Out of this World, and into the World of Science Fiction

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shifterThe Shifter’s Trail by Adam Alexander is a book that portrays friendship, wittiness, and determination. Alexander takes his ideas to a whole new level when he mixes young adult fiction, science and mathematics, and aliens all into the same novel. Yes, that’s right; I’m calling out to all of you nerds out there!

This book takes place in modern day Chicago, where a girl named Andromeda Brown lives a completely ordinary life. Her life is disheveled, however, when she finds herself in a position where she’s fighting for the future of the Earth. She is used to getting into trouble, and she’s also used to sneaking out of it using mathematical strategies that her teachers and parents just can’t keep up with. Through her exceptionally genius academic skills, she’s been able to keep her friends Demarcus, Mhairi, and herself on the safe side.

But there are situations that have no safe side.

The three friends are looking for an alien that has the ability to change his appearance and transform into any shape or form he wants. This Shifter’s trail is of interest not only to Andromeda, but to other, more powerful creatures that may find the Shifter before her and her friends. If this is the case, and the Shifter’s knowledge is given to the wrong group of people, then the Earth may be diminished forever. It is up to Andromeda to choose the right decisions- and right equations- to save the world, literally.

As a writer, I was not only given the opportunity to check this book out before it was actually released, but I was also given the opportunity to chat with Mr. Alexander himself and ask him about The Shifter’s Trail. Here are a couple of the questions and answers.

hat-man1) I heard that you work as – this link a lawyer, what inspired you to start writing a YA book?

My sister and my daughter!  My sister has been badgering me for years about writing a book and she finally wore me down to a point where I agreed to give it a go.  And having decided to write a book, I wanted it to be something my daughter could read.

2) Have you always been interested in being a writer? What came first, your ambition for writing, or your ambition for law?

Law.  I sold a sci-fi short story to a now defunct magazine when I was in college and I gave serious thought at that time to trying my hand at being a writer.  But the problem with being a writer is that it’s quite a lonely profession: it’s just you and a blinking cursor.  I’m fairly outgoing and the thought of being stuck day after day in a damp basement with only myself for company was too much!  The law just struck me as a more interesting way of life.  You get to meet all sorts of people with all sorts of problems and you help them find a way through when they most need it.  Plus, trials are, in my humble opinion, the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

3) Is science fiction your favorite genre? What are your favorite books in that category?

Yes!  I first started reading it because I wanted to know what the world would be like when I grew up.  I would fantasize that, one day, I would be the hero of whatever story I was reading!  As I got older I learned to love it for the great ideas and the incredible flexibility of the genre.  Science fiction is the one genre that lets you tell any story you want in any way you want to tell it. You can write a thriller, or a romance, or a tale about global warming and have all those stories appear on the same shelf at your local bookstore.  No other genre allows you to do that.

As for favorites, that’s really hard.  I guess I would go with E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Masters of the Vortex because it was the first “grown-up” sci-fi I ever read (I was nine, I think).  Then Isaac Asimov’s I Robot because of the ingenuity of the stories.  Even today, dated though they are (in at least one of them, the “future” is 1980!), the ideas and problems still make you think.  Moving slightly forward in time, Orson Scott Card’s Xenocide because of the jaw dropping ending.  And, for something more contemporary, I will order pretty much anything from CJ Cherryh sight unseen.  I thought Downbelow Station was brilliant.

4) Andromeda is a math and science genius, are you?

Absolutely not!  But I do find them interesting.  My day job is on the 40th floor of a downtown office building.  If the architect had got his sums wrong, I’d plunge to my death.  We live in a civilization built almost entirely on technology and yet most of us are completely ignorant about how it works – or why. One of the things I wanted to do with The Shifter’s Trail was to give a shout out to math and science. If anyone reading this book – no matter how “non-sciency” they actually are – comes away with a basic respect for math and science and what those things do to make the world a better place, I will count that as a win!

5) I’ve talked to authors who tell me most of the material they write about is inspired by their own life. I’ve also talked to authors who tell me they get their inspiration from outside their lives. Which category do you fall into?

I am very firmly in the latter category.  My own back story just isn’t that interesting!  Repackaging my own life for others to read would be narcissistic.

6) Do you personally believe in life outside planet Earth?

Yes I do.  We live on one planet around one star.  There are 200 to 400 billion stars in our one galaxy and there are 100 to 200 billiongalaxies in the universe – perhaps more (a German supercomputer recently estimated the number of galaxies at 500 billion).  It follows that the number of planets (and moons and asteroids) out there is incomprehensibly large.  In that context, the idea that life exists only on Earth borders on the absurd.

7) Was becoming a published author a hard process?


8) Do you think science fiction will make a comeback in popularity? Do you agree that it was a risk making your first novel science fiction?

I don’t think science fiction (judging by the shelf space in bookstores) is any more or less popular today than it was in the past.  It has always been a niche market, and those of us who love it have always been surrounded by a large number of people who just think it’s silly.  More fool them!

With regard to risk, there is risk in everything.  I am a firm believer in taking risks for outcomes that matter to you.  Besides, what risk are we talking about here?  You can always write a second novel, or a third – in any genre that takes your fancy.  The down side is pretty minimal.  All I want to do is tell stories!

9) Tell us about your upcoming story.

I’m working on a Young Adult dystopian with the working title of Savior’s Spring.  It’s a darker story than The Shifter’s Trail, with older protagonists.  It’s set in what’s left of Chicago a hundred years or so after a successful alien invasion destroyed society as we know it. You might be interested to know that some of it is set around Norridge and Schiller Park, which have done rather better than the rest of the city!

10) What advice would you give young authors looking to get published one day in the future?

I’m not sure I’m the person to ask but here goes….  First [nearly] everything you do will be rejected.  You have to find ways not to get discouraged.  Second, you have to learn to handle constructive criticism.  If you can’t use it to get better, you will always get rejected!

Overall, I was impressed by The Shifter’s Trail. Alexander’s use of math and science equations is sensational and nifty, and whether you’re interested in science-fiction or not, it grasps your attention. After figuring out which names belonged to which species of aliens and who exactly did what, I went through the book very quickly. As a reader, I was captivated and enthralled by the original content. I have to say though, the level of fantasy in the book is limitless; so if you are the type of person who loves to read the real stuff, this may not be for you. The Shifter’s Trail is probably something that would appeal to a younger audience. A group of middle-school students is who I can picture falling in love with the book’s energetic turn on reality, but is probably diverse enough to captivate a high school student as well.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Andromeda’s tale. I believe that Alexander did a wonderful job at mixing real life complexity with pen-and-paper math and science. The Shifter’s Trail is Adam Alexander’s first novel. While Alexander claims that the books is for, “the nerds who walk among us and the people who love them,” I encourage everyone- nerd or not- to check it out!