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A Conversation With Allen Steele
Part 2 of an interview with Steven H Silver

Allen Steele
Allen Steele
Allen M. Steele's first published SF was his story "Live from the Mars Hotel", published in Asimov's Science Fiction in 1988. Since then his novels and collections have included Orbital Decay, Clarke County, Space, Lunar Descent, Labyrinth of Night, Rude Astronauts, The Jericho Iteration, The Tranquillity Alternative and All-American Alien Boy. Steele, a resident of St. Louis, MO, received both the 1996 Hugo Award and the 1996 Science Fiction Weekly Reader Appreciation Award for his novella "The Death of Captain Future," which appeared in Asimov's in June 1995.

Allen Steele Website
SF Site Review: A King of Infinite Space
SF Site Interview: Allen Steele -- Part 1

A King of Infinite Space

All-American Alien Boy

The Tranquillity Alternative

SF Site Interview: Allen Steele -- Part 1

At Windycon XXV, Steven H Silver had the chance to sit down with guest of honor Allen Steele and discuss his books, small presses and winning two Hugo Awards. Allen Steele is the author of nine novels and two and a half short story collections, the half being the one which will be published in a couple of months by Meisha Merlin Press called SEX AND VIOLENCE IN ZERO-G. He specializes in writing stories set in the near future, so far in near Earth space, although he has gone as far afield as Mars, the asteroid belt and Jupiter.

The first half of the interview ran in the last issue. Here is the remainder.

"The Death of Captain Future," was adapted for an audio performance by Seeing Eye Theater. How active were you in the adaptation and production?
I wrote the first draft of the radio play, and it was the first time I had ever done anything like that. I did it pretty much verbatim from the original novella, full of flashbacks and so forth. I thought it worked okay, but Brian Smith, who produced it, thought it was unwieldy for audio adaptation. He wanted me to do a re-write, but by the time we got around to that stage, I was already involved in another project. So I said, "Brian, look, why don't you go ahead and do the second draft," and I handed it over to him. So he did the second draft, and he basically took the meat of that first draft and adapted it, excising the flashbacks except at the very beginning, which sets the stage, and did it in much more of a straight-forward presentation. It works pretty well. It has some things in there which are not in the original story, some of which I added, some of which he added. There are a couple of things I wish could have gone in there. I was using audio cues for the flashbacks, so I wanted to have electric rock. In fact, I specified that they use Quick Silver Messenger Service's "Who Do You Love," which is one of the great long rock pieces. 23 minutes long, absolutely spooky as hell. Brian took that out and inserted instead 40s style space opera type music, which was different but I thought it worked real well. I was really thrilled to find out that Marina Sirtis was going to be the lead actress in the thing and I thought her performance was very good... utterly convincing, absolutely marvelous. It's really very good and I'm very proud of it.

Have you gotten any feedback? I tried to download it the other day. It is two parts, thirty minutes each part, which takes longer with internet congestion and feedback times and so on, but I understand it's going to be released on audio tape.
It sounds better in stereo. They sent me an advance copy of the tape and I listened to it on the headphones and you get the real stereo effect. But I haven't really gotten any response. There were a few notes posted on the Sci-Fi Channel website, but they were mostly the "Marina Sirtis hubba-hubba" sort of thing. Not very much of that was concerned with the actual content.

You have written several alternate history stories. In the title of Tranquillity Alternative, why two "L"s?
That's the way it is on the map. That was one of the things that Ace's copy writers queried me about. It's a weird damn thing, but tranquility in the dictionary is spelled with one "L" but if you go and take a look at the lunar map, it has two "L"s. This is something we had to go back and take a look at. I guess whoever made the original maps of the Moon mis-spelled it and the spelling stuck.

Are you planning on setting stories in that same alternate history or have you said what you have to say there?
It's pretty much all said and done. I've done what I wanted to do. There's one more story that's been kicking around in my mind that I would like to do, but again, you have to wonder, does the audience really want another end of the cold war story? I was thinking about writing a prequel to it, about the alternate mission to Mars, but then Steve Baxter went and did Voyage, and I was actually kind of grateful when he did it because I thought "Good, I don't have to write this story, I can just read it, instead." There's a lot I can still play with, though, so I'm not going to shut the door on that idea entirely.

