Skip to main content

Elizabeth Bear - Four Way Interview

Elizabeth Bear won the John W. Campbell award for Best New Writer in 2005 and has since published 15 novels and numerous short stories. She writes in both the SF and fantasy genres and has won critical acclaim in both. She has won the Hugo Award more than once. She lives in Massachusetts. Her latest title is Ancestral Night.

Why science fiction?


I've been a science fiction fan my entire life, and I feel like SF is the ideal framework for stories about humanity and how we can be better at it. Not just cautionary tales - though there's certainly also value in cautionary tales - but stories with some hope built in that we might, in fact, mature as a species and take some responsibility for things like reflexive bigotry and hate crimes (as I'm writing this, the heartbreaking news about the terrorist attack on Muslim worshipers in Christchurch is everywhere) and global climate destabilization. These are not intractable problems, but we need, as a species, the will to see that we are all in it together and that the stakes are enormously high.

Because we are a species that exchanges information by creating narratives - by storytelling! - I believe that there is enormous value in creating stories in which we have found ways to solve those problems, to invent more fair systems  of government, to embrace our responsibility to the human family, to interrogate our reflexive behaviors and make better choices.

Also, science fiction is fun! It's delightful to go zooming around the galaxy and scooping up stardust and meeting weird aliens!

Why this book?

Right now, because I think we desperately need to start addressing the fact that our best and most egalitarian systems of government (the ones that maximize well-being for the most people) are based on millennium-old ideas, and maybe it's time to start developing some systems that take advantage of modern technologies of information management and group decision-making. Not just in the scary totalitarian social media panopticon way, but in manners that might be liberating to the maximum number of humans.

There's a brilliant Ursula Le Guin story, 'The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,' that deals with the personal decision to walk away from a corrupt and exploitative but comfortable system and live in the wilderness instead.

But what if we could change those corrupt systems? Where's the ethical balance point between freedom and social responsibility? Between a safe, post-scarcity affluence (or at least comfort) for all, and the desire to Do Big Risky Things, to explore and innovate, and seek rewards for that? 

This feels very topical to me right now, in the world of Trumpism and resurgent Fascism and a new gilded age of oligarchy.

What's next?

Right this second, I am working on the sequel to ANCESTRAL NIGHT, called MACHINE. It's not a direct sequel - ANCESTRAL NIGHT is designed to stand alone, as a novel you can just pick up and read and then be finished with and have gotten a whole story in one book (retro, I know) - but it takes place shortly after ANCESTRAL NIGHT, and some characters from the first book do appear in the second one. 

In MACHINE, we get to meet a daring trauma doctor who specializes in space rescues, and visit a massive, multispecies galactic hospital where something is subtly, terribly wrong. :D  

What's exciting you at the moment?

I'm going to Luxembourg for the first time next month! My husband (Scott Lynch, also a novelist) and I will be guests of honor at Luxcon, the flagship Luxembourg City science fiction convention. I am incredibly excited about this!

I'm excited about Captain Marvel; and my friend Arkady Martine's first novel, A Memory Called Empire, which comes out this month; and I'm excited about the new album from The National that comes out in May.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Where are the chemistry popular science books?

by Brian Clegg
There has never been more emphasis on the importance of public engagement. We need both to encourage a deeper interest in science and to counter anti-scientific views that seem to go hand-in-hand with some types of politics. Getting the public interested in science both helps recruit new scientists of the future and spreads an understanding of why an area of scientific research deserves funding. Yet it is possible that chemistry lags behind the other sciences in outreach. As a science writer, and editor of this website, I believe that chemistry is under-represented in popular science. I'd like to establish if this is the case, if so why it is happening - and what can be done to change things. 


An easy straw poll is provided by the topic tags on the site. At the time of writing, there are 22 books under 'chemistry' as opposed to 97 maths, 126 biology and 182 physics. The distribution is inevitably influenced by editorial bias - but as the editor, I can confirm …

Make, Think, Imagine - John Browne ***

When you read a politician's memoirs you know that, nine times out of ten, it won't really quite work, because the message can't carry a whole book. It's reminiscent of the old literary agent's cry of 'Is it a book, or is it an article?' It's not that there aren't a lot of words in such tomes. It's almost obligatory for these books to be quite chunky. But it's a fair amount of work getting through them, and you don't feel entirely satisfied afterwards. Unfortunately, that's rather how John Browne (former head of oil giant BP)'s book comes across.

It's not that the central thread is unimportant. It used to be the case, certainly in the UK, that science, with its roots in philosophy and the pursuit of knowledge, was considered far loftier than engineering, growing out of mechanical work and the pursuit of profit. There is, perhaps, still a whiff of this around in some circles - so Browne's message that engineering has been…

Bloom - Ruth Kassinger ***

There is much fascinating material in this chunky book by Ruth Kassinger. It may be my total ignorance of biology and everyone else knows these things, but I learnt so much - for example that seaweed is algae and not a plant, about algae's role in the development of land plants, about the algae in lichen and its contribution to coral reefs.

The book is divided into four broad sections: on the origins and development of algae, on algae (and particularly seaweed) as food, on making use of algae, for example, for biofuel, and on algae and climate change, particularly the bleaching of coral and algal blooms. This is all done in a very approachable writing style, mixing descriptive material that is never over-technical with narrative often featuring visits to different locations and to talk to a range of experts from those who study to algae to those who cook them.

There are two problems though. Firstly, the book is too long at 380 pages. Each section could do with a trim, but this wa…