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Interview: Michael Cassutt on “Banshee”

Michael CassuttTell us a bit about “Banshee.”

“Banshee” is the story of a powerful but shadowy “horse-holder” in the space business who discovers that his ways of manipulating people — at work and at home — are no longer working.


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

I think there were two…. one being a father’s awareness that his child is living a life he couldn’t predict and cannot understand. The other, outer-directed, was exploring the idea of a charismatic leader — what is it like being in that leader’s orbit. What does one accept? What does one change… if anything?

I also had an independent notion about the evolution of space technology, and it seemed to fit in “Banshee”.


Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “Banshee?”

In one sense, absolutely zero. I don’t recall any specific research for the story. But a more comprehensive answer would be… thirty years of learning how NASA and international space programs work, how decisions were made, and by whom.


What was the most difficult aspect of writing this story, and what was the most fun?

Lately I find that my greatest challenge is cutting extraneous material. In an early version of the story I had at least two pages on Nik Salida’s career, and while it was fun for me to write, it was too much inside baseball.

The fun for me is always that moment where I’ve solved the basic questions — where is the story set, who are the characters, how are they hurting or helping each other? And can just write the dialogue.


Can you tell us anything about the differences or similarities between writing for television and writing novels and short stories?

For me, the major difference between screen and prose writing is the ability, in prose, to live in a character’s point of view for as long as you want. You can ignore the passage of time.

The fun of scriptwriting is being able to set a scene or describe action in, say, two lines, something you usually can’t do in prose.

What’s the same is the dialogue, the interplay between characters.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

My earliest SF influence was Heinlein, though I later found Delany, Zelazny, Silverberg, Le Guin, and Malzberg to be shaping my work.  I’d like to think I’m still open to learning new things — I’ve enjoyed recent stories by Sarah Pinsker and Ken Liu, and was knocked out by Liu Cixin’s REMEMBRANCE OF EARTH’S PAST trilogy.


What are you working on now?

I’m between TV projects at the moment so am working on a new novel, largely mainstream with an SF/fantasy element….


“Banshee” appears in the January/February 2020 issue of F&SF.

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