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OUT OF PHASE with P.N. Roberts

Face Value – What Inspired Me

P.N. Roberts

First off I’m going to give you a spoiler alert. In writing this I’ve tried not to give away too much of Face Value, but inevitably there has been a little slippage. In culinary terms, I’m hoping it’s more a case of you catching an alluring smell or a few tempting crumbs than getting half the meal in your lap. I want you to feel hungry for more, not calling for the manager.

I grew up reading science-fiction. It started with a Dr Who novel on my sixth or seventh birthday and I was immediately hooked. Before too long, Asimov, Heinlein and Bester had become my fixes of choice, and that trend has continued. I adore Banks’ work, most especially his Culture novels, and I discovered Martin not through Game of Thrones, but by chancing across the sublime Tuf Voyaging in my local library (that very book, purchased in one of the library’s regular sales, sits within arm’s reach as I write).

However, I don’t often get a chance to indulge myself by exploring that genre, yet alone the peculiar subset so demanding of genuine scientific rigour which is known as hard sci-fi, so when the chance came to write exactly that, I jumped at it.

I trained as a science teacher and even took a second degree in Physics so that I could do so, but while the vocation to teach was efficiently snuffed out, I remain, at heart, a scientist. Notice how I capitalised Physics? I can’t help it. I do it with Universe too, but never chemistry (ask Rutherford his opinion of that discipline and you might understand why the enmity between Physicists and chemists exists).

I still adore Physics. I thrill to the surreal concepts delineated by esoteric combinations of numbers and letters (be they Latin, or Greek). Ask me about the difference between Δt and δt and I will smile, the equation pV=nRT brings me actual physical pleasure and the mere mention of calculus has me trending towards ecstasy. The fact that the world’s most popular sit-com is about a group of Physics geeks – or, as I see them, my kind of people – fills me with joy unbounded and leads me gently by the slide-rule toward the gates of Nerdvana.

So I knew that I could handle the necessary science for my story, but more than that, I decided my central protagonist – no, my hero – was going to be a Physicist.

The next decision was the central conceit to drive the story forward and I opted for a staple of sci-fi which has always fascinated me – first contact. Could there be anything more paradigm-shifting than actual proof we are not unique in creation? Arthur C Clarke said: “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” Damn right.

And so I deconstructed the idea, breaking it down into a series of reasonable events which I could explore and follow through my protagonist. How would contact be initiated and maintained over the vast interstellar distances involved? What paths might lead from that? What would a meeting between two sentient species be like? Turns out it’s not so dissimilar to internet dating (although that’s a practice I’ve discovered is better suited to horror than sci-fi).

Finally, there was the denouement. If you’ve read any of my work you will know I love a twisted tail, and I don’t like my endings to be predictable. Having said that, there is still a need for a story’s conclusion to be logical, for there to be a certain inevitability which is clear in retrospect. Much like a black swan event, you have to be able to look back at it and go “yup – that all makes sense now”. In Face Value I manage to twist and turn not just once, but twice in that final stretch. I guarantee you won’t see those endings coming, but I’ll bet when you’re finished you’ll be asking yourself if my conclusion might not just be bang on the money because it’s so wonderfully obvious. You may even wonder how you could have missed it.

Hopefully you’ll have found the experience enjoyable too.

Now go. Read. It’s the safest way to explore strange, new Universes.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR — P.N. Roberts is the pen-name of Neil Roberts, a self-confessed geek born and still residing in the county of Cornwall in the South West of England. Having loved books from a precociously early age he none-the-less came to writing late in life, but has already had factual articles, fiction and even poetry published around the world. No-one is more surprised at this than Neil. He remains unmarried and has a history devoid of the interesting jobs and exotic pets that every other author seems to have acquired. He has been blessed with three great loves in his life, only one of which is food.

Twitter: @WriterRoberts


OutOfPhase_Front_CoverHorror and science fiction blend seamlessly in the twelve stories contained within this anthology. Whether it’s mutation, creation, invention, machinery gone awry, or space/time travel, each of the authors included took on the challenge of weaving a tale that not only stood up against scientific possibilities, but will scare the proverbial pants off readers.

Imagine a world where the skies are protected from giant insects by men and women who climb into flying steel contraptions. Or perhaps you like the idea of nanobots quietly working in the background to effect positive change, only to find out that maybe those changes aren’t completely beneficial. How about genetic manipulation gone horribly wrong? Fiction that may not be too far from fact…

All of these terrifying, yet thought provoking scenarios are part of this collection of tales that definitely have some genuine kick!


Dead Serious: A Story of the Invaders — Paul M. Feeney

Hive Mind — Alex Woolf

The Unity Contagion — B. David Spicer

SkyDogs — Richard Farren Barber

Grey Sands — DJ Tyrer

Waiting Time — Rivka Jacobs

First Second — Jason D’Aprile

Idle Puppet — Dev Jarrett

Face Value — P.N. Roberts

The Forgotten Ones — J. D. Waye

What Really Happened on Green Moon 764… — Sergio Palumbo

Under The Twin Eyes — Matthew Smallwood


Out of Phase is available on:

Amazon: US | UK | Australia | Canada | Germany | Italy | France | Spain | Japan | Mexico | Brazil | India | The Netherlands

CreateSpace (Print)


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