when writing your novel? Were you influenced by a specific author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre?

Jason: My inspiration came from two very remarkable women. One is an ex-girlfriend, the other was an unrequited love. Both raised the question with me of the colonization of space. Both, in their own extraordinary way, argued against my interest in space colonization on similar grounds; they were uncomfortable with humanity cluttering up space, especially when there was so much to be improved upon here. I don't really agree with that perspective, but I found their arguments eloquent and the idea worth exploring. As for adding my voice to the genre, I'm one of those rabble rousers who is never afraid to add their voice to anything.

Ana: It's impressive that you're able to see both sides of the issue like that - and I can imagine that insight is a huge part of writing realistic characters. When I first read the excerpt for “The Reaches”, I was reminded strongly of works like Asimov’s “Lucky Starr” series and the movie “Blade Runner” - I think because of the futuristic, scif-fi detective feel of the novel. If you could compare your novel to any other existing work, which one would it be and why?

Jason: I've only read a little Asimov, but I'm a big fan of Phillip K Dick's work. His work has a delicious "retro-futuristic" feel that clearly influenced my writing. I was also influenced by his tendency to question the nature of reality; another theme that plays heavily in the book. As a mystery, "The Reaches" breaks from the "who done it" formula, becoming more of a "why done it", if that makes sense. As a character I like to think Abelard has more in common with Kurosawa's Yojimbo than anyone else. Fundamentally, Abelard is a guy who does what he does because he doesn't know how to stop. That's why he can't find enough reasons to kill himself. He wants to, but he just can't find a way to do it. He just keeps getting up and facing the day. When something good finally happens to him, in the form of Deputy Rhodes, he is almost too surprised to take advantage of it.

Ana: I can definitely see a resemblance to Philip K. Dick - not only the "retro-futuristic" feel, but you've also captured the wry cynicism that makes his works so delightful. Is this your first or only finished work, or have you written other novels? If you have written other novels, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more novels planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different novel or genre?

Jason: The first real novel that I wrote was a techno-thriller called "Rise of the Realm". I got an agent on the strength of that novel, but it didn't sell, and my writing went one way and he went another. He was a sharp guy, but it just wasn't in the cards. I've written other books since then, but I've never stayed within the boundaries of a particular genre. I'm currently working on a contemporary horror/science fiction novel called "Sapience"; a good, old fashioned scary story. "Sapience" is set on an island Army base in the Pacific, where an impossible murder becomes the first warning that humanity is about to face some terrifying competition. It's pretty hard to get motivated to write these days, and I don't have much time to do it, so I have no idea when this latest book might be finished. Frankly, my work just doesn't get read much, so I tend to feel like I'm wasting my time when I'm working on non-academic writing.

Ana: I can understand that perfectly, but I hope you keep writing anyway - I love scary stories where humanity faces extinction from other creatures or races! I was first introduced to your novel through the Amazon Breakthrough Award contest of 2010. What prompted you to enter the contest, and what were your overall feelings towards the contest in general?

Jason: These days even getting an agent to read your work is like winning the lottery. And publishers? Forget it. The contest was a crap shoot of a chance at getting conventionally published. It was good for a few laughs, but, as with most desperate attempts by writers to get noticed these days, it didn't pan out. The early stages of the contest were pretty subjective, but it still gives writers a better shot than they'll probably get with querying agents or the handful of small publishers that still accept unsolicited queries.

Ana: Are you currently published or self-published? Where can readers obtain a copy of your novel for them to enjoy? If you’re not currently published, how can readers “sign up” to be notified when your novel does become available?

Jason: The Reaches is self-published for the Kindle and can be found on My work can also be read on It's great that outlets like those exist, though it's hard to get around the lack of legitimacy that comes from not being published through traditional channels. My biggest regret with this state of affairs is the fact that I end up putting stuff out there that isn't well edited. I'm not bad at editing other people's work, but like most writers I'm lousy at editing my own work, even when I have the time to do it properly. I certainly can't afford a copy editing service. If I had a conventional publisher that situation would improve, but in the current publishing climate that just isn't very likely.

Ana: Jason, thank you so very much for being willing to participate in this guest blog interview. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Jason: I'd like to thank you for taking an interest in my work, and I'd like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to those readers who have given it a chance. Without an audience a writer's work is meaningless. I hope that I can find ways to get more people interested in what I bring to the table.


Miss J said...

I very much enjoy Jason's work. I have read "A Pack of Filthy Jerks" and am listening to the spoken word reading version of "To the Ocean of Darkness". Looking forward to finishing "The Reaches".

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