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An Interview with Jack McDevitt, Part 2
conducted by Patrick Smith

© Jack McDevitt
Jack McDevitt
Jack McDevitt
Jack McDevitt won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel, The Hercules Text, and the first UPC prize for his novella, "Ships in the Night." He has been nominated for the Nebula and Hugo. McDevitt has been a taxi driver, a naval officer, an English teacher, a customs officer, and a motivational trainer. Currently, he lives with his family in Brunswick, GA.

Jack McDevitt Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Interview: A Conversation With Jack McDevitt, Part 1
SF Site Review: Echo
SF Site Review: Outbound
SF Site Review: Polaris
SF Site Review: Chindi
SF Site Review: Moonfall
SF Site Review: Deepsix
SF Site Reading List: Jack McDevitt
SF Site Review: Infinity Beach
SF Site Review: Infinity Beach
SF Site Review: Moonfall
SF Site Review: Eternity Road

The Hercules Text
A Talent for War
Infinity Beach
The Engines of God
Eternity Road
Hello Out There
  Human existence is girt round with mystery: the narrow region of our experience is a small island in the midst of a boundless sea. To add to the mystery, the domain of our earthly existence is not only an island in infinite space, but also in infinite time. The past and the future are alike shrouded from us: we neither know the origin of anything which is, nor its final destination.
—Jack McDevitt, from his Nebula Award-winning novel Seeker (2005)

Jack McDevitt presumed his writing career had been scrubbed on the launch pad when, as a high-school freshman in South Philadelphia, he sent a manuscript to Anthony Boucher at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Although Boucher was gracious in his reply -- anyone who's suffered the ignominy of the form rejection letter can appreciate what a compliment the veteran editor paid to the aspiring writer with his handwritten encouragement -- the sting of rejection didn't sit well with the 14-year-old McDevitt. After dabbling with short fiction and journalism in college, he didn't write another word for a quarter century.

When prodded to take up writing again by his wife, Maureen, during a mid-career reassessment as a customs inspector, McDevitt, who had completed a stint in the Navy and spent a decade as a high-school English teacher, published his first story, "The Emerson Effect," in the December 1981 issue of Twilight Zone. The author good-naturedly shrugs off comparisons to fellow customs inspectors Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne ("When I published my first novel, it was covered in the Customs newspaper, which mentioned three Customs officers who were -- their phrase -- 'well-known writers,'" McDevitt recalls with a laugh. "Melville, Hawthorne, and me.").

Still, with more than 25 nominations for the science-fiction profession's top honors, including a Philip K. Dick Special Award for The Hercules Text in 1986, a Campbell Award for Omega in 2005, and a Nebula win for Seeker in 2006, his reputation in the field is as a pro's pro. Since that first success, McDevitt has published more than 20 books -- six installments in both the Alex Benedict and Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins series (a seventh, Starhawk, is due out in November, as well as another Benedict novel in 2014), seven stand-alones (including The Hercules Text, Eternity Road, and Time Travelers Never Die), and more than 75 short stories, 38 of which are collected in the luminous Cryptic: The Best Short Fiction of Jack McDevitt (2009). In 2012, he published his first collaborative novel, The Cassandra Project, with SF veteran Mike Resnick.

McDevitt's humanistic writing reflects the wonders of a world first discovered in the theaters and bookstores of South Philadelphia during the frenetic 40s and 50s, the sensibilities of a kid obsessed with science-fiction, weaned on Robert A. Heinlein, the Saturday serials, Thrilling Wonder and Startling Stories, and Superman. His novels and short stories are direct links to science fiction's Golden Age and the work of Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke (Stephen King has called McDevitt "the logical heir to Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke").

"The universe we live in is such a wild place," McDevitt says, explaining his lifelong affliction with science fiction. "It's one of those things that, once you're hooked, you never recover from."

Here, McDevitt discusses his childhood in Philadelphia, the work of H.L. Mencken, Jean Shepherd, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edward Gibbon, the state of education, his passion for baseball, the lure of archaeology and history, and the difficulty of predicting the future, among many other topics. This interview took place in Brunswick, Georgia, on June 28, 2013.

A Conversation With Jack McDevitt, Part 1

You've mentioned The Martian Chronicles as one of your influences.
I had the opportunity to tell this story to Ray Bradbury. He was enormously influential for me in my high school teaching career. When I came out of the Navy, I got a job teaching at Woodrow Wilson High, outside Philadelphia. The stuff they wanted the kids to read -- well, the administration gave us a list, Victorian novels and things kids didn't want to go near. I went through a little bit of that when I was in high school myself. I had an English teacher who actually read us A Tale of Two Cities. I sat there and slept.

