Friday, March 26, 2010

Interview with Lois McMaster Bujold - Interviews (SD #60)

Ms Lois McMaster Bujold became known to the Bulgarian readers with her most successful series - the Vorkosigan novels, dealing with the space adventures of Miles Vorkosigan. These books have inspired a strong and devoted following around here, to the point where we have actually never heard anyone dislike the Miles books. Ever. Following were some of her more recent fantasy novels, such as The Spirit Ring, the Chalion series and most recently the Sharing Knife series, building up to her fandom base. As admirers of Ms Bujold's work, it was a great pleasure for us to be able to do this interview with her.


Shadowdance: The main characters in your books are often aristocrats of some sort. What is the reason for that and why do you reckon people like such protagonists even in a SF setting?

Ms Bujold: It is a source of some bemusement to me that my stories with aristocratic protagonists do seem to sell better than my stories with middle-class protagonists. (I’ve written both; the fact that you are more keenly aware of the first tells its own tale.) My theory is that high bio-social status is an in-built attractor, like sugar to the human palate, and for some of the same reasons.

Unlike the need for food and water and sex, status really hasn’t been studied much directly in the terms of evolutionary biology, which is the conceptual space in which I think it really belongs. But a person’s status, in a group -- and humans evolved in groups -- can have a profound impact on that person’s ability to access every other survival need. People in the throes of a perceived status emergency are at their most dangerous, just as if they’d been denied water or food.

But yes. Almost all people everywhere are partial to stories where the protagonists have or gain bio-social status. Most readers seem to want to identify upward, not downward. There is also, on the fairy or folk tale level, a deal of not-so-covert family psychology playing out, with kings as story-stand-ins for fathers, queens for mothers, princes as sons, princesses as daughters, and so on, which, quite literally, hits audiences where they live.

The other thing about upper-class protagonists is that they often have or seem to have more political agency, more room to move and drive the plot; more ability to act effectively. This, too, is attractive in a book’s characters. Genre readers want to read about people who are doing things.

Shadowdance: Your works in recent years have all been in the Fantasy genre. Do you intend to return to SF and Miles in particular, or is this change of direction permanent?

Ms Bujold: In fact, now the The Sharing Knife tetrology is finished and published (in English, at least), I am hard at work on a new Miles book for Baen. Work has been much interrupted this past year -- I had a perforated appendix last May and was writer Guest of Honor at the WorldCon in August, had a pinched nerve in my neck and a trip to Barcelona for a speech in November (simultaneously, unfortunately -- they showed me lots of Gothic cathedrals, ow…) and, of course, a book tour and a lot of PR duties for the 4th Sharing Knife book, Horizon, chores which won’t finish up till next week as I type this.

But I did read from the first two chapters of the new Miles book at WorldCon. I pick up with Miles at age 39, on an investigation as an Imperial Auditor to a new planet none of my readers has seen before (since I just made it up), and with a mostly-new cast of characters. The tale is mystery-suspense, and I was just able to finish Chapter 11 in January before I had to break off for the book tour. The book doesn’t have a title yet, nor a second half. I’m anxious to get back to it -- I really want to know what happens next!

I don’t know what I’ll do after that, besides take an overdue break to refill my well.

Shadowdance: Has Barrayar's transition from feudalism to spaceship technology and colonies in just two generations been influenced by a real-world nation?

Ms Bujold: Dozens of them. Barrayar since the end of its Time of Isolation is really a metaphor for the whole 20th Century. The Russian influence is obvious in its founder population, but another historical model I looked to was Meiji Japan and its forcible opening to the West.

Shadowdance: Do you intend to write more books in the Chalion world?

Ms Bujold: Possibly. I’ve become fascinated with series as artistic structures in their own right, as different from a novel as the novel is from the short story. But nobody on the academic side seems to be studying series in any comparative way, likely for practical reasons; while a professor of literature might be able to get a class of undergraduates to read and discuss half a dozen novels in the course of a semester, they’re unlikely to be willing to read half a dozen series.

Anyway, with the three live series I have written so far, I’ve done three different series structures. The Miles books were a chain of largely-independent novels all centering around one character, rather like C.S. Forester’s Hornblower books. The Sharing Knife was on the model of one huge story divided into volumes so as not to break readers’ wrists, like The Lord of the Rings. Chalion is or wants to be a different body plan -- in this case, a thematic series, with one book for each of the five gods. Which means I have a book each for the Mother and the Father still to go to complete the pattern. (Although I expect the Bastard, the trickster god, will have His thumb in every pie as usual.) Since the Father is the Chalionese god of justice, and the Mother the goddess of, among other things, medicine, there are lots of story possibilities here. But I haven’t committed to anything yet.

Shadowdance: Have you been accused of feminist tendencies in your works?

Ms Bujold: “Accused”? I wasn’t aware it was a crime.

Of course I’m a feminist -- a woman who isn’t a feminist would be like a slave in favor of slavery -- but that is one of those terms that one must check in every conversation in which it crops up, to be sure that all parties are using the same definition for it. What do you mean by “feminist”?

I’m also confused by your term, “feminist tendencies in my work”. I write about people; ideally, that should include every sort of human behavior, though I naturally gravitate to the sorts that most interest me. It’s my book; unless I write what I want, there’s no point.

I am not, however, writing to promulgate any particular agenda. Tolkien has a famous passage in which he describes the difference between allegory, which he cordially loathed, and applicability. “In one lies the freedom of the reader,” he sums up, “and in the other the purposed domination of the writer.” Should readers find my tales applicable -- and it’s clear that many do -- I am of course interested in how, but it’s hardly an effect under my control.

Shadowdance: What do you think of the recent "new wave" of Fantasy, heralded by names like Scott Lynch, R. Scott Bakker, Stephen Erikson, Hal Duncan etc.? Do you think the genre is finally moving away from the cliches most people associate it with?

Ms Bujold: I haven’t kept up with the recent genre in my reading, I’m afraid; I mostly read outside the genre for relaxation, or non-fiction for ideas. So I have little to say, here. (Although, in light of the prior question, I do wonder where the women writers are on that list.) I did run into Scott Lynch at the World Fantasy Convention a couple of years ago; he said he loved my books, and read them with considerable enthusiasm I gathered, so I suppose I should return the favor one of these days. I need to not be in the midst of writing something of my own at the time -- as a writer, I pick up voice like lint.

Shadowdance: Which of your books do you consider the most successful and which one made you feel like you were at the peak of your abilities?

Ms Bujold: Well, I’m not done yet, so the answer to this could change over time. And, in fact, has changed over time. The most hopeful answer would be, “A book I haven’t written yet.” That said, each of my books has elements that make them special to me. But I confess to a place in my heart for the more “ornery” books, the ones written in defiance of (presumed) genre or career expectations. These would include Mirror Dance, Memory, A Civil Campaign (which was also one of the most successful in publishing terms), The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls (a 40-year-old heroine, yay! Though Ista is starting to look pretty young to me these days), and the whole of The Sharing Knife. I think The Sharing Knife may be my subtlest work yet.
Shadowdance: Which one of your characters was the hardest to write about? Why?

