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Amish: Humility of a Witness

Amish Tripathi was born October 18, 1974 in Mumbai, India. He grew up in the eastern part of the country and went to boarding school in Tamil Nadu, in Southern India, before returning to Mumbai for high school and college. He got his MBA at the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta, and worked in finance for 15 years.

Amish writes in English, and began self-publishing his Shiva trilogy in India in 2010. It is published by Jo Fletcher Books in the UK. Book one, The Immortals of Meluha, appeared in the UK in early 2013, followed later that year by The Secret of the Nagas, with The Oath of the Vayuputras forthcoming in June 2014.

He met his wife Preethi as a teenager and they married in 1999. They have one young son.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘My books began as a pure philosophical thesis, nine or ten years ago. My family and I were watching a TV program. We discovered something very interesting. In the ancient Indian pantheon, which exists today as well, Indian gods are called devas and demons are called asuras. What we discovered in this TV program was that in the ancient versions of the religion, the gods were called asuras and demons were called devas. The exact opposite! Which started a very interesting debate in our family. If the ancient versions and the modern versions met, they’d probably call each other evil, because my god is your demon, and your god is my demon, so they must be evil. Who’d be right? The obvious answer is neither – they’re just two different ways of life. If neither of them is evil, what is evil? Is evil something bigger? Is evil something beyond this?”

*

‘‘I don’t think of them as three separate books. It’s one continuous story broken into three books for convenience. Before the first book was released I had the entire story clear in my mind.

‘‘For me, it’s a mix of fiction and history. Some of the historical interpretations aren’t the official ones, like the Aryan invasion theory, which in India, at least, the official historians still believe. The theory is that the Vedic people were descendants of central Asians who conquered India three and a half thousand years ago and forced the original inhabitants to move down south. These central Asian leaders became the Vedic Aryans. Many Western historians have started junking the Aryan invasion theory. They say there isn’t enough evidence to back that idea. Migrations happen all the time, but the Vedic civilization was an indigenous culture. These things are being backed by genetic researchers – if there was a massive invasion of central Asians three and a half thousand years ago, then the gene pool should have shown an infusion of central Asian genes or gene mutations. When the Aryan invasion theory first came up two hundred years ago, there was no genetic research. The research today is a pretty serious blow to the Aryan invasion theory. In India this historical discussion is heavily politicized. The left-wing guys back the Aryan invasion theory, and the right-wing guys question the Aryan invasion theory. You cannot have a rational discussion in India on this topic. If people would just look at the facts!”

*

‘‘My book was rejected by every publisher I sent it to. One publisher explained in very clear terms why the book had no hope. He said that it’s on a religious topic, and the youth are not interested in religion, so I’d alienated that market segment. They don’t want someone talking down to them. (I don’t think it’s a religious book, I think it’s an adventure book. It just happens to be based on Shiva, a religious figure.) The assumption was that young readers wouldn’t be interested, because religious books weren’t selling at that time in India. The second thing was that I have a different take on religion, not in line with the official version, which means the older religious people wouldn’t be interested. The third thing is that I insisted on writing in modern Indian English, which means the literary elite in India wouldn’t be interested. They like British-style writers, they’re still stuck in that era, and they don’t want modern prose. Basically I’d alienated every single reader segment. I told him, ‘I didn’t do market research, I just wrote the book.’

‘‘So I’m self-published. …”

*

‘‘I don’t use my surname, Tripathi, on the cover of my books. It’s a caste surname, and I’m against the caste system. I have to use it for legal purposes, obviously, but on my books I don’t use it. The way the caste system exists today is not the way it was originally supposed to be. Today it’s based on birth, which is wrong. Originally it was a hierarchy based on karma, on merit.”

*

‘‘Book three has now been released in India. I have various other book ideas, all based on mythology and history, some Indian, some based on Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Turkish history. I have enough ideas to keep myself busy for the next 20 years. I only resigned from my finance job after my second book. (I couldn’t tell my kid to starve because Daddy was discovering himself.) I resigned only when I realized I could meet my responsibilities with writing. Hopefully it won’t happen, but if my next book flops, I can always go back to banking. But I’ll continue writing. Even if the only people reading my books are my family, I’ll continue writing. I love it. I was 29 or 30 years old when I started writing. You are never too old to chase a new dream. I always believe that.”


Daryl Gregory: The Numinous

Daryl Jon Gregory was born June 26, 1965 in Illinois, grew up in Darien IL, and attended college at Illinois State University, graduating with a double major in English and Theater. He taught high school for a few years, became a technical writer, and is now a part-time programmer.

In 1988 Gregory attended the Clarion workshop, where he wrote ‘‘In the Wheels’’, his first publication, which appeared in F&SF in 1990. Other stories include ‘‘Taking the High Road’’ (1991), ‘‘The Sound of Glass Breaking’’ (1992), ‘‘An Equitable Distribution’’ (1997), ‘‘Free, and Clear’’ (2004), ‘‘The Continuing Adventures of Rocket Boy’’ (2004), Sturgeon Award finalist ‘‘Second Person, Present Tense’’ (2005), ‘‘Gardening at Night’’ (2006), ‘‘Dead Horse Point’’ (2007), ‘‘Unpossible’’ (2007), ‘‘The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm’’ (2008), and ‘‘Glass’’ (2008). Some of his short work has been collected in Unpossible and Other Stories (2011). In 2011 Gregory began writing for comics, notably for the Dracula: Company of Monsters and Planet of the Apes series from Boom! Studios.

First novel Pandemonium (2008) was a World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, and Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and won the Crawford award for best first fantasy. Second novel The Devil’s Alphabet (2009) was a Philip K. Dick Award finalist, and zombie novel Raising Stony Mayhall appeared in 2011. His latest novel, Afterparty, is out this month, and Lovecraftian YA Harrison Squared and the Dwellers is forthcoming.

He lives in State College PA with wife Kathy Bieschke and their children Emma and Ian.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I come from hillbilly stock – my ancestors were all kicked out of the Smoky Mountains when they made it a national park in the 1930s, and almost all my relatives still live in Tennessee. The rest of the family grew up in this town called Rocky Branch. My parents moved north for jobs in the ‘60s, and I grew up in Chicago, but we would go ‘home’ (as we called it) for vacation to Tennessee, a couple weeks a year. The Devil’s Alphabet is about me being the northern kid who had all these relatives in the South. I’m an inside/outsider in Rocky Branch. In the novel, there are these mutants who are gigantic and 600 pounds, and some that are ten feet tall and rail thin. It flirts with the stereotypes of the South. My parents read it and said, ‘This is like a lot of the people around here.’ It’s about living in a small town where this weird thing happened ten years before, and people started changing.”

*

‘‘Readers will read something as science fiction if the characters are engaged in the process of science. In fantasy there’s no fiddling with the rules. You pull a sword out of a stone, and that makes you King of England. There’s no, ‘But what if I put a sword into the stone?’ In a science fiction novel, everybody would be trying to figure out how to make more kings by inserting more sharp objects into rocks! A fantasy novel is almost distinguished by not asking those fundamental questions about what is going on. A science fiction novel, no matter what the rules, is always asking those questions. A character in Pandemonium says, ‘We don’t even understand how consciousness works. We know that it’s real, but nobody understands it.’ Just because we don’t know why demons are running around the world by the end of the novel doesn’t mean there’s not some explanation.”

