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G R E G   B E A R : Continuing the Dialogue
(excerpted from Locus Magazine, February 2000)

Greg Bear
    Photo by Charles N. Brown

Greg[ory Dale] Bear was born August 20, 1951 in San Diego CA. His first published story appeared when he was 16, and his first novel, Hegira, in 1979. Subsequent novels include Blood Music (1985), nominated for both Hugo and Nebula; Eon (1985) and its sequels Eternity (1988) and Legacy (1995); The Forge of God (1987) and its sequel Anvil of Stars (1992); Queen of Angels (1990) and its sequel /Slant (1997); Heads (1990); Moving Mars (1993), winner of the 1994 Nebula Award; Foundation and Chaos (1999), his contribution to the Brin/Bear/Benford additions to Isaac Asimov’s ‘‘Foundation’’ books; and Darwin’s Radio (1999). His short fiction has been reprinted in various collections, including The Wind from a Burning Woman (1983) and Tangents (1989).

His 1982 short story ‘‘Petra’’ was a nominee for a Nebula and a World Fantasy Award. His 1983 novella ‘‘Hardfought’’ won a Nebula and was a Hugo nominee, while the same year’s novelette ‘‘Blood Music’’ won both Hugo and Nebula. He again won both awards for 1986 short story ‘‘Tangents’’.

Bear also did some professional artwork, illustrating his own stories as well as others, and even some covers. He also served as president of SFWA from 1988 to 1990.

He married Astrid Anderson (daughter of Poul Anderson) in 1983, and they are the parents of Erik (born 1986) and Alexandra (born 1990). The Bears make their home in Seattle.


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Index to Locus Interviews

‘‘Around 1979, Jim Turner, the editor at Arkham House, started talking to me about a short story collection. Jim had this amazing forecasting ability to pick out authors who were going to be doing something interesting, and eventually to publish them. He was just getting started then. I was one of the first he’d talked to, and he insisted that I produce a masterpiece. He didn’t want this clump of short stories, everything I had published up to that point. He said, ‘No, no, we’re going to pick the best of these out, and then you’re going to write me a masterpiece.’ That took a while!

‘‘But in 1982, I produced a novella, ‘Hardfought’, which was a real problem for both Jim and Asimov’s, which was seriously considering publishing it. It was very different from what they were used to. Jim had to read the story four times before he said, ‘OK, this is the one.’ So we had this Arkham House collection ready. About the same month, Asimov’s was prepared to publish it. Shawna McCarthy was editor, and was very antsy about this. She liked the story, but she had to publish a warning in Asimov’s, which apparently had a different audience up to that point, saying ‘This is like nothing you’ve read here.’ The story went on to win a Nebula, and ‘Blood Music’ the next year won a Nebula and a Hugo, and that attracted more editorial attention, more hardcover publication.’’


‘‘Rereading all the Asimov books for Foundation and Chaos and getting the feeling of where Asimov was coming from, the roots of his imagination, I realized there were certain key elements that were pretty obvious. Trantor, of course, was New York. Hari was one version of Isaac. And because Isaac was a claustrophiliac and just loved being indoors, to go outside could become terrifying for Hari. I could take that and run with it, because I felt like I had Asimov sitting on my shoulder.

‘‘The Benford-Brin combination left me about six square inches of space to work my story into, but that was exactly the place I wanted to be: in the first chapter of the ‘Foundation’ books, which I thought was masterful - the first story, and the trial of Hari Seldon. It essentially sums up all of his ideas, and that’s what I could play with. I’ve been a big fan of the robot novels ever since I was a kid, probably more so than ‘Foundation’, and I could use Daneel and make Daneel a 20,000-year-old intelligent being, which is like very little we’ve seen in SF.’’


‘‘What inspired Darwin’s Radio? I was looking over the notebooks for Blood Music, which I was writing about 1982, and found a phrase in there, wondering what kind of information viruses could carry between individuals. I was trying to figure out what was the utility of the common cold. At the time, they didn’t really regard cells as complex, self-regulating systems, and they certainly wouldn’t regard viruses as anything but diseases. They were just beginning to have the notion that viruses could carry DNA between hosts. Over the years, this thing kept nagging at me. I mentioned vaguely in Blood Music the notion of carrying archetypal memory between individuals. It kept creeping back into my head, this seed notion of how evolution could work, might work. Eventually it ended up in Moving Mars, in Legacy, scattered all over.

