Welcome back to Lightspeed! We’re delighted to reprint “Four Short Novels,” which was nominated for a Hugo back in 2004, and remains today a fascinating read. The title of each very short novel is taken from a famous novel; can you tell us what inspired this decision, and the story itself?
As far as I can recall, the idea and the title came to me at the same time, while I was pedaling up a long hill near Millhopper State Geological Park (or some such name) near my home in Florida.
Each of these sequences dwell on different perceptions (and results) of immortality, something we as humans may forever be searching for. Do you think this will be an eternal goal of man no matter the scenario?
Not necessarily . . . it’s easy to come up with science-fictional cultures that put no great value on long life, for whom immortality would be unpleasant or even obscene. Ursula Le Guin wrote a wonderful short story a couple of years ago with a new angle on that.
A large number of Americans believe they’re going to be immortal up in the sky after they die on Earth. That’s one of the solutions to the problem, and it takes care of certain aspects like expense, real estate, post-mortem effect, and so on.
I found it interesting that Custer Tralia’s story, “The Way of All Flesh,” was the only sequence out of the four that didn’t end in complete annihilation of man (or of good men, as in “Crime and Punishment.”) Perhaps love is the key to avoiding mankind’s consistent ability to self-destruct?
Of course that’s why it’s the last chapter. As Custer’s spokesperson says, “You couldn’t say that love conquers all. But it could still conquer death.”
You’re a prolific traveler. What kind of inspiration does traveling have on your writing?
Obviously, it sometimes provides interesting settings and experiences. Actual “inspiration” is usually internal, though. I don’t think my stories would be greatly different if I stayed home and wrote. (There might be more of them, admittedly.)
For our readers who may be new to your novels, where do you recommend they start?
The Marsbound trilogy—Marsbound, Starbound, and Earthbound.
What can we look forward to reading from you next?
I’m finishing up a stand-alone novel called Work Done For Hire.