Ms Bujold: Yeep. Well, any new character is a little harder to boot up in my brain, if I don’t know them very well yet. Each new viewpoint character re-wraps their universe, and not infrequently the plot, around themselves, which makes writing any novel with multiple viewpoints a little more challenging for me.

Shadowdance: What do you like about Japanese Animation (anime) and which is your favorite movie/show?

Ms Bujold: I’d known about anime for years, from having seen bits shown at SF conventions back as far as the mid-80s, and I’d dipped into it a little in the 90’s. But the video rental stores never had very much. Then I got a Netflix subscription, which is an online and mail-order DVD rental, with access to thousands of titles, so I was at last able to explore in earnest. I find I like best the shows with Japanese historical or contemporary settings, which show me that alien culture, and, unsurprisingly, the shojo or girls or josei or women’s styles of tales, or tales for general audiences. Giant fighting robots and endless hours of guys hitting each other, with or without swords, bore and annoy me -- Bleach, I’m looking at you, but not any more. I don’t much care for the uglier horror or crime stuff. I like older protagonists when I can get them, which is rarely. Some exceptionally interesting titles, so far, were: Mushi-Shi, Hikaru no Go, Otogi Zoshi, xxxHolic, Genshiken, The Story of Saiunkoku, Black Jack, anything by Miyazaki, Shonen Onmyouji, Get Backers, Descendants of Darkness, Fruits Basket, Mirage of Blaze, Witch Hunter Robin, Fullmetal Alchemist (though it gets dark and icky in spots), Kyo Kara Maoh, Antique Bakery, and Gokusen. No, I don’t remember all those titles; Netfix thoughtfully provides the subscriber with an on-line rental history to keep it all straight. I also get lots of non-fiction DVDs from Netflix -- science and nature, history and history of science, travel, engineering projects, and so on. I don’t have cable, and don’t watch much network TV at all these days.

Shadowdance: What do you think of writing workshops?

Ms Bujold: They can be useful, depending. (They can also be damaging, depending.) It’s important to remember that one is there to write and critique, and get better at writing, not to socialize, although that warning perhaps best applies to more informal critique groups. I’ve not been through workshops myself, though I’ve usually had a crit group. I don’t think they are necessary, if the writer can find the help she needs through other routes.

Shadowdance: Could you share an advice you think important for aspiring authors (apart from "work hard and don't give up")?

Ms Bujold: Well, those are both good. Also, it’s important not only to read widely, but also to get people to talk to you about all sorts of their experiences, and to get many physical experiences yourself -- sports, work, travel, crafts -- because that creates your storehouse of memory from which the truly original elements of your work can arise.

Shadowdance: Do you wish to share something with your Bulgarian readers?

Ms Bujold: Except for one reader who posts in English on my chat group, I have only the vaguest notion of who my Bulgarian readers might be. But I certainly hope they may enjoy my work, and take what applicability from it as pleases them.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Interview with Kevin Anderson – Interviews (SD #59)

ShadowDance: You've written in many established worlds – StarCraft, Star Wars, The X-Files, Dune etc. What constraints does such writing set and are there any perks in it that are not present when one writes in universes created by himself?

Kevin Anderson: When writing in an established universe the most important part is to be true to the characters, follow the rules established in the original movie or TV show, and make your work "feel" like another adventure in that world. Sometimes, the owners of the francise are very easy to work with and want to be creative with the author; other times, they are very restrictive. I have had good luck with most of my forays – in almost every instance, the owners (Lucasfilm, Chris Carter of the X-Files, Blizzard Entertainment for StarCraft, etc.) approached *me* to do the work, so they were already familiar with my writing. I find the job very enjoyable, and it really challenges my skills as a writer.

SD: How does the writing process go when you write under a contract for a book in another world, and when you write books in your own worlds? Which is faster/easier to write?

KA: There are more steps in the approval process when writing books in an established universe – I have to submit a detailed outline so that the owner can read and OK it before I start writing. For my own works – such as Saga of Seven Suns – I am the person who makes all the decisions. Neither is fast or easy to write, but each has its advantages and disadvantages. For Seven Suns, I could make everything up, but then I have an enormous amount of work to check facts and be consistent from one book to the next over the course of seven volumes. For something like Star Wars, there are a great many reference books, so I can get a specific answer – but then I have to follow it.

SD: Are you a big fan of any of the worlds for which you have written?

KA: Of course. Writing a novel is a very ambitious process requiring a lot of creative energy and enthusiasm. I could not devote my imagination, my time, or the hard work of writing a novel to something I didn’t love. I enjoyed Star Wars from its first release in theaters decades ago; I watched X-Files every week on TV even before Chris Carter contacted me; Dune has always been my favorite science fiction work of all time.

SD: The Dune prequels and sequels, written with Brian Herbert, have met with mixed feelings from readers and critics. How much did you intend for the new books to resemble Frank Herbert's original Dune series and what changes did you want to make?

KA: Well, that’s a somewhat unbalanced picture. Our Dune books have sold millions of copies in over a dozen languages worldwide, and there are maybe a hundred fans on the internet who have complained about them. We have received thousands of fan letters since the first book was published, and we receive 27 positive fan letters for every unfavorable letter. That’s about a 97% approval rating, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another series to match that. Our books have received the highest critical honors and have won or been nominated for many major awards.

Frank Herbert meant to write more Dune books, and unfortunately he did not survive to complete his work. Brian and I are not Frank Herbert, and we have never tried to copy his style or claim to be his equal. Frank Herbert is one of the greatest geniuses in the science fiction field and wrote the most incredible science fiction novel ever. However, Brian and I are telling more Dune stories, reawakening worldwide interest in the series, and filling the need. We have our own writing style, and we feel we have added a great deal to the Dune canon. We have introduced an entirely new audience to the books who had never before read Frank Herbert’s masterpieces.

SD: Which of the Dune books was hardest to write and why? For which did you have the least material from Frank Herbert to work with?

KA: Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune were the most difficult because – ironically, it might seem – we had Frank Herbert’s outline and his specific direction of where he envisioned the story going. Frank’s later books in the Dune series (Heretics and Chapterhouse) are very different in tone from the original novel, and many readers had difficulty with them. We had to reconcile those books with the other books in the series, follow Frank’s roadmap even in cases where we might have wanted to make the plot go differently, and tell a great story that *all* Dune fans would enjoy. It posed a lot of challenges.

We had the least direct material for the Butlerian Jihad trilogy, since that was "ancient history" in the Dune universe and we had only Frank Herbert’s general historical outline.