*

‘‘The new book, Afterparty, is about neuroscience and the feeling of the numinous. This is something I’ve toyed around with at various points. There’s a story called ‘Damascus’ where I deal with this, and in every single thing I’ve written there’s this religious flavor that comes from being raised as a Southern Baptist. It just comes like grits in the South: there’s gonna be Jesus imagery in everything I write. Afterparty has ideas I’ve been working on in science fiction short stories that never made it explicitly into a novel before (though weird stuff about identity keeps showing up even in the ostensibly fantasy novels, because that’s what keeps bothering me).

‘‘Over the years, I’ve been reading about how we can study monks who are deeply meditating, Catholic nuns who are praying very deeply, and see the parts of their brain that are lighting up. There are people with temporal lobe epilepsy who have these intensely religious experiences, and they don’t feel like hallucinations. You feel that you’re in contact with something real, like you’re opening up an antenna. A lot of people have occasional experiences of the numinous.

‘‘I’m a materialist, a brain-science kind of guy, so I think these are very sophisticated illusions – just as we believe we have free will and that we have a self. But I was interested in the idea that if you could synthesize this and make it into a drug, maybe you’d be a better person on religion than you are without it. In the book, I’m constantly arguing against myself, in that I tell you it’s a drug, so the reader’s first reaction is, ‘They’re hallucinating this.’ But I still want you to believe in the hallucinated character of Dr. Gloria and have her seem as real as any of the characters in the book, so you feel the loss when she goes away. It’s like the loss you feel for some fictional characters when they die: you know it’s an illusion, at the same time as you feel that real emotion.

‘‘At the end of chapter one and the beginning of chapter two, I tell you she’s an illusion, and I want you to care anyway. Lyda is a better person when she’s with Gloria, and Gloria saves her life a couple of times. When you grow up in a religion like I did, there are some people you believe are better off – become better people – once they’ve ‘found Jesus,’ because of this belief system. Why would you want to take that away from them? In science fiction, of course, we would argue that you need a life without any illusions because that’s the stronger choice, but I wanted to have it both ways in the book. There are a lot of benefits to living with illusions. I still persist in thinking of myself as a self, and a contiguous personality, even when it’s demonstrably false.”

*

‘‘My next project is basically a Lovecraftian YA for Tor. (I think of it as ‘Cthulhu for Kids.’) Before David Hartwell bought it, I had a discussion with a different publisher about, ‘How scary can you be?’ I think what they were afraid of is a parent picking up a book and thinking it’s too scary for their kids. In my book, there’s a knife-wielding guy. The mom is in danger. I was writing the kind of adventure I thought my son would like and that I like to read. I didn’t do a lot of, ‘Let me find a guidebook that would tell me what level of violence is OK.’

‘‘The book is called Harrison Squared and the Dwellers. All the adults are the typical Lovecraftian townspeople where everybody’s in the cult, but some of the teenagers don’t want to be in the cult. It’s basically Innsmouth. Because it’s a teen book, they’re the rebels who are not on board with sacrificing strangers to the Great Unnamed God. That’s why they’re the protagonists. The comparison with me growing up in the Southern Baptist Church is completely incidental!’’


Paul Cornell: Impossible Things

Paul Cornell was born July 18, 1967, in the West Country of Britain. He got his start as a writer doing Doctor Who tie-in work, producing a number of novels starting in 1991. Beginning in the mid-’90s he also wrote for various British television programs, including Doctor Who; he scripted the Hugo Award nominated episodes ‘‘Father’s Day’’ (2005) and the two-part ‘‘Human Nature’’/’’The Family of Blood’’ (2006), the latter adapted from his 1995 novel Human Nature. He’s also co-written several non-fiction books about TV shows.

Cornell’s first non-tie-in novel was Something More (2001), followed by British Summertime (2002). He began a new urban fantasy series with London Falling (2012), with volume two, The Severed Streets, forthcoming.

Cornell has produced a small body of well-respected short fiction, notably Hugo Award nominee ‘‘One of Our Bastards Is Missing’’ (2009) and Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist ‘‘The Copenhagen Interpretation’’ (2011). He is part of the SF Squeecast podcast, winner of the 2012 and 2013 Hugo Awards for best fancast.

He is also a comics writer, notably of Hugo Award finalist Captain Britain and MI13, Volume 3: Vampire State (2009) and the Saucer Country series from Vertigo (2012-13); volume 1 was a Hugo Award finalist in 2013.

Cornell lives in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, England, with his wife, the Anglican priest and writer Caroline Symcox.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘When I was young we lived in a bungalow, built by my father, in the shadow of a chalk White Horse cut into the Wiltshire downs. I used to spend a lot of time up there when I was little. My mother had a complex relationship with what she would never refer to as the Little People – she just calls them ‘her people.’ She said to me just the other week on the phone, ‘I wander about the house at night, and, well, I never actually meet anyone…’ That was the house I grew up in. The possibility that there were ‘people’ at night was terrifying, but also interesting.

‘‘I did a term of Astrophysics at University College London, but I dropped out, because I couldn’t handle the maths. I’d written for the college magazine, and I quickly realized I needed a source of income. That’s when I sold my first piece (a review of The Rocky Horror Picture Show for Starburst magazine). I recommend poverty to sharpen one’s writing skills. When I went back to college, at the University of Lancaster, I got an MA in writing. Yes, I’m actually qualified to be a writer! At the scene of an accident, I can yell ‘let me through, I’m a writer!’ What I really learned in my time there was how to run a radio station and a night club.

‘‘I’ve never had a real job. In the 1990s I was in Manchester during the ‘Second Summer of Love,’ and had an amazing time – lots of ecstasy. While I was there, in the same week, I sold my first radio sketches and also my first Doctor Who tie-in novel.”

*

‘‘More recently I approached Tor UK with a multi-book idea that had once been a TV series pitch, though never a script.(I regret having mentioned that in the back of the book now, because all the reviews began, ‘This was obviously once a TV show.’ Although now it’s once again been optioned to be one.) Last year’s London Falling has been much more successful than my first efforts. Both it and the forthcoming sequel The Severed Streets are commercial novels that I think are also about something. They’re me trying to square the circle of writing pop fiction that also has heft. A bit like Doctor Who.

‘‘The series deals with a group of undercover police who suddenly gain the ability to see all the supernatural stuff in London. The only way they’re going to survive is by using police methods and tactics against the magic. It’s Luther does Buffy. (I know, you’ve seen that video.) What’s important, really, about these books is absurdity: the notion that a group of professional people, who have their training and systems, find themselves up against something that’s impossible.

‘‘It’s been a great pleasure to get to know police officers and intelligence analysts. Analysts are the people who work out the diagrams of gang structure, where the money goes. My broken genius analyst Ross is based on a dear friend of mine (not actually broken) who is also a Doctor Who fan. There are loads of them in the police force. If I want to meet some police, I just say, ‘I’ve written for Doctor Who,’ and they’ll go, ‘Ooh! Which one?’

‘‘The books are kind of science-fictional, in that, being police, my characters are always trying to figure out my magic system and check if my plot is logical. In one of my favorite scenes in London Falling, they’ve got to deal with a ghost bus. ‘How can a motor vehicle be a ghost? Did it not follow the light and move on to its reward?’ They’re interested in the mechanisms of how that all works, and so won’t be satisfied with the generic. By the end of the books, I think they will have actually figured out all my magic and come to a rationalist conclusion about it. Though I never use the word ‘magic’, rather like the word ‘Mafia’ never appears in The Godfather. It keeps me honest.

‘‘I call these books urban fantasy, because I don’t like the idea of trying to squirm out of a genre when one is obviously in it. I also like the urban fantasy audience, I want my books to be for them, and they will find nothing that alienates them. But I like the idea that the books are SF and crime fiction too.”

