Much of your work is about the crossroads between humanity and biotech, and your story “Electric Rains” certainly fits. What is it about the theme that brings you back again and again?
We are technological creatures, and use the products of our scientific discoveries for various ends. Sometimes the results are predictable; often, they are not. Biotech is a strong presence in our lives today. As our scientific and engineering abilities become ever more finely honed, targeted biotech applications will become ubiquitous, with anticipated and unanticipated results. I apply a kind of Moore’s Law thinking to this process: biotech knowledge and applications are accelerating rapidly and will continue to do so at an exponential rate. I consider my scenarios to be day-after-tomorrow possibilities, though I must emphatically say that they are not predictions, nor do I think that any element will be realized as I might imagine it. It simply behooves us to play with these ideas in the form of non-rigorous fictional thought-experiments, or Einsteinian Gedanken experiments.
Also, I simply enjoy the intellection frisson of considering possibilities, and the play of creative work. Writing science fiction is a way to add another dimension to the process of depicting the emotional depth of well-realized characters, and it is the characters that matter most in my fiction.
You set the story in a post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C. What made you choose D.C.? Ella and Nana clearly held it dear, and as a reader I felt like I was being guided around a very important place. Is it a city you know well?
My family arrived in Washington D.C. on New Year’s Eve, 1961. We moved there from Honolulu, where my father, a fire protection engineer, had been working on designing the fire protection for the Arizona Memorial and checking out the far Pacific NASA satellite tracking sites, to D.C. and his new post at the Navy Yard.
It was a cold, snowy night, and we had been driving all day. Across a large, shimmering downtown intersection I saw a People’s Drug Store. “We can go there and get some comics,” I observed. Or whined, or importuned. “No!” was the immediate answer.
We settled about ten miles outside of Washington, before the Beltway was completed. D.C. was our city. All of us—my father, my mother, myself, and my sisters—worked there for many years. I attended the Washington Montessori Institute for a year-long course after graduating from Virginia Tech to obtain my teaching credentials. We had many friends there; favorite restaurants; streets we drove and walked and loved.
Our family base is still the D.C. area.
Nana was clearly a complex, formidable woman, someone to admire. Is she based on anyone in particular?
She is an amalgam of the many complex, formidable women I have known and admired. The source of our actions, and the roots of our character, are hidden by time, often to ourselves as well as to others. I find characters—people—eternally fascinating.
The rains and the Metro are terrifying and tempting at the same time—as much an unknown as what lies outside of D.C. We know which unknown Ella chose—which one do you think you would choose?
The unknown, of course, though Ella is unusually free of fetters, which makes that choice much easier.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about “Electric Rains,” and what are you working on next?
“Electric Rains” is a part of the bionan future I visited at length in four novels: The New York Times Notable Book Queen City Jazz, Darrell Lifetime Award-Winning Mississippi Blues, and Nebula Award finalists Crescent City Rhapsody and Light Music.
With Campbell-Award Winning In War Times and This Shared Dream (Tor 2011), I have moved on to an investigation of “human nature,” in particular looking at the sociobiological roots of our strong predilection for war.
I have just finished three semesters of teaching creative writing, science fiction literature, and the history of science, technology and culture at Georgia Tech as a Visiting Professor, and will continue to teach at Georgia Tech every fall. I’m working on Hemingway’s Hurricane, a historical novel, and will continue, in tandem, to write science fiction stories and novels that flow from my fascination with the confluence of science, technology, and what it means to be human.
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