SD: In their attempts to actually start getting things done, many authors think up all sorts of rituals before sitting down to write. Do you have any such rituals?

KA: You’re assuming I ever *stop* writing! I like to start fresh in the morning. I exercise every day, shower, have coffee and breakfast, and then I get started as soon as I can, looking over my outlines of the chapters for the day, and then I write. I don’t have any special ritual, though.

SD: Do you have a specific place where it's easiest for you to write? And what writing tool do you use generally – you've said you often "write" into a dictaphone. Does that change the manner in which you compose/express the sentences/scenes in your head?

KA: I am a storyteller, and I love to talk about my characters, the settings, the plot twists and adventures. To me, the words come naturally when I speak them aloud, because I have trained myself to "talk" the sentences in my head, rather than type them, as most people do. I live in a very beautiful area in the Rocky Mountains, and I enjoy getting my exercise, hiking along trails, and dictating my chapters (which a typist then transcribes). I find that far superior to sitting in a chair and typing all day.

SD: You mostly write series. Has, at any point, a world in which you've written a lot of books gone "stale" for you? What would you do if that happened? Would you keep writing?

KA: Fortunately, even when I work on a long-standing series (7 books in the Saga of Seven Suns, 11 books so far in Dune, 54 total projects for Star Wars), I also have other stories in the works. This allows me to keep it fresh by switching from one book to another, letting me "recharge my batteries" in one universe while I am finishing a novel set in another. If I ever found my energy waning for a particular series, and I wanted to keep writing there, I would concentrate on other projects for a while to give that part of my brain a rest, and then tackle it with renewed enthusiasm.

SD: To what extent the opinion of readers/critics about a part of a series of yours has influenced the writing of the next part?

KA: You have to separate the real fans from the ones who just have an axe to grind and are going to complain, no matter what. The fans who say "I’ve hated every single book in this series, and I hate the new one even more!" are just making themselves look foolish and you can’t take them seriously.

I just finished traveling for 27 days to do talks and signings for Paul of Dune, meeting fans in 19 different cities around the US. I make many appearances at libraries, bookstores, and science fiction conventions, so I have a chance to talk with an overwhelming number of fans. I listen to their impressions, the things they are most excited about, the things they don’t like. By the time a novel is published, however, I have usually already completed the next book in the series, but I always listen to their comments and factor it into my plans for upcoming work.

SD: Which of your books do you consider the most successful and which one made you feel like you were at the peak of your abilities?

KA: I think that would have to be the Saga of Seven Suns – since it is one continuous story, it really counts as a single "book." I worked more than seven years on my life on this series, and I think it’s my masterpiece. I have never before conceived of such a vast, interconnected epic, and I do believe it turned out as well as I could have hoped.

SD: Your Saga of the Seven Suns series has been compared to some epic fantasy series. Why do you think is that and did you intend to create such impressions in the readers?

KA: That was definitely my intention. I have seen the very popular continuing fantasy epics of Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks (I don’t know if they are successful in Bulgaria, but they’re extremely popular in the US), and I wanted to do the same thing in science fiction, which is my favorite genre. In its format, Seven Suns is indeed like a fantasy, with different planets instead of different kingdoms, alien races instead of elves or dwarves, and it has the sweeping politics, battles, mythology, and a cast of characters like a fantasy novel.

SD: Saga of the Seven Suns is mostly described as a "space opera" kind of SF, which isn't a very widespread trend nowadays. Do you try to consciously challenge the conventions of the space opera in some way in your books and are you aware of them and the history of this "sub-genre" as you write, or you just write what you like?

KA: Space opera is enjoying a greatly renewed popularity in the US and UK, and my Saga of Seven Suns are bestsellers there, particularly in Australia and New Zealand. I think by modeling the giant story after a huge fantasy epic – which readers love – I have attracted an audience that might be turned off by the rather dense and indecipherable SF that some authors write.

This series is like my love letter to the genre, incorporating all the wonderful things I enjoy in science fiction – galactic empires, alien races, exotic planets, strange artifacts, sinister robots, space battles, and interesting ideas.

SD: How interested are you in the science part when writing "Science" Fiction novels?

KA: My university degree is in physics and astronomy, so I have a scientific background. However, I am most interested in telling stories set against a background of a vast and imaginative universe. I’m not writing a technical paper.

SD: What do you think of writing workshops?

KA: I had a workshop of professional writers when I was beginning my career and I received a lot of great critiques. I still use a close group of test readers to make comments on every one of my manuscripts, because I benefit from a fresh set of eyes. You need to be careful, though, to surround yourself with a group of other people who are serious about writing. I have seen workshops where the other members just talk and never get around to finishing anything. Those sorts of workshops are a waste of your time.

SD: Could you share an advice you think important for aspiring authors (apart from "work hard and don't give up")?

KA: Work hard and don’t give up – that really and truly is the most important part. Becoming a professional author is very much equivalent to becoming a professional athlete in a major sports team. You have to practice and practice and never stop trying to get better, and as you improve, you will see other areas to work on.

SD: What is your stand on the question of fanfics? Do you think it is a flattering practice, or you tend to dislike?

KA: The fans who write fanfic are obviously dedicated to a particular series. If they didn’t love it, why put all their energy into creating new works? However, there are copyright issues involved, and they can’t try to publish those works professionally. I wrote Star Trek fanfic when I was much younger and I learned a lot from the practice. But then I extended that to writing my own original material, which is how I became a successful writer.

SD: Do you wish to share something with your Bulgarian readers?

KA: Only my thanks to them. I know that very few American novels are translated and published in Bulgaria, and I have been very lucky that so many of my titles have been picked up by Bulgarian readers. I hope you keep reading, and enjoying – and I hope I can one day visit your country.

Interview with Patrick Rotfuss – Interviews (SD #59)

ShadowDance: What do you think of the recent "new wave" of Fantasy, heralded by names like Scott Lynch, R. Scott Bakker, Stephen Erikson, Hal Duncan, Susanna Clarke, Naomi Novik, Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie and yourself? Do you think the genre is finally moving away from the cliches most people associate it with?

Patrick Rothfuss: I think the readers are eager to read good stories that aren't just rehashes of the same old thing. The publishers are realizing this, and so we're seeing more books that depart from some of the classic fantasy tropes.

SD: Does blogging and visiting fansites influence your creative abilities or your habits?

PR: Not really. I've written a satirical humor column for the local paper for the last ten years, so for me blogging is pretty much just doing the same thing, except now I put it online so my fans can read it.

SD: You've mentioned before that you are a "science geek". Have you ever thought about writing Science Fiction after you finish The Kingkiller Chronicle?

PR: Some people have referred to my story as "Science Fantasy" because I strive for realism, and one of my magic systems has a very logical framework that's based on thermodynamics.

