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An Interview with John C. Wright

Author of The Golden Age: A Romance of the Far Future

 

With Greg West of MostlyFiction.com. also see his review of THE GOLDEN AGE.

The Golden Age by John C. Wright

John C. Wright spent his formative years living on military posts. His father participated in helicopter antisubmarine warfare and later was chief test pilot for Patuxent River Naval Air Station, and went on to work for IBM and the British Government in their avionics development. Young Wright therefore grew up in a number of locations across the country surrounded by “polite and well-groomed officers and men, responsible, undemonstrative, unemotional, and every man a team-player willing to put the unit first.” He goes on to add, “Try to imagine my surprise as I was exposed to popular culture in America.”

He was educated in the “great books” program of St. John’s college in Annapolis and later graduated from the Marshall-Wythe school of law on the campus of the College of William and Mary’s in Williamsburg in 1987. THE GOLDEN AGE was his first published novel, printed by Tor Books in April 2002. He is now 42 years old. He describes himself as an attorney by training and a philosopher by inclination, though he hastens to add that he has never practiced law, and turned the to less lucrative and more rewarding field of muckraking journalism. He currently lives in fairytale-like happiness with his wife, and their three beloved children, Orville, Wilbur and Juss Wright. Mrs. Wright tolerates his eccentricities, as she is herself an author. She writes under the pen-name L. Jagi Lamplighter.

Wright first contacted me by e-mail in response my review of THE GOLDEN AGE on MostlyFiction.com in which I scolded the publisher for neglecting to credit the cover artist in the paperback edition. This is what he said:

John C. Wright:
In your review of my book you compliment the jacket art of THE GOLDEN AGE, and rightly so. Then you ask: “By the way, Tor Books, why is the name of the jacket designer nowhere in evidence? Is he/she (sic) a migrant worker? Or lost to the FBI witness protection plan?

The artists’ name does appear on the jacket flap of the hardcover edition. Shelley Eshkar is the designer.

As far as I know, my editor at Tor books has never met Mr. Eshkar face-to-face. I am honored to have his beautifully rendered work grace the cover of my humble books. Even from across a crowded bookstore Mr. Eshkar’s designs stand out from a crowd of unicorns, dragons and rocket ships, and the details in the drawing show that he read my manuscript.

 

Greg Greg West:
Later he added:

John C. Wright:
You are the first reviewer to mention the gorgeous cover art, which I, frankly, deem merits exceptional praise. I was expecting something more along these lines (see below). Here we see Phaethon in his space-armor with his ray gun, and Daphne tied to the Phoenix Exultant (drawn much smaller than the author had envisioned), while his loyal robot, Rhadamanthus, races to free her with his finger-oxy-acetylene torches.

 

Greg West:
In my review I praised the author’s lexical virtuosity and his knack for linguistic invention. When I asked him about this he said:

John C. Wright:
Credit is due my father, who taught me to look up any and every unknown word in the dictionary. My father told me that if I use a new word correctly in a sentence three times, the word would forever after be my very own. I had frequent occasion to fly to the dictionary. I read E.R. Eddison, Jack Vance, and Clark Ashton Smith in my youth, and, later, Gene Wolfe’s SHADOW OF THE TORTURER. In that volume are such gems of the wordsmith’s art as a sentence where the main character says of his master, “He mispronounced quite common words: urticate, salpinx, bordereau.”

 

Greg West:
How-to-write books often encourage would-be writers to keep it simple. Avoid pretentious words, they say. In fact, having read a handful of those books myself it seems to me that they're full of bad advice — advice meant to taylor popular fiction to its lowest common denominator, like a newspaper article. And this makes me wonder if folks like Jack Vance ever encountered resistance from his editors over vocabulary. And it makes me wonder what the editing process was like for you on this, your first novel. Is a writer allowed more leeway when writing science fiction? This must be the case considering how badly written some of it is. I often wonder how some sf ever makes it beyond the slush pile. I could name names, but I won't.

 

John C. Wright:
My editor is Mr. David Hartwell of Tor books. He made wise suggestions. For example, originally the meeting of the Peers was chapter two of THE GOLDEN AGE. He thought the pacing would be better if the scene was interleaved with the simultaneous scenes of Phaethon in the garden meeting his mysterious visitors. At no point did anyone suggest cutting or dumbing-down the vocabulary, even of my most outrageously invented words. (“Counterterragenesis” the art of making anti-matter.)

My copy-editor was someone else, who made a mixture of useful and useless suggestions. She wanted to change the name of Ceylon to Sri Lanka, because it has been called that for the last ten years; she wanted to change a line where Phaethon refuses to believe that he is being befuddled by his wife from “No woman could be that cunning” to “No one could be that cunning.” In her political correctness, the copy-editor entirely missed the point, and the humor, of having a husband outsmarted by his wife, because (among other things) he is too pig headed to believe that she can outsmart him.

 

Greg West:
Is a writer allowed more leeway when writing science fiction?

John C. Wright:
More leeway, certainly, than when I was writing articles for the newspaper. Believe it or not, I can write simple, brief sentences when need be. However, newspapers are written to be read on the subway, or in the waiting room, or at breakfast. They are written at a sixth-grade reading level because they are written to be read quickly and thrown away. Fiction is written to be read for pleasure, at leisure, and perhaps even re-read.

I suspect that other types of genre writing (Romances, Westerns, Mysteries) do not have readers who read for the pleasure and beauty of the wording itself. Fantasy, however, has its roots in epic poetry, ballads and folktales: elevated language is part of its heritage. Science fiction lends itself to being written in a style either journalistic (like Heinlein or Asimov) or the breathless purple prose of the pulps (like A.E. van Vogt or E.E. Doc Smith). Science fiction written in refined language is rare, and may annoy readers who will otherwise be satisfied.

The reason most how-to books tell the young writer to avoid flowery language is a sound reason: it is far easier to do badly than to do well.

There is a second reason why how-to books tell the young writer to avoid flowery language: the cost-benefit analysis of giving advice is such that it is easier to tell a person how to avoid poetry than to teach poetry. Since it is difficult to advise a writer how to write elegantly and well, the book tells you to write simply.

The only “how-to” book on writing I will ever recommend is WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maas. It gives sound advice on how to construct a plot and characters. Aside from that, I recommend ELEMENTS OF STYLE by Strunk and White. Resist at all costs the politically correct jargon and grammatical errors being taught as grammar in modern textbooks: these will date your work as soon as the fashion changes.

 

Greg West:
What kind of a kid were you?

