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Matters of Faith

(excerpted from Locus Magazine, January 1998)
Sarah Zettel
    Photo by Beth Gwinn

Sarah Zettel's first story was ''Driven by Moonlight'', published in Analog in 1991. Her first novel was Reclamation in 1996, and was followed by Fool's War in 1997. Another novel set in the same universe is now in the works.

''I wrote a lot of short fiction, did a bunch of stories for Stan Schmidt at Analog now there's a learning experience! One he sent back because I didn't have the lunar calendar right. One he sent back because my engines were impossible he said it was 'an improbably neat trick. How would you do that?' And another he sent back because I didn't have the right type of fish. One person is not allowed to know all this, but he does! And you have to keep writing and working to get the answers to the questions that your reader (as voiced by Stan) is going to have. And that is a tremendous way to learn your craft. I regard him as a really great teacher, and I think that experience is what led me directly to be able to write Reclamation.''

''If Reclamation is about anything, it is about the question of what's human. Is human a biological definition? Is human a mental definition? That's the Big Concept. What it's really about is a couple of people trying to come to terms with their background and who they are.''

''Space opera implies an adventure; a grand adventure. I write it because I enjoy the stories. I like to feel good while I'm reading, to have somebody to root for, to have somebody to struggle along with. And I like a semi-happy ending at any rate. I like to feel that something has been accomplished by the characters. You get all of that in a space opera, and if you're lucky you get some good high drama too.''

''My second book is Fool's War. That one grew out of a short story I sold to Analog, 'Fool's Errand' very much a story of prejudice. Who do we hate, and why? Why do we fear the other? I wrote 'Fool's Errand' during the Gulf War, and while I was writing it I heard that Islamic Americans and Arabic Americans were being hassled, simply because they were Arabic or Islamic. That went against my ideals. This is America we're not supposed to hassle people here for being different! We always have, we probably always will, but we're not supposed to.''

''Our three great icons of science fiction have all been atheistic males: Heinlein, Campbell, and Asimov, the guys who really founded modern hard SF, were all atheists. And supposedly, as technology and science advanced, and we progressed toward the future, somehow religion was going to be discarded, as people said, 'Oh, we don't need that.' Except, it's not happening. Not only are we having an increasing movement toward fundamentalism with the coming of the Millennium, but we've got UFO cults, New Age cults. As we progress, spirituality and the concepts of religion change, but they're not going away. I believe human beings can make a religion out of anything, and I believe they will. People have made atheism a religion. People make science a religion. People make a religion out of cold, hard rationality, which they'll cling to with all the fervor of a fundamentalist clinging to the !!concept of divine creation. I have met militant atheists. They're annoying!''

''I agree Analog isn't part of the main SF dialog any more, but we still need what is being said in Analog. Maybe not the strong libertarian philosophy, but it's a rarified atmosphere. It's the people who are still in love with the technology and still believe technology holds all the answers. If we can get the hardware working properly, all will be good and right with the world. Newton and Schroedinger and Einstein will be at the controls, and we'll have it all sorted out! We want to teach people to use the machines better, rather than taking into account humanity's needs, rather than teaching the technology to fit human beings more. We have to do both, which is why I think it's a shame Analog's not fully into the SF dialog anymore.''

© 1998 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.