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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kay Kenyon: No Apologies




Kay Kenyon grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, attended the University of Minnesota, and earned an English degree from the University of Washington in 1979. She has worked as a model, actress for TV and radio commercials, copywriter, and urban planner. First novel The Seeds of Time appeared in 1997. Other standalone novels are Leap Point (1998), Rift (1999), Tropic of Creation (2000), Philip K. Dick Award finalist Maximum Ice (2002), and John W. Campbell Memorial Award finalist The Braided World (2003). New series The Entire and the Rose, "SF with a fantasy feel," began with Endeavour Award nominee Bright of the Sky (2007) and continues with A World Too Near (2008) and City Without End (2009). A concluding volume, Prince of Storms, is forthcoming. She has also published a dozen short stories in various anthologies.

Kenyon lives now in Wenatchee, Washington. She chairs the Write on the River writers' conference, now in its fourth year.


Excerpts from the interview:


“I come from an outsider background. My parents were avid Socialists and atheists in a community that was very organized around religion and church, as a lot of communities are, especially in the Midwest. I don't know how much this upbringing influenced me; probably profoundly! My parents were social idealists, and they felt (in their atheism and Socialism) that they were blazing a path of truth in a forest of superstition. Their idea of proper books for children were Somerset Maugham, Sartre, and perhaps Charles Dickens (but maybe not). Politics was the center of our lives.

“I have reacted against that and become wary of politics, though the sense of idealism in Socialism led me to become a bit of an idealist myself, discontented with the status quo. It may have been David Hartwell who said 'Science fiction tends to appeal to people who aren't quite satisfied with how things are.' If we're looking for roots, I could go there.”

*

“I learned in high school that I loved to write book reports and essays, though people would look at me funny: 'What? You're an atheist and Socialist and you love to write?' But it had never yet occurred to me that I could write fiction, and I'd never written any short stories before I started on a novel in the mid-'90s.

“Socialism is a wonderful idealistic framework for a future world that one might devoutly wish to have, but I was never convinced by it. And after that the Republican/Democrat dichotomy seemed useless; they began to seem (as my father would say) like Tweedledee and Tweedledum! So I drifted. And when I finally hit 40, I asked myself, 'Well, what do I want to do with my life?' It was a big-decade birthday, and I decided I wanted to do something more exciting than wrangle with local politics, which is what urban planning had become in the Seattle area.

“I had always loved science fiction. I grew up reading it, and fantasy to a lesser extent. In my various jobs, I'd been writing so many different things -- I could write long, I could write short, give me a big manual and I'd be happy to do it -- writing a novel just didn't seem like a huge task. It didn't intimidate me at all.

“Except, I was so wrong!”

*

“I always write to a large canvas, so it was a natural progression for me to want to write a series -- something with a story arc spanning several books. My ongoing project, The Entire and The Rose, has a story arc that begins and ends in four books, so it's a closed series. Beginning with Bright of the Sky, the series hits what Rudy Rucker calls the 'power chords' of science fiction. I use the power chords, but they're pretty much in the background. The milieu has world-shattering nanotechnology, higher dimensions, alternate universes, aliens; at the same time I drill down into the central characters, so it's got that marriage of character and adventure that is somewhat uncommon in our field.

“In this series, once again, the milieu came first. I love bizarre landscapes, so I asked, 'What is the strangest world I can imagine?' And I came up with this: 'What would happen if there was a tunnel universe that burrowed through our own? How would it look? Well, you'd need a lid and walls, for starters. You could move around in our universe through theirs, and avoid faster-than-light travel. And if the tunnel universe is vast, you need a space-time folding mechanism for a transport system. So I built in the River Nigh, which flows down the five arms of this tunnel galaxy.”

*

“The future we're headed toward is a little disconcerting to me (as it should be to you!) -- the idea of the Singularity, and how far technology is going to go. So I'm writing stories that tend to beat back that wave, to assert humanity and to imagine a world where our human emotions still deeply matter. But there's a competing side to his issue: when I'm writing about Titus Quinn I'm wondering, 'Can his personal life matter, in the context of the big issues that he's carrying on his shoulders?' Even he has to ask that question. It's a major theme of those books, and one I'm very interested in.”

*

“Science fiction is always apologizing for itself. We have to stop that. Like Janis Ian said, SF is the jazz of literature. It takes delight in its topics and its narratives, and when we start talking about it having a purpose, it's like apologizing. That whole dialogue starts when we talk to people who don't like science fiction, and we try to convince them that SF is useful.”