John C. Wright:
Introverted, bookish, rude, irreligious, un-athletic, smart and smart-mouthed: a typical product of popular culture in America.

 

Greg West:
When you say you were irreligious does this mean you were actively skeptical or simply indifferent and amoral?

John C. Wright:
My moral character has always been sterling. I mean that I was skeptical. For many years I had been an atheist, and a vehement, argumentative, proselytizing atheist at that. I saw no other possible option for belief for a logical thinker. My recent conversion to Christianity was a miracle, prompted by a supernatural revelation, which has satisfied my skepticism in this area, and saved my life. To my surprise, I find that I am still a perfectly logical thinker. I hold that it is insufficient to argue that since human reasoning discovers no evidence of a Divine Being, such a being necessarily does not exist. The proper conclusion is that humans, without the assistance and intervention of a divine being, cannot come to knowledge of Him: a conclusion I think even atheists will allow.

 

Greg West:
When did this conversion take place?

John C. Wright:
I had a heart attack and was near death. It happened this November just past, late in 2003 AD.

My conversion happened long after I wrote THE GOLDEN AGE, LAST GUARDIAN OF EVERNESS, or ORPHANS OF CHAOS. It was also after I wrote the short story LAST OF ALL SUNS, a story which prompted one editor to ask whether I was a Christian: I was a vehement anti-Christian at the time of that writing, but, like all good authors, I wrote the story according to its own internal logic, and logic demanded an ending more cheerful and supernatural than the world view of a Stoic or a natural philosopher would allow.

 

Greg West:
What was the nature of this supernatural revelation?

John C. Wright:
That is a strange and private matter. Let us pretend that I was visited by three ghosts, like Scrooge, and, like him, returned from the travail a better man.

 

Greg West:
Whenever I read novels as intellectually rich as THE GOLDEN AGE and THE PHOENIX EXULTANT I always wonder about process. In other words, how on Earth do all the elements assemble themselves in your mind? Do you recall the genesis of the story? Did you rely on an outline?

John C. Wright:
In general, there are two theories to explain how elements arrange themselves in the mind to produce art. One is that the human mind has what is called an "unconscious" mind, which thinks thoughts of which the mind is not aware, and, in this mysterious state of unawareness, the mind unmindfully assembles story elements according to the needs of plot logic and in response to the call of beauty. The second theory is that the divine muses of Helicon inspire poets with divine thoughts. Obviously, Occam's Razor cuts out the first theory. Assuming an entity, such as an unconscious consciousness, that is able to do the work of consciousness, without the benefit of consciousness, is absurd on its face, and merely raises the question: if conscious thought springs from so-called unconscious thought, whence spring unconscious thought? On the other hand, if poetic thoughts reflect divine things, parsimony of assumptions requires us to conclude divine things have a divine origin.

In my case, THE GOLDEN AGE began with an image: I saw a golden ship, mightier than all the ships of man, hanging in the heavens, and I wondered what her story was. Suppose she were the only interstellar ship produced by mankind: suppose you were the owner of this one and only starship. Perhaps you inherited it from a wealthy and eccentric uncle. What then?

I originally intended this to be the premise for a role-playing game: the player-characters would stumble into the possession of the only starship ever made, and would have the whole universe to explore, no but no else from Earth, no space navy, to come to their aid.

The immediate question raised by this premise is: what kind of society would be needed to produce a starship; yet produce but one? How could such a machine be possessed by an individual rather than by the state? The answers suggested themselves from the logic of the question. The society would have to be absurdly wealthy, a free-market society, to have any one man have the capital to spend on such a project; the society would have to be more devoted to liberty than modern America. If a starship were developed today in the bicycle shop of modern-day Wright Brothers, the federal government would simply seize her.

The second question raised by the premise was: what technological improvement would be needed to make interstellar travel feasible? The speed of light is an absolute limitation on accelerating mass. Rather than posit a faster-than-light drive, I decided to answer the question conservatively, and posit only an improvement in medical techniques. The travel times to stars out-span the human life. What if human life were lengthened? Better yet, what if the mind could be returned to life no matter what happened to the body, restored from a copy?

Combining the two ideas lead to an agreeable story premise. How could a society be wealthy enough to build a starship but lax enough to build only one? If the system of immortality were one that could not be exported off planet, the immortals, growing ever more cautious with each passing century, would be unwilling to use the starship, for sailing past the recovery range of their immortality machines would be to court death. Only a man, sane by our mortal standards, but reckless by the standards of the timid immortals, would risk it. And what would his wife think about that? At this point, the premise suggests that the tale must take place in a time very remote from our own, since the fundamental premise of a mental immortality suggests a science that can understand the human mind, which suggests a technology that can edit and organize the mind, create minds of new types, or of any degree or level of intelligence, any combination of psychological or emotional factors. The dangers of a technology that can edit mind and memory have been explored in other stories. In order for the society to be willing to tolerate the hero's defiance, it would have to be remarkably more tolerant than our own. Logic suggests that such as society would have to be libertarian in nature, an Ayn Rand utopia. However, utopias are not realistic: an infinite amount of tolerance is, after all, intolerable. How could we stand being neighbors with folk who bent their every effort to humiliate and disgrace, libel and offend us? The idea of sense-filters suggested itself as a metaphor for the normal human desire to see what one wants to see; the idea of eminent men who would urge, without using force, their fellow men to abide by minimum standards of decent conduct, using their prestige rather than force of arms to govern their fellows, suggested itself as an inevitable response by those wishing to preserve the civility and moral tone of society. Libertarian theory does not disapprove of boycotts or monopolies, provided only that these things are delivered by the free market, not by government fiat, not by force or the threat of force. A monopolist would have great power in a libertarian utopia to pressure one customer to conform to social norms, if his other customers supported the effort. The idea for the College of Hortators, and the Peers of the Oecumene, arose naturally from this line of thinking.

Also, assuming a society with a technology for altering minds and memories, even if it were only ever done voluntarily, no one could trust his own thoughts, or be sure he was who he thought he was, or his family was who they appeared to be. The society would be a masquerade. A main character who is an amnesiac suggests itself naturally here: it is a useful writing trick to have the main character discovering himself at the same time the reader discovers him.

However, once you postulate that technology could construct a mind to meet any desired standard of moral uprightness, creativity and intelligence, that intelligence would be able to penetrate the masquerade, and discover any deceptions. The story, in order to have any plot conflict, has to assume that the superhuman minds in the society are taking a vacation, preoccupied, or have permitted a masquerade to take place. The idea for the setting of the story, taking place during a fancy dress ball, and the idea for the mind superior to man preparing for some transcendent effort, spring from this. Keep in mind, in describing the line of thinking given above, I am not reporting my own thoughts as I sat down to write. I am speculating about the thinking of the muse that inspired me. My own thought was much less refined. I wanted to write a story set in a future as far as could be imagined, without imagining anything modern science knows to be impossible. I was trying to copy the accomplishment of Olaf Stabledon's LAST AND FIRST MEN.

