Hi Peter! Welcome to the blog. What can you tell us about your sci-fi trilogy?
Not much, in the space of this interview. The first book explores the theme that we tend to build civilization on the backs of its outcasts; the second deals with the healing power of revenge; the third rubs your face in the messy consequences of the first two. Along the way we deal with the benthic ecology of hydrothermal rift vents, the application of Darwinian evolutionary principles to networked systems, and the consequences of good intentions gone bad by way of some sloppy neurotech and consequent sexual violence (which some— I am not among them— regarded as gratuitous).
What is the difference between regular sci-fi and hard sci-fi?
The scientific background of the reader.
When I was in high school, Larry Niven wrote hard-sf. Once I learned how genes work, it became obvious that the central Known-Space conceit of a gene that codes for luck is pure fantasy.
While I was writing Maelstrom, I spent a couple of pages detailing how behemoth used a 532-amin-acid listeriolysin analog to enter the host cell via receptor-mediated endocytosis. That probably sounds like "hard SF" to you; but I'm pretty sure an actual microbiologist would find the concept as handwavey and fanciful as Niven's luck-coding genes.
There's a reason we call it science fiction: we make a lot of stuff up. How plausible it feels has at least as much to do with the expertise of the reader as that of the author.
That's a very good point! Did you have any angst about putting vampires in space? That’s a gutsy move.
Gutsy? I don't know if I'd go that far.
A vampire ended up in Blindsight because of a bad decision some con organizer made years before I wrote the book. Back at the dawn of the century— right after Starfish, my first novel, came out— I attended a con at which someone assigned me to a panel on vampires. I knew nothing about vampires. I had read one Anne Rice novel. I'd seen a few episodes of Buffy and been unimpressed. I was a hard-sf writer, dammit. But here I was on this panel about vampires. So I started playing around with possible biological mechanisms to justify all those hokey traits vampires are supposed to have. When I came up with the Crucifix Glitch, I knew I was on to something.
Afterwards, when I was writing Blindsight, I carefully configured each character in that story to reflect a specific aspect of consciousness— but there was this hole waiting to be filled by a character I hadn't figured out yet. And one day I happened to look to one side and see this whole vampire-retcon thing I'd been niggling away at for a few years, and on impulse tried sticking it into the empty spot in Blindsight. Surprisingly, it fit. The sheer dissonance-inducing absurdity of sticking a vampire into a hard-sf novel was pure bonus.
I know I really enjoyed reading your Vampire Endnotes - it made vampires seem realistic! What about your new short story collection? Are the stories sci-fi, fantasy, horror, or a blend?
This has been a pretty good year for collections; my whole short oeuvre up to last year has just come out in Poland (under the title An Antidote for Optimism), and a smaller collection is slotted for later this month in Spain (not sure of the title for that one). But Beyond the Rift is kind of a greatest-hits collection, with a custom-written four-thousand-word essay tacked on at the end. The fiction is pretty consistently science (although some of my stuff has been described as horror, that's not what I set out to write). The only outright fantasy in the book is a story called "Nimbus"— the second story I ever got published, actually— which is a kind of environmental disaster story built on the premise that clouds are controlled by malign airborne microbes which affect global weather patterns. I did no research at all for that story; it was a spontaneous brain fart inspired by some comment an ex-girlfriend made about how "alive" an approaching thunderstorm happened to look. Which made it kind of cool when, a solid decade later after the story came out, a British/Israeli team started trawling clouds looking for malign airborne microbes that might be affecting global weather patterns.
I can't remember if they found any.
Will we meet any familiar characters in Echopraxia?
Yes. One. And you will hear, briefly, from another.
Hmm, not getting too much of a sneak peek on that one, I see! Who are some of your favorite writers?
They change over time. Also I don't get nearly as much chance to read for pleasure these days as I'd like, so my sample size is pretty impoverished. But to name just a few: John Brunner, Samuel Delany, China Miéville, Richard Morgan, Dave Nickle, Caitlin Sweet (CoI warning: she's my wife), and Ayn Rand.
Just kidding about that last one.
You had me for second there. What’s your best advice for writers?
The quality of your writing doesn't have nearly as much impact on getting published as you might think. Remember that when you encounter a published story that's about half as good as the piece you've been trying unsuccessfully to sell for five years.
Also, certain agents and editors may tell you that you have to "stand apart from the crowd" if you want to succeed— and further, that the way to "stand apart" is to do what everybody else is doing and join the echo chamber called Twitter. These people are idiots.
I have to admit, I've seen a lot of Twitter accounts where self-promotion never takes a day off! Thank you so much for sharing some of your writing life with us!
Any time. Thanks for your interest.
You can get more from Peter Watts on his website, Rifters (which is soon to be updated), and his blog! He is also on Facebook.