*

‘‘For a year, I had a policy that I would only appear on panels which were at least 50/50 male/female. I’m always afraid I sound smug about this stuff, because this is a cause that belongs to women and I’m just doing this one tiny thing and lots of other people did it first. I got dropped from a couple of events as a result of this policy. I had planned to just do it for a year and then stop, but loads of people asked me to keep going. I changed my rule to make it a bit easier, and these days just won’t do all-male panels (unless it’s a convention that’s gone to the trouble of counting men and women across all its panels and then equalizing the number of panel seats all in all). These days, the concept tends to get called Panel Parity.

‘‘The thing is, there are always qualified women in the audience, and they’ve often de-selected themselves, wondering if they know enough, while men will usually think ‘I don’t know much, but I’ll have a go’. So there’s an untapped resource of these highly qualified women in the front row of panel audiences. People arguing against Panel Parity often say ‘we want to get the best people for the panel, irrespective of gender.’ If you’ve really done that, then I hope your convention doesn’t feature any male panelists who say ‘I don’t know why I’m on this panel,’ and I hope that afterwards you’re able to justify why so few women were among ‘the best people.’”


Spotlight on: SF Signal

John DeNardo is the co-founder and managing editor of SF Signal. He has been known to do things for free bagels.

JP Frantz is the co-founder and sometimes blogger/editor of SF Signal.

Patrick Hester is an author, blogger, and 2013 Hugo Award Winner. He produces/hosts the SF Signal and Functional Nerds podcasts and produces Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing Podcast. His fiction can be found via his Amazon author’s page.

Tell us about SF Signal, your Hugo Award-winning fanzine/blog. How did it start, how did it develop into its current form, and what’s your mission?
JP Frantz: SF Signal started in 2003 when we noticed a criminal lack of any science fiction-oriented blogs on the Internet. Being the tech geeks we are, we decided to start our own blog as a place to share interesting links and bits of SF/F and to avoid clogging the corporate e-mail servers with our stuff. Fast forward to 2014, and SF Signal has grown to become a two-time Hugo Award-winning fanzine with quite a large readership, so clearly people like and enjoy what we blog about. Though we still clog the corporate e-mail server. Mostly with cat pictures.

SF Signal basically started as a place for us to post interesting links and discuss them. Over the years we gradually added more original content which seems to have served us well. Much like the beginning, we see SF Signal as a place for like-minded SF/F fans to meet and discuss whatever topics interest them.

How did the current editorial staff come together, and how do you divide up your responsibilities?
JP: What started with both John and me as the main contributors has grown into the multi-headed hydra you see today. Blogging takes a lot of time if you want to do it right, so it seemed to make sense to invite others to share their passion for SF/F on our site. When an area of need presents itself, we ask around to see if anyone is interested in contributing. We now have numerous individuals contributing all sorts of posts to SF Signal on multiple aspects of the genre. Without them, the site would not be where it is today.

You’ve got a huge number of contributors. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with so many voices? How are things organized?
John DeNardo: The advantage of having multiple contributors is that you get multiple viewpoints on different aspects of speculative fiction. We all bring our own worldviews and experiences to the table. The end result, hopefully, is offering readers a variety ways of looking at different elements of speculative fiction.

From a content perspective, having multiple contributors seems like a blessing. It is, in some ways; gone are the days where one person alone feels like they must… feed… blog. That said, that content still takes time to coordinate, edit, lay out, etc. That’s not a disadvantage, per se, but it’s not ‘‘free’’ content either, time-wise. And to be clear, we are incredibly grateful to our contributors and the guests who have come on to talk about the SF/F field.

Organizationally, people pretty much work at their own pace. The main idea behind SF Signal is that it’s supposed to be fun. Why do it otherwise? There are more important things in life than blogging, and people are contributing on their own free time, so I’m not super strict with editorial deadlines. There are enough contributors that there’s always something fun to post every day.

You cover a lot literary SF/F and horror news, but also publish interviews, reviews, and commentary. Are you more interested in documenting the field, or in trying to shape it?
John: Our main motivation for doing any of this is to share our love of genre with like-minded readers through various types of posts. One of the best parts of interacting with fans – online or in-person at conventions – is talking about the books we like to read and the films and television we like to watch. Along the way, I suppose we are documenting the field, somewhat. Our daily link posts could easily stand as an archive of what people in the community were talking about at the time. I don’t think we’re actively trying to shape it. We don’t have an agenda. We’re just a bunch of folks having fun.

Tell us about your best – or most popular, or most controversial – entry on the site. What sparked the most conversation?
John: Traffic-wise, our Flowchart for Navigating NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books (link) as well as the companion Interactive version (link) are still getting hits more than 2 years after they went up, so those are fairly popular. As far as interaction with the community, Kate Elliott’s guest post The Omniscient Breasts (link) was quite lively. Any posts we’ve done that are controversial only became that way accidentally; they were never intended to be. We’re just not into trying to incite others to draw traffic. After a while, such noisy tactics tend to drown out the otherwise good content that gets lost in the shuffle, so we just try to stay focused on sharing our genre experiences, likes, and dislikes.

You also help run the SF Signal podcast, a Hugo-nominated fancast. How did that begin, and what’s it like?
Patrick Hester: A long time ago, singer/songwriter John Anealio approached me about combining our individual podcasts into a single podcast called The Functional Nerds, a term I’ve used to describe myself for years. When we were discussing that, it came up that we would need a place to host the podcast. I suggested SF Signal, but we didn’t think John D. would go for it, given that SF Signal is so well established within the community, and we were just starting up this podcast thing, so we decided not to pitch the idea to John D. at that time, and started building The Functional Nerds.

Once we had a few (quite a few, actually) episodes and interviews under our respective belts, we decided to revisit the idea of doing a podcast for SF Signal. By then, The Functional Nerds had a following and a brand all its own, and it didn’t seem to us that it fit to take that show to SF Signal. Instead, we pitched a new show that would include a lot of the content from SF Signal. John D. liked the idea, and gave us the go-ahead.

The SF Signal Podcast has changed a lot in the years since we started. John Anealio only did the first few episodes. The single format including a panel discussion – similar to what you might find at a con – followed by an interview, also went away. I split the shows up, giving listeners a panel on Mondays, and an interview on Thursdays, and that’s worked really well for us. As of this writing, we’ve done over 230 shows. Can it be a grind doing two hours of SF Signal, another hour of Functional Nerds, and two to four hours of I Should Be Writing every week? Absolutely. But I love it. I love the interaction and getting to know all these wonderful authors, editors, and artists within speculative fiction – and exposing our listeners to someone they might not have heard of before.

Nothing is better than coming to the site after an episode goes live, and seeing a bunch of comments from people who can’t wait to buy one of the books we discussed.

Talk a bit about your recurring Mind Meld feature.
JP: The Mind Meld feature was shamelessly ‘‘leveraged’’ from a similar idea on the now defunct Meme Therapy website: ask a question to various authors/bloggers/other interested parties and see what happens. We try to ask a variety of people their opinions on whatever topic strikes our fancy and, with a stable of four Mind Meld facilitators, we have a variety of viewpoints to keep questions interesting. We’ve been publishing this feature for just over six years now and it’s always one of our more popular items. Our first Mind Meld? ‘‘How have online book reviews affected the publishing world?’’, from Dec. 2007.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your work?
Patrick: John DeNardo is the hardest working person in fandom, and I am really, really glad to call him my friend. If you meet him at a con, buy him a bagel. If you’re interested in my stuff, you can find me hanging out at www.atfmb.com, twitter.com/atfmb, and facebook.com/atfmb. My writing is available via Amazon; just search Patrick Hester and you should find it.