That said, Science fiction doesn't really call to me that much. Most of the ideas I have for future stories are one type of fantasy or another. Fantasy is where my heart lies.

SD: Which period of SF's history do you consider the most successful and important – the Golden Age (the 40's & 50's), the New Wave, the 80's cyberpunk, contemporary fiction? Or any other?

PR: I don't know about most successful or important, but I have a real fondness for cyberpunk if it's done well.

SD: Do you think Fantasy has evolved enough to be divided into such periods?

PR: It's not a lack of evolution that keeps fantasy from being divided into periods like that. The only reason that works so well for science fiction is because that genre tends to linked very closely to the technology of the day. So what's believable and interesting to the reading public tends to change from decade to decade. Fantasy has more freedom that that.

SD: The Name of the Wind has done extremely well sales-wise. Why then do you think you had such a hard time finding a publisher for the book?

PR: The book had a lot of things working against it. I was an unknown author, and the book was really long. That means that it's more work for an editor to read, and more expensive for a publisher to produce.

But the main reason I think I had a hard time finding a publisher was that I didn't really know how to write a good query letter. I'm not very good at pitching the book. 9 times out of ten the book was rejected by someone who hadn't read anything but a query letter.

SD: Have you ever imagined a future movie adaptation of The Name of the Wind?

PR: Of course. I think all writers do, even if it's just a daydream.

SD: Do you think it is even possible for the book to be adapted for the big screen?

PR: Possible, but tricky. In this first book there aren't any swordfights, goblin armies, or big impressive magics. Those things obviously aren't necessary for a good story, but to date, most fantasy movies have been big-budget action-adventure extravaganzas. That sort of treatment won't work for my story. My story is interesting for reasons other than special effects, so those are where the focus would need to be.

SD: You've said your strongest side is "brevity". Which is your weakest one then?

PR: Plotting, probably. I've come to the realization that I don't think of plot the same way as most other writers. I don't understand the stereotypical Hollywood three-act structure that everyone else seems to familiar with.

Then again, I'm pretty happy not knowing. I think that's another thing that helps make my stories different.

SD: What do you think of writing workshops?

PR: They can be useful, depending on who is involved, but they really aren't necessary. The most important thing about learning how to write is writing, and thinking critically about writing. Everything else is just a matter of personal preference.

SD: Do you feel that active communication with other authors is productive for your writing, and do you think there is a place for solitary geniuses nowadays?

PR: I enjoy talking with other authors, but I don't know if it really helps my writing. So yeah, solitary genius is still in.

Talking with other writers *certainly* has helped my understanding of the publishing world though. It's been invaluable for that.

SD: If you could write any other famous SFF book, written in recent years, which one would it be and what would you have changed in it?

PR: I never really think, "I wish I could have written that book." Because I know that it would just be impossible. Sometimes I think, "I wish I could write a book as good as this." That happened just recently with Terry Pratchett's Nation.

SD: What do you think about the fanfics flooding the internet? Do you consider them a mockery of an author's work, or a way for a person to express their love for a certain book?

PR: I think they come from a loving place. No matter how an author feels about it, you have to admit that fanfic comes from people loving your characters and the world you've created. People rarely write fanfic about books they hate….

SD: Would you be flattered or insulted to find a fanfic based on your own works?

PR: There have already been a few. I've been flattered. I think it's cool.

Then again, the ones I read were pretty well done. They weren't like Star Trek/Name of the Wind crossover slashfic or anything like that. I might feel differently in that case.

SD: Do you think that the settled and secure life that most contemporary writers live weakens their ability to write dynamic stories? Is it necessary for a person to have lived through a real adventure, to be able to describe one convincingly?

PR: No. Not at all. It's an understandable thing for people to think, but when you really stop to consider, it's just ridiculous. Does that mean people have to be able to do magic to write about it? Do you need to live in 1943 to write about WWII? Do you need to be a serial killer in order to write a story about one?

No, of course not. That goes against the whole nature of speculative fiction. Speculative fiction writers ask, "What if…." Then we make up answers and turn them into stories.

SD: You've said your favorite SF story is Firefly. Why is that?

PR: What's not to like? You've got everything you could ever want in a story right there.

SD: Are you familiar with all of Joss Whedon's work?

PR: Oh hell yes.

SD: What do you think of his other TV series or comic books?

PR: Brilliant across the board.

SD: And most importantly – where can one find THAT T-shirt?!!!

PR: They sell them over at one of my favorite web comics: PVP. It's a reference to this strip.

SD: Could you share an advice you think important for aspiring authors (apart from "work hard and don't give up")?

PR: Practice your signature now. If you don't, you'll end up with a lame signature like mine, and everyone will make fun of you when you sign autographs.

SD: Thank you very much for this interview, Mr. Rotfuss!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Interview with Stephen Baxter - Interviews (SD #58)

Stephen Baxter
is one of the most acclaimed names in British science fiction, and a man deeply immersed in the traditions and history of both the science and the fiction. He's vice president of the the H.G. Wells society in England (he also wrote a sequel to the legendary Wells' novel The Time Machine). He's been a close friend to the late Arthur Clarke (with whom he co-authored the Time Odyssey series) and is one of the increasingly dwindling in number writers of so-called "hard" science fiction. Mr. Baxter teaches physics and mathematics and often participates in British and international scientific projects as a consultant. He kindly agreed to do this interview for his Bulgarian readers who've recently had the possibility to enjoy many of his works.

ShadowDance: Your books are especially valuable for their scientific background. Where do your ideas come from ­– unsolved questions, posed in modern science, for which you seek answers; or mankind's imagination on which you can elaborate thanks to your knowledge of science?

Stephen Baxter: I have a background in science myself. I've always been interested most in hard sf, which draws ideas from science. I try to keep up with new developments, and I get involved in science-based projects too. I have worked on study projects with the British Interplanetary Society and am on an advisory committee regarding the search for aliens. So my ideas come from interesting stuff in all this mix, especially the fringe questions: what is the far future of the universe; why don't we see aliens all around us?

SD: In your works you describe different epochs of humanity's lifespan – ranging from the far future, to the current times and then to our past and evolution. Which of these periods was the hardest to write about? What ignited your interest in humanity's ancient past? It's a somewhat unusual topic among sci-fi writers.

SB: I became interested in our past when I learned how recently the other hominids died out - Neanderthals maybe 30,000 years ago, maybe some species like those in Indonesia more recently. So we evolved in a landscape full of other kinds of hominids. Now they're all gone and we're alone – which is unusual; there are many species of dolphin, whale, etc. I have developed an idea that we long for the Other - God, or the alien – because we're lonely, and we don't know why. So it's valid stuff to write about in science fiction.

