Tag Archives: interviews

Links for October 16

Josh and I spent the last two weeks in London and Paris, having a splendid time and getting to hang out with an astonishing and wonderful variety of people. Now we’re back, trying desperately to get caught up. While I clean 400 emails out of my inbox (not an exaggeration), I found a handful of interesting links that had accumulated:

  • Avon just launched a Facebook app, Avon Social Reader, that will let readers preview and discuss Avon titles and buy some of them DRM-free from AllRomanceEbooks.
  • I recently signed up for Daily Science Fiction, lured in by Nicole Cipri’s wonderful “A Silly Love Story”, and have been enjoying it; it’s easy to make time to read one short story a day, and the quality’s pretty good. Newcomer SnackReads looks to be aimed at the same market, but instead of a free plain-text email to read in a few minutes, you get a $1.99 epub file to read over a lunch break or commute. They’re launching with Suzy McKee Charnas’s long-OOP story “Scorched Supper on New Niger”.
  • Want even more short fiction? Cemetery Dance is putting out a bunch of short horror e-books to lead up to Halloween.
  • A 12-year-old interviews China Miéville about Railsea.
  • I interview Jo Walton (on video) about Among Others, just before or just after it won a Nebula Award. I haven’t watched this and have no idea whether it came out well, so if you get a chance to watch it, let me know what you think!

PW Talks with Benedict Jacka, Cont.

I didn’t get a chance to post about this before going out of town, but here it is now: the overflow Qs and As from Joe Sanders’s interview with Benedict Jacka in the July 9 issue of PW.

If you’re into urban fantasy of the wizarding kind, Jacka’s books are very much worth checking out. I’m surprised I haven’t heard more people talking about them, since they seem tailor-made to appeal to fans of authors like Jim Butcher and Harry Connolly. The series stars Alex Verus, a London-based diviner who has a sort of magical ADD that lets him see all possible futures at once. Alex’s interactions with the “Light” and “Dark” mages in the area (which groupings are more like D&D “lawful” and “chaotic” than “good” and “evil”) have an interesting dynamic: knowledge is power, but power is also power, so he flips between acquiring and selling knowledge and trying not to get fried or squashed by people who have more direct forms of magic. It’s good stuff. For more info, see our reviews of Fated, Cursed, and Taken–and, of course, the Q&A.

JS: Besides interacting with a growing crowd of vivid individuals, Alex keeps running into Light characters whose actions are at least as vile as those committed by anyone from the Dark side. Is that the only way to tell the real difference between nice and not-nice, by how a person treats other people?

BJ: Well, it’s definitely a better guide than what they call themselves! A lot of readers comment on the fact that the worst of the Light mages are just as vicious as the Dark ones, but if you think about it, it’s really what you’d expect to happen. Just because you say you’re a servant of light and virtue, that doesn’t mean you are one!

JS: Are you pleased with how the Alex Verus books do keep readers off-balance but thoughtful?

BJ: I hope so. When you’re writing a book, it’s very hard to predict whether a book will put a reader off-balance or not. I’ve had some readers praise how unpredictable Fated was, while I’ve had others claim that they saw everything coming. I do get more reviews of the first type than the second, though.

JS: What does give you the most satisfaction—or pleasure or fun, if you prefer—about writing in general and the Alex Verus books in particular?

BJ: It’s hard to predict. Sometimes a section I’ll be working on will go smooth as silk, and at other times I’ll find myself struggling to write a single line (which is the exact opposite of satisfying). In the end, I think the bit I enjoy the most is just knowing that people out there are reading my books and liking them.

JS: How did you create Alex’s smart-ass but sympathetic persona?

BJ: I’m honestly not sure—he just sort of grew that way! I often find that happens with my characters, especially the ones that work out well. To begin with I design them, but the longer they stick around the more they develop their own voice and the direction they go in isn’t something I can predict.

JS: You’ve got a large cast of characters by now, and some prominent early characters have left. Why did air elemental Starbreeze go on leave? And will we be seeing more of the dragon?

BJ: In Starbreeze’s case, I was finding that Alex was relying on her a bit too much: to keep on growing, he needed to face threats on his own without being able to use her as a get-out-of-jail free card. The dragon, on the other hand… it’s possible, but I’ll be using that particular character very, very sparingly. It would lose its impact otherwise.

JS: The first three Alex Verus novels have appeared very close together to establish a presence. Are additional novels ready for publication?

BJ: I’d love to be able to say yes, but unfortunately I can’t write quite that fast! I’m in the middle of Alex Verus #4 at the moment, and it’s about 30% done. With luck and a few late nights I should finish at about the same time that book #3, Taken, is released.

JS: Now that you’ve established Alex as a presence with readers, do you think the series is ready to make a transition to hardcover?

BJ: It’s kind of embarrassing given my profession, but I still really don’t know much about the economic arguments for paperback vs. hardcover. At this stage I’m mostly concerned with overall spread & name recognition, so I’ll go for whichever approach I think gets the most people introduced to the stories.

JS: Any major difference between British and American publishers?

BJ: Americans are faster! There’s the odd exception, but generally the turnaround time for decisions, edits, galleys, etc. seems to be smaller on that side of the Atlantic. Though my British publishers aren’t slow, either, so it usually works out fine in both cases in the end.

Check out the rest of the Q&A for more on Alex Verus’s origins, plus the worst and best writing advice that Jacka ever received.

PW Talks with Kij Johnson, Cont.

In this week’s PW, Alana Joli Abbott interviews Kij Johnson about her debut collection, At the Mouth of the River of Bees. Kij gave delightfully lengthy answers that won’t fit in the magazine, so we’re glad to reproduce them here.

AJA: You’ve had a varied career, working in academia, in bookstores, in editorial departments, and in comics and game design. What aspects of those jobs continue to be relevant in your writing career? And, given your prior work at Wizards of the Coast, do you play role playing games?

KJ: Each narrative mode—text, image or both, open-ended story or closed arc, face to face, on the page, on the screen—has a specific approach to the creating of speculative fiction, but they all draw from the same metatexts about science, myth and the historical development of these genres. My poison remains the Dungeons & Dragons Greyhawk setting, though I haven’t been able to play lately!

AJA: What keeps you returning to the setting of mythical Japan?

KJ: Every time I think I am done with a setting, a theme, or a mode—the human/animal interface, for instance, or the deconstruction of story, or what it takes to gaze into the abyss and then step back—I find that there’s something else I can to say within that framework, digging deeper into increasingly familiar strangeness. Heian Japan has been like that. It started with The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, the diaries of a noblewoman at the Japanese Imperial court in about the year 1000 A.D. The first time I read it (in Ivan Morris’s translation), I fell in love with Sei Shonagon’s witty, opinionated voice. My fascination led me to other primary sources from the Heian period, and I discovered a lovely body of women’s writing in the form of diaries and monogatari (such as The Tale of Genji)—perhaps the only time and place where the great literature of a culture was defined and dominated by women.

AJA: How is traffic to your website and your free online fiction affecting the popularity of your print titles?