So when I started teaching, I figured that my job was to get the kids interested in reading, not necessarily familiarizing them with Charles Dickens or the classics they weren't going to connect with. If I succeeded in inspiring a passion for reading, I knew they'd find Dickens on their own. I looked for a substitute to the textbook the administration had chosen. Kids don't like reading out of a textbook anyway. My own favorite was Sherlock Holmes, but he didn't work either -- another Victorian.

My standard bit was to do a dramatization of whatever we were reading at the time. I tried that with Holmes -- I played Watson and carried a doctor's bag -- and one of the students played Holmes. But it didn't work. I tried several books after Conan Doyle, and they didn't work either. Finally, I tried Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. Some of the kids volunteered to do the dramatization. We'd land the ship and look out onto the Martian landscape. The kids would say, "There are buildings out there. It looks like Ohio, picket fences and everything." And they'd open the hatch and look out and see a church, and someone says, "The steeple on the church has a cross on it!" And the student in charge of sound effects puts on the record and music from "Beautiful Dreamer" fills the room.

That was it. I yell Cut! and tell them the book's available down in the bookstore. The bookstore sold out. Bradbury was a huge hit. I heard a little criticism about teaching science fiction, but overall it worked beautifully.

We talked earlier about engaging students. If that switch isn't flipped early in a student's experience, it's not likely that it will ever be.
One of the most important aspects of kids' learning is the parents. The studies are clear: parents who read to their kids over the first three or four years get those kids off to a running start, one that gets them way out ahead of the curve. Either parent will work.

Positive feedback is crucial, too. For years, I ran management seminars for the Customs Service, and we talked about the importance of making subordinates understand that they matter. That's the mark of a good leader. You do that by showing them respect and demonstrating confidence in them. Don't always show them what they do wrong; point out the stuff they do right as well. Simple, but effective.

That was your Melville moment . . .
When I published my first novel, it was covered in the Customs newspaper, which mentioned three Customs officers who were -- their phrase -- "well-known writers." Melville, Hawthorne, and me. I was sorry I didn't hang on to that piece. A real ego boost. [laughs]

Collaboration is probably more prevalent in science fiction than in any other genre of writing, a rite of passage: Pohl and Kornbluth (and Pohl and Clarke), Niven and Pournelle, Clarke and Baxter, Pratchett and Baxter, McDevitt and Resnick with The Cassandra Project. Why's that the case?

Also, science fiction writers on the whole are, I think, more closely aligned with the academy. Sagan wrote his book, and a lot of science fiction writers are -- or were, at some point -- working scientists: Stephen Baxter, Gregory Benford, Alastair Reynolds, and so on. Collaboration in the academy is a common thing, so maybe it makes sense that a culture of collaboration holds in science fiction as well . . .

That would be a better question for Mike Resnick. Mike has been a successful collaborator with a number of people over the years. In my case, I don't know that I would ever have collaborated on a project, except that Mike became a close friend over 25 years, and we wanted to see what we could do together. That was the only motivation behind it. He's interested in doing some more collaborations. I would be too, except for the time problem. He works better than I do. He can turn out three books a year. I get one book in, and I'm exhausted. That creates a little bit of an issue.

Collaboration is usually an unequal kind of thing, where you have one major writer and one guy who's at the beginning of his career. The guy at the beginning of his career does most of the writing, and the major writer puts his name on the book and that helps sell it. I'm not sure if that's true in science fiction, but it's true in a lot of areas. [points to the coffee table and a copy of Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design, co-written with Leonard Mlodinow]

I had the experience myself, a long time ago, getting calls from a couple of guys who, in effect, wanted me to collaborate with them. Big names. At the time, I was unknown. No doubt I would have written the bulk of the book. The big name kind of fixes everything, and the project goes from there.

To what extent do you supplement your writing with your reading? Or are the two separate activities for you?
Since I got serious about my writing career in the mid-80s and I started writing a novel a year, I tend to read a lot less science fiction than I did when I had the time. I always read a lot of science fiction, history, science. Right now, I'm about two-hundred pages into the first volume of Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the two-volume Modern Library behemoth. I didn't expect to like it as much as I have. For years, I was under the impression that I'd already read it. Somewhere I picked up a copy of it and kind of bounced through it. I'm seeing things now that just blow my mind. I'm stuck in this thing, will be at it for the next year and a half before I get through it. But it's an incredible read and hard to put down.

