Tuesday 7 February 2017

Guest Post: Novelist Alexander Preston

Today, I am spotlighting novelist Alexander Preston and his debut novel Harvest of Prey. I discovered Alexander in one of the Facebook Christian Reader groups we both belong to where he was promoting his new novel. Very interesting and intriguing premise. The description did not have any obvious Christian/biblical themes so I contacted Alexander asking him about this and I liked his response. I wanted to know more so offered him this Author/Novel Spotlight. 

So sit back and allow yourself to enlightened about the comprehensive account of the background to Alexander's Harvest of Prey novel. Firstly, let us discover a little about him: 

Alexander Preston is the pen name of an aspiring novelist hoping to produce multiple works in the science fiction, fantasy and thriller genres. His style is based on an old tradition of “fiction written by Christians” predating the rise of the “Christian fiction” market – his role models in this effort include Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevsky and J.R.R. Tolkien. Outside of writing, his goal is to become an active space advocate – one of his favorite books is The Case for Mars by Robert Zubrin. He is currently the indie author for Harvest of Prey and resides in Sioux Falls, SD with his wife and son

Now let's have a look at Harvest of Prey. which was released on October 21, 2016, in e-book and paperback editions:

A team of naturalists find themselves facing a nightmare beyond anything they have ever known - and the product of unspeakable evil.

Philip Caster, a former Green Beret now working as a zoologist, leads an international team in Indonesia whose revolutionary new program may spell salvation for the endangered Sumatran tiger. They will release six artificially-conceived cubs into the wild, accompanied by their surrogate mothers. The effort will prove the feasibility of in vitro breeding as a new tool against extinction. But its success is overshadowed by the sudden emergence of a horror beyond reckoning. Something has been unleashed in the forests of Sumatra. A life-form never meant to walk the earth. One that claims humanity as its only prey. 

As death unfolds around them, Caster and his circle of friends must uncover the truth behind an abomination: the instrument of dark and all-too-human forces pursuing a twisted ideological vision. Their creation has killed already - and their plans will consume millions more

I asked Alexander why he wrote the Harvest of Prey: 

The Dark Corners of Heaven and Earth: Harvest of Prey and My Literary Vision

Harvest of Prey is not, strictly speaking, “Christian fiction” but rather “fiction written by a Christian”. I’ve taken this approach for several reasons. The primary one is that denominational boundaries (and their accompanying doctrinal disagreements) can make the term “Christian” a dicey one. It’s fully possible to place two self-described “Christians” in the same room and have each of them deny the other’s right to that label. Calvinist Christians, for example, have fundamentally different views on salvation from, say, Roman Catholic Christians (incidentally, I myself embrace neither of these two doctrines – I belong to a little-known denomination with precursors among the Anabaptists and Mennonites). Also, Harvest of Prey, although it discusses faith (at length, in a few places), is not concerned with the protagonist’s attainment of personal salvation – I’ve omitted that particular element for the prior doctrinal reasons (I intend to use it, however, for a future historical fiction series set during the biblical era).

The second reason has to do with the particular direction I’ve taken with my creative process and vision. As an avid reader not only of speculative fiction but of classical literature, I’ve been inspired by the example of writers such as John Milton, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevsky and (of course) J.R.R. Tolkien. All of them were men of deep faith and all of them wrote before the rise of a separate market for specifically “Christian” fiction. It’s been my opinion that once a particular type of fictional story sparks a genre in its own right, it inevitably becomes vulnerable to clichés and tropes. This process is by no mean unique to the Christian fiction genre, but can also be seen in the “Paranormal Romance” and “YA Dystopian” genres that have arisen in the wake of the Twilight and Hunger Games series. As a writer who hopes to maintain originality and break new ground in the process, I have chosen to draw upon an earlier tradition.

So, a little background about the book itself.

Harvest of Prey has been written as a kind of “modern parable” to illustrate the moral implications of certain contemporary ideas, primarily the more radical wing of environmentalism and the value (or lack thereof) it places upon human life. At the same time, it also touches upon the ethics of genetic modification as well as the philosophy of science itself (primarily the different approaches implied by atheistic materialism vs. Judeo-Christian theism). These have all been featured before in fiction, but few have explored their full potential for a powerful story. I’m hoping to break new ground by introducing a gripping, visceral theme of Good vs. Evil that can reach the moral imagination of readers across a variety of faith (or agnostic) backgrounds.

