What is your writing space like? What do you like to have around for optimal creativity?
That’s spaces, plural. I share the official dedicated office with my wife but now that it’s springtime we’re doing more of our work in the living room.
In the dead of a Canadian winter, though, there’s nothing like working in bed. Especially during COVID-19, where you can’t risk going down the hall to work and have to telecommute.
What do you like to have around for optimal creativity?
Cats. Cats and laser pointers.
What led you into writing genre fiction?
The stock answer for that is that SF is the only genre explicitly designed to explore the impact of scientific and technical change. The moment you posit a discovery that changes the way we understand Nature—human, biological, subatomic, what have you—you’re talking science fiction by definition. Those are the kinds of issues that interest me the most, and SF is the only genre big enough to explore them.
That’s the stock answer. One that’s probably closer to the truth might be: when I was in Grade Three and the bookmobile pulled up to Clinton Ford Elementary School, I discovered Earthman, Go Home, Raiders from the Rings, and The Aqualung Twins and the Iron Crab. And I imprinted on that shit like a Lorenz duckling.
Is there anything you want to make sure readers noticed?
Well, yeah. But if I told them what it was, that would spoil the fun.
Other than writing, do you have any other creative pursuits? What do you do to relax?
I’m not sure what qualifies. I enjoy scuba diving, but haven’t done any in over a decade. These days I spend a lot of time fighting hardware compatibility issues so I can play Skyrim VR on a wireless headset, but I’m also working on a VR game with a company out of Tel Aviv so all VR-based pursuits—hell, all videogame activity of any type—probably qualifies as work-related (that’s certainly the way I describe it on my tax return). I run and lift (modest amounts of) weights—I’ve been doing that ever since Keith Gill spat on my bike in Grade Seven and I knew that if I dared to spit on his he’d beat the crap out of me—but I’ve never enjoyed it. These days I just keep at it because I’m scared of being a fat old man.
I guess that leaves pirating TV shows and drinking.
What trends in speculative fiction would you like to see gain popularity in the next few years?
I’d like to see more emphasis on the interrogation and extrapolation of scientific ideas, on (as I may have already mentioned) the impact of scientific and technological change. So much SF tends to preach to the choir instead of challenging it: here’s a race of subservient robots to remind us that Slavery is Bad. Here’s a band of wandering artists teaching the Value of Art and Spunkiness to a demoralized post-apocalyptic Humanity. Here’s The Waltons in Spaaaace, travelling through a cozy galaxy where everyone’s the same under the skin and no matter how many different planets, how many alien evolutionary trajectories the universe serves up, they all seem to converge on species that like tea and hugs. Here are star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of a time war, proving that Love Conquers All.
All these tales in which Humanity is Flawed But Noble, in which we may fall short of community standards but ultimately those standards are always right. I’d like to see more stories that ask: what if we’re wrong?
Would slavery be unethical if sapient beings are engineered to crave subjugation? Would it be unethical to force freedom on such creatures? Would it be unethical to create something that enjoys suffering in the first place (and if so, are masochists abominations)? What if we could rewire Human nature to free parents from the Darwinian lie that nothing’s more important than my babies, create a world where people would unhesitatingly leave their kids to die in a burning house if that meant they could save a greater number of strangers? If The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, why shouldn’t we harvest the organs from one healthy person to save a dozen others in need of life-saving transplants? What if consciousness is an evolutionary disadvantage? Suppose a tweaked and defanged version of Parkinson’s Disease could be used to eliminate the religious impulse from our species? If digital physics is correct—if matter is hardware and physics is software and every flip of an electron is a calculation in some universal computer called “Reality”—does that make any God of miracles, by definition, a virus (i.e., something that breaks OS protocols)? Should we disinfect it?
These are the kinds of questions SF is optimized for, from Burgess’s rumination on free will (is it as evil to unmake a monster as to make one?) to LeGuin’s exploration of societies whose citizens change sexes like oysters or wrasses, right up to pretty much anything Ted Chiang has written over the past couple of decades. A fundamental question that science fiction asks is: what if things were different? What if things are different, and we just don’t know it yet?
I’d like to see more of that. I’d like to see more stories that interrogate our precepts, and fewer that merely pander to them.
That’s probably just me, though.
Spread the word!