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A Conversation With Sean Williams and Shane Dix
An interview with Lisa DuMond
January 2002

© Sean Williams and Shane Dix
Sean Williams and Shane Dix
Sean Williams (photo right)
Sean Williams was born in Whyalla, South Australia, in 1967. He has been writing full-time since 1990. His short fiction has appeared in magazines such as Aboriginal SF and Eidolon as well as anthologies such as Alien Shores, Intimate Armageddons, The Oxford Book of Australian Ghost Stories, The Year's Best Australian SF & Fantasy 1996, Terror Australis and the World Fantasy Award-winning Dreaming Down-Under. His story, "Evermore," was selected to appear in The Year's Best Science Fiction: 17th Annual Collection. Metal Fatigue is the winner of the 1996 Aurealis award for best science fiction novel. New Adventures in Sci-Fi won the Ditmar award for best collection in 1999. In his spare time, he likes to DJ and cook curries.

Sean Williams Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Echoes of Earth
SF Site Review: The Stone Mage and the Sea
SF Site Review: The Prodigal Sun
SF Site Review: Metal Fatigue
SF Site Review: A View Before Dying

Shane Dix (photo left)
Shane Dix says there have been 4 defining moments in his writing career:
"At 12, I read Heinlein's short story, 'By His Bootstraps,' and immediately became obsessed with tales of time travel and thus science fiction; at 15, I was encouraged to write short stories by my English school teacher; at 21, I read Delany's Dhalgren and realized that this was the type of fiction writing I wanted to aspire to; and at 30, I met Sean Williams...

"At 40, I no longer focus solely upon science fiction as I did through my teen years. I still write, though have recognized the need to concentrate on novel writing now as opposed to short stories. I still dream of one day penning a Delany-esque type book, but as the years tick by this seems increasingly unlikely to ever eventuate. And, despite the beard, long hair and considerably different writing styles, I am still, on occasion, mistaken for Sean...

"For the not too distant future I have a number of writing projects lined up, including a science fiction novel, a horror novel and a mainstream novel, as well as a children's book and a recipe book. But if none of these projects get to see the light of day, it doesn't matter. I will continue to write regardless, because, to quote Delany, I have an 'exhausting habit of trying to take up the slack in my life with words.'"

ISFDB Bibliography

Echoes of Earth
Evergence: The Prodigal Sun

Echoes of Earth is your first collaborative effort since the hugely popular Evergence series. Does this mean it's time to break out into more stand-alone novels? Or are you outlining another series even now?
Sean Williams: Echoes is actually the first of a new series. Orphans of Earth and Heirs of Earth will be following in January 2003 and January 2004 respectively.

Shane Dix: As for stand-alone books, we always talked about doing something different one day, like a horror novel we had an idea for. I think that would be a lot of fun, but have to admit that I do like the trilogies -- nice and BIG.

You've been extremely successful as a duo. Is that the system you prefer to use in writing your fiction, that you see yourselves continuing for the foreseeable future?
Sean Williams: It has been successful for us -- we're also working on a trilogy in the Star Wars: New Jedi Order sequence -- but we both write solo novels as well. I'm in the middle of a fantasy series being published by HarperCollins in Australia at the moment, and I have plans to write another solo "future noir" novel later this year.

Shane Dix: I'd certainly like to see our writing partnership continue over the years to some degree or another. It would be nice, I think, to be able to go and do our individual projects and come back every now and then to do something like the Evergence or Orphans series. But we both agree that should the writing in any way come between the friendship, then we'd stop. We are wise beyond our combined years, you see... (smiling)

Do you employ the trading off chapters method, the write and rewrite method, the outline and mentor method, or just how does each book take shape?
Sean Williams: We prefer to come up with an outline together, then I go off to write the first pass, pretty much on my own. Then Shane gets the first draft to kick into shape. When that's done, I get one final pass over it to make sure the styles are consistent. Then it's done.

Shane Dix: I can't imagine us working any other way, really. Sean is a very fast writer, and his work is always brimming with ideas. I am a much slower writer, so if we had to exchange chapters, poor Sean would be waiting a long time for mine to come! He would have written his part of the book before I'd come up with the opening sentence for mine... Well, maybe not that bad, but you get the idea...

What particular strengths and weaknesses in each other does this method of collaboration address to make the work stronger? (Sean, don't you know he's only holding you back, man?) (Shane, can't you see he's dead weight?)
Sean Williams: (smiling) I write fast and loose first drafts. That's either a strength or a weakness, depending on your tastes.

Shane Dix: Well, I definitely see it as a strength... I envy your output!!

Sean Williams: I'm not a huge fan of re-writing and editing for months on end, although I understand the importance of it to the finished product, so I'm happy to pass that over to Shane. In my eyes, he gets the dirty work.

