T. R. Napper is a multi-award-winning science fiction author, including the prestigious Aurealis three times. David caught up with him for a chat.
When did you first see the original Alien?
After I’d read the Aliens tie-in novel by Alan Dean Foster, and watched Aliens the film. Which is to say, I can’t precisely remember, as my most formative experience with the universe was the second film. I read the tie-in novel first, because I was too young to see Aliens, and my consolation prize was being allowed to read the novelisation.
So, it wouldn’t have been until the 90s that I watched Alien. My only regret is I never got to see it fresh, uncomprehending the horror of what was about to happen during the chestburster scene at the dinner table on the Nostromo.
Why do you think it was such a great twist that Bishop turns out to be the good guy in Aliens?
James Cameron sets it up well. Bishop (seemingly) has the same obsession over the xenomorph as Ash, and as such, anyone who has seen the first film will deduce that Bishop is going to go the same way. But having said that, I found the Bishop character had a gentle warmth, imbued by the performance of Lance Henrikson, whereas Ash always felt cold, calculated, distant.
Bishop’s arc within Aliens is significant, in some ways the most significant of the movie. He goes from being despised by Ripley and peripheral to the needs of the marines, to being trusted by her at the end, and absolutely central to the survivors making it out alive.
When did you first become interested in books?
Forever. As long as I have memory, books were part of my life.
When did you write your first story?
Not until my mid-thirties (not including the stories I was compelled to write in primary or high school). I never thought I could or would be a writer. My parents were working class, no-one in my family had been to uni, and art – be it music, books, paintings – was largely absent from our household. The expectation on me growing up was that I would do something practical, preferably something that would involve going to university (and thus change social classes), such as engineering.
So when I say I didn’t think about being a writer, I mean it quite literally. The thought did not cross my mind. It was never a secretly harboured ambition. Despite my love of books, I never conceived that I would be writing one.
I cannot remember the spark that made me write my first story (my first published short story came out in 2014). The urgent need was suddenly there, and I did it. That first story would have sucked, without doubt. But still, I never looked back, once the words started to flow.
When did you publish your first novel?
2022. My debut is titled 36 Streets. It’s a cyberpunk novel set in Vietnam in the year 2100. 36 Streets won both the major spec-fic awards here in Australia (the Aurealis Award and the Ditmar Award), and has done well abroad, as well (in fact my audience seems primarily to be in the UK and the US). All of which has been a massive fucking relief.
Why do you think horror books and movies remain so popular?
Look, I think there are an entirely different set of motivations depending on the reader or viewer. Some thrill at being scared, having the heart thump in the chest. Some have a fascination with the macabre. Some use horror as a means to explore trauma. It’s a genre that goes so far beyond the stereotype of gore and splatter: it can be contemporary, can easily speak to modern fears.
What are some of your favourite horror movies?
1) The Thing (1982)
3) Rosemary’s Baby
4) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
5) The Exorcist
6) 28 Days Later
7) Dawn of the Dead (1978)
8) Evil Dead 2
10) The Babadook
What are your current projects?
Aliens: Bishop has just come out, of course. I have two original works coming out next year: Ghost of the Neon God, and The Escher Man. Both are set in the same world as 36 Streets. Ghost of the Neon God is a novella, I pitched it as Mad Max meets Johnny Mnemonic. It’s about a rogue AI, a couple of petty crooks, and a terrifying escape across the Australian outback.
The Escher Man is set five years after the events of 36 Streets, but nonetheless is a stand-alone novel. That one is set in Macau. I think I pitched that as Total Recall meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
If you like your fiction dark, hardboiled, existential, violent, and high-octane, then I’m probably your guy.
Who would win in a fight between Bishop and David?
Much like in the cricket, when England plays Australia, Bishop - like England - would be the moral victor. Which is to say, Bishop would get smashed.
Please in your own words write a paragraph about yourself & your work.
I am a multi-award-winning science fiction author, including the prestigious Aurealis three times. My short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, F&SF, Interzone, and numerous others, and has been translated into Hebrew, German, French, and Vietnamese.
Before turning to writing, I was a humanitarian aid worker, having lived throughout Southeast Asia for over a decade. I was also a resident in the Old Quarter in Ha Noi for several years, the setting for my debut novel, 36 Streets.
Currently I live in Australia working as a DM, running dungeons and dragons campaigns for young people with autism for a local charity.
My fiction is cyberpunk. Which is to say it’s punk: anti-corporate, anti-elite, counter-cultural, and firmly on the side of the marginalised. It’s cyber: ice-cool tech, weaponised by the power for social control. It’s true cyberpunk: the literature of defiance.