All of your novels have come out from major publishers: Ace, Harper and your next novel will be coming from Ace again. But all of your collections have originally come from small presses, first Old Earth Press and now Meisha Merlin. Did you specifically set out to place the collections with small presses?
I very specifically went out of my way to find small press publishers because, unfortunately, the short story collection has become virtually extinct from major publishers. Very few of the big-time publishers will touch a single author collection. It's the every-book-a-bestseller mentality that is persistent within publishing right now, which is why the SF small press has been able to flourish. There are still enough readers out there to make these books profitable if you aren't dedicated to making them bestsellers, or even to making a huge profit. With Old Earth Books, Mike Walsh, the publisher, was thinking about starting up a publishing company at the very same time I walked right up to him and said, "Do you happen to know of any small press publishers who would be interesting in this type of thing?" The first books did very, very well. Ace reprinted both of those, but the Ace edition of Rude Astronauts, the first one, has already gone OP (out-of-print), while Mike is still selling copies of his edition. The Ace edition of All-American Alien Boy is still in book stores, but when it eventually goes OP, Mike will still be selling copies of All-American Alien Boy. Nobody among the major publishers has offered to buy Sex and Violence in Zero-G. In fact, I'm kind of disinclined to let them. I'd like to let the Meisha Merlin edition have a lot of room to breathe. The nice thing about working with small presses is that you have a lot more flexibility than you do with the major publishers. You get input with them that you just don't have working for a very large publishing firm. With Sex & Violence in Zero-G, I was able to specify the artist. I always wanted to work with Ron Miller on something, and they were only too happy to get Ron to do the artwork. Literally in five minutes we decided, during the telephone call, to expand the book to being a collection of the ten most recent near-space stories to being the complete near-space stories, throwing in the five stories that had previously been in Rude Astronauts. I said, "I think it's a great idea, but we've got to clear it with Mike Walsh, see if he has any problems since Rude Astronauts is still out there." Steve [Pagel] said he would get back to me on it. He hung up the telephone and five minutes later he called back to say that Mike said it was fine. In small press, you have that ability, that flexibility, to do things like that. The same decision would have taken months if it had been done through a major publisher. It will be interesting to see if the science fiction small press is successful with original novels. Nobody has really tried it yet, although they've done reprints of older work. I think Meisha Merlin may be trying something in that direction in the near future. In the mainstream, it certainly has been successful. A couple of years ago, Atlantic Monthly Press put out the novel Cold Mountain by Charles Frasier, which went on to hit the New York Times Bestseller list and receive the National Book Award. I think its time for someone in the SF field to try the same thing, but it's a matter of who's going to take the plunge first.

You've taken part in several on-line chats with What do you get out of the chats? Are they just a chance to push your books? Are they an extension of conventions?
For one thing, I'm just intrigued with the media. The first couple of times I did it with Jan [Murphy of], it was a weird thing because it was having a conversation with the eyes and fingers instead of just your mouth, and it was kind of strange. Of course, there's the chance to push the books and do that kind of PR work. I've always really liked meeting with my readers and getting their feedback. I think it's necessary to do so. I don't think a writer should live a cloistered existence. I know some people who do, and I also know writers who have absolute and utter contempt for their audience. I certainly don't. If there's a chance to go out in any way possible and rub shoulders with people who read my books and perhaps get some feedback, then I take it. In fact, that's sort of how I got over Hugo envy. I thought, "I'm not getting any awards, but I've got some loyal readers out there. They seem to be growing, so don't worry about it." This is what I got from chats and conventions and elsewhere. But the chats are also interesting because of the medium you're dealing with. Scrolling type running down the screen. Even in an unmoderated chat, with people throwing questions at you two or three times a minute, it's like juggling and you're trying to keep up with it. The only thing that ever bothers me is when you're kicked out of your own chat, which is what happened to me one time. Somebody had just asked me an important question and all of a sudden the computer completely threw me out. I had to call for my wife, who's really the computer expert in our household, and have her come in and do a complete re-boot to get back into the room. I was thinking, "Oh, God. These people probably think I've snubbed them." But when I came back in, it turned out that everyone in the room had figured out what had happened and they were all sort of patiently waiting for me. They were also talking among themselves. So the medium is fascinating. The only thing I wish that could be improved is that sometimes I wish I could have a microphone and a voice-recognition system, because the hands begin to wear out after an hour or two.

What would you like to tell us about your next book?
Oceanspace is a departure. It's an undersea adventure novel that takes place in the twenty-first century. I'm trying to write a state-of-the-art undersea book. In a way, I'm kind of doing with this novel what I did ten years ago with Orbital Decay. That is, taking a look at the current state of technology and working from that. The other thing I tried to do is write an undersea book which doesn't have the conventions of other undersea novels in SF. There's no domed cities, there's no bio-engineered mermen, there's no nuclear war on the surface which means that only the guys on the ocean floor have survived. There's no giant squid, although I do have a sea serpent in there. In some ways its an homage to what I think is still the best undersea SF novel ever written, Arthur C. Clarke's The Deep Range. I just finished it, and it's now in the re-write stage, and dispassionately speaking as much as I can, I think its a pretty good, solid adventure story. I hope people like it when it comes out. Its coming out from Ace Books, but they've just agreed to buy it so we'll have to see when it comes out.

Copyright © 1999 by Steven H Silver

Steven H. Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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