Shane Dix: No, I really do enjoy that side of things. There is nothing quite as satisfying as looking back over a page and seeing nothing but red correction marks everywhere! Gives one a sense of purpose in this world ... (smiling)

The future you see in Echoes of Earth is not an attractive from a human standpoint. At least, not looking at it from this point in time. Do you see the "improved" people running the planet as a positive change?
Sean Williams: I'm all for post-humanity, and would sign up for an upload in a second. So from my point of view, it would be an improvement. Ultimately, though, these sorts of technologies are value-neutral. It's what we do with them that matters. If the world ends up a terrible place after we've become post-human, that's our fault, not the technology.

Shane Dix: I'd second that. Change is inevitable, though. And I'm sure that if you went back 200 years and presented the people then with a story of now, they'd find it equally unattractive. It's all a matter of perspective. Having said that, though, I guess the future we have presented is kind of bleak... But hey, anything that allows humanity to continue in some capacity can't be all bad, right? Even if it's as we have presented humanity in Echoes Of Earth...

Peter Alander, the protagonist, of the novel, is as flawed as any of us, but he emerges as the only character readers can truly empathise with and trust. Maybe that's an answer in itself to the last question. Were people meant to be perfect? Would they still be human?
Sean Williams: I'm quite happy to change humanity as long as it's for the better. Perfection is a fine thing to aspire to, in my honest opinion. The trouble is, there are going to be hiccups along the way, and I guess the characters in Echoes and the subsequent books reflect that. The character of Caryl Hatzis, who we see in numerous forms, is one we're having a lot of fun exploring.

Shane Dix: I don't think people were ever meant to be perfect, and I don't think humanity ever could be. Even if we all aspired for perfection, and indeed achieved it, the world would still be populated by individuals with what could be regarded as flaws, because what each of us sees as "perfect" is obviously going to differ from person to person... But yes, Alander is flawed, and that's what sets him apart from the others, makes him human, and I like that slant on the story...

The aliens in Echoes of Earth are impossible to get a genuine emotional feel on, because there is no hint as to their nature, appearance, behaviour. This technique has been used in literature and film before to intensify the impact of the "monster" on the audience, but somehow, that doesn't feel like what you are after here. How do you think readers will react to the aliens?
Sean Williams: As one would react to an avalanche.

Shane Dix: Ha! Nice one, centurion...

Sean Williams: These aliens are so advanced, so removed from us, that they barely even know we're here. And when we do attract their attention, the consequences can be amazingly beneficial or terrible. We don't want to portray them as monsters because a monster usually wants something from its victim. These aliens don't want anything from us. The only monster I can associate with these aliens is Godzilla, who stomps all Tokyo not because he hates it, but because it's getting in his way...

Shane Dix: Yeah, we really wanted to push that whole idea of humanity being small. I have often felt that humanity still regards itself to be the center of the universe. We know we're not, physically, but we still have this residual thing in our psyche from pre-Copernicus days that whispers into our unconscious that we really still are... It was nice to write a book which sees humanity getting a rude awakening in regards to this. The universe is big, said the Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy; humanity is small, says Echoes Of Earth... (smiling)

Echoes of Earth makes a statement about first contact that I don't want to spoil for readers. Without giving anything away, do you think it is the voracious appetite of humanity to demand to have everything that will be its eventual downfall?
Sean Williams: Not at all. I think our appetite, our ambition, is the thing that keeps us going. If we're ever going to become godlike and immortal (which is how I want to be), that urge will be one of the prime motivators. We'll have to shrug it off eventually, I suspect, or make sure it's grounded in rational urges, but for the moment I think it does more good than bad. The problem arises, of course, in our present resource-limited closed environment where "having it all" usually means "taking it from someone else".

Shane Dix: Yeah, I think that the only way it will be our downfall is if we continue to live in a closed environment and suck the planet completely dry of its resources, leaving us with nothing but an empty shell of a planet to house our billions of people. But science is coming along in leaps and bounds right now, and I believe the next century will see developments which will (optimistically) see us break free of this closed environment and extend ourselves into the larger galactic community, or (pessimistically) kill us all...

What is next on the Williams/Dix schedule? Publishing-wise, that is; not in the nature of pub crawls...
Sean Williams: Well, there are Orphans and Heirs, and Force Heretic: Remnant, Refugee and Reunion (all three out in 2003). Beyond that ... Well, I know I haven't really thought that far. Getting through the deadlines this year is my main focus a the moment. (smiling)

Shane Dix: Likewise. No time for pub crawls at all, I'm afraid... Ah, the life of a writer...we sacrifice so much...

Copyright © 2002 Lisa DuMond

In between reviews, articles, and interviews, Lisa DuMond writes science fiction and humour. DARKERS, her latest novel, was published in August 2000 by Hard Shell Word Factory. She has also written for BOOKPAGE and PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. Her articles and short stories are all over the map. You can check out Lisa and her work at her website hikeeba!.

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