Hannah D. State - Riveting Sci-Fi With Cinematic Action
Hannah D. State is an award-winning Canadian author and science fiction/fantasy writer. Her debut novel, Journey to the Hopewell Star, was named “A Must-Have New Brunswick Book of 2020” by Atlantic Books Today and was a Gold Medal Winner in the Young Adult Sci-Fi category in the 2021 Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards. Hannah has a Bachelor of Arts degree from McGill University and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree from Queen’s University. Hannah is bothered by inequality, violence, greed, complacency, snakes, entering a dark room, and not getting enough sleep. She enjoys writing about strong-willed characters who don’t fit the norm and who overcome great obstacles with perseverance, self-discovery, and help from others. Sometimes Hannah can’t keep up with her characters’ ideas and plans, so she takes breaks, drinks coffee, does yoga, and takes nature walks to calm her mind and really listen. Born in London, Ontario, Hannah and her husband moved to the East Coast in 2016.
Please give us a short introduction to what Journey to the Dark Galaxy is about.
Journey to the Dark Galaxy follows the story of Sam Sanderson, a thirteen-year-old girl who is sent to an underwater military base off the coast of Labrador as a matter of international security. She’s burdened with a terrible responsibility, discovers dark truths about the organization, and is forced to cope with emotional and physical isolation as she undergoes an unimaginable journey.
A parallel storyline follows Kwan Yun, a twenty-two-year-old coder extraordinaire with incredible skills but a difficult past. She discovers a mysterious signal from deep space that sets off a chain of events.
As Sam and Kwan struggle to navigate their new and disturbing situations, a major threat looms: Duskara, a rogue AI cyborg residing in the Dark Galaxy, has unleashed an army of Malborgs (self-replicating killing machines composed of AI machinery and organic matter that resemble massive tumors) on their way to Earth, and she wants Sam to join her.
The story explores themes of personal and collective identity, artificial intelligence, the fragility of memories and their manipulation, and the risks associated with cloning, isolation, and mental health. It also raises philosophical questions about what it means to be human.
What inspired you to write about a mysterious signal from deep space?
There’s something awe-inspiring about how vast the universe is, what’s out there, and things we don’t yet understand. I think inside, people want to be part of something larger, to make connections with others to find meaning, and when that happens, even on a smaller scale, people feel more fulfilled.
I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s and enjoyed watching sci-fi movies like E.T., Star Wars, and Contact. Jodie Foster’s character in Contact really resonated with me. I loved watching a strong female scientist lead, someone intelligent and curious and searching for meaning, taking risks, dealing with challenges, exploring the data and the universe, and questioning her own belief system.
There are so many possibilities to explore with this type of premise. Deciphering the message is just the beginning. When Kwan discovers the signal, there are a lot of questions that follow. Who sent it and why? What does it mean? Where will it lead? Both Sam’s and Kwan’s journeys involve seeking answers, unraveling the mystery, dealing with the consequences, and experiencing a profound transformation in the process.
What drew you to Science Fiction/Fantasy as a genre?
What I love about the science fiction/fantasy genre is that it allows you to explore creative, imaginative worlds full of diversity and possibilities, which really gives you a lot of freedom to explore the unknown and question things. I tend to have an overactive imagination, extending situations into a realm of possibility, and then I try to think of solutions to make things better. Even though I’m writing fiction, I find that many current issues can impact us in different ways. When I’m bothered by something, it sticks with me. I try to consider how it may affect society in the future and how it might affect characters if they were thrust into a similar situation. Reading about world issues drives me to consider alternatives. I’m also a bit of an idealist, so science fiction/fantasy is the perfect realm and creative outlet for me.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I used to play the piano a lot. My grandmother taught me. I would like to get back into it. I also enjoy feeding birds out of my hands and volunteering within the community. I have a passion for nature and helping people. I like to think I am pretty good at playing Settlers of Catan.
Besides that, I’m a lifelong learner. I love taking courses. Is that a secret skill? Every time I learn something new, I realize how little I know.
Interesting cover. Why did you pick this one?
The cover was designed by Miblart, a company based in Ukraine. Their artists are super talented. I was looking for a company with a reputable track record that could deliver an original illustration that captured the essence of the story and some of its darker themes. Miblart was professional, delivered everything I needed, and provided helpful marketing materials.
This is the second book in your Dark Galaxy Series. Can it be read as a standalone? How does it tie in with the first book in the series?
