Author Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King) has said that science fiction author Robert Charles Wilson is “a hell of a storyteller and the geek factor in his books is zero.” He also said that Wilson is “probably the finest science fiction author now writing.” If a celebrity endorsement like that doesn’t sway you, then maybe Wilson’s impressive stack of awards will: a Hugo, a John W. Campbell Award, a Theodore Sturgeon Award, a Philip K. Dick Award, and more. His latest creation, Julian Comstock, is up for a Hugo this year. The mass-market paperback edition doesn’t hit store shelves until May 25, but we’ve got the inside scoop right here.
SciFiBookshelf: For those who haven’t picked up Julian Comstock yet, how would you describe it?
Robert Charles Wilson: When I first pitched the book to my editor I said something like “It’s the story of the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate, set in a post-collapse 22nd-century America and told in the voice of a 19th-century American adventure novel.” (I think the response was a polite “Um.”)
The title character is a young man and potential heir to the American throne, targeted for assassination by his mad uncle, the reigning president. Julian is more interested in books and theater than politics — his real ambition is to produce a musical motion picture about the life of Charles Darwin, not an easy thing to accomplish in a quasi-theocratic fundamentalist state — but that only makes him more vulnerable. . . On one level, the book deals with religion and atheism and the politics of cultural collapse. On another, it’s about storytelling and history and the interesting things time does with truth. It’s also pretty funny, or so I intended and so some readers have told me.
SFB: What are you working on next? Any behind-the-scenes info you care to share?
RCW: I’m just finishing up Vortex, the final book in the sequence that began with Spin and continued with Axis. Vortex has taken me a long time to write, though it’s a shorter book than Julian Comstock. Among other things, it reveals the nature and goals of the so-called Hypotheticals, the entities that enclosed the Earth in a temporal barrier and linked several habitable worlds by way of their enormous oceanic Arches. The trick was finding a way to dramatize all this. Part of the story takes place in the relatively near future, part of it goes way beyond that.
After that (and I should be handing in the manuscript in a month or so), I have another novel planned. It takes place in a parallel 2015 in which the world has been prosperous and at peace for a hundred years . . . for rather sinister reasons.
SFB: This is a dangerous question to ask, but always fun: To date, what has been your most memorable “author” moment (good, bad, or other)?
RCW: The best (and worst) moments are the unexpected ones. I was standing in line in a bookstore once when the customer in front of me asked the clerk where the Robert Charles Wilson books were kept, because he wanted all of them. I couldn’t help introducing myself: “By the way, I wrote those books.” But the guy didn’t believe me — he asked to see my driver’s license, and I’m not sure he entirely believed me even then.
SFB: Now that’s funny. Do you have any advice for new science fiction writers?
RCW: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here . . . ” Well, no, not really. The state of publishing is in flux at the moment and it’s easy to be pessimistic. But good new writers keep arriving. It was great to see Paolo Bacigalupi’s name on the Hugo ballot, for instance. As long as we continue to attract writers of that caliber, science fiction will be continue to be exciting and fresh.
Configured as advice, I guess that would be: Be talented. And be lucky.
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