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Mailing Date:
28 April 2005

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Chris Roberson: Bells and Whistles and Fireworks
Chris Roberson grew up south of Dallas, Texas, attended the University of Texas at Austin, and got a degree in English literature with a minor in history. He held a variety of jobs, including a seven-year stint as a product support engineer for Dell computers, before quitting his day job in 2003 to launch small press MonkeyBrain Books, which specializes in non-fiction genre studies. He co-founded the now-defunct Clockwork Storybook writers collective in 2000, and self-published four POD novels there, from Voices of Thunder (2000) to Any Time at All (2002). His first professionally sold novel, Here, There & Everywhere, from Pyr (2005), is a revised and expanded version of Any Time at All. Alternate history The Voyage of Night Shining White (PS Publishing) and Paragaea: A Planetary Romance (Pyr) are forthcoming in 2006. Roberson is the editor of the retro-pulp Adventure anthology series, with volume one due in November 2005.

Photo by Beth Gwinn
Roberson's first professional sale, "O One" (2003), was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and winner of the Sidewise Award for best alternate history in the short form category. He is currently a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and their baby daughter.
Excerpts from the interview:

There's something wrong with me -- if I didn't have the opportunity to channel my obsessive tendencies into something fairly constructive like writing, I'm sure I'd be obsessed with some crazy conspiracy theory and papering the walls of my house with articles I'd cut out of The Weekly World News and The Wall Street Journal, with pen mark notations all over them. But luckily I found the other avenue. It's not just one thing, because I'm doing three and I alternate between them.

*

I like to refer to my novel Here, There & Everywhere as my first wide release, because I did have a few things that nobody ever saw -- in order, Voices of Thunder, Cybermancy Incorporated, Any Time at All, and Set the Seas on Fire, all genre of one kind or another. The new book is a substantially revised and expanded version of Any Time at All. It's an examination of the time-travel subgenre, in terms of how it's been used before -- David Gerrold, Doctor Who, the Legion of Superheroes (nobody has found them yet, but they are in there) -- and I also tried to make it as plausible as possible. I have a mania for research. The only thing that keeps me from writing more is that before I write I have to go and read everything I can, to make it sound like I know what I'm talking about. Before I started this one, I essentially taught myself a couple of semesters of college theoretical physics....

It's the job of the fiction writer to repackage and re-present these questions and quandaries in ways that are consumable and enjoyable but lead to the same kind of discussion. Whether we're writing historical fiction or science fiction or fantasy, all we really do is pass along little interesting things that we've picked up elsewhere. We're just saying, 'There's this great thing I learned, and I'm going to tell you about it.' (We also lie a lot.)

*

My story 'O One', that won the Sidewise Award and (humiliatingly!) did not win the World Fantasy, is about John Henry and the steam engine in this alternate history dominated by China that I've been working with. ...

I'm writing more alternate-history China stories. There's The Voyage of Night Shining White, a novella in the series that's being released in 2006 by PS Publishing, and Im also writing a standalone YA set in the same world. The title of the sequence is Celestial Empire and the first collection is Celestial Empire: Fire Star. The stories are a novel in the sense that The Martian Chronicles is a novel. (Everything I do is fairly episodic. Even Here, There & Everywhere is composed of standalone chapters that kind of accrete into a novel.) Fire Star will be snapshots of different moments in history, in the development of this alternate world, with no recurring characters at all, just following certain themes through.

*

I suppose I'm more an optimist than a pessimist. After talking at length to Lucius Shepard a while ago, I was proud of the fact that I still felt that as a civilization we're on an upward trend. I've come to realize in recent years that everything positive about western civilization, going back through the last centuries, is the result of a progressive liberal tendency. Over time, a greater number of our citizens are enfranchised, restrictions on our liberties are reduced, and the standard of living (on a whole, averaged out) is improved. I have to cling to that, particularly in the last four years as things have gone from bad to worse. There's always going to be a step backasswards, but over the long haul we're moving forward. In the Third World and in many parts of the United States, you can certainly see the bleak darkish things humanity is capable of doing. I have my own bleak moments, but I think over the long haul things are getting better.


 
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