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Paul Melko: Infinite Ohio
posted 29 November 2008
Paul Melko was born in Athens OH and grew up mostly in Delaware OH, the setting for many of his stories. He studied Nuclear Engineering at the University of Cincinnati, then attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, graduating in 1993. He worked for Westinghouse as a nuclear engineer for five years before switching fields to Information Technology. He's currently studying for an MBA at the Ohio State University.

Melko's first story, "Dysfunctional Family Cat", appeared in small-press magazine Aberrations in 1996. His first professional sale was "The Burning Man" in Realms of Fantasy (2002), and he has since published extensively in Talebones, Asimov's, and other magazines and anthologies. Some of his short work has been collected in Ten Sigmas and Other Unlikelihoods (2008).

Stories "Singletons in Love" (2003), "Strength Alone" (2004), and "The Summer of the Seven" (2005) are set in the world of first novel Singularity's Ring (2007). Forthcoming The Walls of the Universe is an expansion of his Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon Award-nominated novella of the same name.

Melko lives in Ohio with his wife Stacey and their four children.

Photo by Beth Gwinn

Paul Melko
Excerpts from the interview:

“I didn't have much interest in reading until my uncle gave me two Heinlein books, Have Spacesuit Will Travel and The Rolling Stones, when I was 13 years old. In Have Spacesuit, main character Kip Russell uses a slide rule to calculate how long it takes to get to Pluto, and it sort of blew my mind that you can actually figure these things out with a calculator or slide rule. That influenced my becoming an engineer. My engineering background is a big influence on what I write, how I write, and how I think about things.”


“I've always classified myself as a science fiction writer. That's what I love, and what I write. Every novel I've written has been a short story first. Singularity's Ring was several stories. 'Singletons in Love' was written because of Lou Anders. He said, 'I have a great idea for an anthology. I'm postulating a world in which computers and the Internet aren't a part of the future.' My concept came almost instantaneously: if it's not silicon computers, maybe it's biological computers. How do you get there? You build pods of parallel humans, five or six per pod. (With more, you have chaos and instability.)

“As soon as I had that idea for the interaction of characters in the pod, the Pod Children stories just emerged naturally. After I'd written three or four of them, I realized I had a novel, which turned out to be Singularity's Ring. Each one of those characters had a story, so 'Singletons in Love' is Meda's story, 'Strength Alone' is Strom's, 'Summer of the Seven' is Moira's (but that got cut from the novel). That structure is still apparent, so some people might say it's a fix-up novel, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that.”


“My next novel, is The Walls of the Universe, an expansion of the novella with the same title. It is a parallel universe story where we have multiple selves, the same idea I used in 'Ten Sigmas'. In that story, the main character is using his ability to cross among universes to accumulate power and stability for himself. But despite the chaos of the situation when he gets farther and farther out on the bell curve and makes more and more radical choices, ultimately he comes through and takes a more proactive stance: he realizes he has some duty to use his ability for more than his own self-fulfillment.

“You see the same structure in the novel version of The Walls of the Universe: a parallel universe where we have multiple selves. Genetically, the 'good' John and the 'bad' John are identical; it's just environment that has made the difference between the two. There are a lot of universes out there that are slightly different, so I can play with all sorts of 'what if?' situations and alternate histories. It's there in the background, a throwaway detail for any given universe -- which is still basically modern Ohio, since both Johns are from Finlay, my version of Delaware OH.”


“I recently workshopped a comedic science fiction novel, The Cankerman Story, based on a piece I had in Talebones, 'Cankerman's Shower'. It's hard to satisfy readers with comedic SF -- the jokes work for half the people, and different jokes work for different people. That will be the next adult novel I'm working on. Cankerman is like the main character in George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman books, a total coward and a cad. Flashman is present at all these huge events in history and always appears heroic and successful, when everyone around him knows he's a total ass. I took that kind of person and put him against all these science-fictional tropes. For instance, Cankerman is on a planet that's being defended by an Honor Harrington-type character and he totally screws it up for her, but by being a cad he saves the day. It's satirical comedy like Bill the Galactic Hero.

“Later, I'm looking forward to doing more novels set in the same multiverse as The Walls of the Universe. In Walls, one version of John wants to use the universe-traversing technology to save people while another wants to use it to exploit people, and there's a regulatory group that wants to clamp down on that kind of travel. My basic setting for those books may not ever go beyond Ohio, but it's an infinite Ohio.”

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