KJ: Mileage varies for many writers, but I like the way my online publications have supported my print books. My two novels came out in 1999 and 2003, yet they continue to sell. Online word of mouth is part of that.

AJA: In tales like “Ponies” and “The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles,” you feature animals that are very human. What do you think these anthropomorphic animals tell readers about human nature?

KJ: Many stories in this collection have animals in them and most of the animals exhibit some level of humanity, which is not always the same as anthropomorphism. Some animals turn into humans, if imperfectly, as in “Fox Magic.” Some are uplifted, a science-fictional term for animals that attain human levels of intelligence (though not always human types of intelligence), as with “The Evolution of Trickster Stories.” Some remain basically animals with intent ascribed to them (“The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles”), and others are never anything but animals (“Wolf Trapping,” “The Horse Raiders,” and the title story). “Ponies” is a parable; the monkeys in “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” are a metaphor; “The Bitey Cat” is… a bitey cat, maybe.

A few years back I challenged myself to write stories that did not depend on the human/animal interface; “The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” and “Story Kit” were two of those works.

AJA: “Spar” is one of the most graphic, violent, and sexual tales in the collection. It could be read as an allegory to an abusive relationship, but there seems to be more beneath the surface as well. For you, what is this story about?

KJ: Despite the graphic horror of it, the story is about the much subtler and yet utterly destructive breakdown that happens in so many relationships. He’s not listening, she’s not listening; or maybe they are and they still don’t care; or maybe no one’s even trying to communicate; or maybe the cruelty is botched attempts at connection; or maybe they’re both just inhabiting the same space at the same time and all that pain is pointless. It’s a story that could be told in the modernist/reportorial tradition, but I didn’t want readers to have an easy out of what the story is saying. There’s no way to say, “It sucked but she moved on, and her second husband was much nicer.” It’s a grim statement, and a grim way to say it.

AJA: Congratulations on the Nebula win and the Hugo nomination for “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”! The novella is the longest piece in your collection, and is a powerful tale about loss, technological change, and those who must change or be left behind. Who do you view as bridge-builders in the current technological scene?

KJ: Thank you! This answer is so five years ago, but the interconnectedness of the Internet is the most obvious example. We bridge the gap between people using our computers and phones, but it can mean we lose immediacy and the random delights of accidental, incidental friendships. I have moved more than twenty times in the past few decades, and my friends are everywhere now, in nine time zones. I would lose many people I care about if it weren’t for email, messaging, and Facebook; but I don’t have the same incentive to explore new friends when I move somewhere new. Something is lost; something is gained. Ultimately the gain is greater than the loss, I think.

AJA: The main characters of “At the Mouth of the River of Bees” and of “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change” are both named Linna, and they share other qualities. Are they the same person in different realities?

KJ: The stories are different, but Linna serves the same purpose in each—a woman stepping into strangeness because of the dying dog(s) at her side. Each Linna is at the moment isolated from the rest of humanity, and has instead enlisted herself to the animals’ agenda. Each Linna moves through her environment with her senses alive and open. And the Linna stories are both interested in considering the sorts of stories animals would tell. So Linna is not the same person, but she fills the same role in each story. I can see that I could write other Linna stories, about other Linnas facing loss and wonder.

AJA: How did you (or your editors) choose “At the Mouth of the River of Bees” as the title story for the collection?

KJ: Titles are hard! We discussed this a bit, my publisher and I, but we both love this story, and Linna and her dog and the strangeness of a river of bees are all specific examples of general things I always write about, aloneness and the Other and strangeness.

See this week’s issue for the rest of the Q&A, including Kij’s passionate support for self-publishing authors! (And if you’re not a subscriber, just be patient; it’ll be out from behind the paywall after a week.)

PW Talks with Jim C. Hines, Cont.

In this week’s PW, Miriam Gingras interviews Jim C. Hines about his new novel, Libriomancer, which launches the Magic Ex Libris series. Here are a few outtakes:

MG: If you were a libriomancer, which books would be in your “go-to” arsenal?

JCH: I’d probably start with a Dungeons & Dragons role-playing manual that includes a list and description of various magical items, from rings of protection and flight to enchanted swords to stones that make you smarter and stronger. Plus a healing potion to take care of my diabetes. (Though in Isaac’s world, that most RPG manuals have been locked because they’re just too dangerous.) I’d probably get a Star Wars tie-in novel too, because I’d want a lightsaber, even though I’d likely end up slicing my own limbs off. Some sort of personal teleporter would be great too. The first one that comes to mind is from Doctor Who, so there’s another tie-in book. There’s a ton of good you could do with libriomancy, too. If you could use books to create food and water and energy? Or cure diseases? I could use Mira Grant’s book Feed to create the cure for cancer. It would take so long to explore the possibilities. Which means it might be smart to grab the first Harry Potter book so I could use the sorcerer’s stone and live long enough to catch up on all my reading.

MG: The bibliography at the end contains a few novels that don’t exist. Are you planning to write any of them?

JCH: At the moment, I’m not planning to, though I do like some of the ideas. V-Day was important enough that I needed to flesh out more detail, but I also had fun brainstorming the plot of Renfield, and I did a bit of research to make sure the basic idea for Rabid was plausible. Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time for all the books I’d like to write.

MG: The power behind libriomancy is the collective readers’ belief in the work. Do you think this power could lend itself to other forms, like art or music?

JCH: We do see one bard in Libriomancer. You don’t see much of Nicola Pallas’s power in book one, but she can definitely mess you up by humming a few strains of jazz. I’ve toyed with the idea of introducing a branch of libriomancy that works with video games, though I’m not sure that would hold up, given the rules I’ve put in place. I’m also thinking about adding a libriomancer who uses poetry for the next book.

MG: Are the authors of the made-up books friends of yours, and if so, how does one get a chance to write a made-up book in Isaac’s world?

JCH: Only two. Ann Crispin is someone I’ve chatted with a bit online, and she’s done a great deal for writers in general through her work with Writer Beware. Given her history writing Star Trek novels, I asked if she’d mind being credited for Vulcan’s Mirror. My friend Catherine Shaffer is one of the people I talked to about the plot for Rabid, so it seemed appropriate to make her the author. (It’s the kind of book I could totally see her writing.) I tried not to make up very many books, because it would be too easy to cheat. If Isaac gets into trouble, I could just make up a book that has exactly what he needs for that situation. As for how to become a made-up author in the Magic ex Libris series, I’m currently accepting bribes in the form of chocolate chip cookies and cheesecake.

See this week’s issue for the rest of the Q&A, including Jim’s explanation of why he made the daring choice of writing a straight male protagonist! (And if you’re not a subscriber, just be patient; it’ll be out from behind the paywall after a week.)

Link Roundup

I spent the last week on vacation and came back to a pile of links in my inbox! The least I can do is share them with all of you.

What else happened while I was out?

PW Talks with James Treadwell, Cont.

Eugene Reynolds did a spectacular Q&A with James Treadwell, author of Advent, for this week’s PW. Treadwell gave us far more material than we could fit into the magazine, all of it excellent, so here’s the overflow.