The basic idea for Harvest of Prey came to me about four years ago during a solo trip to Washington D.C which I’ve described at length on the Amazon Harvest of Prey book page. During the writing process, however, I had several sources of inspiration:

State of Fear by Michael Crichton

Although one of his last works, this book was actually my first exposure to the late Michael Crichton. I had already decided on an environmental-based storyline at this point and selected this book specifically for its facts-based approach to a similar topic. I would recommend it to anyone looking not only for a thrilling read but also a thought-provoking one. It proved quite formative for me in its description of politicised science, connected here to the global warming debate, but also applicable to the very similar one regarding resource depletion and human population levels.

Merchants of Despair by Robert Zubrin

I had already known Robert Zubrin as the author of The Case for Mars (another book I highly recommend), but I gained a newfound respect for the man as a thinker and a person after reading Merchants of Despair. Within, he sketches an extended history and overview of the modern environmental and human population control movements (the one being largely the flip side of the other), with a special emphasis on the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Prior to this, I had never heard of this group, its activities, or their effect worldwide, which include childbirth restrictions (it took a leading role in China’s one-child policy), forced sterilizations, mandated abortions and the blocking of essential medical resources throughout the Third World (he darkly implies they are directly responsible for the current AIDS epidemic in Africa). This book, more than any other, brought home to me the despicable anti-human ideology dominating much of contemporary environmentalism. It directly shaped the portrayal of my villains in Harvest of Prey.

Watchers by Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz has long been one of my favorite authors, not the least because of his original plots, literary writing style and lack of Hollywood clichés. I count this particular one as a primary influence due to the dominant theme of genetic engineering, which is also an essential element in Harvest of Prey.

Monster by Frank Peretti

Frank Peretti is another of my favorites, particularly within the Christian market (I only regret that his output has essentially ceased since Illusion). I remember first reading this book around the age of 15 or 16 and revisited it as a reference source when I started writing Harvest of Prey. It’s a gripping, well-written story in its own right (also raising thought-provoking points as to the scientific veracity – or lack thereof – of Darwinism), but was especially informative for me regarding the process of DNA sequencing.

Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy

I read this book (or rather the abridged, Readers’ Digest version of it) some years before I began actively writing Harvest of Prey. I know of no other author who has ever matched Tom Clancy as the master of the well-researched technothriller. This book is a gripping, lurid portrayal of the world of international terrorism before 9/11 brought its Islamist wing to the forefront of global headlines. It also comes within a hair’s breadth of science fiction by seamlessly integrating a conspiratorial subplot regarding the release of a deadly virus by radical environmentalists. I flipped back through the relevant pages of this book many times as I was constructing the outline for my own.

The Larger Universe

The guiding thrust of my story ideas can largely be summed up in the words of Shakespeare: 

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” 

Taking inspiration from that quote, I characterise my stories as “Tales from the dark corners of Heaven and Earth”, with an emphasis on the inherent mystery and wonder implied by a biblical worldview. While a standalone novel, Harvest of Prey marks the debut of a complete fictional universe. Believe it or not, it has actually grown out of an effort for a book series with a far future, space opera setting. The original story I had in mind was set in the year 2840 on a distant planet. The worldbuilding involved, however, necessitated what was at the time a prohibitive level of research (mostly due to my self-imposed standards for scientific accuracy and originality of plot). I still envision writing this particular story at a future date, and I fully intend to back it up with a complete future history. I decided, however, to start that history with a lineup of present-day and near-future storylines where the worldbuilding requirement wasn’t quite so intensive. Harvest of Prey is the first, and I have plans for seven more of them so far, each featuring a unique storyline theme (usually involving social commentary): transhumanism/artificial intelligence, the legacy of Communism (covered in a trilogy), cryptozoology and the UFO phenomenon (something far different from what many believe it to be).

Once I’ve produced all the novels to bring my “future history” to its intended ending point, I plan to expand my fictional universe in the opposite temporal direction, producing a book series set during the time of Genesis. The emphasis will be on the pre-Flood world and the Tower of Babel. From there, Lord willing, I just might continue on through the rest of the Bible. I am saving this effort for the very last so I can develop my craft as a writer in the meantime – I would wish to give no less than my absolute best when it comes to adapting the Scriptural accounts to fiction.

