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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.

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