Eugene Reynolds: The book is set in Cornwall, and one character (Hester) swears an oath to remain there “so long as I live.” What drew you to that corner of the isle of Britain? Have you sworn a similar oath?

James Treadwell: If I had, I’d be an oathbreaker many times over. I live in London, and love it, and don’t want to live anywhere else. However, my maternal grandparents moved to Cornwall when I was five, and I went there on holiday at least twice a year throughout my childhood. It must have got in the blood. I kept going back even when I grew out of family holidays, and nowadays I go there with my own wife and children, two or three times a year, though my grandparents have long since left. Cornish people tend not to be very happy about holidaying Londoners coming down to their patch and romanticizing it. I tried to leave at least a bit of the unglamorous toughness and dirt and damp in my version of Cornwall. And I’m sneakily rather proud of the fact that my totally non-Cornish surname happens to begin with “Tre” (for those who don’t know, you can’t go more than a couple of miles in Cornwall without finding yourself in Tresillian or Treburyett or Tremeer or Trevarno or Trethewey or Tregenna or…)

ER: The non-human characters (such as the puka, dryad, and orca spirit) seem more humane than some of the humans. How did you approach making them both accessible to the reader yet at the same time keeping them alien and mysterious?

JT: Somehow, the problem doesn’t present itself in this way when you’re actually writing. When a character’s there in your imagination, and you can hear them squawking or singing away, you don’t suddenly lift the pen from the page and ask yourself, “Hang on a sec, am I making this accessible to The Reader?” I suppose I feel that if they’re accessible to me, that’s probably accessible enough. If I feel like I myself have grasped the way those particular characters are both vivid and mysterious, then I just have to hope that I’ve written them down in such a way that the vividness and mystery will be equally available to my readers.

I suspect any writer would tell you that their characters surprise them all the time. We don’t sit at our desks thinking about how we need to arrange them. (Or at least I don’t.) We just watch them and listen to them as carefully and thoroughly as we can, and then write down what they say and do. If it doesn’t look/sound right, we cross it out, close our eyes, and listen harder.

With the puka and the dryad, I found that the clearest impression I had of both characters was their voices—the grammar and vocabulary as well as the tone. That was my way into them. Then I realized that they can’t lie. Perhaps that’s what makes them seem a bit more sympathetic than some of the human characters. When people—especially English people—are talking to each other, there are huge realms of unspoken assumptions and implications and codes underpinning the few things we say aloud. Most of the work of communication goes on below or around the actual spoken words. My non-human characters don’t use language that way. Their words express their natures much more immediately. So perhaps that comes as a relief after all the tight-lipped strangulated Britishness.

ER: Magic is depicted as a more intense experience of the unity of Nature. Why is it limited to only certain people, places, and events?

JT: I think magic is very resistant to the question “why?” Our whole understanding of our (non-magical, rational, materialist) world is built on causes and effects. It’s hard for us to deal with a field in which the question “why?” no longer applies. No wonder my poor protagonist has such a rough ride.

I’m also rather reluctant to associate magic too strongly with “Nature.” That’s one of the reasons I knew it was all right for Holly to sing Christmas carols: she’s not just “nature,” she’s culture as well. If the spirits can talk, they’re not just “nature:” nature doesn’t have language. Perhaps this is just the old academic in me. People who study literature tend to be very touchy about the idea of “nature.” See, even now I can’t type the word without putting scare quotes around it.

ER: Several characters have religious affiliations, and worship is entwined with magic. What are the roles of religion and magic in a secular age? Do you see them as being aligned or opposed?

JT: Religion’s a mode of magical thinking, probably the most widespread and respectable one in the world after superstition/luck. Perhaps that’s why it made sense to me that many of my characters would revert to a religious language when faced with the advent of magic. The book doesn’t have anything to say about actual religious experience, of course. Some of the characters instinctively use that framework; others don’t. That’s up to them. As for my own views on religion versus (or not versus) magic: I’m pretty sure they’re not relevant to the book. Generally speaking, I’m more sympathetic to magical thinking in all its forms (religion, sentimentality, superstition, romance) than most people seem to be, but perhaps that’s not surprising for a writer of fantasies.

ER: Your antagonist, Johannes Faust, is a figure with a rich literary history, which you subvert neatly. What led you to Faust? How does it feel to be sharing him with Christopher Marlowe and Goethe?

JT: Embarrassed, in a word. I didn’t actually know that my magician character was Faust until I was a fair way into the first version of the book. It came as something of a surprise, but it made sense of lots of aspects of his story. Needless to say, the last thing I want to do is invite comparisons with Marlowe or Goethe…

ER: The Faust sections are written with a reversed chronology. What impression did you hope to make on the reader? Are we being made to feel how it is to know the future but not be able to change it?

JT: That’s an interesting suggestion. I didn’t have any specific effect in mind, except for the idea that the magus’s story, like the other parts of the book, needed to unfold from mystery towards revelation, and that it was therefore important not to know who he was, what he was doing, and why he was doing it when he first appears.

In fact, though, the reverse narrative probably owes itself more than anything else to the fact that I knew where I wanted the book to start: the man leaving the sleet-swept city in the winter night, hurrying aboard ship, fleeing some kind of obligation, taking something with him which he knew he shouldn’t be taking. After that, the only direction his story could go was backwards: what thing? What obligation? Who’s he fleeing?

And if I’m honest I also had in mind a nod to one of the most perfectly structured of all novels, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, whose story proceeds simultaneously backwards and forwards. Not that I’d dare to suggest actual comparisons with Le Guin, any more than I would with Goethe.

ER: Advent is the first part of a trilogy. Did the story naturally suggest a three-part structure when you started writing, or did it grow in the telling?

JT: The idea always was that Advent would be a complete story, and in many ways I think it is indeed finished: it relates a kind of homecoming, and it ends by bringing the protagonist where he belongs. In the course of that journey, though, it became increasingly clear that while his journey may be in some sense concluded, for more or less everyone else the adventure is just beginning. He gets the answers to a lot of questions, but everyone else is left facing those questions for the very first time. So I realized I wanted to write about that as well. I’m beginning to suspect that there is a single story underpinning all three books, which is, roughly, the story of magic in the world. Our world, that is—the one we think of as being empty of magic. Broadly speaking, if Advent is about the, er, advent of magic, then the second book is about what happens as it arrives, and the third book will be set a bit further along in the aftermath. I think they’ll all be fairly different from each other.

ER: You have published academic non-fiction. Was writing fantasy similar?

JT: I think the mechanics of producing a book are the same no matter what kind of book it is, and by “mechanics” I mean the basic fact that you start with a blank sheet and end with X number of words. In that sense, and in that sense only, having two published volumes under my belt before I started Advent was an advantage. There are days, or weeks if you’re unlucky, when it’s not going well, and fortunately for me I already knew what that was like so I didn’t panic. In one sense, writing is just labor. Whatever the subject, you have to keep plugging away. But then there are all the ways in which writing isn’t labor at all, and in those senses writing a novel is nothing at all like writing non-fiction. The most surprising thing for me was the rigor that fiction demands. If you’d have asked me before, I’d have guessed it was the other way round: I’d have assumed that it was scholarly work which required the greater precision and discipline. But it turned out that I felt a much stronger need to try and get every sentence exactly right in Advent than I did in either of my non-fiction books. And, needless to say, I know all too well that I failed to do so.