Joan Slonczewski: Field of Discovery

Joan Slonczewski was born August 14, 1956 and raised in Westchester County NY, daughter of a theoretical physicist and a violin teacher. She decided to become a scientist at an early age, and attended Bryn Mawr, graduating with a biology degree in 1977. She finished her PhD in molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale in 1982, and did postdoctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1984 she began teaching at Kenyon College, where she has remained as a professor of microbiology (and occasionally science fiction), with sabbatical leaves at Princeton and the University of Maryland. While at Yale, she became a Quaker and worked in the peace movement.

First novel Still Forms on Foxfield appeared in 1980, and her other standalone, The Wall Around Eden, in 1989. Campbell Memorial Award winner A Door Into Ocean (1986) began the Elysium series, which includes Daughter of Elysium (1993), The Children Star (1998), and Brain Plague (2000). She began the Frontera series with The Highest Frontier (2011), also a winner of the Campbell Award.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘My college experience at Bryn Mawr and Haverford impressed me with the power of Quakerism. While at Yale grad school, I joined the Society of Friends and became fascinated with it as an alternative form of politics. I was part of the group that organized the nuclear freeze movement. Within a couple of years we held a demonstration in New York City that drew two million people. The history books say that our movement forced Reagan to start seriously making peace with Russia.

‘‘Still Forms on Foxfields was my first book, and I started writing that in college. I had read Ursula Le Guin and thought, ‘I could write like that.’ I felt anxiety about nuclear war; at the time I didn’t see how we were going to get past that. So I wrote SF out of that impulse to create worlds that would exist after nuclear war. Positive worlds. Through the Society of Friends, I discovered that human beings already have the means to avoid war and solve planetary changes. I saw the Friends’ philosophy as a guide to do that. I wrote A Door Into Ocean on that basis, arguing that this is the way to do it, and we can not only get beyond war, but we can also solve climate change and so on, and this is the human blueprint for how to do that.

‘‘A Door Into Ocean was rejected by Del Rey, which had published Still Forms. It was rejected by several other publishers. This was before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and there was an absolute dogma that peace never works. Nobody wanted to look at a book that said otherwise. A classmate of mine from Bryn Mawr was an assistant at David Hartwell’s office. She passed the book on to him, and he wanted to publish it. Two years after A Door Into Ocean was published, all the revolutions collapsed. Communism collapsed in Europe. Before A Door Into Ocean there was absolutely nobody writing about peaceful revolution. In fact, people told me that it was unpatriotic. Peace revolutions take 20 years, they don’t happen overnight. That’s true of the Arab Spring, too. It didn’t just happen. There was a long preparation.”

*

‘‘Gender issues have always impacted my career. When my first book came out in 1980, the only readers I heard from were Quakers – and gay people, because I included one positive gay character. So from then on, I addressed alternative sexualities throughout my books. The ocean women of A Door into Ocean are pansexual – they love regardless of gender. One time in class, my students were discussing my book Brain Plague. I asked the class, ‘Is this book liberal or conservative?’ A student said, ‘It’s conservative, because all the characters are married.’ Another student jumped up, ‘It is not conservative!’ Half the book’s marriages are gay – with a few robots included.

‘‘In my career, many hard-science authors like Greg Benford and David Brin have been very supportive. Other male authors, however, have disparaged my work. When women write hard SF, there is often pushback from certain male writers. ‘What are you doing? This isn’t really hard science.’ I’ve seen that on the Internet and it’s something I fight back against. Anybody that says anything mean-spirited about my work, I fight back. I want to stress that it’s a minority, but it’s a vocal minority. Women writing hard SF get pushed back. But I have also really appreciated support from the community, and I’ve been invited to contribute to Charles Stross’s blog. I now run my own blog, at Ultraphyte.com.”

*

‘‘I also write the leading microbiology text book for undergraduate science majors, Microbiology: An Evolving Science, co-authored with John W. Foster. My textbook features the prominent laboratory evolutionist Richard Lenski – and was singled out for attack by creationist Ken Ham in his ‘debate’ with Bill Nye. The creation controversy as a social phenomenon fascinates me, and led to a major plot theme in The Highest Frontier.”

*

‘‘The politics of science is our politics, because our greatest challenges today are how to keep the planet alive and how to keep ourselves alive. What are people concerned with? Everybody wants to live forever, let’s face it. To live healthily forever. At the same time everyone wants to have a planet healthy enough to live in, and those are fundamental challenges that face all human beings, and increasingly those are challenges of science.

‘‘So how do we respond to science? One response is to embrace the new discoveries, whatever they are, no matter how shocking. To some extent people are willing to do that. For instance, if you can save the life of your child by producing new embryos in a dish and picking the one whose genes can save your child, you will do that. People do that now, with surprisingly little controversy. If you need to eat shit in order to save your digestive track – a digestive bacterial transplant, or fecal transplant – people will do that.

‘‘But on the other hand, if you need to accept that the world is 4.5 billion years old, that’s too shocking for some people. I live in a community where we had a middle-school teacher that was fired after teaching creationism for 11 years. The community I live in, the community surrounding the college, includes some people with this cultish view of rejecting science, rejecting climate change. I face that every day. In a way, it’s a good thing because I have to deal with that. Whereas people who live in a city, they can say ‘That’s fringe,’ but it’s not fringe, because to be a presidential candidate in one of our two major parties you have to deny evolution. What’s up with this?

‘‘The trouble is that some people think false science has no consequence. Who cares if it happened six thousand years ago or four billion? But it does have a consequence, because we are evolving creatures. Biology is evolution. If you want medicine, that’s evolution. The planet is evolving, life forms all over the planet are evolving to cope with climate change. Forests, as part of their response to increasing carbon dioxide, now draw less water from the earth. The problem with that is that if they draw less water from the earth, then they make fewer clouds. Trees make rain – you think rain makes trees, but trees make the clouds. We’re going to have fewer clouds that make rain then. It will become drier because of the CO2 effect.

‘‘People who reject good science don’t realize they are manipulated by powers that earn money off their disbelief. The people who have churches that believe this stuff sincerely don’t realize they are manipulated by the Koch brothers and by other entities that stand to make a lot of money off technologies that are destroying the Earth, like fracking. You have this coupling of the industry that wants to frack and so on with the science-denying churches, and the churches don’t realize how they are being manipulated.

‘‘In The Highest Frontier I try to show both creative and destructive expressions of faith. The college chaplain is the force for progressive religion, religion that humanely engages science. Whereas there is another view in the book, the geocentrist view that says everything just centers around the Earth. People think that is ludicrous, but in fact, geocentrism is out there. The fascinating thing is that science deniers are appropriating more – they are starting to deny physics as well as biology. They deny cosmology, and the creation museums present this anti-cosmology view. There was even a conference in Chicago of geocentrists. In one way or another, science deniers like Ken Ham are arguing that the entire universe centers on the Earth. It’s up to the rest of us to tell the much more inspiring story of biology and science fiction.’’


Cory Doctorow: Cold Equations and Moral Hazard

Legendary science fiction editor Gardner Dozois once said that the job of a science fiction writer was to notice the car and the movie theater and anticipate the drive-in – and then go on to predict the sexual revolution. I love that quote, because it highlights the key role of SF in examining the social consequences of technology – and because it shows how limited our social imaginations are. Today, we might ask the SF writer to also predict how convincing the nation’s teenagers to carry a piece of government-issued photo ID (a driver’s license) as a precondition for participating in the sexual revolution set the stage for the database nation, the idea that people are the sort of thing that you count and account for, with the kind of precision that the NSA is now understood to bring to the problem.

