On with the interview:
Thank you very much for doing this interview. First things first, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What got you into writing in the first place, and why science fiction?
I’m a middle-aged man living in a cabin in Interior Alaska. I’m single (attention, ladies), love dogs, love to chainsaw firewood, dip for salmon, and spend time in the bush. I always wanted to write, but I only got started seriously in 1986. I thought I would write about a million books, but as it turns out, I’m a very slow writer (my editor says deliberate, not slow). I started out trying to write literary fiction, but I couldn’t get the hang of it. Then someone told me about the Clarion workshops, and I attended Clarion West in Seattle. I sold my first fiction to Gardner Dozois at Asimov’s during the workshop and have been publishing ever since. I seem to have a crazy inventive mind that feels at home with SF, and I love the SF community of writers and fans.
Who are some of your favorite authors? Books?
I don’t read as much fiction as I used to. Recently, the writer who wows me the most is Jim Crace, a Brit, and two of his books I highly rec are The Pesthouse and Being Dead. He’s not a genre writer, but The Pesthouse is a post-apocalyptic tale much better than Cormac McCarthy’s much-hyped The Road.
Mind Over Ship is, in my opinion, a fairly unique novel because it incorporates a plethora of high-concept ideas (such as your fascinating take on the future of human cloning). What was your inspiration for Mind Over Ship (and obviously its predecessor, Counting Heads)?
I had two images stuck in my mind that, when combined, was the genesis of Counting Heads. One was of two parents holding a baby that they “retro-conceived.” That is, their own DNA was overwriting the baby’s own genes. In my mind I saw the baby in an in-between state. The other was of a wife abandoning her husband on a busy street when he is captured by a mechanical security device.
That’s pretty much how my stories get started, with a compelling image or idea that persists sometimes for years until I do something with it.
Since your novel deals extensively with the issue of cloning, do you see human cloning becoming a reality in our near future (not just cloning cells or eggs, but cloning actual people)? Do you think our response to that will be a good one or a bad one?
Yes, I see cloning whole humans happening in the near future. At first it will probably be done by unscrupulous people just to see if it can be done. World reaction will be overwhelmingly negative. All world religions will condemn the practice. Even secular humanists will be outraged. I’m not sure if cloning will ever become a standard practice. In other SF stories, the basis for cloning humans has been to raise great armies of superior soldiers or as living tissue banks for wealthy persons, but I don’t see that happening. Other technologies will fill those needs. In my own books, the labor force is made up of specialized, contented clones. This presumes that personality is tied to DNA, probably more-so that it actually is, but it makes a dandy conceit for fiction. (I have recently learned about epigenetics, which probably plays a major role in this.)
Which if your clone models in Mind Over Ship is your favorite? Why?
The Lulus, because they’re hot!
Do you plan to write new stories in the universe of Mind Over Ship?
Yes, installment #3 is bubbling in the back of my head. I’ve been moiling in the CH and MOS universe for about 15 years, though, and I need a break from it. My current novel project is completely unrelated. In fact, it’s set in contemporary America. It’s all very hush-hush, and I can’t say anything about it.
Besides the novel, I’m doing a fantasy story, my first effort in that genre. It’s called “Modern Parenting–Circa 2006,” and it makes me smile every time I think about it. It’s about a father with a very special ability, and a daughter addicted to danger.
Switching gears, what do you think about the present state of the book industry, both on the selling end and on the making end? What about eBooks/readers?
Publishing seems to be buffeted by the economy and technological advances. No one knows what it’ll look like in five or ten years, but I think authors may become empowered through POD and ebook tech. I bought a Kindle, and I’m trying to figure out what to do with it.
What unusual piece of writing advice would you give to a budding writer? (Emphasis on unusual)
See a doctor. No matter how pretty the bloom may be, budding is not usually healthy for humans.
And now for a silly question: If you could be any animal on the planet, which animal would you be and why?
A dodo, to mess with biologists’ minds.