Excerpts from the interview:
“I've been increasingly interested in exploring the near future and the heightened present through thriller-style plotting and narrative structure that's revelatory rather than extrapolative. This trend actually started fairly early in my career. While Pasquale's Angel, my fifth novel, is an alternate history, it's also a noir novel in which the hero and a kind of private eye chase a MacGuffin. Fairyland, The Secret of Life, and White Devils form a loose trilogy that are all set around the same time in slightly different near futures that have recognizable roots in our present, and they have a thematic relationship: they're all about the consequences of biological research gone wrong; they're all told in the present tense; and there's even a minor character who pops up in all three books, playing the same role -- a tiny in-joke that I think just one reviewer picked up. The first third of Fairyland has a thriller element to it, and it's set in the London criminal underworld, as the hero, Alex Sharkey, starts out as a kind of drug dealer in trouble with the police. The Secret of Life is sort of a techno-thriller (I could turn it into a real one by stripping out all the Mars stuff except for the return of the Martian organism to Earth, and by killing off millions in the famines, droughts, wars, and so on caused by its spread). White Devils is something of a technothriller too, and it was published in Britain as a mainstream thriller because the publisher thought they could sell more books that way.”
“When you say that you're writing a science thriller, your publisher immediately thinks of Michael Crichton, and their eyes start pinwheeling and flashing pound or dollar signs. The trouble is, Crichton writes a very particular kind of science thriller -- they're really anti-science thrillers, in which the hero must wrestle with a genie that's been let loose, and somehow get it back into the bottle, so that the world can continue as before. But science fiction writers who write science thrillers -- not only me, but also Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, Nancy Kress, and Kim Stanley Robinson -- have a very different angle of attack. Not only are we pro-science, we're also not very interested in preserving the world as it is, because we know that isn't possible. Like all science fiction writers, we're interested in change, not the status quo. So while it's interesting to accumulate comparisons with Crichton, I don't think it is particularly useful, and I don't think that pro-science thrillers share exactly the same market as anti-science disaster novels.”
“All the tropes we're using now come from science fiction's deep history. Since cyberspace, I don't think there's been a brand-new trope, with the possible exception of the singularity. But the problem with the singularity is that it is the end of science fiction. After all, if the singularity is going to happen, it won't be possible to imagine what comes after it, and it isn't possible to write fiction there. It's a kind of anti-trope. Meanwhile, we're left with a large amount of often very good commercial science fiction that furnishes new plots with secondhand tropes and received, unexamined notions, and a smaller amount of the kind of stuff I find really exciting -- stuff that re-examines classic tropes from the ground up, tries to make them fresh again. Ideas like time travel, alternate history, aliens, and so on have been around a long time now; in fact, they've been around so long that novelists outside the field make use of them, as in Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, or David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. But that doesn't mean you can't think of new ways of using them, or of re-imagining them.”
“Mind's Eye, my latest book, is a thriller, but like White Devils, or Whole Wide World, it has a dash of weirdness in the mix. It's set in 2004 in London and Kurdistan (which is a territory spread across Iraq, Turkey, and Syria). The weirdness is the idea that there are patterns found in prehistoric rock art that -- if you take the right drug -- will affect your mind in various ways. Like White Devils, there's some wild speculative extrapolation from theories of consciousness. In form, it's mostly a straight thriller about a son whose father disappeared because of what his father did, about somebody coming to terms with a family history that is very strange. There's another character with a similar kind of background, and they come together because their families were entangled back in the 1930s. So it's sort of a backstory novel in which the two protagonists must deal with and finish off the story their grandfathers started -- like Indiana Jones's grandkids.
“I talked about the problem of publishing pro-science science thrillers in an industry that expects science thrillers to be, basically, anti-science. A couple of years ago I wrote an alternate history chase thriller involving the CIA traveling between worlds, Look for America. Nobody knows about it because it's been sort of hidden away because of publishing nonsense. It was supposed to be the book after White Devils, but it was too science-fictiony for a publisher that, while I was writing it, fired its science fiction editor and dropped its science fiction imprint. And I admit, they could be right about the science fiction stuff in the novel -- it has wormholes between alternate worlds through which trains run, regulated by the CIA. It's set around 1974, when one America is conquering other Americas because it wants to make them over into its idea of what makes America good. Unfortunately, its idea of 'good' isn't ours, and the plot is about saving our history from a wrong turn. The subtext is of course about the Iraq war. I'd love to see it in print right now, but... publishing nonsense. It's finished, but it isn't scheduled to come out until about 2008.”