Did I have an outline? Mercy in heaven, how I wish! No, sir, I write blindly, without thought or calculation, in a fashion no professional should. I hope I can be excused the flaw: this was my first novel. I did not even know the identity of the old man who accosts Phaethon in the first chapter and Daphne in the last chapter until he said his name. I was as surprised as I hope the reader will be: but, once he spoke, the logic of the plot and characters suggested that he could not have ever been anyone else.

 

Greg West:
So, are you actually denying that a good deal of thinking goes on below the level of conscious thought?

John C. Wright:
Either that, or I am denying the principle of parsimony. A subconscious thought is, by definition, a thought of which we are unaware. If we are unaware of it, what can we know of it? I note the irony that the belief in the subconscious mind is part of the scientific world view, but is not confirmed by empirical sense-impression. It is not a falsifiable theory.

Myself, I believe that the subconscious mind exists, but I do not pretend it is a conclusion of science: it is a myth or metaphor, taken on faith. In reality, the causes that give rise to thought or inspiration, dreams and memories, are unknown.

Greg West:
I ask because there were neuroforms in THE GOLDEN AGE who seemed to have eliminated the unconscious so that “intuition” was not possible. Do you remember the character or characters I’m thinking about?

John C. Wright:
They were called "Invariants." They were my homage to the neuro-linguistically trained Venusian supermen of A.E. van Vogt’s WORLD OF NULL A. Like the Houyhnhnms from GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, they were meant to be creatures of pure reason. Would creatures of pure reason have intuitions? Would they heed an intuition if they had one? Would a creature of pure reason trust a thought whose origin could not be traced to its root?

 

Greg West:
Do dreams have a divine origin?

John C. Wright:
No mortal knows the origins of dreams.

Yesterday I dreamt a duck was roosting in my hair. The Gospel reports that St. Joseph received in a dream the word of an angel, saying his son was the Messiah. Plutarch reports that Calphurnia dreamt the murder of her imperial husband before the fact. I doubt the three dreams were of equal gravity: perhaps they were of the same origin, or perhaps not.

 

Greg West:
When we suddenly remember a name we were unable deliberately to remember earlier in the day, is this not the subconscious at work?

John C. Wright:
When we douse a candle and light it again, where did the flame go between the time it was out and the time it was lit again?

By definition, a thought passes out of our consciousness when we forget it and passes back in again when we recall it. What the thought did and where it loitered after it passed out of consciousness, and who it met and what talked it back into returning, are matters of speculation.

Granted, it is a reasonable metaphysical axiom to assume that mental object persist when we do not perceive them, even as we assume physical objects persist when beyond our range of immediate vision: but this axiom points to conclusions at odds with the modern subjectivism. If ideas of morality are objective, then when a man grasps a moral principle unacknowledged by a second man, the second man is not merely someone with different experience, upbringing or tastes; he is blind in his perception of natural moral law.

Contrariwise, if some mental objects, such as the ideas of morality, are merely subjective, existing only in the fancy and only for so long as the fancy fancies, on what ground are we to conclude that other mental objects, such as forgotten memories, exist and persist in some permanent but hidden mental storehouse?

To answer that question we would have to distinguish the subjective mental objects from the objective. Empiricism is useless here: the question is metaphysical.

Metaphysics, unfortunately, in the modern age, is a science practiced by vulgar blunderers. Modern thinkers make errors in metaphysics so elephantine and comical that a schoolboy can see through them. The ancients were wiser here. Compare B.F. Skinner to Aristotle, or Karl Marx to Aquinas.

If Behaviorism is believed only because the believer is so conditioned, or Marxism only because the Marxist has an ideological superstructure forced upon him by the dialectic of history, then neither belief has any truth-value. Likewise, the logical positivists’ statement that all statements are meaningless unless verifiable by sense impression is itself a statement not verifiable by sense impression, and hence meaningless.

These risible errors spring from crude and incorrect conclusions about the nature of the reality, identity, reason, perception, self-awareness, will, verity, conscience.

 

Greg West:
I found a lot of parallels and references to classical myth in your novels, both subtle and explicit. Was this calculated, or is it simply the way you think?

John C. Wright:
Your question assumes two alternatives: that I calculated to put mythology in my tale, or that it is just the way I think. I might suggest as a third alternative that a tale will suggest the approach and mood proper to its own internal logic. The creative writing process is more akin to a voyage of discovery than it is to building a house. The voyager selects his direction, his mount, and perhaps his goal, but what he discovers along the way is not entirely his own doing.

The voyager's predilections and the provisions his lifetime has accumulated for him might make certain voyages easier than others: the man inured to the cold might seek the Riphaean mountains, and breathe the freezing aether from a peak as he compassed the earth beneath him in once exulting glance, where the man inured to heat, eager for the painted orchids and begemmed serpents of the torrid zones, might head south. In such a way the habits of thought of the writer, his experiences and interests, prompt his choice of theme and matter.

To extend my metaphor, travelers with wiser heads than mine might plan the voyage step by step, with notes and outlines charting their way before the first step is taken. I myself have a weakness for digressions, for skipping off to explore odd side-paths that appear in the gloom and thicket. One loses a certain number of readers with every such turn, but one hopes the remaining readers will be charmed by the new and varied sights along the way.

In this case, my ambition was to write a tale set in a future as far remote from our own time as my imagination would permit: a certain degree of grandeur and magnificence naturally suggested itself. Assuming civilization continues to progress (this book is fiction, after all), the tale is inclined to the Victorian optimism of H.G. Wells, who predicted our remote posterity would be as gods: hence, godlike names and references were suited to the story.

 

Greg West:
How much influence did the work of Joseph Campbell and his ilk have on the way you think about storytelling?

John C. Wright:
I have read two of Mr. Campbell's books, but was not particularly impressed. The similarities in myths and folktales of different peoples in different lands do not strike me anything requiring a subtle explanation. The pattern of similarities Mr. Campbell sees in the "monomyth" of the Hero's journey exists because he seeks a pattern of similarities in the data, ignoring data that does not fit into the pattern.

