Excerpts from the interview:
I'm working on Odyssey, a mystery involving a case in the 23rd century, so I've been trying to look at what some of the social issues then might be. The trick, of course, is to decide things like what happens when only people with money can get their kids mentally enhanced. The capability to enhance people mentally is going to offend a lot of religious people because they tend to believe it's not the brain but the soul, and somehow you're screwing around with the soul.
I've also got a guy who feels he has suffered psychological damage by being exposed to all that talk about 'hellfire' when he was seven or eight years old, so he goes back and whacks the preacher. Ultimately it devolves into a court case. I've been accused of writing 1950s retro; well, this is H.L. Mencken and the Scopes 'Monkey Trial'. The protagonist is Gregory McAllister, my Mencken type from Deepsix. He's an editor: very cynical, very tough, very hard to be around. Wonderful human being! I'm planning to send him on (I hope) both a spiritual and a physical odyssey.
I'm not sure human nature changes. The trappings change. Go back and read some of the Greek and Roman classics, the stuff that survives. I have a hard time seeing a difference between those people and us. They had a different set of problems because their environment was different, but they worried about taking care of their kids and living reasonably decent lives with a certain amount of personal freedom. And if you come back in a thousand years, I don't think human nature's going to be that changed. Conditions will be different, science is going to have gone in different directions, but I do not believe that human beings change that much. I might be wrong. I hope not!
We are what we are. We've evolved over a long period of time. I don't think extending my life by another 60 years, or getting an opportunity to talk to an artificial intelligence that writes great symphonies, is going to change that. All that changes is the design of the pieces with which we play the game, but it's the same game.
I've had several invitations to talk to various service groups as the local science fiction writer. I went into one of these things, introduced myself, and a woman said, 'Hey Harry, the Buck Rogers guy is here!' I was on Fox television (of all the networks for me to show up on) with the same kind of thing. They wanted me to come in and predict what was going to happen in this century -- they described me as a 'futurist,' which is absolutely nuts! The 20th century was basically the nuclear century, and I suspect the 21st is going to be the biotech century. But I told these people, 'Try to imagine H.G. Wells, say, showing up in 1900 and trying to predict the 20th century. He's not going to know about Hitler, about computers -- all the big stuff.' It's beyond comprehension. The only thing I'm reasonably sure is, no science fiction writer will get it right. But who knows?
More than anything, I'm worried about what's happening in the United States now with the right wing. I live in south Georgia, and as far as I can tell there are maybe ten of us (outside Atlanta) who voted for Kerry in the last election. Where I live, people think Bush is just awesome. Because he talks about Jesus a lot, 'he's got God in his heart.'
I've been involved in some battles with the school board -- every few years, somebody gets on a crusade. Just prior to September 11th, they wanted to ban any book from the curriculum and from the library if it had any profanity in it whatsoever. It's pretty hard to find a book written above the 6th grade level that doesn't have some profanity. I told the school board, 'I don't want to sit behind a sewer-mouth at a football game any more than anybody else does, but I know if I'm there he didn't learn it from J.D. Salinger!' After the crazies hit the World Trade Center, a letter showed up in the Brunswick News saying how there was no question that the attack had been God's response to the people in Brunswick who were defending profanity for our kids. I thought, 'What kind of god does this guy believe in?' The same kind of thing happened after the tsunami. It's just madness, but I don't know how you can get rid of it.
I like science fiction because I can put my characters in these odd situations. For me, the moment comes when you recognize that next step beyond the world we're accustomed to, when you first encounter the alien. That's where the magic is. I'm interested in the characters on the spaceship and the fact they've got something out there that nobody has ever seen before. If I'm a 'Twen-Cen' kind of writer, it's because I've got likeable characters who maybe do a good thing, and at the end they walk away and shake hands and feel good about what they've done.