With academic writing, you’re always, always aware of exactly who you’re writing for, partly because there just aren’t very many of them. You feel them over your shoulder all the time. But when you’re trying to tell a story that you have in your head, your only duty is to the story itself. You’d think that would be more relaxing, liberating even, but alas, it’s not so.

ER: The book has appeal to a wide range of ages. Did you have an “ideal reader” in mind when writing?

JT: Anecdotal evidence suggests that quite a few people have noticed what you’ve noticed, which is that the book has a Young Adult plot but doesn’t really conduct itself in a YA manner. From the point of view of the publishing market that’s a quirk, I suppose. All I can do is be grateful that my publishers have been willing to look at the book for what it is, rather than trying to shoehorn it into marketing categories.

I didn’t write Advent “for” anyone; not for teenagers, not for adults, not for fantasy readers. I didn’t write it “against” anyone either, of course. I’d love to think that kids of my protagonist’s age (he’s 15) would enjoy the book. I’d also like to think that people my age (43) would enjoy it too. But at no stage during the writing of it did I think to myself, “Is this paragraph right for a fifteen year-old? Will forty-three year-olds get this bit? What happens if no one understands the allusions to the Trojan War?” You write what you feel you have to write, and in the end you hope that something of what excites you about the story will communicate itself to your readers, whoever they may be.

Read the rest of the Q&A in this week’s issue of PW.

PW Talks with Alastair Reynolds, Cont.

In this week’s PW, Lenny Picker chats with Alastair Reynolds about Blue Remembered Earth. Here are the Qs and As that didn’t make it into the magazine.

Lenny Picker: Many of your novels have been called dark and dystopian-do you agree?

Alastair Reynolds: Not really. “Dark” is such a cliché. And I don’t see my work as being particularly dystopian. Most of my futures are democracies. They might be stressed by external effects but that doesn’t make them dystopian.

LP: Do you embrace the space opera label?

AR: Occasionally, but more and more often I’m getting weary of it. It imposes a set of expectations which are as often as not are not going to be met. Just because a book has space travel and other worlds in it doesn’t make it space opera, but you’d be forgiven for thinking the opposite judging from some of the reviews and commentary in the field.

LP: With a limited number of science fiction plots, how do you avoid repeating yourself?

AR: I don’t think sci-fi’s toolkit of plots is in any way more limited than any other sphere of literature. Really, it’s what you do with the plot that matters. Readers will forgive any old hackneyed plot if the story is told with a freshness of vision. I don’t worry about it. I’m not the same writer I was 10 years ago so even if I attempted to re-tell one of my existing books, it would come out differently.

LP: How have religion and politics evolved in the future of Blue Remembered Earth?

AR: I don’t say much about religion. It’s probably there in the mix somewhere. I’m not religious myself but I don’t see religion

disappearing as a force in society any time soon. I suppose I’d like to see a bit more of a shift in the direct of enlightenment thinking generally, but—as they say—some of my best friends are religious and they seem as tolerant and open-minded as anyone else. Political systems in the book are, I think, broadly similar to today: there’s mention of a scandal in the Pan African parliament, for instance, so we still have parliamentary democracy, a version of the UN etc. I didn’t want to make it like Star Trek where all these contemporary institutions have been swept away.

LP: How much of an effect does readership requests have on continuing a series or writing sequels?

AR: Not much. I’ve steadfastly resisted requests for a sequel to Century Rain (lots of people didn’t like it, but a pretty good number did, judging by the emails). On the other hand, I’ve always said I’d like to return to the universes of Pushing Ice and House of Suns and I hope to do so one day.

LP: Will you return to the Revelation Space universe?

AR: Yes, one day.

LP: You’ve praised a book I’m unfamiliar with, Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix—can you talk a bit about it and how it impressed you?

AR: I’m in danger of saying too much about it. It’s a wonderfully dense and imaginative slice of space-based SF, dealing in the grandest of themes. It was the first cyberpunk space opera, with an imaginative boldness almost unseen in the field beforehand. A reviewer at the time described the book as feeling as if Sterling had been to the future and come back to report on what he’d seen. That captures very well the feeling of off-hand weirdness and stone-cold plausibility running through the thing. It’s dated in only very minor ways since 1985: the characters record things onto tape, there’s no real sense of virtual or augmented reality. But in every other respect, it’s still ahead of the game.

Read the rest of the Q&A in this week’s issue of PW.

PW Talks with Olena Bormashenko, Cont.

You’ve probably never heard of Olena Bormashenko; she’s a mathematics professor, not a science fiction author. Thanks to an incredible series of coincidences, she’s also the translator for the fantastic new English-language edition of Boris and Arkady Strugatsky’s 1972 SF classic Roadside Picnic. In this week’s PW, Joe Sanders uncovers a great story and gets some tips for translators along the way. Here are the Qs and As that didn’t make it into the magazine:

JS: How did you decide to translate one of the Strugatskys’ works, and why Roadside Picnic?

OB: The Strugatskys’ work was famous in the former USSR, and fairly standard reading, very popular. I’ve always really liked it, so at some point I wanted to buy a copy of one of their books for an English-speaking friend of mine. I settled on Roadside Picnic because it seemed fairly approachable. I bought a copy, and of course I flipped through it at some point, and I remember I felt pretty disappointed: I didn’t think the translation lived up to the original. So I started translating it more or less as a “I could do better than this, and these books deserve a better translation” project.

Frankly, when I started doing it I couldn’t do better than the original translation at all! I had no idea what I was doing, and when I read over my first drafts from way back when they are really kind of awful.

JS: Who translated the afterword?

OB: I translated the afterword as well. It was quite a challenge. It made lots of references to things that would have been familiar to the Russian reader, but not to the English reader, so we had to insert a lot of explanations. And there was the quandary about the word “stalker”—the Strugatskys did, indeed, introduce the word into Russian from English, but they introduced a weird, mispronounced version, and now translating the whole thing back and explaining what happened didn’t make nearly as much sense as it did in Russian. Actually, I think the whole “stalker” thing is unfortunate—in Russian, it was meant to conjure up something foreign, and in English it’s obviously not doing that. So if no one had ever heard of this book, I’d have been tempted to translate it to some totally different, strange word, but that was obviously impossible.

JS: Have you had any contact with Boris Strugatsky?

OB: I did get in touch with Boris Strugatsky. He’s known for being extremely good at replying to e-mails from random people, so I just e-mailed him, and he wrote back. And then he put me in touch with his agent, Joachim Rottensteiner. I was mostly writing to get permission to shop it around (although I never did have to)—since I never inquired at the beginning, I didn’t know what the copyright issues might be, or whether a translation different from the first one could be published at all. Anyway, Boris was very encouraging, since he’d heard that the English translations weren’t exactly up to par.