If what you have now read has whetted your appetite for more, here is an excerpt. Alexander has also provided a reason for this excerpt: 

This particular section I consider most representative of the entire "feel" and "atmosphere" of the novel. I remember being able to picture it the most vividly as I was writing. It also marks the point where the "action" kicks off.

~~~~~~~~~~~~Start of Excerpt~~~~~~~~~~~~

[Section of Chapter 3]

The village was small, even insignificant compared to the vast expanse of the park whose edge it bordered and existence predated. Its physical infrastructure was modest yet stately. Three rumah gadang longhouses, rendered unmistakable by the dramatically curved structure of their roofs, exerted a quiet dominance over the hamlet. In accordance with the customs of the Minang people, here still strictly observed, each long house was jointly owned by all the women of a single family – a matrilineal practice which made the Minang peculiarly distinct within the Islamic world. Surrounding each were smaller structures built for the married daughters and their husbands. The only other structure of note was the surau mosque which housed the village’s few remaining adolescent boys.

It was relatively poor, but had not experienced the desperate impoverishment that gripped many similar communities in Sumatra, supporting itself through subsistence cultivation of the small rice fields to its north. This was occasionally supplemented by guide service for the tourists that came through Kerinci every year. The sparse members of its three extended families numbered little more than fifty. In earlier times, the population had been far larger – long before the permanent departure of the younger and more ambitious for new opportunities in the nearby urban economy of Padang. The remainder, largely ignored by the state authorities and united by ties of blood, still ruled themselves through their traditional adat customary law, observing a pattern preserved over generations.

Their hamlet was unique in that it had seen almost no form of significant disaster or pestilence during the entirety of its existence. They were known by even their close neighbors for the serene, changeless peace that characterized their entire manner of life. Indeed, they seemed almost to provide a living example of the otherwise completely mythological image of idyllic village culture. It was often the subject of perplexed and rueful commentary among the elder patriarchs as to how the younger generation could have ever wanted to leave such a home as theirs.

Night brought to each of them a sleep as peaceful as their waking hours. And, therefore, they had no warning.

The eyes stared out through the darkness, their bearer invisible, unmoving, yet seeing all. He had been observing this place since the onset of twilight, his patience infinite and inhuman. Golden irises were now obscured by pupils that had progressively dilated with the setting of the sun. Had anyone seen, they would have appeared as massive pits that swallowed all light in their blackness. Windows into nothing.

He maintained his vigil, watching the dancing shadows as the lights of each dwelling were dimmed and extinguished one by one. Darkness and silence finally reigned as the villagers fell into the deceptive bliss of sleep.

It was time.

For the first moment in hours, he broke his own silence with a low, purring vocalization that carried easily across the night air. Only one other was at means to hear it. His response was an answering rumble that carried from his own position mere yards removed, acknowledging his companion's signal and signifying acquiescence.

Moving together as one, they emerged out of the midst of the thick jungle growth which had heretofore concealed their presence. Their strong, powerful limbs carried them forward with fluid grace, silent as wraiths. They advanced with deadly purpose, their black forms giving them absolute invisibility in the darkness. Yet there was no darkness for them. Their nocturnal eyes gave them vision as clear as the midday light, illuminating every detail of their surroundings in a crisp, accented relief. The eyes of hunters, proved in kill.

The one who had given the initial signal went slightly ahead of his companion, a sign that he, who had the greater familiarity with the area, would lead the attack. It was not a hierarchical gesture, for both these young males stood in a relation of absolute equality. Even brotherhood. Later, as they found prey farther afield, the other would lead his share of hunts.

They came to a brief stop, their path having led them directly towards the surau mosque. They stood completely unmoving only a few yards away. Joints locked, muscles warm and tense with anticipation. A sharp, imperceptible flex of the leader’s nostrils confirmed the scent. Males. Young ones like themselves and strong. They would be dealt with first.

Motion abruptly returned as they circled the structure towards its front entrance on the east side. Unlike their better-known Arabian brethren, the worshippers in this mosque, living over 4000 miles east of Mecca, prayed with their faces toward the west.

The leader came to a stop at the mosque's wooden twin doors. A slight probe with his nose and eyes confirmed the presence of an internal latch, just visible between the crack of the doors.