For example, one of the steps in Mr. Campbell's "monomyth" is that the "hero with a thousand faces" be reluctant at first to undertake the quest. Now, this element exists for some heroes in some stories Odysseus feigns madness to avoid being called to war in Ilium; but Agamemnon is eager enough for a wind to carry his ship there, that he sacrifices his daughter's life. Moses tells God he is too slow of speech to be a prophet; but John the Baptist shows no such reluctance. A story-teller might put in an element of reluctance on the part of the hero for several reasons: to show that even the most unexpected men might be called to be heroes; or to show the quest is fearsome, the duty heavy.

A modern use of the element is to have a character seem reluctant to go on the quest in order to show that he is humble and well-meaning. Neither Frodo Baggins nor Luke Skywalker volunteers for his mission, but must be chased out of their farms by Black Riders or Imperial Stormtroopers. On the other hand, this use is rarely seen in older tales: Sir Gareth in IDYLLS OF THE KING is relentless in his desire to have his mother's leave to seek adventure and glory; Siegfried murderously impatient to leave Mim, the dwarf who foster-fathers him.

Two different tellers might put this element in the same tale, or not, to suit their needs. JRR Tolkein's Aragorn never expresses reluctance to assume his duty and bear his kingship; but the Aragorn in Jackson's movie does. Jackson's Aragorn fears that he may fall to the corruptive influence of the One Ring as did his royal ancestor, Isildur, and so Jackson introduces this element of reluctance in order to emphasize the fearsome nature of the McGuffin, the object driving the plot: an emphasis Professor Tolkein, who could describe the terror of the One Ring in print, did not need.

Now, if the same story told by two different story tellers either has or lacks one, or many, or all of the steps in the "monomyth," my conclusion would be, not that there is one archetypal myth behind the myths of all lands and peoples, but that there are factors present in all story telling that sometimes lead to similarities between tales, and sometimes not.

Another example: Mr. Campbell's "monomyth" has every hero suffer a low period he calls "In The Belly Of The Whale." In my own story, THE GOLDEN AGE, Phaethon is exiled from the Afloats, thrown in his armor overboard and left to drown. Because of an error in his life support, he must doff the precious armor and abandon it; he struggles toward the light and air above, but runs out of breath, and faints. This was the moment in the tale when my hero was "In The Belly Of The Whale," at the very lowest point in his career. Did the author add this element because the monomyth of the world and human nature conspired to insert it? Or was it a plot-element suggested by the needs of story-telling? The hero must suffer before he can triumph, since to move from triumph to triumph lacks pathos and drama.

 

Greg West:
Did you read myth as a kid, or did that come later?

John C. Wright:
My earliest reading as a child included books on mythology.

 

Greg West:
While joshing Wright about this interview I said:

Hey, it's not Time magazine, but undiscovered literary geniuses can't be too picky, right? So just bide your time and dream of all those upcoming movie contracts. With any luck they will buy the rights, make you rich, then abandon the script when they realize they can't dumb it down enough for Hollywood. That way you get your money and your work is saved from desecration. Best of both worlds.

In reply, Wright had a lot to say about the movies.

John C. Wright:
My one and only encounter with Hollywood was both profitable and illuminating. A friend of mine who works in the business there, Kurt Inderbitzin of Abandon Television, called and asked me, since I was a science fiction writer, if I could come up with an idea for a time-travel story? I boasted I could come up with an idea for twenty time-travel stories in twenty-four hours, which I proceeded to do. I was not hired to write the script, merely to come up with the treatment, for which I was generously paid. It was a made-for-TV movie called TIMESHIFTERS, and it starred Casper Van Dien (of STARSHIP TROOPERS fame).

The movie (in my humble opinion) was swell; good-looking special effects; lots of action; and my friend's script had the perfect ending to tie up my beginning. The premise for the script was this: a reporter is doing research into famous disasters; the Hindenburg crash, the sinking of the Titanic. He notices a man in the background of the photographs, the same man. How can the same man be present at events widely spaced in time? The reporter is on a jumbo jet that is flying in stormy weather, when he looks across the aisle and sees this same man sitting next to him, a strange little expectant smile on his face…

What was illuminating about the encounter is that, my friend turned down nineteen out of twenty of the time-travel story ideas on the grounds that he did not want to make a science fiction movie. A time travel story that is not science fiction? Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?

But what my friend meant was clear enough: fiction based on exploring ideas does not lend itself well to the visual medium. On the other hand, a romance, or an action story, or a fairytale set in a science fiction background, if the science fiction is merely there for background, does lend itself to the visual medium. The time machine is a common enough stereotype of the science fiction genre that it can be understood without explanation even by a muggle (excuse me, a non-science fiction reader).

Another example might make this clear. In the TV show ROSWELL, the premise was that four angst-ridden teens from New Mexico (whose looks ranged from and drop-dead gorgeous through stunning to merely jaw-droppingly handsome) were actually the children of space aliens. The aliens were the bug-eyed gray-skinned flying saucer people of popular myth and new age spiritualism. Hence, the show was about aliens but it was not a science fiction show. Had the aliens in the show had a particular character, such as, had they been Vulcans or Klingons, Shadows or Vorlons, Daleks or Ewoks, then it would have been a science fiction show, not merely a soap opera with a science fiction background. The difference is that the generic aliens of the flying saucer story is a common enough stereotype to be understood without explanation by the muggles, whereas the particular aliens of Star Trek, Babylon Five, Dr. Who or Star Wars are not.

Likewise, Ray Walston's Uncle Martin from MY FAVORITE MARTIAN was not a science fiction character: nothing particular about Mars is ever mentioned in the show to make the character anything but the standard, commonly-understood, Martian of popular conception. The Martians from Well's WAR OF THE WORLDS, on the other hand, or Lewis' Sorn of Malacandra, or Burrough's Red Men of Barsoom, are science fiction characters.

Hollywood is adroit at filming stories with science fiction backgrounds and elements; with a few, cherished exceptions, Hollywood is clumsy at making honest-to-goodness science fiction films.

(My cherished exceptions, if you'd like to know, are THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, starring Michael Rennie & Patricia Neal; DARK CITY starring Rufus Sewell and Jennifer Connelly; and MINORITY REPORT, starring Tom Cruise. STAR WARS is a nostalgic homage to science fiction serials of the FLASH GORDON days, but it is not really a thinking man's SF; 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY was a thinking man's SF, and a beautifully-done but marred by a weak ending.)

 

Greg West:
I can't quite put my finger on why, but I'm surprised to see MINORITY REPORT listed. Also, missing from the list was the adaptation of Carl Sagan's CONTACT. Does this not qualify as thinking man's SF in your view? I'm also curious to learn your reaction to the MATRIX movies. (By the way, I'm glad to see DARK CITY on your list. A woefully obscure and underrated movie in my opinion.)