The thing I treasure about science fiction is its utility as a toolkit for thinking about the relationship between technological change and human beings. This is why I value ‘‘design fiction’’ so much: an architect might make a visualization that flies you through her as-yet-unbuilt building, an engineer might build a prototype to show you what he’s thinking of inventing, but through design fiction, a writer can take you on a tour of how a person living with that technology might feel. That’s the kind of contribution to the discussion about which technology we should make, and how we should use it, that can make all the difference.

Like you, I am a human being alive in a period of unprecedented technological upheaval, and like you, I’m a person who reads a lot of science fiction. Every question today, from climate change to education, from social justice to public health, is an intensely technological one. Like you, I unconsciously parse out complex technological questions all day long: at the grocery store, at the office, at home, and out in the wider world. My impressions of daily life are often accompanied by remembered scenes from stories and novels.

Two of these stories have been coming to mind more often than the others lately, and not because of their wisdom: rather, because they embody the worst parts of modern shortsightedness. They present a kind of blueprint for disaster, a willful and destructive blindness whose self-deception is perfectly mirrored in these two classics of SF.

The first is ‘‘The Cold Equations’’, Tom Godwin’s classic 1954 Astounding story about a shuttle pilot who has to kill a girl who has stowed away on his ship. The pilot, Barton, is on a mission to deliver medicine to a group of explorers on a distant world. They have contracted a fatal disease, and without the medicine, they will all die. The pilot has just gotten underway when he sees his fuel gauge dropping at a faster rate than it should. He deduces from this that there’s a stowaway aboard and after a search, he discovers a young girl.

She has stowed away in order to be reunited with her brother, who is on the plague-stricken world (though he’s a continent away from the sickness). She believes that she is to be fined for her rule-breaking, but then a stricken Barton explains the facts of the universe to her. The rescue ship has only enough fuel to reach the plague-planet, and with the girl’s additional mass, it won’t arrive. She will have to be pushed out of the airlock, otherwise the sick explorers will die of the plague. If Barton could, he’d sacrifice himself to let her live, but she can’t land the spaceship. It’s entirely out of his hands.

As the truth dawns on her, she weeps and protests: ‘‘I didn’t do anything!’’

But we know better, as does Barton – and as, eventually, does she. She has violated the laws of physics. The equations are there, and they say she must die. Not because the universe thirsts for her vengeance. There is no passion in her death. She must die because the inescapable, chilly math of the situation demands it.

Barton wanted her to live. Apparently, editor John W. Campbell sent back three rewrites in which the pilot figured out how to save the girl. He was adamant that the universe must punish the girl.

The universe wasn’t punishing the girl, though. Godwin was – and so was Barton (albeit reluctantly).

The parameters of ‘‘The Cold Equations’’ are not the inescapable laws of physics. Zoom out beyond the page’s edges and you’ll find the author’s hands carefully arranging the scenery so that the plague, the world, the fuel, the girl and the pilot are all poised to inevitably lead to her execution. The author, not the girl, decided that there was no autopilot that could land the ship without the pilot. The author decided that the plague was fatal to all concerned, and that the vaccine needed to be delivered within a timeframe that could only be attained through the execution of the stowaway.

It is, then, a contrivance. A circumstance engineered for a justifiable murder. An elaborate shell game that makes the poor pilot – and the company he serves – into victims every bit as much as the dead girl is a victim, forced by circumstance and girlish naïveté to stain their souls with murder.

Moral hazard is the economist’s term for a rule that encourages people to behave badly. For example, a rule that says that you’re not liable for your factory’s pollution if you don’t know about it encourages factory owners to totally ignore their effluent pipes – it turns willful ignorance into a profitable strategy.

‘‘The Cold Equations’’ is moral hazard in action. It is a story designed to excuse the ship’s operators – from the executives to ground control to the pilot – for standardizing on a spaceship with no margin of safety. A spaceship with no autopilot, no fuel reserves, and no contingency margin in its fuel calculations.

‘‘The Cold Equations’’ never asks why the explorers were sent off-planet without a supply of vaccines. It never asks what failure of health-protocol led to the spread of the disease on the distant, unexplored world.

‘‘The Cold Equations’’ shoves every one of those questions out the airlock along with the young girl. It barks at us that now is not the time for pointing fingers, because there is an emergency. It says that now is the time to pull together, the time for all foolish girls to die to save brave explorers from certain death, and not the time for assigning blame.

But if a crisis of your own making isn’t the time to lay blame, then the optimal strategy is to ensure that the crisis never ends.

Which brings me to Farnham’s Freehold, a strong contender for the most offensive of all of Heinlein’s novels. Published in 1964, it features a nuclear holocaust and a post-apocalyptic world in which African-Americans are ascendant and have enslaved the remaining white people, whom they occasionally eat. Incredibly, this does not automatically qualify Farnham’s Freehold for Heinlein’s Most Offensive prize, because his typewriter also produced books like Sixth Column (America under the cruel dominion of the Yellow Peril), Friday (sure, rape’s bad, but hey, relax and enjoy it, why don’t you?), and I Will Fear No Evil (there are no words).

Most of the criticism of Farnham’s Freehold quite rightly focuses on its blatant racism and, secondarily, on its vile sexism. But for this essay, let’s focus on ‘‘Lifeboat rules.’’

Hugh Farnham, the hero of Farnham’s Freehold, has a signature move: when people disagree with him, he barks ‘‘Lifeboat rules!’’ at them and pats his sidearm. Hugh Farnham is the proprietor of a nuclear fallout shelter that has managed, thanks to his excellent timing and foresight, to have rescued his family and some of their friends. The shelter is their ‘‘lifeboat,’’ the only thing standing between them and certain death in an uncaring universe where the cold equations of nuclear fission dictate that rules must be followed.

Poor Hugh is a good guy, but he has the responsibility of taking care of the lifeboat’s passengers. That means that he’s got to bear the sidearm, and threaten his friends and family with lethal violence if they get out of line. It’s for their own good.

Heinlein’s Hugh Farnham is a character who is in charge of everything except the circumstances that led to him having to coerce, cajole, and terrorize the people around him. He’s that character because Heinlein wrote him that way.

Every once in a while you find yourself in a lifeboat where a single stupid move can kill everyone. But a science fiction writer whose story’s boundary extends to the boat’s gunwales, and no further – not to the poleconomy that convinced a nation to build backyard bunkers rather than rising up en masse against Mutually Assured Destruction, say – is a science fiction writer who has considered the car and the movie and invented the drive-in without ever thinking about the sexual revolution or the database-nation.

The thing about Cold Equations is that they aren’t the product of unfeeling physics. They are parameterized by human beings.

The thing about lifeboat rules is that they are an awfully good deal for lifeboat captains.

Even saints get exasperated with other humans from time to time. What a treat it would be if the rest of the world would just realize that what’s best for you is simply the best course of action, period. That’s the moral hazard in cold equations, the existential crisis of lifeboat rules. If being in a lifeboat gives you the power to make everyone else shut the hell up and listen (or else), then wouldn’t it be awfully convenient if our ship were to go down?