SD: One of your most acclaimed books is The Time Ships, written as a sequel to the famous H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. What inspired you to write this novel – the challenge to stand up to Wells' work, your love for the original book or maybe simply liking time-travel stories? The critics and the fans consider the experiment very successful. Do you?

SB: It was a love of the original book, which ended on a cliffhanger when the traveller went off into time for the second time. What happened to him? And also at the time I wanted to write a big history-changing novel, and thought that Wells's story could be a good starting point. Since then I've learned much more about Wells, and am now in fact a Vice President of the H.G. Wells Society. So yes, it was a successful experiment.

SD: Sadly, Sir Arthur Clarke, one of the greatest names in the genre, left us this spring. You've had the chance to work with him on the Time Odyssey series that were recently also published in Bulgaria. What was the feeling for you, working with him? Did you learn something valuable, did you maybe manage to teach something?

SB: I first met Sir Arthur C. Clarke in 1992, when my first novel Raft was nominated for the Clarke Award, for the best novel published in the UK. My publishers sent Arthur copies of my next few novels, and Arthur was particularly taken by The Time Ships (1995), my sequel to Well's The Time Machine. In a way this was our first meeting of minds. He responded with a kind blurb, and with correspondence: he sent me a copy of the H.G. Wells Society's magazine, and even a little collectors' postcard of Wells himself. That was how my name entered the frame a couple of years later when Arthur was looking for a new collaborator for the book which became The Light of Other Days (2000). Starting from a fairly open-ended outline by Arthur, we kicked around ideas and outlines for some months before getting down to work, corresponding by email and phone. Collaborating on a book, he would call, full of ideas, when it was convenient for him in Sri Lanka, sometimes at five in the morning UK time: "This is Arthur, over and out!" It was a joy and a privilege to work with a man who had such a profound influence on my life.

SD: Which period of sci-fi's history do you consider the most successful and important – the Golden Age (the 40's & 50's), the New Wave, the 80's cyberpunk, contemporary fiction? Or any other?

SB: I think possibly the end of the nineteenth century was extremely important. Writers like Verne, Wells and Lasswitz set out the basics of modern science fiction. The American pulp movement was important, but began with reprints of Verne and Wells. But in terms of success I think today's writers are producing work as good as it's ever been. Just in Britain we have fantastic writers like Ian McDonald and Paul McAuley producing work that couldn't have been written 20 years ago. So maybe today is the best.

SD: Are you familiar with the works of East European sci-fi authors, such as Lem or the brothers Strugatski? What is your opinion about them?

SB: Lem, yes. As a kid I loved such pieces as the Prix the Pilot stories. And later I was profoundly moved by Solaris, the novel. I've always thought there should be more translation between the languages. But then, a lack of translation means that different cultures have grown up in different regions. East European / Russian fiction seems to have a deeper, mystic feel than some American works.
SD: Do you wish to share something with your Bulgarian readers?

SB: I believe my Manifold series is available in Bulgaria. This series is about one of the deepest questions we face, I think: the Fermi Paradox. If aliens exist, some of them should have spread across the galaxy, and we should see them. Why don't we? Maybe we're alone, maybe they're hiding, maybe it's a dangerous universe where you can't travel. I think with new radio astronomy techniques and the new planet-finding telescopes we will soon have much more information about life in the universe, and may have an answer to the question by, say, the end of this century.

Thank you!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Interview with Charles Stross - Interviews (SD #56)

Often compared to such writers as Alastair Reynolds and Richard Morgan, Charles Stross is a part of the new wave of hard sf authors. His first novel Singularity sky was nominated for the Hugo award in 2003 and was published recently in Bg. Since then the author has been nominated for a number of awards, winning in the last two years the Prometheus award and the Locus award. Before he went on to become a SF writer Stross has worked on RPG-s. An interesting fact is that the Planescape: Torment races - the Ghitzarai and the Githyanki are his creation. The author was kind enough to agree to an interview with ShadowDance. Enjoy


ShadowDance: You've been described as a cyberpunk/postcyberpunk author. Do you like such labels and if yes, how would you label yourself?

Charles Stross: Nope.

I was, of course, about as heavily influenced by the cyberpunks as you'd expect of any not-very-worldly teenager growing up in the late 1970s to early 1980s; I was hit hard by Neuromancer, and it took me a good five years to shake off the surface glitz and start thinking analytically about what it all really meant.

But I am not a cyberpunk.

The Cyberpunk wave in written SF was rooted in the 1980s, a period when (in the west) a major wave of right wing political reaction to the period of the 1960s and early 1970s was breaking. It was a period dominated by corporate raiders, increased internationalization of big business, the brief ascendancy of Japan as a superpower, and huge and pervasive attacks on the social and cultural commons attacks which were so successful that the entire centre of political discourse was shifted to the far right for a generation. (There are signs of a slow shift back towards the centre, but that sort of thing takes a long time to establish itself.)

Writers write about their hopes and fears for the present and SF writers reflect these hopes and fears via speculation about the future. The preoccupations of the cyberpunks with a world dominated by huge, faceless corporations, with ordinary people living a debased and degraded life on "the street", seem almost quaint these days. We're living in the future they were writing about as William Gibson demonstrated in Pattern Recognition and Spook Country it is now possible to write cyberpunk fiction *set in the past*.

SD: In your two novels published in BulgariaSingularity Sky and Iron Sunrise – you describe a universe which is a result of a time-paradox, but where time-travel is forbidden. Can we expect from you to break this taboo in the forthcoming books of the series?

CS: No, because there will be no more books in that series. (The internal structure has inconsistencies -- not obvious in those two books such that I can't go back to them and make it work for me.)

SD: Which of your books do you think defines your interests in literature best?

CS: Possibly Halting State, which (ironically) might come nearest to fitting the definition of "cyberpunk". It's a near-future police procedural novel, set in an independent Republic of Scotland, in a world where the online roleplaying games and VR environments such as Second Life have become pervasive, integral parts of everyday existence. It's my best shot (so far) at predictive near-future SF.

(On the other hand I might just be focussing too much on it right now because I'm currently planning the sequel, 419 a novel about spam, and where it's going.)

But I do a whole range of different types of SF; the two Eschaton novels aren't exactly typical...

SD: Have you ever included yourself as a character in your own books? If yes, which one?

CS: Nope, never done that.

SD: Do you think that the settled and secure life that most contemporary writers live weakens their ability to write dynamic stories? Is it necessary for a person to have lived through a real adventure, to be able to describe one convincingly?

CS: I hope you'll excuse me for saying this, but writing is a very unstable and insecure life! It's badly, erratically paid (except for a very lucky few), and there's no obvious career ladder, so most authors have to hold down other jobs at the same time and have done other things in the past.