He lifted himself up on his hind legs, bracing the right forepaw against the side wall while he tested the doors' strength with the left. The wood was old and pliable, already showing the first signs of rot. Its builders, hardly anticipating either robbery or attack this deep into their forest dwelling, had not yet bothered to replace it.

He carefully manipulated his paw, the soft wood giving way to a progressively widening the gap between the doors. Finally, he was able to insert his dew claw, catching hold of the latch and lifting it up on its hinges. The door slid easily inward. Its primitive locking mechanism ultimately provided no more resistance than the talismanic symbols affixed to the structure’s outer walls.

They entered cautiously, the scent of the building's occupants still filling their nostrils. Their ears swivelled several times intense motions, bodies rigidified in hound-like postures. Then they abruptly released, satisfied by the shallow, rhythmic breaths confirming their prey's unconscious state.

A moment’s glance illuminated their surroundings. The doorway opened into a large hall flanked with supporting pillars and a large basin in the middle. Empty now, but filled with water in the daylight hours for the worshippers’ ritual cleansing. At the far wall stood the semicircular mihrab pointing the way to Mecca. A large expanse of carpeted floor stretched out before it to accommodate daily prayers. At either side of the building stood a flight of stairs, leading to a second-floor balcony that encircled the entire inner structure. It housed the residential quarters and their sleeping occupants.

The leader turned towards his companion, exchanging mutual understanding in a split second of eye contact. Each turned and made their way towards opposite stairs which they swiftly scaled.

At either side, they followed an identical set of tactics. The leader easily nudged open the first bedroom door, zeroing in on the scent it all but concealed. He absorbed the sight inside with something close to delight. There were three in this room, all of them asleep atop packed futon mattresses close to the floor. Their chests rose and fell automatically with the preprogrammed motions of the lungs. Aware of nothing and dead to the world.

He moved closer, nearly intoxicated by the rich, exquisite scent wafting from their bodies – and their veins. His shadow – such as it was in total darkness – fell across one of the somnolent forms as he gazed down upon it. Whatever the waking emotions of its owner, the young face now held an expression of profound well-being, free of worry and unaware of the danger. Healthy and vital, sustained with a rich spring of life waiting to be lived.

He clamped his jaws around the neck in one swift motion, knife-sharp canines slipping between the vertebrae with surgical precision. The kill took place in absolute silence, without even the expected crunch of shattered bone. In a macabre kind of mercy, the victim felt only the oblivion of brain death. The act was repeated twice more before he moved on to the adjoining room, where the same took place. Across the building, his companion proceeded in perfect mimicry. Neither set of victims ever felt the slightest physical awareness of their fate.

Barely a quarter of an hour passed before all the mosque’s residents were dispatched, all of them by an identically executed severance of the brain stem. Only then did the hunters pause their deathly enterprise and begin to feed. They consumed a single carcass apiece, rewarding their own efforts with a meal of fresh meat. The bones were also put to use, chewed apart for the nutritious marrow housed inside them.

Thus fortified, they took their leave of the mosque, splitting off in separate directions once more, each on a path that took them north and south, respectively, covering the entirety of the village. The deeds they had performed at the mosque they replicated inside every dwelling which housed even a single breath of life. All of them performed in a silence as complete as the death they brought.

They both fed again several times that night. But they left nothing behind as it began to fade. One by one, the remaining bodies were dragged from their place of death, taken to a storage site they had both selected long before executing the planned attack. One with its previous supply not yet exhausted but already requiring replenishment.

With their hunger freshly sated, they would rest for a time. But their hunt was far from over - and it would never cease.

~~~~~~~~~~~~End of Excerpt~~~~~~~~~~~~

Harvest of Prey has some positive 5 Star reviews from Amazon: 

You can follow Alexander on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ as well as his blog:

Has this whetted your appetite to buy Harvest of Prey or to read further excerpts? If so, then please click on the BUY or PREVIEW icons below:

Alexander leaves us with this quote from J.R.R. Tolkien:
“Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”

Readers and reviews are an author's best asset, so I encourage any reader of Christian science-fiction/fantasy, supernatural, technothrillers, genetic engineering, to consider reading Harvest of Prey and submit a review on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (or any other social media you subscribe to).

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