Every time someone tells you that the environment is important, sure, but we can’t afford to take a bite out of the economy to mitigate global warming, ask yourself what’s out of the frame on this cold equation. Every time you hear that education is vital and taking care of the poor is our solemn duty, but we must all tighten in our belts while our lifeboat rocks in the middle of the precarious, crisis-torn economic seas, ask yourself whether the captain of our lifeboat had any role in the sinking of the ship.

Science fiction is supposed to teach us how to think about the future. The intellectual dishonesty in ‘‘The Cold Equations’’ and Farnham’s Freehold are not isolated incidents, though: they’re recurring motifs that persist to this day (just have a look at Sandra Bullock’s struggles with the cold equations of Gravity if you don’t believe me, then watch Jack Bauer torture a terrorist on 24 to see some modern lifeboat rules).

They have something to teach us, all right: that stories about how we can’t afford to hew to our values in time of crisis are a handy addition to every authoritarian’s playbook, a fine friend of plutocrats, and they reek of self-serving bullshit every time they’re deployed.


Terry Pratchett: Talking to Other Monkeys

Terence David John Pratchett was born April 28, 1948 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, UK. His first story, ‘‘The Hades Business’’, appeared in his high school magazine when he was 13, and was reprinted in Science-Fantasy two years later (1963). He left school to become a journalist, worked for various newspapers for several years, followed by eight years as a press officer in the nuclear power industry (1980-87), while writing and publishing novels in his spare time. He became a full-time writer in 1987.

Pratchett’s first novel was YA humorous fantasy The Carpet People (1971; revised edition 2013), followed by satirical SF novels The Dark Side of the Sun (1976) and Strata (1981), before launching into his humorous Discworld series with The Colour of Magic (1983). Originally intended as an ‘‘antidote’’ to the bad fantasy so widespread in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Discworld has run for 40 volumes so far, including several for young adults, notably the Tiffany Aching sub-series that began with The Wee Free Men (2003). Pyramids (1989) won the British Fantasy Award, Night Watch (2002) won the Prometheus Award, A Hat Full of Sky (2004) won the Mythopoeic Award, Making Money (2007) won a Locus Award and was a Nebula Award finalist, and I Shall Wear Midnight (2010) won an Andre Norton Award.

Discworld is a huge phenomenon, with its own dedicated conventions, and spin-offs that include games, guides, diaries, cookbooks, quiz books, cartoons, and TV movies. The books make prominent bestseller lists in the UK and the US, and have won major literary awards: The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (2001) received the 2002 Carnegie Medal and was shortlisted for the 2002 Guardian Children’s Book Prize. The next title in the series is the forthcoming Raising Steam.

His other non-Discworld books include satirical fantasy Good Omens (1990, with Neil Gaiman); two humorous young adult SF/F trilogies: Bromeliad or Book of the Nomes (1989-90) and the Johnny Maxwell series (1992-96); and standalone YA novels Nation (2007) and Dodger (2012), the latter set in a fantastic version of Victorian London.

Pratchett was made an officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 1998 in honor of his services to literature, and has received seven honorary doctorates from British Universities and is Professor Emeritus of Trinity College Dublin. He lives in Wiltshire with his wife Lyn (married 1968). They have one daughter, Rhianna, a journalist and video game and comics writer, who is working on developing some of her father’s works for television.

In 2007 Pratchett was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, specifically Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA).


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I just love steam engines. Even here in Britain, if a steam train goes through the countryside, it never spoils the countryside! Oh, there’s all the stuff it’s chuffing out, but we nod that off. The old fashioned railways, the steam engines, they lived and they breathed. Indeed, the whole thing about Raising Steam is that you have the prototype, shall we say, Iron Girder, and she comes alive. There’s a scene where a thief gets in to sabotage her and a bit of his skull is later seen embedded in the roof. He’d inappropriately touched Iron Girder. How’s that for bad manners? There are also a couple of blacksmiths, and they have a go at making their own steam engine. They don’t really understand how to do it, but Mister Simnel the engineer has worked on the prototypes and knows how to do it properly. Both of the blacksmiths die in the steam, and it’s the pink mist all over again. That’s what live steam is all about. It slices through metal sometimes and strips flesh from the bone. You must have read your Mark Twain? Down the Mississippi is about that, the little old boilers. When they blew up it was incredibly nasty. Bits of people everywhere, well, if you could ever find them.”

*

‘‘I want to do another Tiffany Aching novel, too. Have you heard of Steeleye Span? They’re an English folk group, and they’re putting quite a lot of Tiffany Aching in an album inspired by Wintersmith. When you see her again she’ll be a bit older than she was in the last novel, of course, because I can do that sort of thing, but I think she’s going to have different problems from now on. I write these days in what I call ‘carpet squares.’ I do a bit, noodle around, see what it looks like. I’ve got carpet squares all over the place! I know there’s a story in there somewhere. I’ve got most of it in my head, but I don’t know what the ending is, although I think she’s going to tell me what it is when I’m good and ready. Like Commander Vimes, Tiffany writes her own dialogue. Well, not actually writes it, because if I believed that I’d be in the nuthouse, but you know what I mean.”

*

“I want to live in a world where I go into the office and I say, ‘Put up the piece I was doing yesterday and get me Dave on the phone.’ And the computer would say, ‘Yes, Terry, I’m giving you the last thing you wrote yesterday and I believe you mean Dave Busby because he’s the Dave you most often speak to.’ Regrettably the technology hasn’t got me there yet, but at least when I walk through the office door the computer starts up and Word is already there on the screen, waiting for me to start talking. It’s not difficult to do. We are monkeys, so talking to other monkeys comes naturally. Some people say there’s no charm in dictation. To hell with that, it’s down there on the page. You can write a whole lot and the beauty of the process is that it’s so so easy to repair and rework if you don’t like it.

*

‘‘We haven’t talked about my Alzheimer’s. It doesn’t bother me at all. I mean, I have it. But a lot of better writers than me, born around the time I was born, are now lost. Do you remember David Gemmell? He died of cancer from far, far too much smoking. In fact, there was one time when I was doing a gig in Australia, and he was doing one in New Zealand, and we eventually met in the outback somewhere. We were wandering around, and he told me he was going to die, and he was going to die because he’d been smoking too much. I said, ‘Bloody well, Dave, don’t smoke, for Heaven’s sake, man!’ He said, ‘I can’t not it. I can’t stop smoking.’

‘‘I was told that PCA, the rare form of Alzheimer’s that I suffer from, has been called the Rolls Royce of the disease. I didn’t want to go to meet other sufferers, but eventually I gave in, and it was fun, because we could all have a laugh at our predicament. We could laugh at the silly little things that no one else would dare find funny. Last time I was at a gathering I was telling them about Talking Point and how I’ve kept working. One of the guys is a retired surgeon, and the day he found out he had PCA, he just said, ‘No, I can’t do this anymore.’ He saw the writing on the wall immediately. I felt very sorry for him.

‘‘But I’ve got Terry Pratchett’s PCA. You see, it appears that each PCA is subtly different. Mine seems to be very good at leaving me alone to use the computer to write. I remember when Douglas Adams died, I was in America. I thought, ‘He was so young!’ There have been so many lost. To worry about having PCA is silly… sooner or later something will get you in the end. I am just grateful that I can keep going and with the help of Rob, my assistant of many years, everything seems pretty normal.”

