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A Conversation With Sarah Zettel
interview courtesy of Time Warner Trade Publishing
Sarah Zettel
Sarah Zettel
Sarah Zettel has been writing for more than 14 years now. With several published novels in hand (Reclamation, Fool's War and Playing God) and her short fiction published in Analog, she's found herself with a host of fans and critics alike singing praises of her work.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Excerpt: The Quiet Invasion
SF Site Review: Playing God
SF Site Review: Fool's War

The Quiet Invasion

Art: Steve Youll
Playing God
Fool's War

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What were the major issues you were tackling in The Quiet Invasion?
First and foremost, The Quiet Invasion is a first contact story. What would we do if we actually found evidence of alien life out there? It's also about politics. While I was formulating the ideas for The Quiet Invasion was listening to the progress of the various peace talks around world -- in Ireland, in Israel, and I am constantly amazed and somewhat depressed to see how often politics combine with old fears to blot out the idea of living peacefully with one's neighbors. So, The Quiet Invasion is about the attempt to coexist peacefully with people who have radically different ideas and backgrounds than your own.

What were your inspirations for the aliens in The Quiet Invasion? What were your goals in creating those aliens?
I had been reading Robert Zubrin's A Case for Mars, in which he stresses that a healthy society needs a frontier into which can expand. Now, of course, the great thing about the solar system as a frontier is that there are no Indians, so you can have all the glory of the myth of the American westward expansion without any of the guilt.

All of this got me thinking about the history of the westward expansion, and got me to wondering how the exploration of the Solar System would be changed if there were an indigenous presence out there. Then, I realized that there is an indigenous presence in the Solar System. It's us. So, then, I got to wondering what would happen if a more technologically advanced society moved next door to us, the way we moved next door to the American Indians.

So, one of the things I was doing with the aliens in The Quiet Invasion was creating that advanced society which had ideas about morality and proper use of natural resources that were radically different from ours, as the Europeans were from the American Indians. I did not want to write a story about the invasion of Earth, so I had to create a race capable of living nearby, which meant to either on the Moon, on Mars, or on Venus. I picked Venus.

Why did you choose Venus as your primary setting?
Mainly, because everybody else had already done Mars. I did not feel I could create a more beautiful or interesting Mars than Kim Stanley Robinson or Greg Bear had, so I turned my attention elsewhere. Now, Venus is an extremely hostile environment, and as such presents a lot of challenges for a science fiction author who wants to create life there. However, as I began to research it more thoroughly, I found myself intrigued by the possibilities the world offers.

Who are your SF heroes?
The hard part about questions like this is that SF covers such a broad spectrum. There are so many authors who are good at so many different things. I suppose if I was to have to pick a few, Ursula LeGuin would have to top the list. It was while reading her work that I decided I wanted to be an author. "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," has got to be one of the greatest science fiction stories ever written.

I've also recently been rediscovering the works of Ray Bradbury. He is capable of combining language and images to create stories that stay with you across the years. Once you read "When Soft Rains Gently Fall," it does not leave you.

Octavia Butler, of course, is brilliant and disturbing. Mary Doria Russell's, The Sparrow is absolutely fascinating.

I'll have to add Terry Pratchett to this list. I was introduced to his Discworld books when I was living in London in 1986, and I have been reading them avidly ever since. Oh, and for capturing the wonder and magic of fairy tales and turning that into fresh and modern stories, there is no one around to the Neil Gaiman.

Wow, this answer is getting fairly long, and it could get longer yet, so I think I'd better just move on.

What are you currently reading? listening to? watching?
Okay, let me check the stack beside my bed. At the moment, I'm reading a book about studying penguins in Antarctica, called Waiting to Fly and one about studying rain forest canopies called Life in the Tree Tops. I've got Laurell Hamilton's latest Anita Blake book, Obsidian Butterfly and Mary Doria Russell's Children of God. Along with that, I'm working my way through Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, and I'm planning on re- reading the Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey-Maturin books, or least some of them.

What's in the CD player right now? I've just gotten a CD of Robert Service poems set to music by a folk singer named David Perry, and another of Rudyard Kipling by a duo called Barrands and Roberts. I've also picked up Fiona Apple's latest, and I've finally gotten the CD of Paul McCartney's Venus and Mars (how appropriate, do you think?).

As for watching, we just recently rented The Iron Giant, which is a magnificent animated movie, highly to be recommended. I've seen the new version of Mansfield Park, which, while it may not please Austen purists, I found to be a very good movie. I don't watch a whole lot of television, but I am absolutely addicted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and am enjoying the new series, Angel, a lot.


Where do your ideas come from? What do you use or do to jog your creative process?
My joking answer to this question is that I leave a bowl of milk out on the back porch every night for the Idea Fairy. In the morning, the milk is gone and there's a brand-new shiny idea by the bowl.

More seriously, the ideas come from current events, either in the news, or recent developments in science. They also come from my reading histories and biographies, and scientific memoirs. An idea can come from absolutely anywhere. Once, I got an idea for a short story during a Halloween concert while watching someone play the bones during the performance of Dance Macabre. Actually, after while, finding the ideas is the easy part. Sorting them through and turning them into stories, now, that's the hard work.

If I get blocked, it is generally because I don't know enough about some aspect of the story or the characters. The answer for this is generally more research, or making more background notes, so the place and person can be more fully realized inside my own mind.

Copyright © 2000 by Sarah Zettel


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