On portals, time travel, and technology with the author of the Alex Hawk Time Travel Adventure series
Shawn Inmon is a science fiction author who uses the central Oregon landscape, bricked-up portals, and a tribal culture in a distant future to tell a riveting adventure tale.
I grabbed the first book, A Door into Time (affiliate link) as an audiobook and tore through it. The story was easy to fall into and I found myself wide-eyed with wonder as Alex encountered oversized beasts, learned new languages and customs, and experienced a strangely altered yet eerily familiar landscape.
As a longtime fan of portal stories (and author of a few myself), I had to reach out to Shawn to see if I could learn more about how his brain works. There are many parallels with my Translocator Trilogy, so readers familiar with those works will recognize and enjoy many elements of Shawn’s novel.
Here’s our conversation…
Interview with Shawn Inmon, author of A Door Into Time
MG Herron: As a longtime fan of portal fiction, I have to know your perspective. Do portals exist in our world? Are they real or just fictional to you?
Shawn: I am a cynic at heart. Until I see something with my own eyes (and these days even greater proof than that can be required) I can’t say I believe in something.
However, there are things that people consider “out there” that I am open to accepting. Alien life and technology seems likely to me, though I’ve never experienced it.
Portals also fall into this category for me. Can we bend space and possibly time? Can it be like a substance that is folded over on itself so that we can move from one to another? I don’t have evidence to say it’s so, but I can easily see how it’s something that has just not been discovered yet.
When we look at things we have discovered about the universe in the last century, I can’t help but project that into the next hundred years. Will that include portals? I’d like to think it might.
MG: In your novel, A Door Into Time, your main character, Alex, is a former soldier. So when he went through the portal, he brought weapons. Smart man, right? If you found a portal in your basement and decided to step through it, what kind of supplies would you bring along for the journey?
Shawn: The way Alex equipped himself was the way I would have if I had everything at hand that he does. Unfortunately, my home is not as well-equipped as a former Special Forces soldier.
I’d have to resort to making a few sandwiches, a Thermos of water, and my camera. More than anything else, I’d want to capture the images of what I’d seen.
The interesting thing to me is that although Alex was as well equipped with both technology and training, he was still completely in over his head in his first few moments in the future. His training was focused on how to respond to threats that were known in his time. Luckily, that training also taught him how to think, how to plan, which is what allowed him to not just survive, but thrive in this new environment.
MG: The landscape of central Oregon features prominently in the Alex Hawk series. What significance does this landscape have in your life? What is it about that part of the country that captivates your imagination?
Shawn: When I conceived of this story, I was living in a tiny town called Seaview, Washington, which is just a few miles away from the Oregon border. I was actually walking on the beach when the opening scene came into my head: a man steps through a portal and thinks he’s somewhere else, but doesn’t realize he’s also somewhen else.
I originally thought that he would meet massively oversized seagulls, because that’s what I was looking at. Then I asked my cover designer to put some fantastic creatures on the cover and he came up with what I dubbed the karak-ta – giant, vicious birds that could easily kill a man.
As for Oregon, I’ve lived there off and on for a number of years and I love it there. I’ve driven down many a dirt road to nowhere, hiked through the forests and underbrush I describe in the book. When I close my eyes, I can see it. That helps me to describe it and bring it to life for a reader, even if they’ve never been there.
I hope my true affection for the area shows through.
MG: It certainly does! Now, in your story, the local culture has a taboo against stama—a word that means both technology and magic—because they believe it caused the downfall of civilization. How do you think about the dangers of modern technology today?
Shawn: It’s the classic two-edged sword. Our tech is helpful and allows us to live the way we do. I think it also causes us to live the way we do.
I walk a lot and I’m an observer of people. I would say that 80-90% of the people I see out walking have something to distract them.
I’m a great music lover, and there are times I love to listen to music as I walk, but mostly I just try to be present in where I’m at. No needed distraction of a podcast or audio book.
Our current tech also serves as a boon and a barrier to communication. My best friend is a writer who lives three thousand miles away. Thanks to Zoom, he and I spend an hour a day talking face to face and have for many years. That wouldn’t have been possible a few decades back.
I also think it encourages a certain kind of communication that’s different than being face to face. So many people rely strictly on electronic communication that this other, organic connection is sometimes being lost.
At the same time, the Amazon delivery truck stops at my house pretty much every day, so I am definitely guilty of stama. I might have a tough time surviving in Kragdon-ah.
MG: You and me both. I can’t help but notice that we’re always hearing about the AI apocalypse and other portents of certain doom. What’s the risk we mis-use our stama and, whether by accident or incompetence, bring about a future like the one you imagined?
