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Interview: Pat MacEwen on “Home Sweet Bi’Ome”

-  Tell us a bit about the story.  What’s it about?
 
A woman who lives in complete isolation because of hyperallergic syndrome – her immune system overreacts when she’s exposed to anything synthetic, and that includes most of the modern world.  Her isolation is shattered, however, when her refuge, a living  house grown from her own stem cells, somehow catches the chicken pox. 
 
-   Most authors say their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way is this story personal?
 
I lived it, in a way.  It came to me as dream – a story/dream in which I was the woman experiencing the symptoms of the disease afflicting my house.  A few details concerning cause and effect were missing (dreams aren’t known for their strict adherence to logic), but everything else is simply what happened.  When I woke up, I wrote down the bones of the tale.  Then, some months later, on a long boring drive back from Orycon, I fought off highway hypnosis by working out the dialogue and scribbling furiously in a notebook at various rest stops and gas stations.
 
 -  What kind of research did you have to do for “Home Sweet Bi’Ome?”  And how much of the biotech shown in the story is scientifically plausible?
 
I’ve always been a science geek, so I already had a fair idea of what’s going on in biotech, especially the exciting stuff in genetics, embryology and development.  The way FOXP genes work, for example, is becoming clearer day by day.  We can already tweak them and tell fruit flies where to grow various limbs and appendages, and how many of each.  We can insert fluorescence genes and use them to turn on enzyme regulators or make neurons fire off messages.  We can insert complete chloroplasts, and make organic LEDs, and we’re learning to build whole organs from scaffolding seeded with human stem cells, so I think the biotech side of it is totally doable. 
 
Hyperallergic syndrome was tougher, since no one really understands it and some people think it’s a psychosomatic condition.  But a friend of mine has a daughter who lives on the slopes of Mt. Shasta because of it.  Seeing her stripped-down lifestyle first-hand, and then hearing about her experiences has been… well, enlightening.  Oddly enough, the one thing I really had to look into was the one I experienced in real life – the chicken pox!  I caught it back in the days before vaccines were available, and an 8-year-old doesn’t pay much attention to anything but the infernal itching, that and being repeatedly thwarted by your mother when you need to go out and play!     
 
-  Did the writing of this story present you with any significant challenges or difficulties?
 
Only the usual – I’m apt to leave promising projects unfinished while I go haring off after a new idea.  Or I’ll finish a first draft of something and put it aside until I have time to revise and polish, and then find that months, even years, have gone by because life intervened.  As a result, completing the various stages of this story took about 18 months, altogether.  Lately, though, I’ve been trying to follow Heinlein’s Rules of Writing:  (1) Finish it.  (2) Send it out.  (3) Keep sending it out until somebody buys it.
     
-  What are you working on now?
 
A hard sf/noir mystery novel entitled Hardbitten.  It’s a monster.  I’ve been calling it my kitchen sink novel, since it includes everything from a serial killer to global warming and cannibal cults, and from cloning to cryogenics, Hawaiian shark gods and split personality syndrome.  
 
-   Anything else you’d like to add?
 
Only that I think a Bi’ome up in the mountains would be a terrific place to live, so long as you aren’t cutting yourself off from everyone else in the process. 

*“Home Sweet Bi’Ome” appears in the Jan./Feb. 2011 issue.

Interview: Chris Lawson on “Canterbury Hollow”

- Tell us a bit about the story.
“Canterbury Hollow” gestated for years. I was finally prompted to write it when Gordon van Gelder asked me to contribute a story for the Welcome to the Greenhouse anthology. I was halfway through writing a different story altogether that was causing me no end of frustration, so I ditched it and turned to this story instead. It’s about climate change, right? Gordon liked the story but felt it wasn’t right for the anthology, bought it for F&SF instead, and helped me hammer the abandoned story into shape for the anthology. The life lesson for writers is this: don’t fulfil your brief, miss your deadlines, and you’ll get two sales instead of one. (Coming soon: my self-help guide Success: The Unprofessional Way!)
 

 - What is the genesis of the story – its inspiration, or what prompted you to write it?
The spark of the story came from Proximity Zero by Terry Kepner, recommended on Winchell Chung’s fantastic 3D Starmaps website (http://www.projectrho.com/starmap.html). Kepner’s book is a catalogue of near-Earth stars for role-players who want to design realistic space adventures set in our local universe, but it’s an excellent reference for writers too.
Gamma Leporis is a triple-star system containing one star similar to our sun. Apparently Gamma Leporis has been described as having different colours by different historical observers. It’s pretty reasonable to assume that the observers were not consistent due to the limitations of early telescopes, but it got me thinking of the possibility that the historical reports are accurate and that Gamma Leporis suffers from some kind of instability that we lack the capacity to observe today. From there I wondered what would happen to a society living on a planet that was colonised when the sun was thought to be stable, only to find themselves trapped in a deteriorating environment and with a population far too large to move off-world (to understand how difficult it is to transport large numbers of people across interstellar space, imagine trying to move the entire population of Eurasia to Antarctica using bark canoes…now multiply that difficulty by a billion).

