Posts Tagged With: Campbell Award

Why you should read Robert Charles Wilson right now

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?

“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.

Author’s home page:

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Award-winning author Paul McAuley on Sci Fi

When Paul McAuley talks about science fiction, people sit up and take notice.  His debut novel won the Philip K. Dick Award; since then, he’s gone on to win an Arthur C. Clarke Award, a John W. Campbell Award, a British Fantasy Award and more.  He took a break from writing all of these award-winning SF novels to talk about finding inspiration in the unlikeliest places: studying Paleolithic artwork, riding along on police raids and even reading maps of the moons of Jupiter.

Sci Fi Bookshelf:  What was the inspiration behind Gardens of the Sun?

Paul McAuley:  In 1996, I wrote a short story, ‘Second Skin’, about an assassination attempt on a gene wizard, Avernus, on an insignificant moon of Neptune.  More stories followed, sharing a common history and set on various moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and in the Kuiper belt.  I became increasingly fascinated by the planets and dwarf planets and, especially, the moons of the outer Solar System.  The Pioneer and Voyager probes had shown that these were far more diverse and dynamic places than previous thought; the Galileo and Cassini/Hyugens probes provided incredibly detailed maps of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and revealed all kinds of unexpected wonders, too.  All of this was incredibly inspiring.  The moons of the outer planets became, for me, places, landscapes, venues for human drama.  The short stories compiled a piecemeal history of the aftermath of a war between the major political players on Earth and the colonies of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.  Two linked novels, The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun, revised and rationalised that history, and incorporated many of the latest discoveries about the outer Solar System into their narratives.

SFB:  Reviewers often praise your well-drawn characters as well as your intriguing ideas.  Do you feel that ideas or characters are more important to a compelling science fiction story?

PM:  I start with an idea or a situation (or more usually, some kind of interaction between two ideas), but the characters are the way into the story.  It couldn’t exist without them, and very often they push it into unexpected directions.

SFB:  What’s been your most memorable “author” moment so far; good, bad, or otherwise?

PM:  One of the nice things about being a novelist is that it can give you, in the name of research, a pass into places and experiences that are a little out of the ordinary.  I wrote a more or less straight crime novel, Players, set in Portland and southern Oregon, and was able to hang out with various members of the Portland police for a day.  They were incredibly accommodating.  I got to visit the police headquarters and ride around the city, and at one point found myself in the middle of a raid in a downtown hotel.  For another novel, Mind’s Eye, I was able to visit one of the storehouses of the British Museum, and examine a piece of mammoth ivory into which had been carved the images of two swimming reindeer – a fantastic connection with the mind of the unknown Paleolithic artist.

SFB:  Since your first novel won the Philip K. Dick Award in 1988, there have been a number of changes in science fiction and publishing in general.  What do you see as the biggest change for science fiction, and where do you see it going in the future?

PM:  Undoubtedly, the biggest change is that, in terms of numbers of authors and books, science fiction has been overtaken by fantasy.  But at the same time, science fictional themes and tropes have diffused out into so-called mainstream writing.  The future – and especially the potential catastrophes that lurk out there – no longer belongs to science fiction.  It belongs to everyone.  Science fiction has to adjust to that.  It has to shape up, stop looking inward, and engage with the world, or it’s going to shrink and evaporate like spit on a hot stove.

SFB:  Do you have any advice for new science fiction authors getting started today?

PM:  Writers learn how to be writers not just by writing, but by reading.  All writers started out as readers, and they all read a lot, and still do.  Develop an eye for the good stuff.  And don’t just read within the genre.  There are all kinds of great writers outside it.  Find the ones you like and read them too.

The advice when I started out was to build your reputation by writing short stories and hope to use that to snag a book contract.  Short stories were once the engine room of the genre.  Writing them is fun, and quick.  You can make all kind of mistakes and figure out how to avoid them the next time.  And when you get a few published, they’re proof that you can write stuff other people are interested in.  But you don’t need to start out as a short story writer, these days, and work your way up to being a novelist.  Editors are hungry for new talent.  So if you have a great idea for a novel, and can convince an agent to represent you, that’s a good route too.  Stephen King wrote a book, On Writing, which has some very useful advice about starting out, and developing good writing habits, and finding an agent.  Read that.

SFB:  What are you working on next?

PM:  Right now, I’m deep in the first draft of a new novel.  It’s related to The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun, but very distantly.  I’m discovering something new about it every day.

Paul McAuley’s blog, Unlikely Worlds:


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