The following is an interview I had with a local newspaper. The article can also be found here on the West Seneca Bee’s website.
West Seneca native releases second science fiction novel
by TAYLOR NIGRELLI
John Caligiuri has had a love of science fiction since he was a boy growing up on Greenbranch Road in West Seneca. Now, he’s sharing that love with the next generation of fans as a sci-fi author himself.
Caligiuri’s second novel, “Cocytus: Sanctuary in Hell” was recently released. It’s the sequel to his first novel, “Cocytus: Planet of the Damned.” In all, there are four books in the series, with two yet to be published. The name “Cocytus” comes from the lake of fire in the ninth circle of hell in Dante’s “Inferno”. Caligiuri’s work heavily references popular mythological and science fiction stories from the past, references he began picking up as a child in West Seneca.
Caligiuri used to spend every Saturday with his mother at the West Seneca Library, checking out as many science fiction books as he could find. He kept that love of sci-fi through his years at St. John Vianney Elementary School and Baker-Victory High School.
“I used to grab as many books about science fiction and history as they would let me check out,” Caligiuri said. “I would just consume them. I was just an avid reader of those types of story. Basically, I think I read everything they had in that place, probably a couple times.”
As he got older, Caligiuri became more critical of the work he consumed. He began to think that he could write a quality science fiction book himself. He got that chance around 2012.
Caligiuri had built himself a career as a computer engineer, working for Kodak. The company declared bankruptcy in 2012 and he was out of a job. At an age where he was too young to retire, but not exactly young enough to embark on a new career, Caligiuri faced a difficult decision. Should he relocate to another part of the country to continue in the same line of work or should be do something he had always wanted to try: write novels.
He started off writing some short stories that he now admits were “pretty bad.” But he improved over time by taking classes and going to seminars. He was picked up by a publisher, which allowed him to more easily share his work with the world. In addition to the two published novels and two in tow, he recently wrote an award-winning short story called “Wait- ing for the End of Time.”
For the “Cocytus” series, Caligiuri began in a familiar setting: Western New York. The main character, Dante Carloman, is driving down Route 86 from Cornell University to his home in Fredonia for Christmas vacation. The adventure takes him to another planet where he has to get out of a sort of human death camp. Through his travels, he discovers previously unknown information about human’s role in the galaxy.
In “Sanctuary in Hell,” the small group of humans from the first book starts to spread out across the galaxy to better understand an evil force that “has it in” for humans.
“It’s kind of a fast-paced adventure, I try to lace it with some humor, not keep things too heavy,” Caligiuri said. “I put together a diverse group of people and creatures, who find a strange way of working together and solving what seem to be insurmountable problems.”
Caligiuri also employs some of his computer engineering background to keep the story rooted in some semblance of reality. As an example, he uses one of the most popular science fiction works of all time: Star Wars. He says that the scenes where Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine are on the other side of the universe from each other, but are communicating via hologram couldn’t actually happen due to the speed of light. He calls the communication across the galaxy in his story a “Pony Express type set-up.” He believes that makes for a more interesting story.
“You can’t do any direct communication because the distances are so great, but you can physically move things through hyper-space,” Caligiuri said. “It helps stories develop because you don’t have instant communication. It introduces a certain level of confusion and different conflicts and such that you wouldn’t have in some other storyline where you can talk to anyone anywhere, instantaneously. I kind of like to keep that sort of stuff somewhat reality-based and tie that in with what a person reading the story could follow without too much trouble.”
While Caligiuri’s work is dense with references and homages to popular science fiction work, he doesn’t believe that a reader has to be a sci-fi obsessive to enjoy the work. For example, fans of the early 20th century H.G. Wells book “War in the Air” may pick up on an homage in the upcoming third novel in the “Cocytus” series. But if not, Caligiuri hopes readers will enjoy the adventure aspects of the story.
And while you may never be quite sure where in the universe Caliguiri is taking you as a reader, you can be sure that there is one rule he will follow.
“The only requirement I have in my stories came from my daughter. She said ‘dad, you can’t kill any kids.’ So, that’s the one rule for all my stories, no kids are going to die,” Caligiuri said.
Caligiuri’s writing may take him all over the real and imagined universe, but its base is in West Seneca. He’s happy to share the love of science fiction he developed as a child a half-century ago with the kids of today.
“It really did all start with my mom taking me to the library in West Seneca and just reading all the books that I could and just enjoying them immensely and taking me away to another world,” Caligiuri said. “I just wanted to take that concept and share that pleasure with other folks.”