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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Robert Charles Wilson: The Cosmic and the Intimate




Robert Charles Wilson was born in Whittier California and has lived in Canada since he was nine. He sold stories to Analog in 1974, then to Asimov's and F&SF in 1985. His first novel, alternate world A Hidden Place, followed in 1986, and was a Philip K. Dick Award finalist. His other novels are Memory Wire (1987), Gypsies (1989), The Divide (1990), A Bridge of Years (1991), Philip K. Dick Award Winner Mysterium (1994), Aurora Award winner and Hugo finalist Darwinia (1998), Bios (1999), Hugo nominee and John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner The Chronoliths (2001), Blind Lake (2003), Hugo Award winner Spin (2005) and sequel Axis (2007), a Campbell Memorial Award finalist. Just published, Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd Century America is an expansion of his Sturgeon and Hugo Award-nominated novella Julian: A Christmas Story (2006).

Wilson's notable short fiction includes "The Perseids" (1995), a World Fantasy and Nebula Award finalist and an Aurora Award winner; World Fantasy nominee "The Inner Inner City" (1997), Hugo finalist "Divided by Infinity" (1998), Aurora finalist "Plato's Mirror" (1999), and Sturgeon Award winner "The Cartesian Theater" (2007). Collection The Perseids and Other Stories (2000) was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. He co-edited Tesseracts Ten with Edo van Belkom (2006).


Excerpts from the interview:


“Maybe I don't see the boundary between science fiction and mainstream as distinctly as some people do. I've read science fiction all my life and loved it, but it's never been something I read exclusively. To me these things are continuous. We're not just talking about ideas in science fiction; we're talking about ideas as a facet of human experience -- ideas as they're lived, rather than in the abstract. And if you're writing that way, then necessarily you have to keep popping back and forth on the scale from the cosmic to the intimate.

“I always loved science fiction that gave you an intimate view of the apocalypse. We say that science fiction asks the question, 'What if?' But I think what we're really asking is, 'What would it be like if? What would it mean to you or me if?' That's a literary question, and I hope I'm appealing to readers like myself, who don't see a discontinuity between science fiction and literature in general.”

*

“There are three pillars to my latest novel Julian Comstock, three things that coincided for me. One was reading 19th-century popular literature. The second was the story of the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate, which I first came across years ago in the Gore Vidal novel Julian and came across again in a history of monotheism that dealt extensively with it -- that fascinated me. And the third pillar was obviously all the cultural-collapse stuff. There's a book by James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency, that talks about the unsustainability of the kind of civilization we have and posits a return to 19th-century technology levels as a best-case outcome for the 21st century.

“All those ideas converged on me, and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be fun to write the story of Julian the Apostate in this post-collapse America and do it in the voice of a 19th-century children's novel?' It was hard to pitch that idea to anyone! But in my head it all made sense and I thought, 'What the hell, I will write this book.'

“For me, part of the process of writing science fiction is continually asking yourself why you're doing it. Because I grew up loving science fiction, there's a tendency to accept it as a given -- that I love it because it is what it is. But as a writer you have to go beyond that and ask, 'What is it about science fiction that appeals to me so much? Why am I so obsessed with it?' If you can identify that core fascination, you can give it back to a reader in a single powerful dose. You're not just adopting tropes and images at random because you happen to like them or think they're cool. So that's what I've been trying to do in the course of my career: to get closer and closer to the thing about science fiction that electrifies me, the thing that drew me go to that shelf when I was ten years old at the library.”

*

“People have a set of default futures in their heads now, which is odd. Back in the '80s, a group of college students was asked, 'How do you see the world in 40 years?', and the answers were really pessimistic -- they tended toward nuclear wastelands patrolled by killer robots, that sort of thing. Then they were asked, 'Where do you see yourself in 40 years?' and the answers tended toward 'Well, I'll be ready for retirement.' So there's a cognitive disconnect, but I think it's because our culture is now pervaded with these default notions of the future derived from science fiction.

“Sometimes I think the purpose of modern science fiction should be to challenge those notions, not to further indulge them. One of the things I wanted to do in Julian Comstock was to write a post-apocalypse novel that (a) wasn't about survival and (b) was a kind of dystopia that wasn't just an Evil Empire run by the worst human beings -- a dystopia more like European monarchies or aristocratic institutions, where there are cracks in the wall; an oppressive set of governmental bodies, but at the same time a lively popular culture. In other words, I wanted something with contradictions built into it. I was tired of dystopias that were triumphant Evil and oppressed Good. Real life isn't like that.”

*

“I don't think there's anything intrinsically elitist about what we do as science fiction writers. It can be hard to address scientific or cosmological questions in a way that speaks to people who aren't immersed in science fiction or in the sciences . But that's a problem every writer has: who are you talking to? Who's your audience? The nice thing about the science fiction genre is we have an expansive space in which all these things can coexist.

“And it was science fiction that introduced me to other, arguably more sophisticated kinds of writing. As a kid coming to science fiction with a perfectly naive interest in spaceships and robots, I was introduced through science fiction to all the broader possibilities of language and literature.

“The quality of writing in science fiction now is higher than it's ever been. The danger is that we sometimes get seduced into a kind of self-loathing, where we will write a book of science fiction that minimizes the science-fictional element because it might not be acceptable to a broader audience. My response would be,' 'No, don't let go of that! Write a better book, a more profound book, a more interesting book, but don't cut out the heart of it.'