John C. Wright:
Well, MINORITY REPORT enjoyed good-looking special effects, it had an honest-to-goodness science fiction premise (what if one could detect crime before it were committed?), and it wove a murder mystery without cheating the premise, with several clever plot twists. A certain degree of human sorrow and compassion was not absent from the film.

And it had a chase scene on jetpacks!

The moral quandary in the film reminded me of the short story by Ursula K. LeGuin: THOSE WHO WALK AWAY FROM OMELAS: if you could create a city free from murder, merely by forcing one innocent soul to suffer a lifetime of cruel imprisonment, would you condemn the one to save the many?

On the other hand, CONTACT had errors in the plot logic that spoiled my enjoyment of the film. Alien signals allow the earth to construct two massive teleportation assemblies. The mechanisms clearly involve superhuman technology. And yet, it is proposed as a serious theory at the end of the film that one eccentric millionaire faked the alien broadcasts, which were detected by several ground based stations originating from Tau Ceti. Oh, come now. Did the eccentric millionaire invent the plans for the machines in his spare time? Imagine Andrew Carnegie designing the Saturn Five rocket in 1903 and keeping it secret.

CONTACT also had a theme running through it seeking to equate science and religion, a conceit equally offensive to honest scientists as to faithful believers. I doubt Carl Sagan, famous atheist, would approve. Can science and religion be reconciled merely by having scientists and ministers fornicate? This will be surprising news to all involved, as well as agreeable to whoever is paired with the girl-scientist that looks like Jody Foster.

The ending was contrived and annoying. The government pointlessly seeks to suppress the scientific information, in order to have the main character's testimony be a matter of faith. Hooey. If you doubt what the trained observer observed, build another machine and send another observer. When the handsome preacher at the end of the film waved to the crowd and shouts: "But I believer her!" my reaction was: so what? You are the man, in the film, who represents the idea of believing in what cannot be seen. You have no skepticism to be overcome. What does your testimony matter?

DARK CITY is my favorite film. You can see many of the same themes in it as appear in several of my own works. I like the hats. I like the sinister aliens, who seemed to have emotions not quite like human emotions. I like Kiefer Sutherland doing his impersonation of Igor. I get twitterpated at the sight of Jennifer Connelly, whose beauty has no peer. This film reminded me of every science fiction book I loved as a child: the mind-bending plot of an A.E. van Vogt tale, but with the main character from a Keith Laumer novel. The only thing I did not like in the film is voice-over in the first minute: pointless, irksome, heavy-handed and misleading.

My enjoyment of MATRIX was diminished by a friend of mine, who said that this film did right everything DARK CITY did wrong. Hence, I walked into the theater ready to find fault with any fault that could be found. And faults I did find.

Why is there a precognitive oracle, a fantasy story element, in the midst of a science fiction story? Why does the oracle lie to the hero? An oracle can mislead, but if she lies, she becomes a pointless plot-element, and the trust of the viewer has been betrayed.

Why do the AI's have emotions, express frustration? They are machines.

Why, inside the Matrix, do the agents of the machines need to go through the motions of implanting a bugging device inside the hero? They control the electronic reality around them; they should be able to put a command-line invisible to him in the code running his simulation a TRON command that will track his "movements". The machines surely must know where his physical body is, at least, at the beginning of the film: can't they plant a bug on the lines running into and out of his head, and cut the feed if he starts doing something they don't like?

A science fiction story must establish what the character can and cannot do, good guy and bad. Why are the agents able to remove Neo's mouth from his face, but not able to do this a second time, or remove the gun from his hand? How is our hero able to come back from the dead, not in the simulation, but in reality?

In the sequel, it turns out that the Oracle was lying after all, and the faith of Morpheus was a trap. This is an admirable twist, and it solved the problem of the lying Oracle. But, then, if the Oracle lied, where and how did Neo get his real Messianic powers, that work both in the simulation and in real life?

The plot says the humans are being kept alive to be used as batteries. Um, batteries? If you needed to live off of the heat and electrical current produced by human bodies, human bodies you need to feed some sort of nutrient fluid, nutrients you need to grow or create in some sort of ecology, the inefficiency of the operation becomes astonishing. A gas-powered motor could not be fed more cheaply and produce more current than raising a human baby in a sensory deprivation tank? If the baby does not produce enough voltage to run the sensory deprivation tank and its surrounding medical appliances, as well as the lights, robotic farming tools and implements on the farm or hydroponics beds used to produce the gruel used to feed the baby, then using the baby as a fuel source is not an economically viable proposition. They could not put a power satellite in orbit, or construct a nuclear power plant and dig up uranium, for less money that it takes to build a continent-sized automated nursery? The film-makers could have said the machines need human brains to help run the computer operations of their network, or something.

In all fairness, let me mention that the point of the "human battery" idea was to drive home into the gut of the viewer the awful inhumanity of the illusion holding man captive: all human arts and accomplishments, all the science of our mighty civilization, reduced to the most humiliating imaginable of lies: mankind is only needed for its meat content. No wonder the rebels risk death to fight this: it is a mockery of all human aspiration. As an artistic image, the conceit is brilliant: as a science fiction premise, dull.

It would have been far more interesting if the "human battery" tale told by Morpheus turned out to be a lie, and that the machines were not killing the human beings because their Asimov-style programming prevented them. Anyone shot or killed who is attached to the matrix simply wakes up again in another simulation. But the rebels, because they hack into the system, are not protected by the machine's fail-safe, and when they die, their belief in death kills them. Now there is an interesting science fiction premises, worthy of Jack Williamson. The machines are programmed to protect men, but the protection is dehumanizing. Are the rebels willing to die and suffer death in order to save humanity from the tyranny of a benevolent illusion? The most interesting line in the film was where Agent Smith revealed that The AI's continue to attempt to produce utopias, but human nature keeps defeating them. Who programmed the machines to create the illusion of perfection? Again, something could have been done with this.

But if the humans die whenever their simulated illusion dies, and the AI's control the illusion, the illusion would not permit any human to die, lest the machines lose their battery power. Instead of the modern world, the illusion would consist only of every man as a patient in a mental hospital, with padded walls and no sharp edges, or, better yet, buried up to his neck in concrete with a gag to prevent him from biting his tongue. If all you need from mankind is the battery power in their brains, why make the simulation interesting and dangerous enough to imperil your charges? Compare the artificiality of having Neo spring back to life for no particular reason at the climax of MAXTRIX, with the somewhat cleverer plot twist of having the treacherous Dr. Schreber, who is an expert in the art of concocting artificial memories, implant concocted memories in John Murdoch, so that Murdoch receives, in one moment, a lifetime's worth of training in his new found psychic powers. Brilliant.