The sequel is written in such a way that you don’t need to read the first book to understand the story. People can approach these books in whatever sequence they want. Journey to the Dark Galaxy follows Sam on another journey with her friends, but it’s more mature and darker in tone. There are interweaving storylines, greater threats and risks, more diversity, and many layers of complexity. In the first book, Sam develops skills that allow her to mind travel and visit new worlds. In the second book, that power is taken away, her gift for telepathy is prohibited, and she’s cut off from everyone and everything she knows and loves while grappling with a terrible responsibility and shocking discovery.
Readers say that the action was very cinematic. How did you pull this off?
A writing friend and mentor once told me that writing effective action is about writing the reaction of the characters—their thoughts, opinions, and how the events make them feel, question, and think. It stuck with me.
Whenever I write, the scene unfolds in my mind like I’m watching a movie. I’m a very visual person. I try to describe what I’m seeing, but sometimes it’s tricky and I can’t capture all the details the first time, so I have to slow the scene down and replay it again, sometimes from different perspectives. Often, there are gaps, especially in the first few drafts. I love the revision process because the words flow better, and that’s where the details and insights are added to help polish and strengthen the story.
Do any of your characters ever take off on their own tangent, refusing to do what you had planned for them?
Yes. My characters can be so stubborn sometimes! They like to challenge me and their circumstances. I think it’s because I give them too many terrifying and difficult situations, and they think I can sometimes be ruthless and unrelenting, so sometimes they call me out. That’s what happened in this story, during the scene where they’re playing a board game and wonder whether they’re characters in the story and everything’s pre-planned. And you know what they did? They ended up challenging me—the author! That’s when they became active, not passive, and decided to take charge and change things for themselves. That was the “Aha!” moment. After trying to structure their experiences and paths so rigidly, I decided to just let them do what they wanted, and they surprised me. It’s nice to see them transform the story and themselves in the process.
In which way is the planet Logom different from Earth?
Logom’s geography reflects its harsh nature. The large gray planet, forlorn and devoid of diversity, is located in the Dark Galaxy, a region with no light. It comprises a dreary landscape of black basalt deserts and ranges of sprawling mountains of stones formed from the rapid cooling of underground volcanic lava, completely devoid of anything green. There are no plants there. No life. Just large, dark-gray boulders spread out as far as the eye can see. It’s made up of thick, grimy smog and despair, its surface cold and rigid like stone, unyielding, severe. And crawling with Malborgs.
Logom is militaristic, fanatical, nihilistic, and callous. Sam, who is from Earth, represents the opposite. She embodies compassion and love. She holds on to hope for a better world and actively resists cruelty, apathy, spite, and maltreatment.
When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?
When starting a story, I like to think about scenes and characters in my mind before writing. I don’t have all the details or a plan right away. For complex stories, like novels, I’ll start with a synopsis, which helps define the essence of the story. It acts like a guide. From there, I’ll jot down ideas for scenes—themes, characters, interactions—and sketch out a very brief but flexible outline. But I don’t always write in chronological order of events. If a scene gives me a particularly difficult challenge, I’ll take a break and focus on a different passage. This way, it forces me to keep writing. And slowly, bit by bit, like putting together a puzzle, the images form; the description and dialogue come, and the characters soon take the lead, often surprising me with their choices and transformations.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I wish creative writing was more of a habit. My day job takes up the most time. Typically, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., I write technical documents as part of my job as a senior administrator with the federal government. But in terms of creative writing, I’ll spend maybe an hour or two in the evenings and a few hours on the weekends. It’s very sporadic. There are days when I’ll write more, and then sometimes a week goes by when I haven’t touched the manuscript. I think it’s partly why it takes me so long to finish a story—I don’t carve out a regular block of time for it, and there are competing priorities. My day job is what keeps the lights on and food on the table. I hope that changes one day so I can write creatively full-time.
What are you working on right now?
Right now, I’m working on a short story for an anthology and a sci-fi dystopian novella where gender plays a major theme.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Readers can discover more of my work on Goodreads and can reach out to me on Facebook and Instagram. I’ve included some links below. I absolutely love receiving messages from readers! It’s so encouraging and thoughtful. I’m also hoping to get a website up and running soon.
A mysterious signal from deep space. Earth’s leaders are given an ultimatum: deliver Sam Sanderson to Logom, a planet known to house a hostile AI civilization, or face interplanetary war. As Sam desperately navigates a maze of lies, dark secrets, and finds herself at the heart of a dangerous journey, she discovers that it will take much more than her courage and power to save humanity.