Do your ideas come from your reading? In A Talent for War, the analogues to ancient Greece are pervasive, even though the action of that story is set millennia in the future?
Sometimes. As Harlan Ellison likes to say, "My ideas come from Sheboygan." They come from all kinds of places. A couple of quick examples: I love A.E. Housman, and in one of Housman's poems, "XXII" in A Shropshire Lad, he describes standing on the streets of London and watching the troops marching by on their way to Africa to fight the Boer War. For a brief moment, one of them glances his way and their eyes lock. The last stanza of the poem is, "What thoughts at heart have you and I/We cannot stop to tell;/But dead or living, drunk or dry,/Soldier, I wish you well." Priscilla Hutchins recalls those lines in The Engines of God, the first novel in that series, when she's on Iapetus looking at a monument to an alien species, a statue that was placed there thousands of years before. I know not who you are, but I wish you well. I never would have believed that out of that one line of poetry would come six novels and half a dozen short stories.

Another example: Back in the early 1990s, I had a friend who lived in California. We were in Washington, DC, at the same time, so we met for lunch. While in the restaurant, we noticed that everyone had gone quiet for some reason. I leaned over to the guy at the table next to me and said, "What's going on?" He told me that the United States had just bombed Baghdad.

I all but wrote the story, "Auld Lang Boom," on the way home about these two guys who live on opposite sides of the country and every couple of years they get together for lunch or dinner. Every time they do, there's a disaster somewhere. War breaks out, the Apollo blows up. The kicker is, there's one instance where nothing happens, one time back in the 1960s. Ultimately, they're killed while having lunch together in Atlantic City when a meteor drops on them. The son of one of the friends narrates the story. He recognizes what's going on, because it's in his father's diary. When he takes a closer look at the meeting in 1964 where nothing happened, he realizes it was the day that Lyndon Johnson claimed that one of our ships had been fired on in the Gulf of Tonkin by the North Vietnamese -- the event that gave him the excuse to send troops into Vietnam.

So stories come from all directions.

I'm working on a series of essays on ekphrasis, the representation in words of works of art. I've taken a close look at the scenes in The Engines of God where Hutch stands on Iapetus mulling over what, exactly (or if anything), it all means. Those are intensely ekphrastic moments. Through description and the story that takes shape, we begin to learn something about that object and, slowly, to understand the culture that produced it. Those images are significant not only in the Hutch books, of course, but in all the Alex Benedict novels. Objects imply permanence; they have history imbued within them.

When I was a kid, Raiders of the Lost Ark influenced me a great deal. Your work started to come out around the same time -- 1981 or so. It's an interesting parallel to me and one of the reasons I've enjoyed your work so much. What got you interested in xenoarchaeology?

I was always interested in archaeology. To some extent, I was bored in science fiction with invading aliens (or, if we had invaded their place, they were taking us out). I wanted something more. I always figured that if there's intelligence out there, those beings aren't going to be like what we see portrayed in a lot of science fiction, what a lot of writers feel they need to make a novel work.

When I started The Engines of God, I sensed that I would get more emotional impact out of positing a civilization similar to ours that was now gone. Then I went off and did A Talent for War, which was just a matter of looking at legends and myths. Sometimes the myths are more important than the reality.

I hadn't planned on doing a sequel to either one of those books. I thought sequels were a cheap way of taking advantage of things. But the way the sequels got started, more than a decade after those books came out, was that I picked up a copy of Scientific American with a cover story by Michael Shara, an astrophysicist and curator at the New York Museum of Natural History (McDevitt and Shara would later collaborate on the short story "Lighthouse," collected in Outbound). The cover shows a rock headed for the sun with the teaser "what would happen if a brown dwarf came into the solar system and collided with the sun?" Bad news, right? The sun implodes, the lights go out, and real estate values drop. End of story.

At the time, I had an idea for a mystery novel. I wanted to put some people in a starship and have them disappear. But I needed a setting. I read Shara's article and realized the incoming brown dwarf was perfect. I'm not going to use our sun, because I don't want to destroy the solar system. Instead I'll use some star out there, where there's nothing around but a few empty planets, and send people out to look at the collision. That became Polaris. When I pieced the story together, it occurred to me that there was no point in going back and reinventing everything -- how fast the ships go, the million details that go into any book, even the characters. So I imported Alex Benedict.