Contemplate the sorrow and power of the image we see the moment a blood-soaked Dr. Schreber, needle held in his own hand to his own head, erased his own memories in order to be allowed to live as the slave of the Strangers. Compare that to the shallow hep-cat slickness of all the leather-clad characters in MATRIX. None of them seem to have any depth, any past. Only the powerful performance of Laurence Fishburne saves the rebellion from being composed entirely of unsympathetic and inert characters. (Save for his character, my inclination was to root for the agents, well-groomed in suit and tie. Maybe it is just me, but when I see guys dressed like Elliott Ness battling guys dressed like Hells' Angels leather Goths, my sympathies are with Ness. )

Compare the depth of the theme. In DARK CITY, the human spirit triumphs, because there is something in the human spirit that the aliens cannot analyze: they are perishing from their inability to understand the soul. In MATRIX, the bland and not-particularly-upright chosen Messiah triumphs for no particular reason I could see. After shooting a bunch of perfectly innocent guards, and getting shot himself, he pops back to life. Just cuz.

Compare the love story. In DARK CITY, Mrs. Murdoch loves her husband because she remembers their romance and marriage; Mr. Murdoch responds with tenderness, even though he knows her memories of him are false. At the close of the tale, we see the two of them beginning to fall in love again, because love is not stopped by forgetfulness. In MATRIX, Trinity falls for Neo because, um, the script calls for it. And there is that prophecy.

Now, I don't remember a scene where Neo puts a ring on her finger, though I do recall a rather lengthy and unappealing honeymoon scene in the sequel. Or maybe it was just recreational copulation rather than a honeymoon. Maybe the rebels in Zion are just too cool hep-cats to bother with marriage. I wonder what they do with bastard babies. Put them in tanks, and hook them up to run their power stations?

Compare the beauty of Jennifer Connelly with the rather drab looks of Carrie-Anne Moss. Well, this would be less than flattering to Miss Moss, so let us draw a kindly veil over that line of inquiry.

Now, having said all that, was MATRIX a good action movie? It certainly was. It set the look and tone for a generation of movies. I would recommend it to my friends. The movie was cool in some places, spectacular in others. The scene of the machines marching across a blasted and sunless landscape among the endless coffins of sleeping humanity was nightmarish. Seeing Laurence Fishburne win a wire-fu sparring match by flicking his fingers into the Adam's apple of Keanu Reeves was worth the price of admission.

Was it a good science fiction movie? No: the "human battery" premise was ludicrous. The script simply cheats in certain places. The writers did not draw out the implications of the world they established. The ending was goofy and pointless. If I were the demiurge running the world-illusion, I would simply shut down the "flight" module whenever one of the characters started to fly. Shut down the "bend the spoon" subroutine while you’re at it. What? The machines cannot debug their own system?

 

Greg West:
You have a new novel coming out in August, a fantasy called THE LAST GUARDIAN OF EVERNESS. First of all, I'm curious to know where you come down on the hoary old question of the fundamental difference between SF and fantasy. Years ago a friend of mine formulated an answer that seemed to nail it down quite firmly. He suggested that while fantasy embraces an "animistic" worldview, SF assumes a mechanistic one. In other words, in fantasy nature is alive and sentient, and therefore subject to magic, while science fiction views the world in a more Newtonian, clockwork fashion. Does this seem reasonable to you? (This question could easily take us into some pretty deep philosophical waters. For instance, does the supersession of Newtonian mechanics by quantum mechanics swing us back in the direction of more ancient modes of thought? Try to restrain yourself, Mr., Wright.)

John C. Wright:
The short answer is that the comparison between science fiction and fantasy is the comparison between the extraterrestrial and the unearthly.

The long answer is that both genres, no matter what they pretend, spring out of the scientific, industrial, and economic revolution that ushered in the modern age. Science fiction is the mythology of the scientific world-view; fantasy is the wishful rejection of the scientific world-view, nostalgia for the magic of the age before the age of reason.

Your friend's formulation is essentially correct: it differs from mine only in emphasis. Postmodern definitions, which say science fiction is whatever I point at when I point at science fiction, sound witty and are foolish. The boundaries of the genre are determined by the audience, who, by the buying or failure to buy books packaged and labeled in a certain way, silently command the writers to write and the bookstores to sell what they demand. The question becomes to identify what characteristic this audience commonly seeks in the works written for them.

For example, a tale is a western when it is set in the Old West, and concerns itself with the things and people unique to the American Frontier (such as Cowboys and Indians). When a reader picks up a western, he wants to read about the West; the setting, props, dramatis personae, and drama should be those that are particular to the West, and do not occur in every time and place.

Likewise, a tale is science fiction when it is set in the future, or in outer space, and concerns itself primarily with the things and people particular to the scientific world view (such as Spacemen and Martians).

Science fiction, in short, is the mythology of the scientific world view.

I say "scientific world view" rather than "science" because there are a number of attitudes, beliefs, speculations, and flights of fancy which grow out of the modern scientific view of the world, but which are no part of real science. Psionics, Faster-than-Light drive, or time machines are ideas that spring from the scientific world-world, even though real science holds them to be impossible. Ghosts are an idea rejected by the scientific world-view, even though real science is silent on matters not open to empirical disproof. A rigorous scientist will disbelieve in faster-than-light drive, and be silent on the possibility of ghosts; but a story with a warp drive in it is science fiction, whereas a ghost story is not.

It is a matter of emphasis rather than setting or props. Setting a tale in a future that had nothing futuristic in evidence would be like trying to set a Western in England. For example, NAPOLEON OF NOTTING HILL by C. K. Chesterton, published in 1904, takes place in the futuristic year of 1984, but the men wear top hats and travel by hansom cab. The tale is a tongue-in-cheek examination of the loss of medieval virtues of civic pomp and pride, but it is not science fiction. (Oddly enough, one could write a Western set in England, but it would be a science fiction story, wouldn't it? See, for example, the short story GREAT WESTERN by Kim Newman.) But the point here is that it is not the setting of the future, but the presence of the futuristic, that makes a tale science fiction.

When a science fiction reader picks up a book, he seeks primarily that sense of wonder or dread which comes of contemplating the scientific world view: pondering the changes that the future holds in store, wondering about life on other planets, coldly concluding that Man is not necessarily the favored son of the universe, not a chosen people, but an accident of blind evolutionary forces. See H.G. Well's WAR OF THE WORLDS, or his THE TIME MACHINE, for examples of this non-anthropocentric view of life, or THE COLD EQUATIONS by Tom Goodwin.

