Alex Hernandez is a Cuban-American science fiction writer based in South Florida, and the first of his family to be born in the U.S. His most influential experience with (written) science fiction was as a kid, when he checked out a collection of Isaac Asimov short stories from the public library and immediately connected with the author’s immigrant story. Perhaps because of that, the themes of migration, colonization and posthumanism permeate his work, which usually blend the subgenres of space opera and biopunk. His stories have previously been published by Bean Books, The Colored Lens, Interstellar Fiction and others.
Your new book Tooth and Talon is about starting over in a new place. As Cuban-Americans, you and your family have some experience with this. What do you think is the hardest thing about being a ‘stranger in a strange land’? From watching my family adapt, I think the hardest part is probably accepting that you are in a new land and will be, for all intents and purposes, for the rest of your life. Losing your national/cultural identity and then trying to create a new one it tough. You can figure our how to survive in a new society, but spend your entire life trying to figure your place in it. My family doggedly clings to their Cubaness, but they’ve been here since the 60s so their sense of what it means to be Cuban is sort of stuck in a time capsule. The slang and cultural references are from 50 years ago. When they interact with actual Cubans (or those recently arrived) they’re confronted with the fact that they don’t have much in common with them and it hurts. They’re strangers in the US, but also strangers to Cuba. If anything, what they really are is Miamians. Miami is sort of their domed colony on an alien world.
You draw inspiration from a very diverse group of influences, but you especially mention the stories of Isaac Asimov. Can you share with us your favorite story and why? I know everyone references the Foundation series and I do like those books a whole lot, but for me my favorite and most influential has to be the Robot series with Elijah Baley and his partner R. Daniel Olivaw. I love the idea of human societies developing in unique and interesting ways not only because they’re on alien planets, but because of the pervasiveness of robots. I also love that Elijah, over the course of the series, overcomes his prejudice toward robots and eventually befriends R. Daniel. I remember reading the series when I was in middle school and being blown away by it. It’s part space opera, part mystery, and part buddy cop movie.
And as a follow-up to that question, you also have written a number of short stories; how did the experience of writing a novel differ? Oh it was very daunting at first. I had to trick myself into thinking it was several interconnecting short stories in order to even begin, but once the story and the characters took over it flowed pretty smoothly.
What is your favorite (read) book and why? My favorite book is Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler, which is actually a collection of three novels, but I encountered it as a single book. It just hits all the centers of my brain. I love the premise of aliens trying to “save” humanity by genetically hybridizing with us. I love all of the characters, both human and alien. I love that the ideas in the novel aren’t cut and dry. Sometimes I completely side with the aliens, but on other readings I see that the humans are clearly losing something vital and in fact aren’t being saved but subtly being conquered. And yes, this is the only book I’ve read multiple times. I’ve never been compelled to do that with any other book.
What is the book you dream of writing and haven’t yet? I’ve thought on and off of writing a Caribbean steampunk story or maybe a fantasy or combination of the two. I don’t know. It’s very embryonic and I think that’s part of the problem. I’m a futuristic science fiction guy, so that sensibility keeps inserting itself. Heh, I should just cave and make it sci-fi.