/ is set in Seattle and the NW about 60 years from now, following on from QUEEN OF ANGELS, with many of the same characters but a whole new set of themes.
Jim Freund: Welcome to OmniVisions. Tonight our guest is sf/fantasy writer Greg Bear, whose latest novel, /, will be out shortly. Hi Greg! Welcome to OmniVisions. Let's start right in--Clute says in his bio of you that who knows what could appear next. Now we know it's SLANT (or /) and Dinosaur Summer. Tell us a about / first, if you would.
I've been privileged to participate in and observe a lot of the changes in communications and the entertainment business in the past ten years, and I've observed a lot of fascinating things--some of which I've helped develop, and many of which I distinctly disapprove of (sometimes helped formulate and then disapproved of! These form part of the landscape in /.
Other themes touch on modern American psychology, with its emphasis on material gain and individualism above group effort and keeping one's gaze on a larger goal. The worst example of this rugged individualism occurs in the militia movement, where certain masculine conservative atavisms get blown out of proportion. I create a separated Republic of Green Idaho for those conservatives and rugged individualists who can't take the stresses and strains of change in the modern world (that is, the future). Part of the novel is set in this militia heaven, Green Idaho.
JF: I love the idea of Green Idaho. It summons up a cross between Timothy MacVeigh and Earth Firsters. What is the central conflict?
GB: I further develop my AI thinker, Jill, and even introduce her to a "boyfriend" who may or may not be a rogue AI--all part of some observations of the role of sex in society, and the differences in male and female psychology, exaggerated by new technology and "therapy", which is almost universal and effective.
JF: I'm glad for the return of Jill. Does / carry over anything from Moving Mars?
GB: Tim Mcveigh is just part of the picture--this rampant notion in some portions of the American public that freedom involves no responsibility to a larger political body, and that patriotism extends no further than one's backyard. A lot of anger on this issue--and on the Republican congress, one of the most ignorant and aggressively misled political phenomenon of recent history!
/ forms part of the background for MOVING MARS. MM involves a much more responsible search for freedom to be individuals.
JF: AgreeMsg. Much of your work reflects political thought. How would you classify yourself politically?
GB: I'm neither conservative nor liberal, though I call myself liberal. I'm for balance and knowledge against overwrought passion and ignorance. Everyone has to engage in a little give and take in a society as large and complex as ours--and I see far too many politicians and voters who know nothing about history, but have passionate convictions.
JF: Certainly part of MM is about taking ownership of some radical acts when one is/was younger. I wish Abbie Hoffman might have had the chance to read it--he liked to ruminate about his past sometimes, and I found echoes of that personality (probably unintentionally) in MM. Are there any real life political figures in this series of books (and does this series have an overall name?)
GB: No series title as yet--and no characters modeled after politicians per se. There are a couple of friends in SLANT who reside under conflated or slightly disguised names, and they're well-known in the computer community.
JF: Regarding such "balance and knowledge", I see this abused on both sides of the political spectrum. Does the forum of sf make it easier to make your political statements (or conundrums) through its attributes, and if so, how?
GB: Both parties and all political convictions have their flamers. SF lets us see things once or twice removed, and this allows for some very trenchant observations. In SLANT, the folks of the 2050s have a fond regard for the 1980s and 1990s... which I have some fun with. I'm not a big fan of the decade in which I now reside--I call the 1980s and 90s the "sour decades," full of spoiled and disappointed children. I should know--I'm one of them!
JF: The Sour Decades--I think that's a keeper. Is there a decade or era with which you personally identify? I know I've been a 60s person since that time, but I feel that the current GenX obsession with such retro things is like having your neighborhood moved into by tourists.
GB: Actually, the older I get, the more I respect both the 1930s and 1940s--times of major challenge and change--and the 1960s, before it was taken over by the flamers and most hopes for real change were squelched. I blame not only the radical leftists and blind hawks for these failures in the 1960s, and the 70s, but one man--Richard Nixon, who taught so many of us that we could never trust the government. Now, we trust nobody, not even ourselves. Very sour!
JF: Thank you for putting that feeling into such concise words--it summarizes how I feel. (Perhaps the fact that we're about 2 years apart helps...) You've made references to your involvement with communications and computers. Pardon my ignorance but what are some of those connections, and how do they affect your fiction?
GB: SLANT also deals with the cultural war between the east coast (New York) and the west coast, LA and Seattle. LA and Seattle have won, and the publishing industry--now a mass of confusion and refusal to change and adapt--has lost the war, with dire consequences. Imagine a culture free to indulge itself in every nuance of a fully developed media art form--the Yox, full sensory gratification, with few consequences--and no wisdom! It's the future equivalent of why Johnnie won't read--because LA won, and New York threw in the towel.
I've had a lot of discussions with folks in the computer graphics industry, beginning in 1983, when I traveled up and down the west coast interviewing major players in the young CGI industry. That article would have appeared in OMNI, and quite radical it was, too, with lots of predictions and an opening paragraph about CGI dinosaurs--but OMNI decided against publishing it! So now it's on my web page, at www.kaiaghok.com.
Starting about seven years ago, I spent some fine evenings eating great food and talking with various folks from Microsoft. Together we formulated a lot of the developments seen today--and some yet to come, described in SLANT. (I was an unpaid visionary, but the food and company were well worth it.)
