The book we sent our Cockatoo subscribers in August is a cracking sci-fi adventure, starring a brilliant cast of characters and providing the perfect jumping off point for discussions about the role of AI in our lives. We asked author Alastair Chisholm about what inspired the book and which other sci fi books for kids he would recommend.
What inspired you to write Orion Lost?
I wanted to write a story where children were in control, and where they were getting things wrong. Some of my favourite books as a kid were the ones where the children seemed real — scared, confused, getting things wrong — but finding a way to be heroes anyway. And I love a good sci-fi mystery!
Who is your favourite character in the book and why?
Oh, wow! Well, Beth is the main character, but I love them all. I tried to make them as believable as possible, and that meant understanding them. Vihaan, for example, is hostile and arrogant — but then he is the son of the captain, and he’s actually very good at his duties. He doesn’t understand why he’s not in charge, and that makes him angry, but he still tries to do his best. Lauryn was the most fun to write — I could really tap into my geeky computer self.
Why did you decide to set the book in space?
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of colony spaceships — little worlds heading out to space, millions of miles from home. And growing up I was hugely into Star Trek, which was all about being far from everyone, where anything could happen.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
I can write pretty much anywhere. The hardest thing is to stop myself playing games on my phone!
Why did you choose to write books for children?
I grew up reading absolutely brilliant children’s authors — Diana Wynne Jones, Nicholas Fisk, Susan Cooper, Robert Westall, so many others — and they were inspiring. And it’s a real challenge! Kids at this age are much more sophisticated than adults think, so you have to keep them interested, without talking down to them. But if you can do that, you can show them ideas that you hope will stay with them forever, and that’s a very exciting thought.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I loved science fiction, and ghost stories, but my absolute favourite was probably the fantasy novel The Grey King by Susan Cooper. It’s got such a great atmosphere, and I loved the way that the adults felt real, and how their own dramas affected the story. I read that book until the cover fell off!
Which other science fiction books for kids would you recommend to our subscribers?
I recently read (and loved) Kirsty Applebaum’s Troofriend, about a robot friend for children. And on the robot theme, there’s I, Robot, a collection of old robot stories by Isaac Asimov. They’re short, easy to read, and they’re like clever puzzles. Tom Huddleston’s Floodworld is very exciting, and for slightly older readers, John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, or Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, are both excellent. I’m a big comics fan, so I’d say Halo Jones by Alan Moore and Ian Gibson. The Phoenix comic is great and often does sci-fi stories, and I love 2000AD.
Is there going to be a sequel and can you tell us anything about what happens next to Beth and her friends?
Well, we’ll see…! I would like to return to Beth’s world someday. I’d love to learn a bit more about the alien Videshi species – I think there are a few more secrets there…
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