“Science fiction can talk about scientific and cosmological issues in a way science itself would never permit you to do. I certainly don't consider myself to be somebody who's dispensing wisdom, but if I can provoke people into thinking about these big issues on a personal level, I'm satisfied.”






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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Marjorie Liu: Hopeless Romantic


Marjorie M. Liu grew up near Seattle. She studied East Asian languages and cultures and went to law school. She was admitted to the bar in 2003, but her true love was always writing. She has traveled extensively throughout Asia, and that region often appears in her fiction.

Her first novel Tiger Eye (2005) began her Dirk & Steele paranormal romance series, which includes Shadow Touch (2006), The Red Heart of Jade (2006), Eye of Heaven (2006), Soul Song (2007), The Last Twilight (2008), The Wild Road (2008), and The Fire King (2009). More are forthcoming. Her urban fantasy Hunter Kiss series started with the eponymous novella in anthology Wild Thing (2007) and continues with novels The Iron Hunt (2008) and Darkness Calls (2009). She also contributed to the second book in the Crimson City shared world series, A Taste of Crimson (2005). She attended the Clarion Writing Workshop in 2004. Marjorie also does original comics work, notably on the NYX series for Marvel, and wrote tie-in novel X-Men: Dark Mirror (2005). Starting in June 2009 she will be co-writing Dark Wolverine with Daniel Way.


Excerpts from the interview:



“Romance readers are probably the most flexible and receptive readers I've ever encountered. They are voracious. At conventions, people will arrive for an autographing session with empty suitcases, and then leave with three or four hundred dollars worth of signed books: science fiction, fantasy, pure romance, every genre imaginable.

“And yet, on the science fiction/fantasy side of things, I've found that many readers, no offense, have a more deeply ingrained resistance toward reading outside genre. Romance novels, in particular. There's an 'ick' factor, a negative reaction that occasionally carries over to urban fantasies, which to some have become irrevocably (and damningly) linked together.

“Urban fantasy is hard to define. When I was growing up it seemed to be magical realism, stories invoking myth and folklore — fantasies set in our contemporary world, transforming the everyday and mundane into something mysterious and exciting. That's what urban fantasy meant to me when I first began reading it. Layers of magical realities, skimming our own. It was intoxicating stuff, not only because it fed the imagination, but because it created this wonderful bond between the everyday and the fantastic. Other worlds were here and now.”

*

“So, I had always loved higher-than-average doses of romance in the books I read, and when I started writing romance — specifically, paranormal romance, it felt like a perfect fit. I love writing about first meetings and falling in love. I love writing about two people coming to some tender, sympathetic understanding — that, hopefully, will last them the rest of their lives. In romance there's the hero and the heroine — on a mission, a journey together — and the romance reader is assured of the fact that no matter how ugly, how gritty, how awful it gets, at the end of the book they will be in love, with the probability of a happy ending.

“Modern urban fantasy series are equally compelling, but the bone structure — the character journey — is slightly different. The subplot is the relationship, not the other way around — and what you can be certain of, or hopeful for, is a sense of evolution in the characters you invest your time with. No guaranteed happy ending. Just a promise of development and fruition across books, a shifting landscape of relationships and conflicts. I am, of course, speaking in generalities — but what I love about writing a series like Hunter Kiss is that I'll have the opportunity to enrich these characters and their world over time, in a natural progression.”

*

Tiger Eye is about a female tourist in Beijing who goes to the Pan Jia Yuan dirt market, where an old woman forces upon her a magic puzzle box. The heroine is an artisan blacksmith with a psychic affinity for metal, and when she opens the box a shapeshifter appears who has been imprisoned for two thousand years. He's compelled to serve anyone who opens the box, and becomes bound to them for the remainder of their lives. He's the hero, obviously — and when someone tries to assassinate the heroine, and it's discovered that the person who cursed the hero with slavery is still alive, the craziness kicks in with yet more psychics, immortals, magic, detective agencies, dragons, conspiracy — and yes, romance.”

*

“My other series, Hunter Kiss, is decidedly an urban fantasy. It began with a novella I wrote for an anthology about a woman covered in living tattoos. By day these tattoos make her invulnerable: she can be hit by a bus, bullets bounce off her, etc. But when the sun goes down these tattoos peel off her body and they become a demonic army. The demons are like goofy little kids — they love chocolate, cartoons, teddy bears — but they're also super-lethal. And they protect her because if she dies, in theory they die. They have to keep her alive, at least until she has a daughter. The bloodline is tragic. The women don't live long.”

*


“Because I started out writing paranormal romance, I did have some problems with reader expectations when The Iron Hunt came out. Some were expecting more of what I had written in the past, but in the Hunter Kiss series the couple are like two socks: they already go together. There's not much romantic tension. In the long run, though, I don't think it's hurt me. My romance novels are already heavy on action, adventure, and mystery.”
























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