The original version of Polaris was narrated by Benedict, but it didn't work. I got about 80,000 words into it before I realized that the wrong person was telling the story. Alex suspected too much, knew too much, and I understood I couldn't hold that back from the reader. You've got to have Doctor Watson. So I went back and rewrote the entire book from Chase's point of view. It sounds rougher than it was. For much of it, I could just plug Chase's voice in for Alex, and that worked pretty well. When reading that rewrite, the subconscious takes over, and the result just feels smoother. I knew it was alright.

The gender issue isn't problematic for you, writing convincingly from a woman's point of view?
No, not at all.

She came to work for Alex through his uncle . . .
Right. She really liked Gabe Benedict, Alex's uncle. The book I'm working on now, Coming Home, has two plots. One of them is trying to get people off the Capella, the ship that took Gabe out. Chase is conflicted when Gabe comes back. She's not quite sure who she's going to work for.

Do you know?
No. Not at this point. The other plot line is a visit to Earth for Alex and Chase, the first time in the series they return for any meaningful period of time. I get a chance to look at what things are like on Earth, so Coming Home seemed like a perfect title.

The Sherlock Holmes connection crops up again. Would you embrace the notion that Benedict and Kolpath have a similar relationship to Holmes and Watson?
[laughs] Depends on what you mean by "embrace." I'm not suggesting that what I do is on a level with the Holmes stories, by any means . . .

But the partnership . . .
Yes. There are two or three stories narrated by Holmes in the Conan Doyle canon, and they don't work very well. You need Watson. Years ago, back in the late 80s, I took my sons to England for a Con. The play "The Secret of Sherlock Holmes," starring Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke, the guys who played Holmes and Watson in the BBC series, was on the stage in London. They were the only two characters in the show. Holmes's intriguing secret -- he admits this to the audience -- is that he can't function without Watson. Watson is the one who makes everything work.

That stayed with me. When I was doing Polaris, I needed somebody to come back and handle the narration. I needed a Watson to Benedict's Holmes. Chase was the obvious choice.

Does Benedict have his Moriarty?
No, because I'm not big on villains. I'm not an enthusiast about detective stories generally, but I like Holmes a great deal. I'm also a fan of Chesterton's Father Brown. The magic of Father Brown never had to do with simply finding out who had committed the murder. It was more a case of trying to figure out what on Earth had happened. In one Father Brown story, the body of a man is found on the fifteenth floor of a skyscraper. Door's locked from the inside, no other high buildings anywhere in the area, and he's got an arrow through his heart. There's an open window. So how the hell did that happen? Those are the kinds of stories that Gilbert Chesterton wrote. Great stories.

That's what I wanted to do with Benedict. I don't want the success of the story to rely on some villainous character driving the action. There are sometimes people behind the events in my stories, but they usually have good motives. Villains to me are dull.

I sat on a panel one time and made the comment that serial killers are dull. Somebody said, "You wouldn't say that if he's down there trying to kick in your door." And I said, "No, probably not. But if I had to sit through dinner with him, I suspect he'd be dull company." In the stories that use villains as crutches, you just set somebody up to do something, to create a mystery. A lot of the big thrillers are like that. Who did this? What's the real truth here? And the truth often is that somebody like the Secretary of the Interior is behind a nefarious plot. That to me is just boring.

Right. Hannah Arendt's notion of the banality of evil, the serial killer who's completely uninteresting but sociopathic enough to kill without the impediment of conscience.
The only fictional serial killer I ever enjoyed was the character in the British film The Green Man played by Alastair Sim in the mid-50s. One of the two or three funniest films ever made. Do not go to the next world without getting to see it.

Alastair Sim is a guy [in melodramatic narrator's voice] who takes out those who desperately need to be taken out. The Sim character started his career by taking out the headmaster at his school. He assassinates buffoons, clowns, crooked politicians -- but had to retire during the war because the competition was so fierce. It's a brilliantly funny film. Watch Sim's Saint Trinian's films as well.

I don't watch SF films that much anymore. The last one I saw was Into Darkness, the most recent Star Trek. Most of the Star Trek movies, I would happily turn on and watch for a second, third time. But not Into Darkness. This one is not much more than a western set in the future. The first half of the movie's good, but then it turns into a big punchout. Watching Spock in a huge fistfight with Cumberbatch's villain -- it goes on and on, on top of a taxi cab or something. Ridiculous. The Spock I know lays his hand on your shoulder and you go down.

