In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Geoffrey Landis to tell us a bit about the background of his story for Lightspeed, “The Long Chase.”
You’re a scientist, as well as an SF writer, and actively involved in space exploration, specifically Mars and Venus. How has that influenced “The Long Chase?”
A few years back I was working on a project to look at the feasibility of interstellar probes. I arrived at this conclusion: the real key to any sort of a probe that could reach nearby stars using propulsion technologies which we could plausibly see in the near future was that the probe itself had to be as small as it could possibly be. That led me to a lot of thinking on the order of how small could you really go. How sophisticated could you actually make a small spaceship? Then, a lot of additional insight came from meeting Hans Moravec at a NASA conference back in the ’90s. He calculated that if computer technology increases at the rate it’s going, we’d be able to put the human mind onto a computer in the middle of the next century, and a few years after that, we’d have the capability to put the equivalent of hundreds of human minds onto a computer. That sort of thinking has fed into my thinking.
Our narrator decides to edit her brain as a last resort after failing with the white dwarf B. Does she do it in hopes of finding a new way in which to retain her freedom, or was it her way of conceding to the cooperation faction?
Well, I’ve been fascinated with the idea that, if the transhumanists are right and that a human mind can be simulated in software, that you can edit and even rewrite the software. This puts a whole new meaning to the idea of “changing your mind.” (I remember the original tag line from Rudy Rucker’s 1982 novel Software: “Protect your software at all cost. The rest is just meat.”) There’s a tremendous danger in doing that, of course.
You talk about your political views on your website, including your dislike of ideology. I found that interesting with regards to the narrator’s dogged persistence of her own freedom, not to mention the political events happening when this story was first published back in 2002. Did those events (the war in Iraq) have any effect on the war in this story and our narrator’s response?
Well, any story is of course a mixture of hundreds of different things, and fiction is always a product of its time. I’m getting more and more horrified at the way that rigid ideologies are pretty much destroying any hope at real thinking in America—and, for that matter, probably in the world. When you have a political philosophy that says “here’s the right answer, now go and figure out what the facts are to make it clear that any other ideas are completely wrong”—you have given up the ability to think. But I think, in terms of ideas, the conflict here is between the ideas of individuality and cooperation in human society. Both of these are very powerful concepts; both of these are things that humans are actually very good at—humans are good at cooperating, and working together can do incredible things. And conversely, humans are also very good at independent thinking and working on their own.