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Tobias S. Buckell: A Box Full of Words
posted 22 October 2008
Tobias S. Buckell was born in Grenada in the West Indies, where he lived for the first decade of his life before relocating to the British Virgin Islands. He moved to Ohio in 1995 in the aftermath of Hurricane Marilyn, which destroyed the boat his family lived on. Buckell graduated from Bluffton University with an English degree in 2000, and now resides in Bluffton OH with his wife Emily.

Buckell attended Clarion in 1999, and shortly afterward sold first story "The Fish Merchant" to instructor Scott Edelman, then editor of Science Fiction Age. He has published about 30 stories in various magazines and anthologies, including Analog, Nature, and Year's Best anthologies. His short stories and novels frequently draw on his Caribbean roots for inspiration.

First novel Crystal Rain (2006) introduced readers to his Xenowealth universe, about far-flung human colonies menaced by aliens. Sequel Ragamuffin (2007) was a finalist for Nebula and Prometheus Awards. Sly Mongoose (2008) is his latest book in that setting, with Duppy Conqueror forthcoming. He is writing Halo: The Cole Protocol, set in the world of the video game.

Buckell worked for a while as webmaster for review site Tangent Online, and is the founder of online writers' group SF Novelists. He was a finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2002.
Photo by Liza Groen Trombi

Tobias Buckell Online
Excerpts from the interview:

“I grew up in a tough environment, with instances of barely scraping by, where we didn't know if we would have dinner, things like that. And I grew up biracial in the Caribbean Islands. (I have a complex relationship with my biological father, because he was an abusive alcoholic.) When I was reading science fiction as a kid it was more than just reading for fun; it was survival reading. It took me out of where I was. A lot of people get dragged down by being poor, stuck in situations where they don't see any way out. There were many factors that should have prevented me from escaping my situation, and one of the things that always kept me going was reading. It was not just escapism, but the ability to see people in tougher places than I was getting through them. That was a powerful thing for me. It definitely helped me stay centered and have goals and be on a mission to get myself out of my situation. I never had any doubt I would succeed, and that's what literature gave me. Science fiction literature, in particular, gave me a tremendous amount of imagination and hope, optimism that horrible things could be overcome.”


“There are all these people like me who don't see themselves in science fiction, all these brown kids reading it. They might go to it for hope, they might see that it's something amazing, but they don't see biracial heroes or Caribbean heroes or minority heroes going out and having the adventures that other kinds of heroes are having. So my mission became to write quality, interesting science fiction and fantasy, genre fiction, in the vein of my contemporaries, but featuring multicultural heroes.

“Multiculturalism isn't something to be feared. It's actually a really cool adventure. I found a lot of Caribbean literature that was magical realist or realist, even some mysteries, so I thought it would be interesting to bring it to science fiction. I love what Nalo Hopkinson does, but for my own direction I'm a classical Clarke/Asimov rationalist and it's really hard for me to write magical realism or fantasy. My mind rebels. It doesn't get me going as much as taking an O'Neill Cylinder and having an African-American cyborg blasting her way down the middle of it in zero gravity! I want to work with the kind of fiction I love: big explosions, big ideas, big dumb objects, and the people exploring them. I love the sense of scale with a sense of adventure.”


Crystal Rain was my attempt to write steampunk planetary adventure with a mostly Caribbean cast, or to take the best of Edgar Rice Burroughs but leave out the occasional snide racial comments, kind of flip that upside down. I took that Barsoom sort of adventure and set it on a planet settled by Caribbean refugees, and all's well -- until recloned Aztecs decide to start invading over the mountains!

Ragamuffin was my Very Serious space opera/technology novel. I put so much research into it! Of course, everyone in the world who's really smart scooped me. I was fascinated with virtual reality contact lenses that put a layer of data on top of the world, and of course Vernor Vinge did that in Rainbows End and other writers are having fun with it too. I wanted to make Ragamuffin as meaty as I could, to play with modern technologies of consciousness, alternate-reality markup, and also a little bit with post-colonialism.”

“The latest, Sly Mongoose is my 'airship porn' novel....”

“I play with a lot of big ideas in this book. Peter Watts did the hard-SF justification for vampires, and I do the hard-SF justification for zombies. So you have this airship world, and then a giant massive network of zombies attack. That's the rough background for it. Throw in Caribbean heroes and Aztec-derived heroes, and you've got the ingredients for an interesting book.”

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