*

‘‘The whole thing with the dignity in dying issue is that everyone dies, and no one wants to die nastily. Somehow being able to die when at time of your choosing separates a human from an animal. In Oregon, for example, I understand people can be given a magic potion, and can use it in their own home when they feel the time is right. The interesting thing, very interesting to me, is that they have the stuff to hand. It’s in the cupboard, but a very significant number of them die without ever using it, although they had the means to do it. Every day they found a reason to be alive. In Britain we’ve had people with locked-in syndrome, very nasty, very cruel, meaning their whole world is entirely in their heads. They want to die, but the authorities won’t let them. We’ve seen some very nasty scenes. One gentleman went on a hunger strike, taking control of his life in the only way he could. Hunger can be a very nasty way to die. If someone is compos mentis – and that’s quite easy to find out – and you know it’s what they want, and they’ve made their peace with their God and their family, then let them die if they want. It’s their life, so it’s their death.”


Spotlight on Galen Dara, Artist

Galen Dara has created art for Fireside, Lightpseed, Goblin Fruit, Lovecraft eZine, Scapezine, Apex magazine, Dagan Books, and Edge Publishing. Recently she illustrated the cover of the War Stories anthology, edited by Jaym Gates & Andrew Liptak; the cover of The Future Embodied, edited by Mae Empson & Jason Andrews; and the cover of Glitter & Mayhem, edited by John Klima & Lynne M. Thomas. She is currently working on the cover for novel Heirs of Grace by Tim Pratt. When Galen is not working on a project you can find her on the edge of the Sonoran Desert, climbing mountains and hanging out with a loving assortment of human and animal companions. Her website is http://www.galendara.com and you can follow her on Twitter: @galendara.

How did you get your start as a SF illustrator? What artists most influenced you?
I came to SF in a rather roundabout way. Growing up I cut my artistic teeth on dragon scales. It was Micheal Whelan’s cover art for Anne McCaffery’s Dragonrider series that first inspired me as an artist. But I wandered a bit trying to figure out what I wanted to do with this inclination to make images. When I (finally!) graduated from college it was with a fine art degree, doing expressionistic-type paintings and dabbling in large scale installations (at that time my influences included the Bay Area Figurative painters and sculptors such as Magdalena Abakanowicz and Louise Bourgeois.) When my son was born I had a hard time doing more than keeping a sketchbook. It was several years before I got my feet back under me and started dabbling in painting again. My first gig as an actual ‘‘SF illustrator’’ was doing pen-and-ink zombies for Jaym Gates & Erika Holt and their anthology Rigor Amortis. I had never drawn zombies before – that was highly educational. It just took off from there. Artists who influence me: Dave McKean, Anna & Elena Balbusso, Scott Bacal, Keith Thompson, Jo Chen, Fiona Staples, Goni Montes, J.H. Williams II, Camilla d’Errico, Greg Ruth, Julie Dillon, James Jean, Rebecca Guay, Yoshitaka Amano, Ashley Wood, Stephanie Pui Mun Law, Kinuko Y. Craft, Menton3, John Jude Palencar, Sam Weber, Brom, Jon Foster, etc., etc., etc.

Your work is mostly digital art. Can you tell us a bit about your process?
Well, until just a few years ago I was doing everything traditionally then scanning it into Photoshop to clean it up. I had never used a tablet before and was slightly intimidated to make that jump. Then a good friend gave me an older tablet they weren’t using any more, and everything changed. There was a bit of a learning curve as I taught myself how to use this new tool, learning by mistakes, by happy accidental discoveries. While I miss getting messy with traditional mediums (and am trying to make actual pigment-on-paper art happen regularly just for my own purposes), the speed and flexibility of the digital medium really allowed me to develop as an illustrator. I use Photoshop a lot like how I would paint: many many layers of transparencies and blending-mode washes to build up color and texture.

What’s more important – inspiration or perspiration? Is being an artist a higher calling, or a craft like any other?
Oh this has been a tricky one to answer. Can I say ‘‘all of the above?’’ In brief, perspiration is what leads to the inspiration (I’d say it’s about a 80/20 mix, probably higher, in perspiration’s favor.) As for the term ‘‘higher calling,’’ I am not sure what to make of that and it becomes a very complicated label when you view the art world at large (debates rage about the distinction between fine art and commercial art). What I’ll do instead is refer to something Irene Gallo (Tor) recently said. Irene stated she hires artists based on how smart they are, and their ability to bring a unique voice to the job. That otherwise, she could just ‘‘hire a wrist’’ (presumably someone who paints just what you tell them to). In that sense, there does seem to be a distinction between artists with a special gift and those who are just technically good at the craft.

Why the focus on science fiction/fantasy?
Because as a kid I lived in my head. I wanted magic, special powers. I wanted swords, ray guns, rocket ships, and dragons. I wanted all the cool outfits that came with these other worlds too! Slightly embarrassing story from my childhood: you know those self-portraits you do in elementary school? Where you get traced on butcher paper then you get to color yourself in, in what you are wearing, etc.? Oh, I was so thrilled, I thought I could make up whatever outfit I wanted, and I decked myself out like some fire mage of a distant realm, ready to cast serious spells. I was very taken aback to look around and see that all the rest of the kids had just replicated what they happened to be wearing that day. Oh, how embarrassing. But I’d love to go back and give my young-kid self a huge hug and high five. That craving for the speculative never really left me.

Is there one work you’d particularly like our readers to see, either because it’s most representative, or because you’re especially proud of it?
That’s like being asked which of your kids is your favorite! (Well, I only have one kid so I thankfully dodged that bullet.) But here, I did ‘‘Mermaid’’ to illustrate‘‘Abyssus Abyssum Invocate’’ (http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/abyssus-abyssum-invocat/), written by Genevieve Valentine, and I really do love how it turned out.


Stephen Baxter: Conceptual Breakthrough


Stephen Michael Baxter was born in Liverpool, England November 13, 1957, and received a mathematics degree from Cambridge in 1979. He earned a PhD in engineering from Southampton in 1983, and has worked as a math and physics teacher, an engineer, and an information technology specialist. Since 1995, he has been a full-time writer, and currently lives in Northumberland England with his wife, Sandra Shepherd, married 1987.

Baxter’s early stories featured his Xeelee aliens, including first published story ‘‘The Xeelee Flower’’ (1987), novelette ‘‘Blue Shift’’ (finalist for a Writers of the Future Prize in 1989), and debut novel Raft (1991), first of five Xeelee Books including Timelike Infinity (1992), Flux (1993), Ring (1994), and the Philip K. Dick Award winning collection/fix-up Vacuum Diagrams (1997). His Xeelee-related Destiny’s Children series began in 2003 with Coalescent, followed by Exultant (2004), Transcendent (2005), and collection Resplendent (2006). He also published numerous Xeelee novellas, including Reality Dust (2000), Riding the Rock (2002), British Science Fiction Association Award winner Mayflower II (2004), Starfall (2009), and Gravity Dreams (2011).

Baxter mainly writes hard SF on a variety of themes, including geological change, space exploration, and parallel universes. Standalone novels include alternate history Anti-Ice (1993); The Time Ships (1995, an authorized sequel to The Time Machine by H.G. Wells), winner of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the British SF Association Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award; Voyage (1996); Titan (1997); Moonseed (1998); Evolution (2002); YA The H-Bomb Girl (2007).

His series include the Mammoth trilogy: Silverhair (1999), Longtusk (2000), and Icebones (2001), and the Manifold series: Time (1999), Space (2000), Origin (2001), and collection Phase Space (2002). His Time’s Tapestry sequence includes Emperor (2006), Conqueror (2007), Navigator (2007), and Weaver (2008), and he wrote a duology on climate change, Flood (2008) and Ark (2009). The Northland alternate history series is Stone Spring (2010), Bronze Summer (2011), and Iron Winter (2012). His newest solo series began with hard SF Proxima (2013) and will continue with Ultima (2014).