Shawn: The Alex Hawk series is actually my vision of the end game of too much stama in our lives. The world as we currently know it has been destroyed, we’re back to tribal living, and the Earth is returning to health.
Right now, I’m writing the origin story of how that happened. My book The Precipice will launch in February 2023 and it will tell how we got to that point.
To me, the danger is, what if there’s a need for an AI to save us from a situation, then becomes too powerful? That’s what happens in this new book.
Since I’m writing this book, I guess you can guess what my thoughts on the subject are. I write it not as predictive fiction, but as a warning of what I see on the horizon for us. One of my advance readers of this book said, “I had a hard time reading this, because it truly frightened me. It felt too real, too likely.” As odd as it sounds, that pleased me. That’s what I was aiming for.
MG: What can we do as everyday people to prevent, change, or guide the outcome we fear most?
Shawn: I’m a big fan of being the change we want to see in the world, and I try to live my life accordingly. In these times when rhetoric about everything is turned up to eleven (shout out to Spinal Tap) I’ve found it necessary to just unplug from the noise.
That was my first step. After a few years of detoxing from the constant noise, I began to feel more like myself again, to see things more clearly.
Beyond keeping our eyes on our own paper, I don’t know if there’s much we can do to alter the direction we’re going.
If I think all intelligent devices are spying on me, I can refuse to have them in my home, and that solves that problem for me, but does it alter the future where intelligent devices feed into a true AI? Nope.
By the way, I have three Alexa devices in my home, so I’m definitely going to be one of those people feeding info to our new AI overlords.
MG: The languages of Kragdon-ah feel very authentic and real to me as a reader. I like your deceptively simple use of invented words, and how you drew on aspects of modern language. How do you think about language and the impact it has on a culture?
Shawn: Whew. I know you listened to the audiobook, so much of that comes from the skill of my narrator, Jonathan McClain. He did such a great job of bringing the languages of Kragdon-ah to life.
As an author attempting to create a new language, I stand in the intimidating shadow of Tolkien and know how far I fall short. I wanted the language to convey certain things about the people, but I wasn’t willing to spend the immense amount of time that he did to create something out of whole cloth.
Instead, I chose a few things to highlight about the language that I thought would show something about the people in the book. I chose lots of hard consonants, because I loved the way they sounded. I added suffixes to identify men, women, places, and animals, and I eliminated all compound sounds. There is no ph or th sounds in that language.
These things combined, I hoped, to show that the people who created this language are tough, organized, but not complex. Their rituals and beliefs are deep and strongly held, but what they believe can be described in just a few words.
To me, that summarizes the vibe of Kragdon-ah.
MG: The relationship between man and dog is timeless. Hands down, my favorite character relationship in your book was between Alex and Monda-ak. Why did the bond between man and dog survive the test of time when so many other things didn’t?
Shawn: Mostly because I can’t imagine a world where that doesn’t exist. I am a dog lover and have had them with me almost my entire adult life.
Monda-ak is my favorite character in the book. As bright as a five-year-old child, but also a three-hundred-pound killing machine. My favorite line about Monda-ak is when someone tells Alex that when he eventually falls in battle, Monda-ak will position himself astride his body and give up his life protecting it. Happily, that hasn’t come to pass yet.
I think that as we return to a more natural world, these kinds of relationships will come back to the forefront of our lives.
MG: Finally, in your author’s note, you said you were inspired by classic adventure tales like the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan, Pellucidar) and Jules Verne (Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea). Even though the language of those stories may feel outdated today, which ones would you recommend to a new reader today?
Shawn: I grew up reading these books and they fired my imagination. When I would close my copy of Pellucidar for the night, I would let my imagination roam. What would I do in that world? Could I survive?
One of the big motivations in writing A Door into Time was to bring that idea of a stranger in a strange land of giant creatures and dangerous people to a new, modern audience. I did my best to capture the sense of wonder and fun of those ideas.
Unfortunately, by today’s standards, those books are written very formally and might feel a bit suffocating. Still, I would recommend picking up Pellucidar or Journey to the Center of the Earth and give them a try.
MG: Thanks for your stories and your imagination, Shawn. Love what you’re doing, keep publishing wonderful books. Where should readers go to find more about you and your books online?
Shawn: I’ve got a few places. First, I’m really active on Facebook. I’m there every day, posting what I’m thinking about and answering questions for my readers.
I also have a website, Shawn-Inmon.com. There, I have links to all my books (I’m just preparing to publish my 37th book) and a library of the books I love that have inspired me. Oh, and a link to a playlist of the music I listen to as I write my books.
Finally, there’s my Amazon author page, where all my books are available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook.
More portal fiction and time travel books
Love portal fiction? I’ve got more for you to read. Check out the following book recommendations: