What was the inspiration for “The Birds and the Bees and the Gasoline Trees”? I was struck by the idea of being able to explore the oceans the way Nicole does; do you snorkel or scuba dive yourself?
Nope. I don’t even like swimming at the beach, and prefer a lap pool. Actually very little of my fiction comes from direct personal experience of physical events; usually I just make stuff up. In my younger days, I used to go out and do things to try to get them right in fiction; as I get older, I realize that in the first place I’m writing for an audience that mostly stays in a chair at a screen and isn’t really all that interested in reality or much of a judge of it, and besides, the complexities of what people say and do with each other are more interesting. I still put a fair bit of research into how things work and what it’s like to be in a given place/situation, but I recognize more now that most readers don’t care very much about that, and the research is something I do for me. See thatjohnbarnes.blogspot.com/2011/12/political-economy-of-experience-and-not.html for a whole lot more about that.
Did you have other models for the panspermia, or did the idea of the gasoline trees come first?
I was more interested in the idea of someone being jealous of a superhuman because of the hopelessness of that condition, and the difficulty people have in trusting love. All that science stuff was paraphernalia for this story, the way guns and whiskey are for a hardboiled mystery story. I needed something to be very odd and menacing at the start of the story and then go BOOM and nearly kill the viewpoint character later on. That was the first idea I thought of that fit the criteria.
What was it about panspermia that captured your imagination?
I was mildly tickled, certainly not captured, by the thought that Earth is probably about a fourth-generation (across the history of the universe) living planet; that is, about three planetary lifespans of living worlds have probably gone all the way from first replicating molecules to dead husks before we even started. So if there was panspermia, it would have had plenty of time to evolve; there’d be panspermic organisms, genes, etc. because life that had them would outcompete life that didn’t. And the most likely place for such a thing to be lurking on Earth undetected seemed to be in the oceans — bigger area, better place to land, and so on. After that, I just tinkered up some other technical ideas, like using asteroid dust to fertilize the Southern Ocean, that were sort of lying around in the files, to create a background where the viewpoint character could feel as desperately insecure as possible.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a book about Singapore Math for parents, then will probably finish a long-delayed YA mainstream unless it turns out I’m still not ready to finish it. After that, novels in the Jak Jinnaka and Daybreak series, maybe the final novel in the Giraut books. Or something else. I’m often as surprised as anyone.
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