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Myths, Legends, Fantasy...
An Interview with Stephen Baxter
In what ways are science fiction books also about contemporary life?
SB: I think SF is always about contemporary concerns, just projected into the future. H.G. Wells' 'War of the Worlds' was about British guilt about imperialism.
Do you think that SF is a variety of a myth and myth making?
SB: SF is connected with myth, which is about our place in the universe, but some of it is dark visions which I would hate to come true Ė but like 1984 maybe they stop the worst happening
Do SF writers need to have a science background?
SB: I have a science background and it helps to write the stories. I like stories which are plausible but having a science background isnít necessary.
Do you believe in UFOís?
SB: I think UFOís are human psychology not aliens. I donít know if we are alone in the universe. My three manifold novels are about different answers. I hope we arenít alone but I fear we may be.
Your books sometimes show a less than rosy future. Is it your view that humans are doomed race?
SB: The future may be more or less rosy, but it will be different. Is it optimistic to say that humans will last another million years? The universe will last much longer. Itís all perspective.
What do you think of Polish SF?
SB: The best known Polish SF writer is Stanis≥aw Lem. I always thought he was a great writer.
Do you write everyday?
SB: I write full time but that includes research and travelling.
What is the meaning of Ďhard Ď science fiction?
SB: Hard SF† is based on genuine science. You always extrapolate or it wouldnít be fiction! Hard SF is about the most plausible possibilities I suppose, which is why I prefer it. I am currently writing† a series of books about human evolution the current on is about war in the Galaxy.
What made you start writing?
SB: I started writing because I was a great SF fan and read some material by Isaac Asimov about how he got started and thought why not me? I wrote short stories at first. When I submitted a novel to the publishers they knew my name and knew I could write at least a bit.
Do you think there are other civilisations out there and should we be afraid of them?
SB: The universe may be a very dangerous place. Maybe we donít see life because there are killers out there, and we should keep quiet. But I donít believe it. More likely we are alone.
Do you think SF is regarded as literature for boys?
SB: Well the media stuff is dominated by Star Trek and Star Wars which are a bit childish, but there is a lot of grown up stuff out there, and there are some great women writers such as Ursula Le Guin and Justina Robson
Do you think SF has led to real scientific/ technological developments?
†SB: Yes SF imagination has fed developments in the past. If we hadnít dreamt of going to the moon, engineers would never have tried to do it. But SF is a kind of therapy too.† Ė maybe we are frightened of being alone and we are comforting ourselves with fairy stories about Klingons.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a SF writer?
SB: Start with short fiction, study other writers, finish your stories properly and try to sell them and of course donít give up when you are rejected!† And if like me you sell short stories at least your name is known.
Do British SF authors feel that most readers coming into SF look to US authors first because of the success of US SF films?
SB: Well, British SF is very successful these days. I sell well in America. I think British SF is seen as quite Ďsexyí (trendy) overseas at the moment.
Which film depicts your vision of the future best?
SB: Maybe Waterworld. For sure there is going to be climate change even if it isnít so extreme.
Does SF literature always have to refer to the future?
SB: Not always. My latest novel in Polish, Voyage, is about a different past where Americans go to Mars in the 1980ís. Alternative history is very popular. There are quite a few books about Hitler winning the second world war.
Who do you tip as the next generation of SF authors?
SB: In Britain I think China Mieville and, Justina Robson. They have good meaty future visions.
What SF fiction had the greatest impact on your life?
SB: Definitely Arthur C. Clarke.
Do you think it is a good idea to tie books down to a specific genre i.e. SF or should they just be part of general fiction?
SB: The genre thing has pluses and minuses. You get support from loyal readers, but yes some people wonít go near it. I think on the whole itís better to help people to find it.
What would you recommend to help someone get started in reading SF?
SB: Well my stuff is very accessible! And you could try Gwyneth Jones, China Mieville or Philip K Dick.
Which book do you consider to be your best work?
SB: Thatís a difficult question. Itís always the one Iím working on. Maybe The Time Ships which is a sequel to HG Wellsí The Time Machine.
Do you read a lot of non- SF books?
SB:† Writing SF has changed it for me. I have to review it a lot which is not relaxing so I read history, science and biography.
The Baxterium is a website devoted to Stephen Baxter including some online samples of his work.
Gwyneth Jones, another well-known science fiction writer mentioned in the interview, has also given an interview in Poland.
Click here for further information about Science Fiction Writing, the Imagine This Project and Talking Books who organised the interviews with Stephen Baxter and Gwyneth Jones. Talking Books organise Readers Groups and are currently reviewing a different science fiction book every month starting with Michael Moorcock - see What to Read.
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