Author interview PJ Haarsma

SFX reader Helen Rehmany quizzes Softwire author PJ Haarsma

Let me lay my cards on the table. I'm a big fan of the successful Softwire series of books by author PJ Haarsma. Page-turners of the highest order. The fact that PJ co-founded Kids Need To Read with Nathan Fillion, a US charity that understands the importance of getting books into the hands of underprivileged children, is proof that he's not only a damn good author but also a very cool guy. This week I took the opportunity to ask him about his work:

PJ Haarsma

PJ Haarsma is the author of The Softwire series of books.

Helen: You've recently completed the fourth book set on The Rings Of Orbis. Tell us a bit about the universe you've created.

PJ Haarsma: The Softwire is a story about a group of children who are orphaned in outer space and sold as slaves to aliens. When they arrive, the aliens discover that one of the children is the first human softwire – a leap in evolution that allows him to enter any computer with just his mind. The Rings Of Orbis, where the children are sent to work, is comprised of four ring-like planets around a wormhole and a single computer runs the entire system. The fact that this kid can get into their precious computer at will makes him very valuable, even dangerous. The aliens connive, conspire and even kill to own the Softwire and his sister.

Helen: With four books and the online game the universe of the Softwire is vast. Will you continue to expand it?

Haarsma: I've sketched out four more books in the series, as well as the storylines of many of the characters in the game. Right now I'm exploring unique ways to deliver the story within the context of the game itself. The Rings Of Orbis has become such an amazing place for fans and gamers to hangout that I think the online world is a perfect medium to continue and expand the storyline.

Helen: Is the promotional side of being an author something you enjoy?

Haarsma: I absolutely enjoy going to schools and interacting with the kids who read my books. It's an amazing experience when you see a child get all wide-eyed when they hear you talking about something you created. Conventions let me hang out with all the adults who love my books. You can get a little wacky at conventions - let your hair down. Those are a blast, but in a different way. On the other hand, promoting is a lot of work, but extremely necessary.

Helen: What experience do you think readers get out of good SF writing?

Haarsma: To me good science fiction is about people; human or alien. It allows us to examine the human condition like no other genre can. It explores our weaknesses, our strengths and our evils in a manner that allows us to each think about our role in the universe without having to point fingers or defend our position.

I think science fiction is so important for this that I'm always surprised when I talk to a librarian, a teacher, or some sort of tastemaker who confesses to me that they've never read any science fiction. They're missing so much. It's not just about Ewoks and light sabers.

Helen: Kids Need To Read , the charity you co-founded with actor Nathan Fillion, is going from strength to strength. What prompted its inception?

Haarsma: As I visited schools at the beginning of my career, I was often confronted with budget constraints. Some educators had given in to the relentless cuts to their libraries' budgets by claiming that their children didn't read anyway. Yet, I would come into their schools and light their kids on fire with my presentation (not literally of course). The kids demanded copies of my book and teachers scrambled to take money out of their own wallets to put a single copy on the shelf. At one school a little girl followed me into the parking lot after my presentation was over and said, "I got a movie ticket for my Christmas present. Can I trade it for one of your books?" What do you do with that? You start a charity.

Helen: Tell us about your upcoming projects.

Haarsma: Games, games, games. I've just started Automatic Games with Frank Beddor, author of the Looking Glass Wars. We are expanding the virtual societies we created for our books and I'm writing a new series called the Wandchasers. I've been taking meetings with different publishers to find the right home for my new series. And I have a new baby, Zoe. So I'm quite swamped at the moment!

SFX: Thanks PJ! Thanks Helen!

You can read a guest blog from PJ Haarsma here on the SFX site , and discover a little more about the charity's work in this post .

The SFX Summer Of SF Reading is in association with Waterstone’s , where you can buy all the books you’ll be reading about.