The endless fight scene . . . The most egregious offender I can think of offhand is the end of Face/Off, with Cage and Travolta. Fifteen years later, that final fight scene is still going on somewhere.
When we saw the Star Trek film, there were trailers for about six other films. Every one of them was fist fights, cars exploding, people jumping off rooftops, zombies on the loose . . .

Your novels adapted to the screen would be far different. I assume that your books have been optioned?
No. Once in a while, we'll get a query -- there's one now for The Cassandra Project -- but they never seem to get past the talking stage. I'm not sure my books would make good movies. There are no villains, no shootouts at the end, so I don't know how attractive they'd be to a movie maker.

I read a lot of 50s and 60s Golden Age SF. I know that's a little late by some accounting of the period the Golden Age spanned, so maybe I should clarify with "second generation," but I enjoy Clifford Simak, for one, who wrote Way Station, Cemetery World, and a bunch of other nice books during that time. There's a real humanistic bent to those novels. Like you, Simak doesn't fall back much on the classic villain; though cynical, his cynicism never overwhelms his books or lessens the impact of the storytelling. He explores complicated ideas that don't reach after any sort of easy answers.

I take away the same sensibility from your books -- Keats' Negative Capability, multiple ideas competing or even contradicting one another, the understanding that sometimes ideas bump up against one another in uncomfortable ways and that's okay. The converse of Occam's Razor.

That's what happens to Priscilla in the upcoming Hutch book.

As a writer in the South, do you ever feel the weight of Southern writing? Do you feel compelled to go back to Faulkner, Welty, O'Connor to pay homage?
Not really, no. I would if I had more time. I don't have nearly the time I wish I had to read. My plan is, after I finish Coming Home in November, to take a year off to read a lot of the stuff I've wanted to read since college. But I don't have a particular push toward Southern literature.

You were in your mid-forties when you first started publishing, and you've been prolific for three decades . . .
I was forty-five when I wrote and published my first story. I wanted to be a writer from the time I was six or seven. Around that time, I tried to write a Batman novel, and I also attempted a science fiction book. The title will tell you how good the SF novel would have been: The Canals of Mars.

I submitted my first story to Fantasy and Science Fiction when I was about fourteen, a freshman in high school. I got a written response from Anthony Boucher, who was the editor at the time. He encouraged me to keep writing and explained that they were filled up at present. I must have mentioned that I was fourteen -- I don't really remember the correspondence -- but I was annoyed that he didn't buy the story. I didn't realize how significant it was to get a response from this guy.

Shortly after that, I started writing a newspaper column for The Rocket at my high school. When I got to college, I discovered they had a freshman short story contest. I submitted a science fiction story and it won. They published it in the college's literary magazine, Four Quarters. That would have been 1954 or so. I thought I was on my way. And then I read David Copperfield and I thought, My God, there's no way I can compete with this guy. I don't know what made me think that I had to compete with Dickens. But I gave up. I still did some writing -- a column for the college newspaper for about three years -- but I never made a serious effort to write anything after that. I didn't believe in myself.

Fast forward to my being forty-five years old. I was teaching customs inspectors at the United States Customs Service Academy on a one-year TDY (temporary duty), grumbling to Maureen about how my life wasn't going anywhere. Maureen said, "You're always talking about writing a science fiction story. Write one." So we groused back and forth, and finally I told her I would write the damn thing. It was called "Zip Code," a bad title. We sent it out a couple of times, and it bounced. I brought in one of Maureen's friends to look at it. She told me that parts of it needed to be fixed, some of it was shaky. So I rewrote it. We sent it out a third time, to Fantasy and Science Fiction, and it bounced again. And that was it for me. It was pretty clear I had no future in the business.

One day, around the time we were winding up the TDY, Maureen came home with a copy of Twilight Zone magazine she'd picked up in a local store. She urged me to send the story off one more time. We did, and a couple of days later we headed back up north to our home in Pembina, North Dakota, where I was a customs inspector. When we arrived, there was a postcard waiting from Ted Klein. He'd accepted the story. It was about a post-office employee in love with a young co-worker. He's afraid to make a move, though, because he knows he'll fail. Doesn't have a shred of confidence in himself. One day, a letter mailed 150 years earlier by Ralph Waldo Emerson shows up, and the guy opens it. There are some lines in the letter that Emerson actually wrote in some of his essays. One is "If you believe in yourself, you can do almost anything." Of course, after reading that, the guy makes his play. It was only years later that I saw the irony in what I had written. Once I got that first story out there, I just kept writing. It was published, by the way, as "The Emerson Effect."