JF: Hmm... I daresay the pundits in Silicon Alley won't like that concept...:-) Do you see a threat to literacy? I have a personal belief (perhaps fantasy) that it's on the rise, (Witness the recent advent of Barnes & Nobles and Borders) and that this very medium (the Web) may help somewhat. (Not that it will replace books, but that it will interest folk in reading more.)
GB: I'm convinced the Internet could save text as a civilizing influence. But there's still too much emphasis on cybersex and consequence-free gratification, delivered over the net. There's a real danger that as technology develops and bandwidth increases, text will end on the internet, as well--and everything will be pictures, delivered instantly!
There's a tradition of history and knowledge in text that can't be ignored if we are to remain healthy, but if it doesn't pay, and pay big, chances are the corporations of the 90s will ignore it, with woeful consequences. (There's nothing wrong with big bookstores--but the fight to discount everything and maximize business efficiencies at the expense of individual retailers could be very bad for publishing, which is just plain slow to react to such fast change.)
JF: There is that trend from large providers, but I believe (hope) the egalitarian nature of the Web will keep such pages as yours (and mine at www.hourwolf.com) with quality reading. Before we open the forum, I note that John Clute's entry from his book needfully neglects your fantasy work, such as the wonderful "Songs of Earth and Power". Is there a different mindset when you write fantasy?
And, re: publishing, I see two sides to your argument about the big bookstores--on the hopeful side, perhaps the paradigm for the individual retailer will change--everyone can try a venture and market it online. On the other hand, there's the marketing plan of companies like Amazon Books (and now Barnes & Nobles), which conceivably can be larger than their stores with an online presence. But both scenarios are dependant on a reading, literate public.
GB: I think John is less impressed with my fantasy. I tend to really develop and work out all of my worlds, fantasy or sf--and I've been accused of making fantasy feel too much like SF. I think this is nonsense--Tolkien certainly tried to work things out, coffee and tobacco to the contrary! When I write fantasy, I'm well aware I work with old paradigms. The language is different--the feel is different. Magic is a wonderful thing to play with and develop--consequences and all. My fantasy, however, is as much concerned with hard-edged consequences and moral decisions as my sf. I just can't let anybody off the hook in any of my universes. Sorry--no escapism!
As for publishing, the reading public is there, but they're getting discouraged. SO much of what is published and hyped is mediocre, crass, disappointing--and they do not know where to turn. Literary criticism today is caught between precious academics, political rhetoric, and an almost obscene fawning regard for the past--in short, it's moribund. Publishers don't advertise, so they don't attract the attention of magazines that could promote heavy, productive discussions, and start the engine or book awareness rolling again. It's a major problem felt by us all!
JF: I don't know that he's less impressed with it--I'd have to see your entry in his new "Encyclopedia of Fantasy". For my part, I found "Songs" one of the most original works of fantasy in a couple of decades. I particularly appreciated the musical influences, which seem to echo in some of your other work. (Blood Music) Is music a big part of your life?
Also: Your magic and explanation of the 'reality' of fantastic people is as well-rooted in logic as the science in your hard sf. It's not an excuse for evading the world in your case. Yet when other hard sf writers try the genre, they tend to use fantasy as a way of not having to explain things. Just an opinion.
JF: I think your argument about publishers might always have been true. As for their not advertising, I for one, am grateful to be on mailing lists for websites which publish chapter samples from books, and those which encourage reader discussion (like the Borders-sponsored Salons).
GB: I love music--it's a big part of my life, though I don't compose or play an instrument.
Lawrence Person: Greg: You were included in MIRRORSHADES, and there are certainly cyberpunk elements in QUEEN OF ANGELS and MOVING MARS. Do you consider yourself a cyberpunk or post-cyberpunk writer?
GB: Cyberpunk came and went and haunts us all, for good and ill. I've never done anything but write science fiction about worlds that I think might be real. That's all any good writer hopes to do. The rest is promotion--and God bless those who are good at promoting things! We need more such brainstorms.
JF: Greg, can you tell us something about Dinosaur Summer?
GB: I'm going to have to depart and read stories to my kids soon--from books, by golly! (I've also been introducing them to the joys of 1950s SF films...)
Dinosaur Summer will be out early next year from Warner Books--it's my homage to Ray Harryhausen and Willis O'Brien and all the wonderful folks who brought us dinosaurs in our youth. It's set in a modified version of Doyle's LOST WORLD in 1947, and brings these estimable gentlemen (and our main character, Peter Belzoni) up against a complex and wild speculation on how evolution might have proceeded among isolated dinosaurs and other animals. It was great fun to write, and it's beautifully illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi --five color plates and a suite of magnificent line drawings. A gorgeous book!
Lawrence Person: One final question then: Will you be attending the San Antonio Worldcon?
GB: I don't know whether I'll be at Worldcon or not--too much work, including finishing a new Foundation novel, FOUNDATION AND CHAOS, and beginning my next novel, DARWIN'S RADIO, which will have some major speculations in it... Best be off now, and thanks to all!
JF: Well, I guess that's how it is with kids! Thank you Greg for being here. It was great! Thanks to all for coming by. Good night.