The question of adventure is an interesting one. Do you need to have served in a military organization in time of war to write war fiction? Should one be an astronaut before one can write fiction set in outer space? I think the only sensible answer is "obviously not", because if you pick the alternative answer and take it to its logical conclusion you end up requiring all aspiring fantasy writers to have personal experience of dragons, Dark Lords, and so on. (Which is somewhat unreasonable.)

On the other hand, there's a reason most novelists don't publish significant work before the age of 30. You need life experience, and lots of it, and insight into how other people think, before you can write convincing fiction about characters who the reader will care about. (And the flip side of this point is that lot of SF writers -- myself, for example -- start publishing short stories a long time before they're ready to do novels; the exigencies of characterisation are much weaker in the shorter forms, and the availability of magazines and anthology markets means that it's possible for writers who're still learning their craft to get some feedback in public.)

SD: The Speculative Fiction genre constantly conquers new territories not only with the help of highly regarded "mainstream" authors like Murakami, Cunningham, Pyncheon and McCarthy, but also thanks to SFF authors like Mieville, Vandermeer, Duncan, Gaiman etc. Do you think this is a sign for what literature is going to look like in the near future?

CS: That's really a question for somebody else to tackle.

SD: When you start writing a story, do you try to avoid certain cliches and tropes, or you don't concern yourself with that as long as the story works?

CS: It depends what I'm trying to achieve with the story.

Cliches are only cliches because they've been over-used. If you can think of a new angle to use to look at an old stand-by, then it stops being a cliche.

And sometimes it's helpful to use cliches. Readers know what they are; they're comfortable bits of furniture that don't force the readers to think too hard about what's going on, so you can lead them to focus on the important new stuff you're trying to introduce. (Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise used that technique lots of space operatic cliches wrapped around some new ideas, to make the new stuff easier to deal with. In Accelerando I dropped the padding; the result is a difficult, dense novel that some readers love but others have lots of trouble getting into.)

On the other hand, sometimes there's a huge gain to be made by forcing yourself to invent everything anew. In Halting State -- a novel in the near future, preoccupied with computer crime I forced myself to abstain from using the words "software", "computer", and "program" (and a bunch of other technical terms) deliberately, because I wanted to convey the idea that these things are an intrinsic part of society, not something notable in their own right. (Just as we don't usually describe the type of engine in an automobile or aircraft when we're talking about driving or flying somewhere.) I also adopted the discipline of the Mundane SF manifesto and refused to use any non-existent technologies or sciences in the book -- because I was looking for a believable future. Obviously there'll be stuff in ten years time that *isn't* believable right now because it hasn't been discovered or developed yet -- but if I permitted the novel to contain stuff that's obviously imaginary, it would sacrifice its right to claim to be at least reasonably predictive. (And I was trying to write a predictive novel.)

SD: Do you feel that active communication with other authors is productive for your writing, and do you think there is a place for solitary geniuses nowadays?

CS: Writing is a solitary occupation -- it's probably one of the last remaining creative niches where a single person does 90% of the work -- and so it tends to attract solitary geniuses... and solitary idiots (who shun feedback that might educate them).

On the other hand, most of us chat like crazy! Writing, being a solitary occupation, is even worse for those of us who do it full time; we don't have the social contact most folks get by going to work every day. So we chat, via the internet, blogs, email, and so on -- and we go to conventions and get out and meet people. As the business of fiction is the exploration of the human condition, you can't really do that unless you like or are at least interested in other people.

SD: How does blogging and visiting fansites influence your creative abilities or your habits? Have you ever been in a situation when you knew what your readers expect/want from a book of yours before it was finished? If yes, what did you do about it?

CS: I actively engage in dialogue with my fans. But I also enjoy surprising them! So I try not to do exactly what they expect...

SD: Have you been strongly influenced by another author? If yes, who?

CS: I'm influenced by too many authors to enumerate.

SD: What do you think of writing workshops?

CS: It depends how they're run -- but when they're run well, they're indispensable. I learned much of my craft through workshopping, and I wouldn't be where I am today without them.

On the other hand, a workshop won't improve your writing if you don't have the urge to write in the first place. And you won't get anything out of a workshop process unless you're willing to listen to people bearing bad news about your work and to listen critically, filtering out subjective criticisms but listening to reasonable ones. (There's always a proportion of an audience I think around 20% who *never* like whatever story they're reading. You learn to recognize this and discount it. On the other hand, you need to learn to recognize when someone didn't like your story for a specific reason that you can do something about and you need to act on it.)

SD: How important do you think Science Fiction is in general?

CS: In the USA (and the UK), Science Fiction is about 2.5% of the published fiction market. It is, however, about 30% of the Hollywood high budget movie output, and accounts for a big share of TV and computer games.

In absolute terms, I'm not sure we're individually important. But collectively, we can exert huge pressure on society and sometimes one of us comes up with an idea that is so huge it outlasts us. (I'd cite George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 as one example of the impact SF can have on broader society.)

SD: Could you share an advice you think important for aspiring authors (apart from "work hard and don't give up")?

CS: Yes: don't go into writing if you want to get rich! You need to want to write, not because you want to live the lifestyle of a rich and famous writer. It's a sordid, underpaid, insecure occupation, and only a madman would want to do it. (Yes, I'm not entirely normal. I admit it...).

SD: If you could choose, which one of your books do you think should be published in Bulgaria next?

CS: Probably The Atrocity Archives. Just to demonstrate how different my other writing is...

Interview with Richard Morghan - Interviews (SD #56)

Richard Morgan is well known name not only on the world SF scene, but also in Bulgaria. His latest SF novel Black Man/Thirteen (published in Bg as Variant 13) has recently won the Arthur Clarke award. After that Morgan switched genres with his newest book - The Steel Remains. Opinions about it vary, but they unanimously agree that it's a really provocative Fantasy story. Mr. Morgan has kindly agreed to do an interview with ShadowDance in which you may read his thoughts on the art of translation, political correctness and his future plans.


ShadowDance: In Bulgaria Altered Carbon was published under the title Supercommando. You've mentioned in other interviews that you're not bothered by your books having different titles abroad. Still, aren't you afraid that these changes may send the reader the wrong message and lead to a disappointment when the book isn't what they expected it to be?

Richard Morgan: Well, that is always a risk, yes. But I guess you’ve got to assume your various publishers know what they’re doing with the market – I don’t imagine they want to sell less of my books! Supercommando does sound a little off-centre for the subject matter of Altered Carbon, but I suppose in very broad terms it does describe Kovacs, more or less. So I don’t know – you tell me. Am I popular in Bulgaria? Has the marketing worked? Maybe the readers who were looking for straightforward military SF under that title have been charmed by my unexpectedly subtle vision… :) And if they haven’t, well – too late, I guess!