‘‘As I did more research, starting about five years ago, I realized there was a heavy-duty change coming in biology, and I could write a really compelling novel about catastrophic evolution, punctuated equilibrium. To talk about the personalities, the politics, how this could change us, how public ignorance folds into the equation, would really make a good book. We’re all ignorant! Most people don’t know anything of what’s going on in biology right now, and yet it’s going to change our lives real quick - already has, in some cases. So I did more research, and realized I almost would rather be a biologist than a writer, because there was incredible stuff going on! And it didn’t agree with the theories of the modern synthesists and Charles Darwin.

‘‘It tied in with all the crackpot theories I had put into Legacy, etc. - that evolution really was a kind of self-directed, self-organizing, emergent property, not totally random. These ideas were more than just science fiction ideas; they were really powerful, because I could read scientific articles and predict the outcome of an experiment before I finished the article - and it was opposed to what the scientists were predicting, because they were modern synthesists talking about randomness and lack of cooperation in living systems. Darwin himself never laid down exactly what caused the variation in species. He says, ‘It may not be randomness. I don’t know.’

‘‘The best way to do this, I thought, was to write a contemporary science fiction novel, very near-term, very immediate, and of course now that’s called a technothriller. But there aren’t many technothrillers that do this on the biological sciences. They do it on medicine, which is a biological science, but usually it’s disease threat, an outbreak. So in Darwin’s Radio I could play it both ways. I could do an ‘outbreak’ novel that turned out to be something perhaps even scarier, a ‘replacement’ novel: ‘Here comes a new species, bye bye!’

‘‘The next human species will appear in the next book, Darwin’s Children - if and when that gets written, probably in the next five years….’’


‘‘In broad terms, science fiction and science have always danced around each other. Science fiction is the subconscious of science. It’s what scientists would do if they could - if they had enough grant money, enough time, and enough brains to do the wonderful things they would like to do. So they read science fiction. It’s a vicarious thrill. Most of the movers and shakers in the science world today started off reading science fiction as kids. I learned this by moving to Seattle, running into a lot of these people at Microsoft and elsewhere, and finding out they were all raised as science fiction readers - not necessarily fans, but they definitely read it. Every scientist worth his salt that I know of has read science fiction. Linus Pauling’s biography tells you, when he was in bed with a cold, thinking about the alpha helix and the protein molecule, figuring out how that structure worked, he was reading mysteries. Linus will tell you he was reading science fiction and mysteries. So they edit the science fiction out - it’s too embarrassing, too much teenage boy-type stuff. Well, there’s a lot of those teenage boys who are now running the world, and they read science fiction!

‘‘At Microsoft, they were very interested in science fiction, especially Nathan Myhrvold. Nathan was bringing in science fiction writers and talking with them, feeding them good food and pumping their brains, trying to figure out what they wanted to do. Bruce Sterling, me, Neal Stephenson, Vernor Vinge, lots of writers have been brought in, given the tour, and chatted with. They like the stimulation, the conversation. Whether they get anything useful out of it or not, I don’t know.

‘‘/Slant is the book that resulted from a lot of those conversations at Microsoft, and a few other stimuli. It’s been a very interesting, incredibly stimulating environment, because I would say 75% of the economy is now being run by ex-science-fiction fans. We know Bill Gates read science fiction. Paul Allen still reads it - Jack Vance is his favorite author.’’


‘‘Frankly, I don’t see any signs of a sickening, unhealthy, declining culture right now. What I see are signs of drawing back before you leap. Now I’m an optimist to some extent, but I’m also a biological observer of societies. There are societies run completely by fossilized elites with major prejudices and major divisions in the social classes, and we don’t have that in the United States. Yes, we have rich and poor, but I can wander among the richest people in Seattle and I’m accepted as a peer because I’m part of the X Class, an intellectual class. That’s an incredibly healthy thing, to have an X Class that can wander between both levels and be accepted by all of them. I’m read by people who don’t make any money at all, and I’m read by billionaires. That’s a healthy sign, because when I write, I try to put things in perspective for the billionaires, to remind them that there are people out there who don’t make any money, and don’t think the way they do. Whether they listen or not I don’t know, but I think they do. At least they keep on asking questions and feeding me good food! Writers and free food are always compatible.’’


‘‘All the books H.G. Wells wrote to try to prove that he was as good a writer as Henry James aren’t read much today. It was his adolescent fiction, his imaginative stories, that live forever - and yet are not acknowledged in literature classes as being great literature. So to hell with the academics! And if they don’t get it, then it’s up to the rest of us to eventually write the real history of what happened.’’

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