It is for this reason that science fiction is said to be primarily a literature of ideas. This is a partly inaccurate statement. The contemplation of plausible yet wondrous ideas leads to wonder. It is the wonder that the science fiction reader seeks; the ideas are actually secondary. However, it is because science fiction is a literature of ideas that it need not be good literature. In the same way that the readers of action stories will forgive lame dialog and cardboard characterization provided the action is rousing; or romance readers will forgive slow pacing and predictable plotting provided the romance is well depicted; in just this way science fiction readers are likely to forgive purple prose and stiff characters or simplistic plots, if the sense of wonder is present, if the ideas are intriguing.

My own genre, space opera, takes place in a science-fiction-flavored background, but is primarily concerned with motion and adventure, not with realism in science. Nonetheless, I count any tale that follows the styles, conventions and themes of science fiction, as science fiction, even when science is utter humbug. (Likewise, a Western set in a historically illiterate version of the Old West is still a Western.)

Science fiction will die out as a form of genre writing when (if ever) the common man is no longer intrigued by the notion that the future will differ from the past. A decline in the rate of technical change could happen if nature ever stops affording us surprises, or if our society loses the liberty, spirit of inquiry and innovation needed to examine the surprises of nature. Once the changes of technologic progress are no longer wondrous, writing stories to capitalize on that wonder will no longer pay.

Fantasy is likewise an invention of the scientific and industrial revolution. Specifically, it is an outgrowth of the Romantic poetry of Keats and his circle, the Pre-Raphaelite medievalism of the William Morris and his circle. Its primary appeal is nostalgia for a world view that prevailed before the scientific revolution. The sub-genre of fantasy is defined in turn by the type of world for which the nostalgia yearns.

High fantasy like Tolkein's LORD OF THE RINGS is nostalgic for the world view of Mediaeval Christendom. The emphasis is on the moral order of the universe, and the sacred, living character of that universe. The part of Tolkein that his imitators did not imitate is precisely the nostalgia: LORD OF THE RINGS is about the ending of an age, the passing away of fine and noble things that will not be seen again in mortal lands to the East the sundering sea.

Pagan fantasy like Robert E. Howard's CONAN THE BARBARIAN or E.R. Eddison's THE WORM OROBOROS is nostalgic for the world view of the pagan heroes. The emphasis is on the glory of combat, the eldritch and sinister nature of wizardry. The supernatural world is portrayed as fickle and uncaring, the gods as capricious. TARNSMAN OF GOR and the subsequent novels of John Norman are pagan fantasy, despite that they take place on an earthlike alien planet to which the hero is whisked in a flying saucer: the point of the stories is to glorify the grim and manly virtues of the warriors like those of ancient Greece and Germany. Christian pity and joy is utterly absent from the tales (which may be one reason why the later books devolve into cruelty and sexual perversion).

Oriental fantasy relies on the exotic and cruel, opulent and barbaric for their appeal: the DYING EARTH stories of Jack Vance, or XICCARPH by Clark Ashton Smith, are prime examples of this genre. They remind us not of our past, but the past of the cultures strange yet fascinating to us.

Elf Opera is what I call fantasies that star thinly-disguised modern Californians with modern liberal attitudes and beliefs, merely armed and equipped with the swords and magic-user spells of a Dungeons & Dragons party. Nonetheless such lame ducks are still ducks: the nostalgia is here not for the beliefs of our ancestors, but for their laws of nature and technology. The fantastic elements in an elf opera are bogus in the same way the science in a space opera is bogus. This does not mean it is not enjoyable to read.

I say "nostalgic for the world view" rather than "nostalgic for the time" because CONAN and OROBOROS are not historical fiction. GATES OF FIRE by Robert Pressman or SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR by Sharon Kay Pressman are excellent books, but neither satisfy the what the fantasy reader seeks. What he wants is not the modern historian's Ancient Greece or Middle Ages; he wants the Days of Yore of which the medieval bards did sing: an age of wonder, where saints did miracles, witches brewed poisons, and knights did valiant deeds beyond what mortals ken. He wants the magic back. A sword and sorcery tale with no sorcery would simply be a tale of swords: SCARAMOUCHE by Sabatini rather than WELL AT THE WORLD'S END by Morris.

Mallory's LE MORT D'ARTHUR is not a fantasy, but an epic, because the fantastic elements in the tale were not alien to the world view of the author and his readers. I doubt his readers believed literally in such heroic feats, but they allowed their poets some latitude. On the other hand, Bradley's MISTS OF AVALON is a fantasy; it harkens back to a world, to laws of nature, we no longer believe. It is the regret with which we bid farewell to the myths the scientific revolution exploded that prompts readers to seek, and writers to pen, fantasy.

Finally, let us distinguish genre writing from literature. Despite whatever laudable ambitions some writers may have, genre writing focuses on the elements particular to their genre. Literature focuses on universals, ever-present in the human condition. Hence, HAMLET is not a horror story, despite that a ghost is in it, whereas THE MONKEY'S PAW is. Nor is OEDIPUS REX a detective story, even though a mystery is solved; whereas A STUDY IN SCARLET is. The key here is that HAMLET can be enjoyed even by those who do not care about the eerie and supernatural element, but THE MONKEY'S PAW cannot; OEDIPUS REX can be enjoyed by those who don't care for detective stories.

Parting comment: There is nothing in modern science which even remotely harkens back to an animism or panvitalism. Modern High Energy Physicists do not need one to Draw Down the Moon, pray to Saint Anthony, or Become One on the Tao to reproduce their results.

Quantum mechanics deals with the evidence that, at a fine level, attempts at measurement alter the thing measured. For example, measuring the location of a particle loses the information of its mass; measuring the mass changes the location, so that there is a certain degree of information forever beyond observation: Heisenberg measured this degree. It is not that the observer has mystical powers to make events occur; it is that careful empiricists will not speculate about what might be observed when there is no observer present.

Schrödinger's cat in his famous thought-experiment is definitely either alive or dead. The careful empiricists will not say which until he looks in the box. Merely because you do not know, before the box is open, whether the cat is alive or dead, is insufficient ground to support the conclusion that the cat exists in a half-ghostly half-state of both possibilities.