JS: Was this a one-time thing, or would you do it again?

OB: I’d definitely be interested in doing it again! I was told not to translate any more books without a contract, however: from what I understand, I got almost supernaturally lucky—everything just fell into my lap. It’s entirely possible to translate something and then discover that some publisher has already bought the copyright and had it translated in-house, and then you wouldn’t be able to do a thing until that copyright expires, which takes decades. Anyway, Chicago Review Press said they wanted to see how Roadside Picnic does, and if it does well, they might get me to translate another one of the Strugatskys’ works. The one I was considering doing next was Hard to be a God—again, there does exist a translation (and just like with Roadside Picnic, it’s not very hard to find online), but it’s not great. And it’s another work of theirs that’s fairly accessible and not particularly dated.

I might also translate works by other authors, of course. It’s just a lot of fun to translate books that I remember fondly from childhood, and that I still enjoy. Of course, if I ever wanted to make real money doing this, old novels wouldn’t be the way to go.

Another reason I haven’t been trying to start a new project is that I’ve been quite busy—I just started teaching at Austin this year, which means a whole lot of prep work, and it’s been hard enough to stay on top of that.

To learn how “witch jelly” became “hell slime” and more, read the rest of the Q&A in this week’s issue.

PW Talks with Kim Stanley Robinson, Cont.

In this week’s PW we review Kim Stanley Robinson’s mindblowing new novel, 2312. If you can’t wait until May to have your solar system rocked, check out Susan de Guardiola’s Q&A with KSR, also in this week’s issue. To whet your appetite, here are the Qs and As we couldn’t fit in the magazine.

SDG: What led you to depict mercurial Mercurian Swan and saturnine Saturnian Wahram as embodying their planets’ supposed astrological characteristics?

KSR: I think it began when I read a very nice review of my previous novel, Galileo’s Dream, by the British writer Adam Roberts, who mentioned that I appeared to be a little too fond of the ancient Greek character system of the four temperaments, as it keeps showing up in my books. This is true and it made me laugh, and I thought, Okay, well, maybe I’ll just have to shift from the four temperaments to the astrological character system, very much going from bad to worse. Probably this was a perverse reaction, but the thing is I really do like these old character systems, all very rickety and speculative (including the Freudian and Jungian ones), but all trying to get at something real in human variability. So it began with a laugh, I suppose, but over time it began to seem like a good idea, because all couples are odd couples—so unlikely, so apparently mismatched—how do they happen, how can it work? And of course love and partnership are two of the main things the novel is made to explore.

SDG: What drew you to the “collage” structure?

KSR: The book was clearly going to have a big information load, and as I was planning it, Jerad Walters of Centipede Press asked me to write introductions for new editions of John Brunner’s novels Stand On Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up, classics from 1968 and 1973. I agreed to do that, and rediscovered the way Brunner had portrayed a complex global culture, which was by adapting the technique invented by John Dos Passos for his great U.S.A. trilogy of the 1930s. So I finally actually read the Dos Passos trilogy, which had been sitting on my shelf for thirty years, and I was amazed at how good it is—truly one of the great American novels. I decided to follow Brunner’s example and adapt the Dos Passos method, which in essence is a weave or collage of different kinds of writing, including songs, newspaper articles, stream-of-consciousness passages, impressionist pocket biographies of famous Americans, and so on. My lists, extracts, planet biographies, and quantum walks are my variations on the Dos Passos technique.

I’ve always liked lists, and I hope that the lists in 2312 will be seen as a new way to handle exposition, in effect squishing it down to something like word association games, or prose poems.

SDG: Swan’s career straddles both art and science. How do you perceive the relationship between the two fields, and its importance, now and in the future?

KSR: For me, art in our time is strongest when it is aware of science, includes science, is inspired by science, or is about science. On the linguistic level, the new words coined by scientists to describe their new discoveries form a giant growing lexicon that means English is simply bursting with new possibilities, resembling the Elizabethan age in that respect. Then conceptually, science is creating new stories to tell, by deluging us with new information and potentialities. In this deluge we need art to do its usual job of sorting things out, by giving things their human dimension and by exploring how they might feel and what they might mean. So to me the arts and the sciences are completely intertwined. Maybe that’s always been true, but now more than ever.

For some artists working today, art has already left the galleries and the museums, and since I was thinking about world-making as an art form, this “making art everywhere” was really suggestive. The landscape art of Andy Goldsworthy, and the performance art of Marina Abramovic, were particularly important to my book, so much so that in 2312 their names have turned into nouns for their particular genres.

SDG: Any suggestions for readers interested in pursuing some of the non-fictional elements behind your worldbuilding?

KSR: There’s so much out there now, it’s difficult to pick out particular works. I do think everyone would benefit from reading Science News, it’s just a few pages every other week, but it’s an excellent ongoing education in all the sciences, and we all could use that.

NASA remains a great source of material about our solar system, and really in all these various fields there is a lot of good information—everywhere but in economics, where the pickings remain slim. If you try to think “what comes next?” which I often try to do, there is a gaping absence—even though since the crash of 2008 we have all been staring at this absence, wondering what it means and what we will do as it becomes increasingly evident that capitalism is not sustainable. We will have to change, but how? No one knows. It’s probably a good topic for a science fiction novel.

Don’t miss the rest of the interview in this week’s issue of PW.

PW Talks with Sharon Shinn, Cont.

This week’s PW has a great Q&A with Sharon Shinn, conducted by Alana Joli Abbott. This was one of those Q&As where I really struggled to edit it at all. There’s so much in The Shape of Desire to talk about: animals and people, shape-shifting, secrets, romance, family. Here are the Qs and As we couldn’t fit into the magazine.

AJA: Most of Dante’s life is beyond his control, due largely to his magical abilities — or curse — much the way that Maria’s problems are all grounded in reality, but with supernatural reasons. Does Dante’s chaotic existence have a similar real world corollary?

SS: I think the real-world corollary would be with anyone who leads a double life. So, perhaps, a man who has two wives, two families, who don’t know about each other. A man who works for the CIA or the Mob. Someone who has to conceal the truth about himself either because it’s dangerous or because it’s unsavory.

To her credit, Maria considers some of these alternatives! Since she has no proof Dante is telling her the truth, she has to wonder what his lies might be concealing, and she knows it might be something pretty dark.

AJA: Dante and his siblings have very different feelings about what it means to shift shapes; Dante views himself as a monster, while his brother William prefers to spend his time as an animal, and his sister Christina feels confident enough in managing the change to have a baby. How did the three siblings come to have such dramatically different worldviews?

SS: From what I’ve observed, even though they have so many shared experiences, siblings often have very different worldviews! And they follow different paths. For instance, I’m a writer, my sister is a nurse, and my brother is a CPA who moonlights as an actor. And the differences don’t stop there.

