The three previous SFFWorld.com anthologies have been fortunate to gain the generous support of a selection of established authors, whose presence in each collection provides us with an invaluable boost to our profile.
This year, we’re more than delighted to boast Lauren Beukes, Tobias S. Buckell and Ken Liu as our headline trio, and they were kind enough to answer a few questions for us, which we’d like to share with you now:
Ecotones are the points of transition that occur when two different environments come into contact, and almost inevitably conflict. Can you describe for us an ecotone that has had personal significance for you?
Ken Liu: We’re at a point in our technological evolution where the role played by machines in our cognition is about to change qualitatively. Rather than just acting as “bicycles for the mind,” computers, transformed by ubiquitous networking and presence, will replace important cognitive functions for us at an ever accelerating pace. Much of our memory has already been outsourced to our phones and other devices—and I already see indications that machines will be doing more of our thinking for us. Not since the invention of writing has technology promised to change how we learn and think to such an extent.
The transition between the environment we used to live in and the environment we’re about to live in is going to be exciting as well as threatening, and we’re witnessing one of the greatest transformations in human history.
Tobias Buckell: Last year a deer walked on down through Main Street and then jumped through the window of the local downtown bar. They got it on security camera.
Lauren Beukes: The shared reality of overlapping worlds I live through every day – the schism in experience between rich and poor where everything works differently, from criminal justice to the food you eat, how you get to work, schooling, the day-to-day you have to navigate.
I saw this most clearly and devastatingly when I tried to help my cleaning lady get justice for the scumbag who fatally assaulted her daughter. The cops didn’t care. The hospital put it down as “natural causes”. The prosecutor had to throw the case out because there was so little evidence. This compared to an incident when a friend’s motorbike was stolen at night in the nice suburbs and five cops ended up on his balcony drinking tea, having recovered the vehicle.
This being a speculative fiction anthology, we’ve encouraged figurative interpretations of the concept as well as literal ones. What’s been the biggest “ecotone moment” in your life so far?
Lauren: The birth of my daughter. I felt like the universe expanded in a way I didn’t know was possible. Love felt like a cliff I’d fallen off, and savage – it had claws. I remember thinking if anyone tried to hurt her that I would rip out their throat with my teeth (you know, being naked in a hospital bed without useful weapons to improvise.)
Tobias: I think it was the moment my 9-5 work contract was cancelled and I had to make the decision to become a full time freelance writer. My entire landscape and day changed.
Ken: I suppose it would have to be when I learned to see the similarities between programming and being a lawyer. In both professions, the practitioner is trying to construct symbolic artefacts in rule-based systems that achieve certain results (come to think of it, not too different from writing fiction). Once I saw the analogy, it was easy to interpret various conflicts between the two modes of thinking as a manifestation of the conflicts between two ecologies.
Can you give an example from your fiction of where issues of the environment have been key?
Tobias: My novels Arctic Rising and Hurricane Fever dwell on environmental issues as their key focuses.
Ken: As a species, we tend to live in environments where our own artefacts dominate. The way we shape our environment and are in turn shaped by it is a key theme in my fiction – indeed, it’s a key part of a great deal of science fiction. Almost all of my stories can be understood to be elaborations on our drive to remake the world and our adjustments to the result.
There’s a long debate about whether artistic works can truly influence people’s thinking, opinions on a subject—even work on an activist level. Can literature truly change the way others see the world?
Lauren: Fiction allows us to live in someone else’s head. It’s an empathy machine and even more potent because it’s a very intimate communication. You bring your own experience and imagination and emotions to the work.
Ken: I tend to think literature (if interpreted as “fiction”) tends to persuade through a different rhetorical mode than expository writing. The way a story makes an argument is quite different from the way a persuasive essay does it. Emotional truth and the logic of metaphors dominate.
As for whether fiction changes the way we see the world, I think the answer is undoubtedly yes, but the way such changes occur can often deviate from the intent of the author – this is not a bad thing. It is one of the rewards and risks of fiction for writers and readers alike.
Spec Fic writers often like to allude to the fact they’ve predicted things that have subsequently come to pass. Put you on the spot: what do you predict is going to come to pass, why, and what ramifications do you see as a result?
Lauren: In Moxyland (where the dodgy research and development company Inatec got its start), the worst punishment that can happen in society is that you get Disconnected. Your phone is cut off and with it, your access to public places, to money to jobs, to communication. There’s a reason the UN made the Internet a basic human right. It’s so much part of how we live now and I expect dictator states and dubious government agencies in supposed democracies will use our phones and that dependence against us.
If there were one question you’d love to be asked when you’re interviewed, but never are, what would that question be: and what is your answer?
Ken: “What do you like most about writing?”
I get to use fiction as a way to work out my thinking, and to delight readers in the process. I can’t think of any deal that’s better for me, and I’m always so grateful that readers have indulged me as I argue with myself in my stories.
Lauren: “You had years of rejection before you managed to sell your first novel, Moxyland. What was the weirdest feedback you got?”
From a high flying agent who described the book in his rejection letter as “like having sex on a skateboard.” He felt it was a bad thing. I’m like: just make sure you’re wearing a helmet and knee pads.
Finally, what can you tell us about your plans for the future—any cool projects in the wings?
Ken: Right now, I’m putting the final touches on the first sequel to The Grace of Kings, which should be out in the second half of next year. I’m also finalizing the translation of Death’s End, the third volume in the Three-Body series by Liu Cixin. Next March will see the publication of my first short story collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Meanwhile, I also have several more translation and short fiction projects that I’m excited about. It’s going to be a really busy but great year.
Many thanks once again to Ken, Lauren and Tobias for joining our project—but this isn’t the end of the Ecotones interview season. Starting next week, and running through to the rest of the month, we’ll be hearing from our eleven other contributors, who each answered these questions and more.
We’ll share those with you one by one until the end of our Kickstarter campaign, already doing pretty damn well despite being just three days old! Go on, take a look—you’ll like what we have to offer…