The appearance of primitivism in modern physics was created by the primitive philosophical reasoning of certain physicists who should have stuck to physics. It is an axiom of empiricism that the world exists objectively. It is a conclusion from this axiom that the uncertainty exists in the comprehension of the observer, not comprehensibility the observed. Those physicists who argued that the real world is actually in the state of uncertain and probabilistic clouds of not-quite-ness were making statement not verifiable by empirical proof. Schrödinger says the cat in the box is neither alive nor dead but exists as a cloud of the probability of both. Hmm. How does he know what goes on in a closed box before he looks in? If he tells me I cannot conclude the cat to be alive or dead, therefore it must be indeterminate, I can tell him he cannot conclude the cat to be determinate or indeterminate. If Schrödinger is reasoning from first principles about the fundamental nature of reality, that is metaphysics, not physics. And a laughably shoddy job of metaphysical reasoning at that: he should have read his Aristotle, or, at least, his Kant.

If one wants to say that modern philosophy has sunk to ancient modes of thought, I will agree with you, and wipe a tear from my eye for our once-great civilization. But physics is not in the barbaric and primitive condition of so-called modern art and so-called modern philosophy, which are rubbish and piffle respectively.

 

Greg West:
The review of THE LAST GUARDIAN OF EVERNESS on Amazon.com makes it sound as if you've taken the standard tropes of fantasy and given them a good hard twist. It seems the choice between good and evil aren't as clear cut as usual, for the so-called Power of Light is hostile to modern ideas of human dignity and liberty. The character Galen Waylock is therefore given a choice between two forms of tyranny, one benevolent and the other malevolent. It sounds like Galen finds himself in quite a philosophical pickle. Is this a comment you can respond to without letting the entire cat out of the bag?

John C. Wright:
The work is not an imitation of Tolkein, if that is what you are asking. My attempt was to bring the twilight things of fairy-tale into the sunlight of the modern day, and see if I could portray them with the grandeur and stature fairy-tale things deserve. The readers must decide if I have succeeded.

At the same time, I wished to portray modernity with the glories particular to it. It is easy enough to contrast the virtues of the ancient world with the vices of the modern, can dismiss the factories and mills of England as Mordor; but it is more just to include as well evidence of ancient vices and modern virtues in the judgment, and mention that the shoeless serf of the Middle Ages did not have the shoes those Mordorian factories made cheaply enough for him to afford.

The most interest thing to me about having modern characters in an ancient fairy tale is to see where modern men would not accept the limitations of the fairy-tale world.

In his famous introduction to the trilogy, Tolkein says that, had the War of the Ring taken place according to modern ideas, Barad-Dur would have been occupied, not destroyed, and the Ring would have been kept as a weapon. He is correct without being accurate.

Modern men would not seek the return of the King, they would seek to educate the Orcs and Easterlings into the benefits of democracy, and established a free government; a Marshall Plan would have rebuilt the electrical power, water, universities and factories of Mordor, so that the freed slave populations of the East could become equal partners in a global economy; and the Ring would have been analyzed by scientists, and mass-produced, so that every free citizen would have a Ring in his pocket, its magic power tamed to use for his own self-defense.

 

Greg West:
What are you working on now?

John C. Wright:
I'm writing a space-war space-opera, my version of E.E. Doc Smith's GALACTIC PATROL, but taking place in a slower-than-light universe, with multi-generation warships instead of an inertialess drives.

The plot concerns the adventures of a scattered group of irregulars who wish to continue the fight after the general surrender of humanity. There only hope rests, of all people, on a linguist, who claims to have discovered a universal semantics, a system for decoding any form of intelligent communication.

I set myself the challenge of making my aliens as alien as possible, while still being able to meet the needs of story-telling. I did not assume any of the races would have any psychology or biology in common with humanity or with each other; their sexual processes, sensory apparatus, degree of individuality, time scales, and other particulars should be unique. In order to continue the hopeless war, the little band of irregulars must learn to communicate with the hostile alien intelligences they hope to kill.

 

Greg West:
When you're not writing, what do you do for fun?

John C. Wright:
I live the exact type of comfortable middle-class suburban life the intelligentsia affects to despise, with my wife and three children: my tastes are simple, and no different from an average happy member of the bourgeoisie. For fun, I talk with my wife, play with my children, read books, watch the idiot box, go to movies. I play or moderate the occasional role-playing games.

 

Greg West:
Where can readers find your short story LAST OF ALL SUNS? Have you written many shorts? Can readers look forward to a collection of short stories?

John C. Wright:
Readers can type Last Of All Suns in to a search engine, and will probably find the website where it is published.

This is Andy Robertson's website where he maintains a collection of fiction and essays on THE NIGHT LAND by the late William Hope Hodgson, a writer of great scope, but undue obscurity. My previous tale set in the background universe of the Night Land was Awake In The Night, which was reprinted in three anthologies. (William Hope Hodgson's Night Lands: Eternal Love, ed. Andy Robertson; The Year's Best Science Fiction 21st Annual Collection, ed. Gardner Dozois; Best Short Novels 2003 publ. Science Fiction Book Club, ed. Jonathan Strahan) Mr. Robertson may be planning a second anthology; I do not know if he means to include Last Of All Suns in it or not.

Very few of my short stories have been published, and one or two of the unpublished ones, in all modesty, I think are quite exceptional. I have submitted proposals for anthologies of my short fiction to two publishers: but the publishers have expressed no interest in buying.

 

Greg West:
You mentioned that your wife is a writer. What kind of work does she do?

John C. Wright:
There are three jobs in the world more meaningful than all others: soldier, physician, and mother, for only they directly are responsible for defending, saving, and creating lives. My wife enjoys the third of the three meaningful jobs, for she is the mother of three small children the finest three sons in the sidereal universe.

Mrs. Wright has written articles for anime magazines, and has had three short stories published: Equinox, The Leading Edge #27 1993; Feeding the Mouth that Bites Us, Dreams of Decadence Summer 1998; Never Again the Same, DON'T OPEN THIS BOOK!, ed. Marvin Kaye, publ. Science Fiction Book Club 1998. She writes under her maiden name, L. Jagi Lamplighter.

 

Greg West:
Has your recent success allowed you to write full time, or are you forced to work for a living?

John C. Wright:
In general, if a writer has not had five books published, it is too soon to tell if he will be able to maintain an even stream of work of saleable quality over the years; therefore even to dream of full-time writing before one has sold five books is premature. To date, I have sold four books. I work for a living, and am grateful for the wage. The long hours, high stress, and modest rewards of the law office or the newsroom bullpen I leave with great relief behind me; I work as a tech writer now, writing computer manuals for a defense contractor in Northern Virginia, and my hours and my pay are regular, thanks be to God.

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