But Dante, William, and Christina also have such contrasting outlooks because of the way their shape-shifting abilities work. The fact that Dante can’t control his body’s impulses leaves him angry and uneasy; the fact that shecan control hers makes Christina more optimistic in general. And William—well, I think William would have been a quirky loner no matter what kind of hand fate dealt him.

AJA: Dante and his siblings are named after a family of poets; one of the poems Maria has read by that family perfectly captures her feelings about Dante, and she repeats a line from it throughout the book. How did that line of poetry come to be?

SS: Oh, it’s one of my very favorite lines of poetry ever! Christina Rossetti led a somewhat isolated and shadowed life, and many of her poems deal with death and despair. The first poem of hers I ever read opens with the melancholy line “When I am dead my dearest, sing no sad songs for me…” She died a spinster, having had three major romances end badly. But in the midst of all this darkness, there’s that one ecstatic poem. There’s that one glorious welcome—“the birthday of my life/Is come, my love is come to me.” That’s how Maria feels every time she sees Dante, so that’s the line that haunts her.

AJA: Your first published novel, The Shape-Changer’s Wife, also deals with shapeshifting, but in a more controlled, intentional sense. What was it like to revisit that magical concept from a completely different angle?

SS: There are also shape-shifters in my Twelve Houses series, so this is a concept I’ve revisited multiple times! But the shape-changing protocol, if you will, is different in each book.

In The Shape-Changer’s Wife, the characters who shift shapes have been ensorceled by an evil wizard, so the plotline focuses on how they can be released from his spell. In the Twelve Houses books, the shiftlings have complete control over their abilities, and although that magical power has certainly complicated their lives, it is also something they wholeheartedly embrace. In all those previous books, I followed fairly traditional fantasy tropes of shape-changing magic.

The situation is different in The Shape of Desire because I wanted a much greater sense of realism. If you were living in the Midwest in the 21st century and your body would suddenly transform from a human to an animal shape, how would you cope? Especially if you didn’t want anyone to know you could do this? How would you hold down a job, how would you keep yourself safe?

In The Shape of Desire, the ability to change shape isn’t a magical power, it’s a severe liability. It’s a source of real danger. And it makes life very precarious.

AJA: Many of your books are series, but you’ve also had several successful stand-alones, including 2010′s Troubled Waters. Dante and Maria’s story feels complete, but the world you’ve created is big enough to hold other stories. Do you see stories of other shapeshifters — such as Christina’s daughter — in the future?

SS: In fact, there’s an indirect sequel, Still Life with Shape-Shifter, coming out in October. It’s set a few months afterThe Shape of Desire, and although it follows a new set of characters, people from the first book make cameo appearances. For instance, in The Shape of Desire, a reporter named Brody Westerbrook witnesses the climactic scene in which someone publicly transforms between human and animal states. He becomes obsessed with trying to find more shape-shifters because he wants to write a book about them. At the opening of Still Life, he’s trying to track down a woman he believes is a shape-shifter—but he can only find the woman’s sister, who insists such creatures don’t exist. But she’s hiding a very big secret…

I have a couple of other ideas for stories in this world, so I think I could easily write two or three more books about some of these loosely connected characters. But I also want to work on a sequel to Troubled Waters. Maybe I’ll find time to do both!

Don’t miss the first part of the Q&A in this week’s issue.

PW Talks with Caitlín R. Kiernan, Cont.

Charlene Brusso did a terrific Q&A with Caitlín R. Kiernan for this week’s PW. Here are the Qs and As we couldn’t fit into the magazine:

CB: Your writing has been compared to work by H.P. Lovecraft, as well as Shirley Jackson.  Are you comfortable with those comparisons?

CRK: Every author, whether he or she will admit it or not, their ability to write is the sum total of their life experiences and everything they’ve ever read. Everything. It all goes into the pot, consciously or unconsciously. And so I have this long list of authors who made me the author I am, some more than others. This is just reviewers engaging in literary archeology, finding my roots. In the case of Shirley Jackson, I find it especially flattering, as I can think of no writer in whose footsteps I’d rather follow.

CB: George Saltonstall is fictional, but the details of his life, his paintings, and the dark stories behind them, all feel terribly real. Is Saltonstall based on any historic figure (or figures)?

CRK:  Phillip George Saltonstall is an amalgamation of a lot of painters, and a little bit of Poe thrown in, as well. Mostly, I needed him to feel real. There’s a wonderful painter, Michael Zulli, who helped me do this. He actually painted “The Drowning Girl,” and became Saltonstall. He dressed as Saltonstall would have, and we did photos of him in period dress that were then Photoshopped, and all this made Saltonstall so real to me. There was no stranger sensation than holding the painting I’d imagined in my hands, seeing it as a genuine artifact.

CB: What about Eva Canning, the mysterious femme fatale at the center of Imp’s story?

CRK: Eva Canning is likely far too complex to explain here. She’s part of Imp’s haunting. She’s a deadly meme, and she’s also simply another broken person, one who is manipulative, and lost, and… I won’t say too much for fear of giving this or that away. I will say that, in many ways, she’s a nod to Peter Straub’s Ghost Story (with his blessings) and its multi-faced antagonist. It’s like the Kelly Link epigraph at the beginning of the book: “Stories shift their shape.” In fact, that sentence sort of sums up the novel. Stories shift their shape.

If you’re a PW subscriber, check out the rest of the interview here.

PW Talks with Julianna Baggott, Cont.

In today’s PW we have a great interview that Adam Lipkin conducted with Julianna Baggott about her forthcoming postapocalyptic novel, Pure. Here are the Qs and As that didn’t make it into the magazine:

AL: Pressia, the girl fused to the doll’s head, is a wonderfully complex character, competent and cynical, yet also often naive about her own world. Can you tell us about her genesis?

JB: Without that image of Pressia hiding in the ashen cabinet, there is no novel. She led me into the world and it was through her eyes that I came to see it. Of course, I also needed Partridge, who lives in the rigid order of the Dome. Both of them were essential to tell the full story, and the collision of their lives is the engine driving the narrative. Pressia allowed me to see the beauty in the wreckage; she insisted on it. And, despite everything, she still has hope.

AL: How do you feel about the publicity Pure has received, and about the hype for dystopian literature in general these days?

JB: I’m overwhelmed that Pure, the lives of its characters, and its otherworldly world have captured people’s imaginations. Pressia with her doll-head fist; El Capitan, who’s fused to his brother, forced to carry him for the rest of his life; Bradwell with birds embedded in his back—I had no idea how these characters would affect people. Pressia’s grandfather is missing a leg; his stump is clotted with wires. I grew up near my own grandfather, a double amputee from WWII, and so I lived with that constant reminder of war. What I mean is that, in so many ways, Pure still feels like it’s my own, and as the incredible blurbs have rolled in and the early reader reviews, I’m just beginning to understand the impact Pure is having on readers. Beyond that, I don’t think about genre hype except that I think the rise in interest in dystopian literature is a natural one. People are struggling. They want to read about characters who struggle and who are resilient.

AL: Do you have any other projects in the works?

