May 8, 2011

Blog Tour: Kea's Flight Review and Author Interview

Synopsis (from Goodreads): It's the 25th century, and humans have learned how to end unwanted pregnancies by removing and cryogenically freezing the embryos to save for later. But they never planned for how many there would be, or how much control people would want over their offspring's genetic makeup.
Kea was an exile before she was born. Grown from an embryo that was rejected for having autism-spectrum genes, she has been raised on a starship full of Earth's unwanted children. When a sudden discovery threatens their plan to find a home, Kea must join with other rejects to save the ship from its own insane government. 

Review: When I read the synopsis for Kea’s Flight it definitely got me interested, but I had no idea what an awesome book it would turn out to be. And by awesome, I definitely mean awesome - this is already one of my favorite books of the year. 
I’m not usually one for sci-if/futuristic space adventures, but there was just something about this novel that made it incredibly appealing. The characters were probably what did it for me, they were so well-drawn and felt very real. The characters are all teenagers who had been into space for having genes on the Autism Specter and I think it would have been easy to let them all blur together until they were all too similar. However, this is far from the case. The authors, Erika and John, have succeeded in creating relatable and flawed characters - Kea with her love of languages, Draz with his computer knowledge and emotional issues, Chris and his anger management troubles. I could go on forever, but the point is, I haven’t read characters such as these in a long time.
The plot was also great, with just the right amount of dialogue and action. There was a lot to wrap my head around in this novel, but the authors succeeded in creating a world that was believable and fairly easy to grasp. Some of it is quite daunting - for example, the computer knowledge involved - but I felt that it was all explained extremely well. There are a lot of ethical issues tackled in Kea’s Flight, and the authors did a great job with coming coming up with unique perspectives. The novel really made me think about a lot of things, and I loved all the differing opinions on some very real issues.
Overall, I honestly don’t think Kea’s Flight could have been better. It’s a self-published novel, but it certainly doesn’t read like one - I only managed to pick up a couple of spelling/grammar errors. For any 500 page book that’s an achievement! With richly drawn characters, and a plot to rival many of the novels out there at the moment, you really don’t want to miss this book. I highly recommended Kea’s Flight.
Rating: 5 out of 5

Scroll to the bottom of this post to find the places to purchase the book. You know you want to!


1. Describe your novel in 10 words or less.

Oppressed children growing up with mental disorders-- in space!

2. How did the idea for Kea's Flight come about?
John and I got the idea together, when we were having a conversation
with his father about the controversy over abortion. I said something
like, "It would be so much better if people didn't even have to make
that choice. Wouldn't it be great if unwanted embryos could just be
removed alive and saved for later?" John just laughed and said "There
would be so many, we'd have to start sending them into space!" That
thought stayed in my head for a long time, stored wherever my brain
stores ideas for possible stories.

Then one day, I was thinking about how some people are against
abortion and birth control, and some people are in favor of both, and
some people are against abortion but in favor of birth control... but
nobody thinks birth control is worse than abortion. My mind loves to
explore weird scenarios, so I wondered: what if someone had an opinion
like that? How would they explain it logically? That developed into
the essay that the main character, Kea, wrote when she was twelve. I
was going to build a short story around that essay, but John
encouraged me to go bigger.

3. How did your own experiences with Asperger's Syndrome affect the
shaping of your characters and the situations they face?
It was hard to figure out what these characters would be like, because
their situation isn't like anything we know. Based on genetic
predispositions that might or might not lead to mental disorders, they
were rejected as embryos and sent away on a spaceship. They were
raised by robots and exiled convicts, they were treated as disabled
people for their whole lives, and at the same time they were under
constant pressure to be normal. In some ways they ended up a lot like
real people on the autism spectrum, and in other ways they ended up

I was diagnosed with Asperger's at the age of eleven, and John was
diagnosed at the age of twenty-four. We had very different
experiences, and we've woven them into the plot of the story as best
we could. Most of the main characters are somewhat inspired by
ourselves, but in different ways. Blaro has the impulse control
problems I used to have. Lefty is my scientific side, and the side of
me that gets panicked and overwhelmed easily. Draz is a lot like John,
with his computer skills, his tendency to make funny word mistakes,
and his subdued emotions... but Draz's emotions aren't quite as
subdued as John's. As the situation gets worse throughout the story,
Draz has more trouble controlling his anger and fear.

The narrator, Kea, has my language fascination, but she's better at
managing her panic attacks than I am, and she's better at the morale
aspect of leadership-- encouraging her friends to keep going, and
managing their conflicts with each other. I think her hard life has
forced her to become mature at a younger age.

I think the part where I took the most from my own experience was in
Kea's childhood interactions with the teacher she calls Screen Man.
His patronizing speech is very closely based on things I heard from
special ed workers when I was a kid: the sweet droning voice tone, the
use of "we" to mean "you," the frequency of phrases like "you need to"
and "good choice." The romance between Kea and Draz is also very much
inspired by my relationship with John.