Even so, I doubted I would be able to write a novel. For a period of about four years, I just wrote short stories. Maureen and I had a running joke about (legendary SF editor) Terry Carr's collections of the year's best science fiction stories, which never included mine. Periodically, I would come home from work and say, "By the way, we have a call from Terry Carr yet?" One day, the answer was yes, Terry had called. I thought he wanted one of my stories for his collection. That's what I hoped, anyway. Instead, he wanted me to write a novel for the Ace Specials. I said, "What's an Ace Special?" He was shocked that I didn't know. He asked me how long I would need to do it, and I said, "A novel. My God, how long have I got? Probably about two years." He gave me six months.

I decided to try it, though I didn't think I'd be able to manage anything close to six months. I started writing during my lunch hour, on the train back and forth from work, at my kids' Little League games. The thing did pretty well. It ended up winning the Philip K. Dick Special Award.

That was The Hercules Text?
Right. Which I've always thought was a bad title. People tell me it works fine, but it sounds like a textbook to me. I rewrote that novel years later. A small publisher wanted to put out The Hercules Text and A Talent for War in a single volume, so I went back to fix a couple of things in The Hercules Text and wound up rewriting the entire novel. The rewrite is much different from the original.

When I first sold the book to Terry Carr, I kept waiting for him to call me and say, "What a great book! Loved it!" Or something, anything. But nothing. I found some excuse to call him. I have no idea what I called him about, but it had absolutely nothing to do with the novel. "How you feeling, Terry?" You know, something like that. But finally I had to ask, "What'd you think of the book?" And he said, "It's not a dog."

I asked him what the problem was, and he told me I dragged readers through 400 pages before revealing that everything was hidden in an altar. The characters get this transmission from the stars, and the technology -- the main character has a daughter with diabetes, and a cure for diabetes is in there, all kinds of game-changing information -- once decoded, has got a dangerous side to it. So when I rewrote it, I brought it out of the Cold War, streamlined the story.

The best lesson I ever learned about writing was when Carr said, "You drag readers through 400 pages, there's got to be a payoff." And I didn't have one. In the rewrite, the guy who's in charge, a federal employee, gives the information to a friend to put online and then tells the President of the United States, "Either you can release it or we will." It's amazing how much different it was. How much better.

A nice update. You're talking about how quickly the technology becomes outmoded or what readers expect from story arcs reminds me of the first email I ever sent. I was in my office in Athens, Ohio, in 1994 or so, looking out the window onto the quad. I glanced back at the screen and had an email. Magic. After talking to my colleague through the door -- a kind of Bell and Watson deal, he was on the other side of the wall from me, about three feet as the crow flies -- I wrote back something to the effect of, "Why the hell would this form of communication ever be useful? Can't you just open the door and walk into my office?" If I could have blocked him, I would have. Shows what I know.
I don't think the Internet -- or any technology -- turned out quite as it was predicted by science fiction writers. We wrote about things like flying cars and omnipotent AI . . .

William Gibson's early stuff. Neuromancer was 1984, so the Internet was in its nascence, though it wouldn't have been fully formed. Arpanet, the framework, allowed people to communicate over a distance. But even Gibson, who's been venerated as a seer over the years, bristles at the idea that he's a futurist. Reality turns out to be too weird even for the cutting-edge dudes. Just goes to show, if you're going to predict the near future, get the novel done and sold now, because chances are nothing you predict is going to come to pass. Not in anything other than broad brush strokes . . .
Recently, I got a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Georgia Writers Association. The story generated some local news, which was kind of nice. In one interview, I was asked whether I had predicted anything in my stories that's become reality. I was stuck. I still can't think of anything.

Copyright © 2013 Patrick Smith

Patrick A. Smith is professor of English at Bainbridge State College (GA) and an associate editor at Bookmarks Magazine. His books include "The true bones of my life": Essays on the Fiction of Jim Harrison, Tim O'Brien: A Critical Companion, and the edited collection Conversations with Tim O'Brien, as well as interviews, articles, reviews, and stories in magazines and journals. Conversations with William Gibson will be published in 2014.

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