JB: I’ve handed in Fuse, the second novel in the trilogy, and I’m excited about the wild twists and turns that novel takes, the deeper look at the characters, and the new details of the worlds inside of and outside of the Dome. I’m anxious to dive into the final book in the trilogy, Burn. I imagine that this world will always tempt me. It’s a matter of whether my characters need me, as a storyteller, or not. If they called out to me, I would jump back in—in a heartbeat.

As for other projects, my mind loves ideas—all of that potential. But I’m hesitant to talk about what’s whirling in my head. I like to let it whirl for as long as possible, on its own axis.

For more about Baggott’s work and a glimpse inside her head, see the rest of the interview in today’s issue.

PW Talks with N.K. Jemisin, Cont.

James Davis Nicoll did a really terrific interview with N.K. Jemisin for us. Three of the Qs and As are in the magazine this week; for your reading pleasure, here’s what didn’t fit on the page.

JDN: Your debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, was nominated for the Nebula, the Hugo and the World Fantasy Award. Any novel being nominated for all three is rare. Having a debut novel achieve this is even almost unheard of; the only other examples I can think of are Tea with a Black Dragon and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. What was your reaction when you discovered you had this nearly unheard of hat-trick in nominations?

NKJ: Lots of screaming and jumping up and down, mostly.  There was individual screaming and jumping up and down with each nomination, and then exponentially greater screaming and jumping up and down once trifecta was achieved.

JDN: What are you going to do with your Hugo nominee pin?

NKJ: I have two so far, since I got nominated last year too for my short story “Non-Zero Probabilities”.  Thinking about making earrings.

JDN: How did you come to be published by Orbit Books?

NKJ: I started the way all the “how to break in” books say you’re supposed to start.  I wrote for a long time—terrible stuff at first, but it got better.  I did a search-by-mail for an agent, using Locus as a research tool, and that netted me representation by Lucienne Diver.  Because of that, when The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was ready to send out to publishers, it was remarkably easy from my end:  I sent her the manuscript and waited. Magical things happened.  (Specifically, she sent it to several publishers, there was an auction, I screamed and jumped up and down some more, then I accepted Orbit’s offer.)  Then suddenly (two years later) I was published.

JDN: What works influenced the Inheritance Trilogy?

NKJ: Too many to count, honestly.  But off the top of my head:  Louise Cooper’s The Time Master trilogy; C. S. Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy; Tanith Lee’s Flat Earth stories; Stephen King’s Dark Tower; half a dozen shoujo manga series; bits of Tolkien, James Joyce, and Storm Constantine; life in New York City from the 80s to today;  several obscure video games; a couple of drum n’ bass bands; and a lot of nonfiction about the development of large and complex social systems.

JDN: One of the defining elements in the Inheritance Trilogy was obsessive and often destructive love. Another was a political structure notable for its brutality and authoritarian aspects. The two elements are linked in that one of the most obsessive romantics also was responsible for the political situation in the first; were you trying to make a more general point by featuring both so prominently and so inextricably intertwined?

NKJ: I’m guessing you’re leaving the identity of the obsessive romantic unmentioned because there are so many of them in the story!  But honestly, I wasn’t trying to make a point about that.  I don’t think that oppressive, authoritarian political systems have anything to do with love.  Control is not a part of love.

With respect to the political structure, I wasn’t trying to make a point about that, either, or at least not consciously.  I was trying to hold up a mirror to our own society, I suppose.  After all, in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms every child born grows up with a good education, good nutrition, a very slim chance of dying in war or poverty, and a very good chance of living to a venerable age.  In real life we make the same rationalizations that the Arameri do, for far less benefit.  So which world is truly brutal?

JDN: Why, Oree Shoth aside, was your focus in the Inheritance Trilogy on the travails of Gods, godlings and aristocrats rather than those of persons of more humble origin?

NKJ: In the Inheritance Trilogy I’m trying to emulate the epics of old: all those stories in which the gods get bored and start playing with mortals’ lives for kicks, or in which mortals get caught in the crossfire when one god does a drive-by on another, or in which the odd lucky mortal gets a chance to count coup on a god and lives to tell the tale.  The characters in those tales—gods aside—are kings, tailors, princesses, priests, mighty warriors, goose girls, housewives, and random wanderers. They come from all walks of life.  The only constant in the tales are the gods themselves—who are often as human and fallible as mortals, for all their power.

JDN: Your blog’s About Page says you are “a political/feminist/anti-racist blogger”;  elsewhere on the same blog you mention that you are somewhere to the left of the Democratic Party. Speculative fiction is a genre not noted for its embrace of progressive politics, feminism or, as shown in 2009′s epic RaceFail flamewar, diversity; in light of that, what attracted you to this particular genre?

NKJ: Actually, before I got into the creative side of speculative fiction, I thought of it as the most progressive genre.  Friends and family members who knew of my interest helped to steer me towards writers like Anne McCaffrey, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, Robert Heinlein.  I saw science fiction and fantasy writers imagining amazing futures that ordinary people seemed to think were unattainable, or not worth striving for.  The first speculative novels I read were full of badass “liberated” women, kids from poor families who changed the world, black guys who witnessed the dawn of a new humanity, Muslims in space.  I grew up on shows like Star Trek, watching people of color go into space and even flirt with Spock.  But back then I lived with so much inequity and exclusion in the real world that the tiny, grudging steps toward progress that I saw in speculative fiction seemed like the strides of a giant.

As I grew older, I began to realize just how small those early steps I’d seen were, mostly because I started reading speculative fiction that took much bigger steps.  I read works like Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, which taught me there are no utopias—and that the people who don’t see the ugliness in the world are making a choice to ignore it, on however subconscious a level.  I began to learn more about how the real world works, and it finally hit me that speculative fiction reflects all the same limitations and prejudices as reality—they’re just hidden better.  There’s a reason it’s easier to find blue people in this genre than black people.  There’s a reason we’re still so surprised to see people like me—for whatever value of “like me” you choose to focus on—reading and writing and thriving in these futures and myths that we create.

So I started writing speculative fiction because at first I didn’t know any better.  I kept writing it because I got pissed off that it wasn’t what I thought it should be.  Anger’s a great motivator, but it’s fun, too, so I guess I’ll keep writing this stuff for awhile longer.

PW Talks with Vernor Vinge, Cont.

This week’s PW contains Adam Lipkin’s Q&A with Hugo winner Vernor Vinge, discussing Vinge’s forthcoming The Children of the Sky. Space in the magazine is limited, but space on Genreville is not! So here are all the Qs and As that didn’t make it into the magazine version.

AL: A Fire Upon the Deep was about big issues, like the rise of the Blight, a malevolent machine intelligence. The Children of the Sky focuses on humans interacting with the alien Tines. How did that shift affect your approach to writing the second book?

VV: I put more emphasis on the Tines. There are consequences of their nature that may not have been evident in A Fire Upon the Deep. On the human side, I had fun with the “uplift” theme. Technological development gets a boost if you know that something can be done, and it should get an even bigger boost if you have a library of science and engineering books. Ravna’s ship’s library contains the results of thousands of years of study about how to develop technology and capital industry—and she has computer programs to customize the development path for particular environments. This gives her hope that she can uplift the Tines and the Children before the Blighter Threat descends from the heavens.