SD: Regarding Altered Carbon, it was indeed very successful. One could say the book made you popular in Bulgaria and has sold out, with people still searching for copies. We don't know if the book's success was simply because of its title, but we doubt it ;) However, I'd like to ask you a more general question concerning this, if you don't mind. How much freedom do you think a translator should have? Choosing another title is one thing, but what about changing the text itself to better suit the cultural environment of the targeted readers?

RM: I think a translator should be free to adapt *stylistically* as much as they like, ie to re-shape the language as much as necessary to convey a fluid and idiomatic translation – that is after all what being a good translator entails. But once it comes to changing the *substance* of the text, I'm very much against the idea; it seems to me that such a step simply leaves too much room for abuse. You'd have dictatorial regimes everywhere only allowing "authorised" versions of books that didn't upset their political and cultural world view, and individual translators or publishers deciding that they knew better than the author how some aspect of the novel should be developed. And the worst of it would be that people would be unaware of the trick. They'd truly believe they were reading what the author intended them to read – which might in some ways protect them from culture shock, or make them like the book more than they otherwise might, but that isn't the point. Once you start to do this kind of thing, the book ceases to be a translation and can only really be described as "an adaptation", and – unless you label it clearly as such, in which case I don't think many people would buy it – that strikes me as fundamentally dishonest. The point is, you can't – or at least shouldn't – interfere with the original author's communication; that message has to be transmitted as accurately as possible, for better or for worse.

SD: Can you tell us anything about the forthcoming Altered Carbon movie?

RM: No, not really. Or at least, I can’t tell you much. It’s still in the works, still grinding through the Hollywood machine. The last I heard, the movie was scheduled for a 2009 release date, and had a director attached, one James McTeigue, who directed V for Vendetta and was also assistant director on the Matrix movies. But as to what all that means in real terms, well… that’s anybody’s guess. Keep your fingers crossed!

SD: Should we expect more Takeshi Kovacs novels?

RM: Not for the foreseeable future, no. First and foremost, that’s because I now have a stack of other work to pursue. But also, my problem after Woken Furies was that I couldn’t see where else to take the character that wouldn’t just be a re-tread of previous work. I hate the idea of turning into a genre series hack, churning out endless, soulless clones of the same book year after year – and with Kovacs that looked to me like a very real danger. That said, if I ever find a way to bring him back with any credibility, I’ll do it. I miss the old bastard as much as anyone!

SD: The city of Altered Carbon is called Bay City. Is this name an intentional homage to Raimond Chandler, or was it chosen for a different reason?

RM: No, I don’t recall Chandler’s use of the name, so if it is from that source, then it’s unconscious. There is a real Bay City (in Michigan, I think) but it’s quite a small town, nothing like the city I imagined for the novel. And I seem to remember that a Bay City, either that one or possibly another invented one, appeared in a book by Eric Van Lustbader that I read as a teenager. But in the end, I think what it comes down to is that wherever I’d heard the name, I just liked the way it sounded. Also, I’d spent time in San Francisco and its surroundings, and it always struck me that the whole bay area really seemed like a single urban entity, rather than the collection of different cities and towns it is currently defined as. I’ve been told since, by a number of Californians, that most San Francisco or Oakland residents would rather die than see their city subsumed into a whole this way. Sigh. Oh well, that’s the benefit of writing SF, I guess – you make up whatever you like, whatever you need for the story.

SD: The Speculative Fiction genre constantly conquers new territories not only with the help of highly regarded "mainstream" authors like Murakami, Cunningham, Pyncheon and McCarthy, but also thanks to SFF authors like Mieville, Vandermeer, Duncan, Gaiman etc. Do you think this is a sign for what literature is going to look like in the near future?

RM: Well, I certainly hope so. There’s no doubt that, as a genre, SFF is better poised than most other types of literature to take on the 21st century – more than ever before, we live in science fictional times. And yes, novels by the genre writers you mention (and you should include Geoff Ryman in that list as well) are increasingly offering a bridge into a more generalized literary terrain. But at the same time, it’s important to realize that snobbery and hierarchical dynamics are an endemic part of human nature, so the attitude of the mainstream critical establishment isn’t likely to shift very fast. Those guys don’t want to accept SFF as valid fiction, because too much of their own sense of superiority is bound up in their attitude. That kind of thing, like any other type of knee-jerk prejudice, is very hard to beat. So guys like Murakami and Pynchon will continue to be defined as mainstream literature, however solidly they lean on the staples of the SFF field. And the rest of us will continue to be disparaged in literary circles as something less than valid. It’s a dynamic that has nothing to do with what’s really happening, and everything to do with how people want to see things. But what’s really happening is, yes, a loosening of the boundaries between genres, and that can only be a good thing.

SD: Do you think that the settled and secure life that most contemporary writers live weakens their ability to write dynamic stories? Is it necessary for a person to have lived through a real adventure, to be able to describe one convincingly?

RM: Not at all. This is fiction we’re talking about. Writing good fiction is a skill-set, and at base what it really amounts to is the art of telling convincing lies in narrative form. Climbing mountains, robbing banks, killing people with a knife or an assault rifle – these are other, entirely different skill-sets, and the fact you’re good at one or more of these activities is no kind of guarantee you’ll be any good at telling the story of how you did it afterwards. In fact, I can remember reading one book written by a famous mountaineer about his experiences and being surprised at how dull he managed to make it all seem. The things he’d been through ought to have been riveting, but the way he wrote it down was anything but.

However, what all these settled and secure writers (myself included) do need to do is accept, is that their lives are not very interesting in themselves and that for that reason they should really write about something else. There’s altogether too much introspective I’m-depressed-in-a-small-London-flat-and-mindless-job fiction out there, and it’s the result of writers – often technically very talented or skilled writers – believing that they themselves are an intrinsically fascinating subject for a novel.

Of course, this isn’t to say that life experience is not a valuable aid to writing good fiction. Travelling and living in other countries, teaching people from other cultures, living a varied and sometimes difficult life – all these things have fed into my fiction, have helped me develop a credible human dynamic in the story-telling. But you have to recognize that experience as nothing more than a handy raw material, something you borrow from and re-shape, if you have it to hand, or fake if you don’t. In the end I don’t believe it’s actually necessary. The only really indispensable thing a good writer of fiction needs is a first rate imagination. Everything else you can go dig up or research as and when you need it.

SD: And since you mention background research, how much do you stress on it in your work? Is it necessary to have all the background details at hand when you start writing, or do you feel confident to fill possible gaps as you go along?

RM: Different writers will handle this in different ways – but personally, I would die of boredom if I had to have all the background sorted out before I started writing. I don't tend to plan my novels very carefully at the start, I prefer to see where the initial inspiration will take me, and then do the necessary background reading and fact-checking as needed along the way.

SD: When you start writing a story, do you try to avoid certain cliches and tropes, or you don't concern yourself with that as long as the story works?