Baxter is a prolific author of short fiction, with some of his work collected in Traces (1998), Phase Space (2002), and mixed fiction/non-fiction collection The Hunters of Pangaea (2004). His essays have been collected in Deep Future (2001) and Omegatropic (2001), and he wrote non-fiction Revolutions in the Earth (2003; in the US as Ages of Chaos). He wrote YA series novels The Web: Gulliverzone (1997) and The Web: Webcrash (1988), and Doctor Who novel The Wheel of Ice (2012).

He collaborated with Arthur C. Clarke on The Light of Other Days (2000) and on the A Time Odyssey series: Time’s Eye (2004), Sunstorm (2005), and Firstborn (2007). More recently, he’s teamed up with Terry Pratchett for The Long Earth quintet, about journeys to alternate Earths, with The Long Earth (2012) and The Long War (2013) published and additional volumes forthcoming.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘The way it happens is, I get bits of ideas, and then one of those ideas rises to the surface to become the seed of a novel. With Proxima, the big idea is the new planets. Astronomers have found a thousand new Earthlike planets orbiting other stars, and there are new theoretical models for the kinds of planets that might exist. One in particular is a habitable planet orbiting a dwarf star – I mean habitable for people like you and me, never mind some extremophile heat-loving bug. And because most of the stars in the universe are red dwarves, the sky is suddenly full of habitable planets again. It’s like 1940s SF all over again, when everyone was really optimistic about life in the universe, before they found out the moon was dry and Mars was a frozen desert – they imagined the sky was full of life.

‘‘The other influence on Proxima was my thinking about the craft of writing SF in general. Working with Terry Pratchett on the Long Earth series has made me think harder about how ideas work, what tropes work, and how we put them all together.

‘‘My model here was Greg Bear’s Eon, particularly the first 100 pages or so, when they break into an asteroid that turns out to be hollow, which is surprising enough in itself, and then open a door, and another door, and another door, until they reach an corridor so long it won’t fit into the asteroid at all…. It’s a great sequence – a staggering piece of controlled wonder. I’ve been aiming for that deliberately with Proxima and Ultima, presenting a series of conceptual breakthroughs. I start with the colonization of a new planet, and there’s some worldbuilding, I have a life form that’s suited to the conditions present there – I had a lot of fun with that, and the readers have responded well. But at the end it’s all about conceptual breakthroughs. I brainstormed every gosh-wow moment I could think of, from Robinson Crusoe discovering his footprint on the beach to opening a door to find yourself in some alternate history.”

*

‘‘I see myself as revisiting old science fiction themes and techniques. And I do enjoy looking back at the genre’s past. One of my hobbies in recent years has been digging around in the old pulps. The British pulps especially, from after the war to about 1955. It was trashy stuff – sexy thrillers in France, detective stories and westerns – all written by old men in little towns in England! I followed one particular author whose tie-in novels I’d read as a kid, under a pseudonym. I traced him back and there he was, a war veteran writing stuff in the ’40s and ’50s, very anonymously. Many of the writers were ashamed of their profession because of obscenity trials! The work was definitely disreputable, if nothing else. Malcolm Edwards, my longtime editor, is a big fan of that kind of stuff as well.”

*

‘‘The Long Earth has eaten me up a bit, because we’ve agreed on a contract for five books now. At first we thought we’d do just one book, but the story was clearly too big for one book. The initial contract was for two books, but even there, it was still clearly too big. It’s a bit like my Xeelee universe: we can tell any kind of story we like in that setting. In fact, we can have any kind of Earth we like in there.

‘‘But Terry wants to end it on a James Blish note. He loves Blish, particularly the Cities in Flight sequence and the final novel, A Clash of Cymbals. He loves that – Mayor Amalfi, this practical guy, facing the end of the universe. Terry wants a big cosmic destination, so we’re working on that. I think in the end it’ll look as if the first two books are a two-part novel. Three and four set up this big climax in book five.”

*

‘‘In book three we go out to a quarter of a billion worlds. Two hundred and fifty million steps, when you’re getting to really strange stuff. Some of it is kind of logic from me, and some of it is more kind of fantasy from Terry.

‘‘And we also get into the physics. For me, with the Long Earth, it wasn’t like one of my regular ideas, where I usually start with the physics or ecology and work it through. This world was given to me by Terry, so it’s more like observation – I had to come up with a theory to fit the observed facts. I came up with some bonkers quantum mechanics stuff to explain the world, and bounced it off people like Ian Stewart, who’s very helpful. I’d been reading around about modern theories of multiple universes – very useful. In quantum mechanics, the world is supposedly splitting constantly into multiple copies – but maybe some of those copies can kind of braid into more coherent forms, so that you end up with a kind of tapestry of realities, like the Long Earth…. Multiple-universe ideas are all over modern physics. Some of these notions make specific predictions and are testable, but it’s really at the fringe of scientific thought.

‘‘I don’t think I believe any of it, though. The world just doesn’t feel like that. It doesn’t feel like you’re splitting into a million copies of yourself every second. I think reality’s a bit more robust. We’ll figure it out some day.’’


Spotlight on: Annalee Newitz, Author and Editor

Annalee Newitz writes about science, pop culture, and the future. She’s the editor in chief of io9, a publication that covers science and science fiction, and has over 5 million readers every month. She’s the author of Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction. She’s also published in Wired, The Smithsonian Magazine, The Washington Post, 2600, New Scientist, Technology Review, Popular Science, Discover, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She’s co-editor of the essay collection She’s Such A Geek (Seal Press), and author of Pretend We’re Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture (Duke University Press). Formerly, she was a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and a lecturer in American Studies at UC Berkeley. She was the recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT, and has a Ph.D. in English and American Studies from UC Berkeley. For more: http://www.techsploitation.com

How did you get involved with SF blog io9? How has running the blog changed your relationship to the SF field?
I was working at Wired in 2007, when I was approached by the managing editor at Gawker Media about starting a science fiction site for the network. I spent a lot of time going back and forth with Gawker president Nick Denton about what the site would be like, and we agreed it should fundamentally be about how we are living in a science fictional age, and that it’s time to rekindle people’s optimism about the future. I pushed hard for the site to be half science and half science fiction coverage – I like to think of science fiction as the cultural wing of a larger scientific project. I’m really happy with how it turned out. One nice way that io9 has changed my relationship to SF is that it has allowed me to interview a lot of my favorite writers and scientists. But really, the main thing is that I always wished I could read a site like io9, and now I can, thanks to our incredible team of writers.

Tell us about your book Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction.
It’s a science non-fiction book about how life on Earth has come close to being destroyed five times already in the planet’s 4.5 billion year history, and humanity has almost gone extinct a number of times too. Given all that we know about this rather grim history of mass destruction, we can tease out some survival strategies. I explore all the ways we might survive the next mass extinction – from moving underground, to building future cities out of living biological materials, and going into space. So it’s a hopeful book about the apocalypse.

You’re best known for your non-fiction writing, but you occasionally write short fiction, too. What do you get out of writing fiction that you don’t from non-fiction?
In fiction, you don’t have to worry that people will lose their jobs or friends if you tell the truth about their lives.

You co-edited anthology She’s Such a Geek (2006) with Charlie Jane Anders, and helped run other magazine for years. Any plans to do more anthology or magazine editing in the future?
I’m already editing io9, which is probably my favorite magazine editing job I’ve ever had. But the fact is that I love doing collaborative projects, so I’m certain there are more anthologies and magazines in my future.



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