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Author Spotlight: Tobias S. Buckell

Your story “A Game of Rats and Dragon” is a cyberpunk/virtual reality mash-up set in a different sort of Manhattan. Was this story inspired by the Cordwainer Smith short story of the same name? Will you tell us a little about how that came to be?

It is inspired by Cordwainer Smith, the story “A Game of Rat and Dragon.” The idea was not so much virtual reality, but augmented reality. I’ve been really intrigued by adding a pair of goggles that overlay digital data over existing objects in the real world (virtual reality inside out, so to speak). You can see the effect using the app AcrossAir for the iPhone. What is more interesting to me is what we’ll do when we gamify augmented reality.

Tabletop gaming, stuff like Dungeons and Dragons, has a strong following. But when the mechanics of those playing styles were wedded to a video game, a sort of virtual reality, we saw an explosion of MMORPGs and a mainstreaming of those gaming mechanics. I think it will be interesting and mainstream when we start getting a mix of augmented reality and what is now a more niche activity called live action roleplaying (or LARPing).

At that point, our existing world becomes a magical play full of dragons, invisible data, secrets, and extra dimensions. If you wear a pair of contacts and engage with all the time, what will that create? I felt that Cordwainer Smith’s sense of the mythical, combined with SF, was the kind of resonance I wanted. So I played with the title and the story for inspiration.

You launched a Kickstarter campaign back in June for a collection of stories, and “A Game of Rats and Dragon” also appears in that volume. What drew you to Kickstarter, and why do you think it was successful for you?

Kickstarter has been very good to me. It enabled me to continue my science fiction series direct with fans for a whole new book I wrote recently, The Apocalypse Ocean. I was curious to see how a short story collection would work. The idea of letting people pre-order the book to get enough sales to make a limited edition hardcover, and adding some new fiction to it, was so appealing. The current message authors get is that short story collections don’t sell and aren’t worth the time. And maybe that’s true in a larger sense, but the several hundred readers who preordered Mitigated Futures, the collection, seemed happy to get it. And I got to make it. So it’s one of those rare “everybody wins” situations you don’t often get in life.

You have an impressive output as a writer: a handful of novels, and dozens of short stories. Do you consider yourself better at one or the other? Which do you enjoy more?

Oh, thank you. I’m always berating myself for the fact I should be doing more, more, and I often feel like I lost two or three years of my career while recovering from a heart defect. I feel like I lost a novel that should been in there. But such is life.

I have no idea which one I’m better at. I’m still an egg, always still learning about the two forms. And I am always rediscovering pieces of the craft that I had put away for a while whenever I switch between novel and short story.

There is a satisfaction that comes from a short story for me that comes from the speed with which it is finished. To have a complete piece of art in a week to a few weeks, as opposed to the many months of work on a novel, means that I really do enjoy them. But I also really enjoy the large canvas of a novel. It’s so hard to pick one. I mean, if I’d really loved one more than the other, I would have given that one up, I guess. I’ve had plenty of time to make a choice and still haven’t!

You grew up in the Caribbean. What kind of effect has that had upon your writing?

I think I try to create a more global sense in the writing with a variety of cultures and peoples, and struggle to avoid a certain myopic viewpoint that can come of living in just one culture or place your entire life.

The biggest effect is simply that I want a multicultural cast in my books. That’s how I grew up. I’m of a mixed background, so I live it. A lot of people moan about how it’s boring or forced, but there’s nothing forced about the fact that I exist, it seems to me. I love existing. So I write adventure science fiction with a global cast and have a great deal of fun.

What’s coming up for you next?

Currently I’m finishing up a young adult novel called The Trove, a sort of cyberpunk Treasure Island in space that I’ve been working on for a couple of years and adore. Once that is in the bag, my next novel is Hurricane Fever, a novel about a retired spy in the Caribbean as heavy weather batters the islands and the near future gets even more wiggy than what I was writing about in Arctic Rising.

And of course, a handful more of short stories, and some other surprises!

Erin Stocks

Erin Stocks Lightspeed Assistant Editor Erin Stocks’ fiction can be found in the Coeur de Lion anthology Anywhere but EarthFlash Fiction Online, the Hadley Rille anthology Destination: Future, The Colored Lens, and most recently in Polluto Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @ErinStocks or at www.erinstocks.com.

2 Responses »

  1. Great story, thanks for publishing it.

    In respect of the website design issue, what I’d suggest is that the very first comment in the comment thread (i.e. right after the end of the story) should be a note from the editor saying, “Please click here to read an interview with the author in which he discusses his inspiration for the story.”

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