- Did the writing of this story present you with any significant challenges or difficulties?
Oh yes indeed, lots and lots of problems. From a technical perspective, interstellar travel is so prohibitively difficult that any story about humans on distant worlds is as fantastical as wizards battling dragons, no matter how rigorously the science is applied. Plenty of writers have come up with clever ways around this, but the only semi-plausible explanations involve non- or quasi-human entities like Sean Williams’s engrams or Greg Egan’s computational personalities, or extremely slow journeys lasting tens of thousands of years with concomitant changes in human evolution, as in Gregory Benford’s Galactic Centre novels. But I wanted to write about humans as we are, so I had to pretend the problem didn’t exist. My only defence for this appalling lapse is that almost everyone else does it too. Even Hal Clement and Robert Forward.
The biggest difficulty with the narrative was trying to hit the emotional notes without becoming operatic. Given the nature of the story — two young lovers who know they are about to die try to find fulfilling ends to their lives — I turned it into a mystery of sorts as each tries to find out about the other and why they made the choices that brought them together. Hopefully readers will feel that I succeeded. Either that, or they enjoy opera.

- Most authors say their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal?
Although I have little in common with the characters in the story, I think the central problem they face is common to everyone. We would all like to have lived a meaningful life, but meaning is a nebulous thing we create ourselves rather than a fundamental property of the universe.

- What kind of research did you have to do for this story?
I do far too much research for my own good. Apart from the astronomy, I read up on particle physics, mining technology, genetics, the sport of rock climbing, historical population collapses, disaster management, and various other subjects. The vast majority of that material never ended up in the story, thank goodness.
 
- Did you write “Canterbury Hollow” with a specific theme in mind?  If so, please elaborate.
Some readers might pick up on the references to Camus, including some rather blatant nods to The Stranger. My working title was “Benign Indifference.” Like Camus, I am fascinated by the human need to find meaning in everything. We are so desperate for meaning that we can find it anywhere, even in tea leaves and entrails and random number generators. Our desperation is so acute that many of us will happily hand over the job of defining our life’s meaning to other people, some of whom are horrifically unsuited to the task. (Jim Jones, anyone?)
 
- What are you working on now?
I just finished a story for a friend, Russell Farr, who has put together an anthology of Australian vampire stories called Dead Red Heart. Mine is about a non-supernatural vampire detective hunting Aztec traditionalists through the streets of Perth — a nicely insane premise. I am working on about a dozen projects in various states of completion, including a series of stories in the same setting as “Canterbury Hollow” — not the same world, that is, but in the same human diaspora. At my current work rate, they should be finished before the heat death of the universe.
 
- Anything else you’d like to add?
A big thank you to F&SF. It’s a privilege to have a story offered up to your readers.

* “Canterbury Hollow” appears in the Jan./Feb. 2011 issue of F&SF.

Climate change novels?

In the climate change anthology I just edited, I did up a list of books in which climate change plays a significant role.  Which titles did I miss?

—Gordon V.G.

Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin (1985)

Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson (1997)

Arctic Drift by Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler (2008)

The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman (1990)

Climate of Change by Piers Anthony (2010)

The Drought by J. G. Ballard (1968)

The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard (1968)

The Drylands by Mary Rosenblum (1993)

Earth by David Brin (1990)

Eruption by Harry Turtledove (forthcoming 2011)

Exodus by Julie Bertagna (2005)

Far North by Marcel Theroux (2009)

The Flood by Maggie Gee (2005)

Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005), and Sixty Days

and Counting (2007) by Kim Stanley Robinson

Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias edited by Kim Stanley Robinson (1994)

The Great Bay: Chronicles of the Collapse by Dale Pendell (2010)

Greenhouse Summer by Norman Spinrad (1999)

Greensword by Donald J. Bingle (2009)

Greenwar by Steven Gould and Laura J. Mixon (1997)

Heavy Weather by Bruce Sterling (1996)

Hothouse (aka The Long Afternoon of Earth) by Brian W. Aldiss (1962)

The Ice People by Maggie Gee (2005)

In Flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson (2010)

Mother of Storms by John Barnes (1994)

The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman (2008)

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2004)