AL: How did you address the power of information in a world largely devoid of what we would think of as information technology?

VV: Ravna has few long-range radios, but her trump card is the crippled starship, Oobii. This ship can’t fly anymore, but it has the library, as well as a computer and some very powerful transmitters and receivers. Her game plan is to start with minimalist tech—like crystal radio sets and 1880s telephones—and send everything through Oobii, where routing and other automatic services can be provided by the ship. This works well, at least near the ship, but now success depends on the reliability of a single machine (a useful source of conflict and plot complications).

AL: Were there any points at which the development of the plot or characters took you by surprise?

VV: Some authors write “to find out what will happen next,” and so are often surprised at what their characters end up doing. How I wish it was like that for me! Even though I try to plan ahead, there are points in the story where I realize that the cool things I’ve been doing have painted me into a corner whence there is no plausible exit! It is a very ugly feeling, since the only obvious cure is to throw out thousands of words of often effective writing and start over—or else throw out my concept for the rest of the novel. The most spectacular such incident in The Children of the Sky was when Ravna and Jefri are imprisoned at the House of Tycoon. I could not imagine a plausible way of getting back on track for my overall plot. I stewed over this for weeks. In the end, I wedged a number of small changes into a consistent whole. I think the resulting scene was plausible, surprising, and a lot of fun to read.

AL: I don’t think it’s legal to conduct an interview with you without asking about the singularity. What recent technological developments have given you hope for humanity achieving it by 2030?

VV: Moore’s Law is still bouncing merrily along, on schedule. I see progress across a broad range of indicators, including the second DARPA autonomous automobile contest, IBM on the Jeopardy TV show, and continued improvement in internet and social intelligence.

AL: Have there been any technological or political setbacks?

VV: There could be. A general nuclear war could stop this progress, perhaps forever. Some environmental scenarios could be very bad, but especially if they lead to war.

AL: And what else needs to happen to bring the singularity about?

VV: In our billions, the human race has thousands of different types of genius. If that vastness can collaborate, it trumps all the talent and expertise in governments and corporations. Thus Internet technology, especially peer-to-peer and bottom-up solutions, is very important in navigating through the coming times.

I think the best analogy to the Singularity is the Cambrian Explosion of half a billion years ago, when complex life forms arose in just a few million years. By that analogy, we are now compressing the equivalent of millions of years of biological evolution into just a few decades of machine development. In the run-up to the Singularity, the physical nature of reality will likely become as volatile as electronic financial markets are now. This leads to two suggestions. From the biological analogy: We need heterogenous solutions, from the physical layer (chips), through software, all the way up to applications and social structures. Variety gives us some chance at firewalling unpleasant surprises. From the financial markets perspective: Global centralized solutions to risks are really just a guarantee of global profound disasters. We need solutions that can still function (perhaps with reduced capability) even if central services are down.

AL: You’ve just returned from watching the final launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. What are your thoughts on the future of space flight and exploration?

VV: If the Singularity happens, huge space flight projects will probably be easy, but we ordinary humans won’t be at the forefront. If the Singularity doesn’t happen and we are spared great wars, then I think this century will see human civilization spreading across the inner solar system. There are several space propulsion methods that look feasible—once the spacecraft is away from Earth. The real bottleneck is hoisting payloads from the surface of the Earth to orbit. Cheap access to orbit should be pre-requisite to major manned space initiatives. Since the how is not precisely known, it is not a good project for major government projects or upfront funding. Instead, there should be real economic prizes in the form of promises (from governments and/or the largest corporations): “Give us a price to orbit of $X/kg, and we’ll give you Y tons of business per year for Z years.”

AL: Finally, can you tell us anything about what you’re working on now? The ending of The Children of the Sky certainly implies that we’ll see another book in the Zones of Thought universe, but is that your next project?

VV: I’m now trying to decide if my next novel should be near future or far future (and desperately trying to figure out how to write something shorter so I can get it out sooner).

Interviewing James S.A. Corey

In today’s issue of PW, you’ll find a 500-word Q&A with Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham, who collaborate under the name James S.A. Corey. Their first book together, Leviathan Wakes, got a rave review from PW last month. When we interviewed them, Ty and Daniel gave us a lot more than 500 words of interesting information about their work together, so here’s the rest for your enjoyment.

How did you tackle the creation of such an enormous project?

DA: Ty did about a decade of background work. That helped. The first thing we did together was build an outline of the whole book. It didn’t look much like the book we ended up with, but it was a good road map. Then on Wednesdays, I’d go over to Ty’s house, he’d write one chapter, I’d write another. We’d switch, edit and polish what the other guy did, and stick it on the back of the master document. That winds up being six or seven thousand words a week.

How much of the whole tale is already mapped out? Are you hoping to expand the Expanse into more than three volumes?

TF: We know where this is all going, and what the next two books are about in the broad strokes. The details will get filled in as we write them. But our mandate is to make an enjoyable reading experience no matter how many books we wind up writing, or how many the reader winds up reading. We hope Leviathan Wakes is satisfying as a standalone, but also satisfying as part of the trilogy. And if we wind up writing more than three, that each book will stand up as a solo novel, and also as part of the larger story we want to tell. And the story we ultimately want to tell is very large.

DA: We named it the Expanse partly because we wanted to signal that it’s a big, big story. And the variety of stories that are available to tell in this setting, even with what we’re planning to do with it, leaves me pretty excited about the possibilities.

This is one of the most genre-busting series openers in a long time: there are elements of mystery, political thriller, hard and soft SF, horror, espionage. Are we going to see more of the same mix in future volumes? And will we be following the same characters?

TF: Yes and yes. We plan to keep throwing the kitchen sink into this series. And the crew of the Rocinante have a lot more adventures ahead of them.

DA: There are other characters coming up too. One of the things that’s been really enjoyable for me is planning out how the things that happen in the first book shape and create all the setup for the third book. And we definitely meant to have the book—and the series—be that kind of stew of genres.

What was the biggest surprise for each of you?

DA: Every week, we’d come up with some moment or a line or an image that we hadn’t been particularly aiming for. Those are all through the book. And for me, at least, watching the two protagonists come together and make each other’s stories make sense was fascinating. Outside of the project itself, though, it’s been interesting to see how the book discusses things happening in the world now that hadn’t happened when we wrote it. If there is a philosophical conversation in the book, it’s about whether information should be openly shared or controlled and what it does to a government or social order when you strip away the bodyguard of lies. And then along came Wikileaks, and Ty and I were sitting there going, “Well, yeah, just like that.  And on the other hand, like that over there too.”

TF: Yeah, social relevance wasn’t something I expected from my space opera. And honestly, I went into this as a writing exercise, leveraging my friendship with Daniel to get some lessons on how to write a novel, so I was actually surprised by how much I liked the book and was proud of it when we were done.