Hi, Paul. I’m so sorry to learn you’ve been colonized by aliens and have subsequently passed on. No, wait. I mean . . . what a great story! How did you decide to include yourself in it?
The story developed out of a non-literary project: I was invited to give a talk at an academic conference at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, in 2001. The conference was on Human Origins, especially the development of sentience, and I was invited to address the idea of non-human intelligence. Scarcely having gone to college myself, I was intimidated by the eminences in paleontology and linguistics elsewhere on the program, and felt entirely fraudulent. I started writing some version of the first few pages of the story—an actual essay on the subject—but hated it, broke down, gave up, etc.; I had left myself no leeway in terms of time, because the deadline for submission was in twenty-four hours, and I had done nothing but panic for a week. So then I thought—what the hell, they asked a fiction writer to talk about this, they can only blame themselves for the result. So I backtracked to make the supposed writer more of an asshole, and then plowed on from there. I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be satisfied with the metaphorical approach—we’re all aliens and strangers to each other, etc., blah, blah, blah, and so from early on I knew there had to be a shift about two thirds of the way through, where it turns out we are talking about alien intelligence in stone fact. From there on, it was just a matter of figuring out some kind of indirect way of intimating non-human sentience; the thesis of the piece is that even though it doesn’t make sense to talk about this subject rationally, nevertheless there are other ways to talk about it, or at least pretend to talk about it—that is, emotionally and rhetorically.
What trends in speculative fiction would you like to see gain popularity in the next few years?
I’m sick of dystopias. I’m teaching a class now in utopian fiction—I’d like to see more of that.
When you’re not busy writing, what do you like to do for fun?
I used to love various sports—skiing, squash—but I’m getting old, and my joints are going. I still love to backpack, though. Most summers I try to get up into the Sierra Nevada with my friend Kim Stanley Robinson.
Spread the word!