Pennterra by Judith Moffett (1987)

Primitive by Mark Nykanen (2009)

Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi (2008)

The Ragged World (1991), Time, Like an Ever-Rolling Stream (1992), and The Bird Shaman (2008) by Judith Moffett

The Road to Corlay by Richard Cowper (1978)

River of Gods by Ian McDonald (2004)

The Sea and Summer (aka The Drowning Towers) by George Turner (1987)

The Snow by Adam Roberts (2004)

Solar by Ian McEwan (2010)

State of Fear by Michael Crichton (2004)

Sunshine State by James Miller (2010)

Timescape by Gregory Benford (198x)

Ultimatum by Matthew Glass (2009)

Water Rites by Mary Rosenblum (2007)

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (2009)

World Made by Hand by James Howard Kuntsler (2008)

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (2009)

Interview: Richard A. Lupoff on “12:02 P.M.”

- Tell us a bit about “12:02 P.M.”  What’s it about?
 
“12:02 PM” is a direct sequel to my 1973 story “12:01 PM.” The 1973 story concerns a somewhat beaten-down office worker named Myron Castleman who has got into such a rut that his life is a daily repetition. He keeps doing the same things over and over, getting nowhere, as all of his hopes and dreams slowly fade away. Pardon my use of a lit’ry term, but in fact this is a metaphor for the lives of too many people in the modern world. It was certainly my own life at one time.
 
“12:01 PM” ends on a note of despair. “12:02 PM” takes up directly where “12:01 PM” leaves off, and is, I believe, a far more positive and hopeful story. I don’t want to go into details here. I’d much rather have people read “12:02 PM.”
 
- What prompted you to write a follow-up story?
 
In 1989 writer-director Jonathan Heap made a brilliant 30-minute film of “12:01 PM.” The film starred Kurtwood Smith as Myron Castleman. It was an Academy Award finalist and still turns up on TV on occasion. As far as I know, the only purchasable version is on a compilation DVD released in the UK. BTW, this film is not to be confused with the feature-length version starring Jonathan Silverman, Helen Slater, and Martin Landau. That’s quite a different story, although it’s based loosely on “12:01 PM.”
 
For the past twenty years I’ve remained in contact with Jonathan Heap and Kurtwood Smith, and one of them mentioned in a recent email that it might be interesting to try and figure out whatever happened to Myron after the first story ended. Did he just stay in his rut, repeating one hour over and over and over — endlessly? Or might there be an escape for him after all. I went to sleep with that question in my mind and woke up the next morning with the answer, ready to write “12:02 PM.”
 
- Did the writing of this story present you with any significant challenges?
 
From a creative viewpoint, I had to decide just when the new story would take place. After all, it had been 37 years since I wrote “12:01 PM.” I decided that “12:02 PM” should continue the narrative seamlessly. Once I sat down and turned on my computer — I was tempted to rev up the ancient IBM Selectric I wrote “12:01 PM” on but decided not to do that  — I was amazed that I was able to slip right back into the writing mode of the first story.
 
- What kind of research, if any, did you have to do for the story?
 
I’m an old New York hand, and even though I’ve lived in California for more than 40 years, I had no problem with getting my head back into the Manhattan of that era. I’m convinced that “You can take the New Yorker out of New York but you can’t take New York out of the New Yorker.” “12:02 PM” takes place on Vanderbilt Avenue, in the Public Library, in the Chrysler Building, and in Bryant Park. I had no problem revisiting all of these locales, “seeing” a copy of the old Daily Mirror, or “eating” in various midtown restaurants.
 
- What are you working on now?
 
My latest mixed-genre collection, Dreams, should be out from Mythos Books very shortly. And a police procedural novel, Rookie Blues, is in production at Dark Sun Press, a new publisher in Virginia. I’ve promised a Lovecraftian novel, Beneath the Karst, to Perilous Press. I hope to write that book later this year. And I’ve been
Editorial Director at Surinam Turtle Press, an imprint of Ramble House, for several years. I’ve been having a great time there. Always wanted to be a publisher, and finally made it. I do wish I had a bigger budget to work with — or any budget! — but I have marvelous support from my boss, Fender Tucker, and our chief designer and art director, Gavin O’Keefe.
 
- Anything else you’d like to add?
 
The first story I ever submitted to a professional magazine, I sent to F&SF in 1951. Anthony Boucher rejected it. He was right to do so, it was strictly amateur stuff. But Tony offered such encouragement that I kept on trying and finally got into this great magazine. I’m proud any time I appear in its pages, and hope to continue doing so for many years to come.

* “12:02 P.M.” appears in the Jan./Feb. 2011 issue of F&SF.

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