RM: The latter, definitely. Tropes and clichés exist for a reason – they are short-cut cultural descriptors, things that have worked well enough in the past to become embedded in our cultural consciousness. If you can make use of them in what you’re writing, then sure, go right ahead and do it. If you can’t, though, they still provide a useful starting point – you just break them apart to see what works better and why.

SD: Your forthcoming novel – The Steel Remains – is your first attempt at fantasy. You give rather strange definitions of the book ("Weird Old Epic Noir" being my favourite). Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about the novel and its sequels?

RM: About the sequels, almost nothing – I haven’t planned those books yet (and planning has never been my strong suit anyway), let alone started writing them. What they’ll contain is anybody’s guess. About The Steel Remains itself, I can only say that it is the fantasy novel I’ve always wanted to write, that it’s as brutal, bloody, overtly political and explicitly sexual as anything I’ve yet written, and that it has absolutely no real good guys in it. Think Kovacs with broadswords, and you won’t be far out.

SD: What do you think of the recent "new wave" of Fantasy, heralded by names like Scott Lynch, R. Scott Bakker, Stephen Erikson, Hal Duncan etc.? Do you think the genre is finally moving away from the cliches most people associate it with?

RM: Well first of all, that’s not something I’m really qualified to judge, because I have only the most cursory knowledge of this new wave. Ninety percent of the fantasy I’ve ever read was written before 1980. But from what I do know, I think it’s less a case of moving away from the genre clichés, and more a matter of re-wiring them at a raised level of engagement. For instance, Erikson’s Deadhouse Gates is replete with "clichéd" genre elements, but the genius of that book is not in the material itself. Erikson has chosen some well-worn fantasy staples – ancient races, pitched battles, dragons, magic – but what’s interesting is the level of human intensity he brings to bear on the tale. And clearly that’s got to be good for the genre – the more human your story is, the better literature it’s going to be.

SD: What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer? What is it about the act of writing that gives you greatest pleasure?

RM: Strengths and weaknesses – well, that’s really not for me to say. You’d have to ask the readers. What I would say is that all my work is character-driven, with character interaction as the motive force for both plot and ultimately world-building too (I build the background in direct response to the back-story needs of the characters as they progress through the book). So those readers for whom plot is the major factor may feel that I don’t move fast enough, and those who love a map at the beginning of each volume and exhaustive detail on the landscape we’re passing through may also be disappointed. But if character development is important to you, then I’m your man. And certainly one of the things that gives me most pleasure in working on a book is watching the characters grow into themselves as the story progresses.

SD: What do you think of writing workshops?

RM: Whatever works for you. I’ve never attended one, but that proves nothing. I’ve never been surfing either, but I hear it’s great.

SD: What do you think about the fanfics flooding the internet? Do you consider them a mockery of an author's work, or a way for a person to express their love for a certain book? Would you be flattered or insulted to find a fanfic based on your own works?

RM: I haven’t actually seen any fanfic, so I only have the loosest sense of how it works. But I suppose imitation is always the highest form of flattery, and I can’t see how it would have a detrimental affect on my sales, so it would be hard to get pissed off about it. Beyond that, though, I confess I’m a bit mystified by the phenomenon. My question to the fanfic writers would be why, if you have the urge (and the technical skill) to write, would you choose to waste time aping someone else’s characters and settings? Why not just invent some of your own stuff, albeit influenced by what you’ve read and liked. Hell, you might even come up with something you can publish, and actually get paid for it!

SD: Black Man/Thirteen made it to neither the Hugo, nor the Nebula finals, even though the majority of readers labeled it as one of the best SF books of 2007. What do you think is the reason? Do you believe the American market is too conservative when it comes to

an author criticizing the American way of life?

RM: There is certainly an element of the US market which is conservative, but I’m not sure you can lay my failure to get a Nebula or a Hugo at its door. Black Man/Thirteen has sold very well in America, and has received some very good reviews from American critics. And it’s worth remembering that it was an American panel that handed me the John W Campbell award for Market Forces, a novel that’s savagely critical of American business practices, neo-colonial foreign policy and neo-liberal capitalism in general. So I’m inclined to blame bad luck rather than a political agenda. Maybe the overt critique of current trends in US politics did put some people off, but I think what’s more likely and more important is that there were just a lot of other good books out there and, well, they can’t all make it to a list that’s only five books long in each case. Besides which, (big grin!) I’m well contented with winning the Arthur C. Clarke award instead!

SD: What do you think about the blooming "political correctness" in America in recent years and don't you feel it is a form of severe censure? How does or will it affect literature in general and your works in particular?

RM: In fact, I think political correctness has well and truly bloomed, and is now on the decline. People have seen the damage it’s done, and there’s a definite backlash now. In a sense, it’s a great shame, because like a lot of ideas born on the ideological left, political correctness had a certain core value when it started out. (It’s good to make racism unacceptable, it’s good to stop the denigration of women for their sex, and so forth.) But unfortunately – also like a lot of leftist trends and tendencies – the original idea got hi-jacked by entirely the wrong people, and they fucked it up for everybody else. As to how all this affects me, I’m really none too worried. Despite the title change, Black Man came out in the US as exactly the same novel it was in the UK. Thing is, there’s a lot of talk about how the pc issue is going to affect freedom of expression, but I don’t see much hard evidence of it happening. I think we have far more to fear on that front from the right wing media machine, which has proven very adept at stifling free expression over the last thirty years.

SD: Do you feel that active communication with other authors is productive for your writing, and do you think there is a place for solitary geniuses nowadays?

RM: Well, I’m certainly solitary – don’t know if that makes me a genius! But seriously, no, I don’t find communication with other authors helpful – or unhelpful! – in my work. I find it socially very pleasant, stimulating at a personal level, and a nice change from what is, let’s face it, a very solitary profession. But as with most professionals, there is a marked tendency in such social events to (at least try to) avoid talking shop. In the end novel writing is work you have to do alone, and I find that suits me fine.

SD: How does blogging and visiting fansites influence your creative abilities or your habits? Have you ever been in a situation when you knew what your readers expect/want from a book of yours before it was finished? If yes, what did you do about it?

RM: No, that’s never happened to me. But anyway, as I said earlier, I write for myself. I’m not interested in what other people want out of me. If they can’t find what they’re looking for in my fiction, they just have to try someone else. That said, blogging and surfing do occupy rather a lot of my time these days – perhaps rather too much, especially as delivery deadline start to encroach…

SD: Could you share an advice you think important for aspiring authors (apart from "work hard and don't give up")?

RM: Know the market, and if you’re not prepared to write for it rather than for yourself, then be prepared instead to spend some time starving in your garret. Artistic integrity is wonderful, but before you commit to having some, you should be aware of what it may cost you. And work hard and don’t give up.

SD: Do you wish to share something with your Bulgarian readers?

RM: Uhm – hope you like the books.