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Interview: Robert Grossbach on “Entrepreneurs”

– Tell us a bit about “Entrepreneurs.”

“Entrepreneurs” is about one man’s encounters, over a lifetime, with a number of technological entrepreneurs, including some not from this planet.  As for the latter, I wanted to have life-forms with goals and sensibilities very similar to ours, but physically so utterly different that it would create interesting inter-species interactions.

– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

Quite some time ago, I wrote a fairly long novel with a similar setup, that is, a juxtaposition of Earthly and alien entrepreneurs, both enmeshed in corporate dogfights.  After the writer’s cooling-off period, however, I re-read it and judged it a failure: I had a mediocre techno-industrial story and a mediocre science fiction story combined under one cover.  And so I put it in the “Do not disturb” drawer, where it lay for thirty years.  Then – and I’m really hesitant to say this because it will likely sound unbearably pretentious and precious – I happened to be in the Pompidou Museum in Paris one day and saw an exhibition of Matisse paintings arranged in pairs.  Each pair consisted of (1) an early work, and (2) a re-visited version that he’d gone back and created years later.  So it just came to me that, hey! if Matisse thought that permissible, maybe I should or could do the same.  What emerged — after some time, of course, and many changes and additions — was a novella, not a novel, but something that was at least more tightly integrated than my first attempt.

– Was “Entrepreneurs” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

As an RF/microwave engineer, I’ve worked for many small and large companies, the former generally founded, owned, and operated by individual entrepreneurs.  I’d written two “mainstream” novels about the big-company experience, both with the kind of black-humor, cynical, crabby sensibility that, I guess, constitutes my personality, but I’d not tried to capture the ambiance of the small operation.  As a lifelong science-fiction addict, it just amused me to think about alien entrepreneurs outsourcing to an Earth company operations they considered “third-world” in nature.

– What kind of research did you do for this story?

My life’s experience as an engineer made much of any formal research unnecessary.  I did a bit on Calabi-Yau manifolds and some on the chemistry of sulfur, since my aliens have a sulfur-based metabolism similar to that of tube worms.  I also consulted friends on street lingo, quantities, and prices for marijuana.

– What are you working on now?

I realized that the ending of my novella is not quite the ending of the story, so, with much trepidation at the risk of overstaying my welcome, I’m working on a sequel.

“Entrepreneurs” appears in the May/June 2015 issue of F&SF.

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