4. Physics, language and computer smarts are all big parts of your
novel. How long was the research process and did you face any problems
that made you rethink parts of the novel?
I put together the rough draft in six months, but it was really just a
skeleton. John and I spent over five years fleshing out the book
together. We try to write what we know, even when we're writing about
a world that doesn't exist, so the language and computer aspects
didn't require much research; they were mostly things we were already
familiar with. I'm the language nerd, and John is the physics and
computer nerd. Kea's language lectures are mostly based around facts
that are common knowledge to students of Spanish and German, but her
insights are ones that I came up with on my own (like the realization
that Spanish is not completely gender-obsessed, and actually has some
words that are less gender-specific than their English equivalents).

We did end up having to rethink a lot of parts, mostly involving the
technology. Sometimes I would write a passage about how Draz hacked
into something, and John would tell me it had to be redone. He was
very successful at finding ways that my ideas could work. I would come
up with a scene I wanted to have, and he would lay the technological
foundation that would let us have that scene.

We had to rewrite some parts several times, especially the parts
involving the hacker who sabotaged the food system. Almost everything
about that had to be redone: how long it took, how the hacker managed
to do it, and how Draz and Kea figured out who it was. We also had to
spend a lot of time revising the part about the power outage that
happened in their teens. For that John actually did a lot of research,
mostly relating to the kinds of sounds you would hear coming from the
ship if the temperature were changing rapidly.

5. There are a lot of political and social issues tackled in Kea's
Flight that are relevant today. How did you decide which issues would
still be prevalent 400 years into Earth's future?
There are many possible futures that we can extrapolate from what we
know today. This is one where the government has been taken over by
people who are not socially progressive, and want to maintain most of
the traditions they grew up with. All the other facets of the society
fell into place once we had that premise.

Diversity isn't accepted; even diversity of languages has been wiped
out. Censors patrol the internet and try to control what people can
say online.   Religion is allowed to dominate the culture, because the
dictators who came to power value it highly, but like most despots,
they bend religion to suit their wishes.

They've allowed some technological development, but only the kinds
that they find useful for their purposes. Artificial intelligence is
strictly controlled. There are no cyborgs, no human minds uploaded
into computers. Humans still have fully human bodies, and the use of
birth control is still left up to the individual people, so unwanted
pregnancies are still an issue. Genetically altering embryos is
illegal, and aborting them is illegal, so embryos with genetic
abnormalities still exist, but they're still unwanted. The government
maintains the hypocrisy of saying they want to accept children the way
God made them, but being unwilling to actually help families support
those children. Hypocrisy like that already exists in the present day,
and in a dystopian future, it's easy to imagine it infiltrating all of

I'm not sure that the world actually has a high chance of going
through those changes 400 years from now. As far as we know, it could
end up many different ways. We chose to explore a future that scared
us, because it made a compelling story.

6. Kea's Flight is a self-published novel. Did you face any unexpected
hurdles during the process?
My first book, "Born on the Wrong Planet," was professionally
published. Compared to that experience, self-publishing has been less
stressful; we've gotten to move at our own pace and make our own
decisions about what parts of the book needed to be changed.

When it came to marketing, though, we have encountered obstacles.
Promoting our own book is hard work. When we first went looking for
bloggers to review the book, most of the ones we found wouldn't even
consider anything that was self-published. The sites that come up when
you do a Google search for "book bloggers" are only a tiny sliver of
what's out there. We were able to find more reviewers through posts on
the Book Blogs community, and through services like Enchanted Book

We've been getting some help from the fact that my first book has a
following in the autism community. It's still too early to know how
successful "Kea's Flight" will be, but it will probably be more
successful than it would have been without the experience of
publishing "Born on the Wrong Planet."

7. Finally, do you have plans for a sequel to Kea's Flight or are you
working on any new projects?
We are working on a sequel, though it will be a few more years before
it's ready. Among other things, the sequel will address the question
of what happened in the rest of the galaxy while Kea and her friends
were traveling. They were going at almost light speed, which brings
temporal relativity into the equation: from their perspective it was
still the 25th century, but outside their ship it was a thousand years
later than that. Obviously many things happened to Earth and other
human-inhabited planets in that time, and the second book will explore
what happened.

Thanks for stopping by, Erika! I loved your interview answers.

Links to the author and places to buy Kea's Flight:

Author Bio:
Erika Hammerschmidt was born in Minnesota and graduated from Augsburg
College with two language majors and an art minor. She was diagnosed
with Asperger's Syndrome at the age of 11, and has written Born on the
Wrong Planet, a memoir about her childhood. Her husband John C. Ricker
was born in Hawaii, received a diagnosis of Asperger's at the age of
24, and studied computer science before working in vacuum technology.
They live in Minnesota with their parrot, Rain Man. Together they have
co-authored the science fiction novel Kea's Flight.

Places to buy the book:
ebook for Kindle on Amazon, for $3.89
ebook for Nook on Barnes and Noble, for $3.89
epub for iPhone, iPad, etc. on Lulu, for $3.89
PDF download on Lulu for $3.89
569-page paperback version on Lulu for $15.00, without ISBN, on standard paper