Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A quick-and-dirty interview

I've been doing a lot of by-email interviews with newspapers and magazines to help promote Rollback. Most of these are done in a single, quick session at the keyboard. Here's a sample one I did last week for a paper in Richmond, Virginia (tying in to my appearance as Guest of Honor at Ravencon there, starting nine days from now).

How do you balance your creative writing life with the demands of marketing and book tours such as your planned 18-city tour this spring? Will you need a rollback when it's finished?

Totally! It's going to be an exhausting trip. But, then again, this is my 17th novel, so I'm sort of used to it by now. I write one book a year, on average, and end up spending one month out of that year on promoting the newest book. In no way is a book tour a vacation -- the itinerary is just crammed with bookstore and media events -- but it actually is something I look forward to. Writing is a lonely profession -- just you and the keyboard -- and touring gets me out of the house once a year to remind myself that there are people who care about my books; it's my time for being super-social, and I find it simultaneously exhausting and invigorating -- a strange combination!

Can you tell a little about creating your new book, Rollback? What sort of research and background reading did you do before sitting down to write it?

Rollback is about rejuvenation -- about making people physically young again. As a science-fiction writer, I'm constantly doing research, and I typically spend four months doing nothing but research for each new novel. I already knew a lot about genetics from writing a previous novel, Frameshift, so I didn't have to research that aspect, but I did read everything I could find on programmed cell death, telomeres (the little endcaps on chromosomes that grow shorter each time a cell divides -- when they're reduced to nothing, the cell dies), oxidation and free radicals (a couple of the things that cause aging), and so on. This actually hearkens back to the very first science fiction novel, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Victor who wanted to reverse death, says, "To examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death." Well, I wanted to reverse aging, so first I had to understand it.

Rollback is also a novel about the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Again, that's something I've written about before, including in my novel Factoring Humanity, but I did a lot of research about possible ways of encoding information into complex messages, and that was quite fascinating.

Are there any social issues of the day that you think speculative fiction writers should be willing to take on?

You've got it exactly backwards! There are no social issues of the day that speculative fiction writers should not be willing to take on. In my own books, I've dealt with abortion issue, capital punishment, racism, sexism, affirmative action, gay rights, recovered memories of childhood abuse, corruption within the church, the politics of war, 9/11, creation vs. evolution, government funding for culture, and many others. Science fiction is a way of looking at our society through a distorting lens that lets us see truths that otherwise might remain hidden. Despite what people think they know about science fiction from watching Star Wars -- which is really fantasy, not SF, and unambitious fantasy at that -- good science fiction, starting right with H.G. Wells, has always been about social comment.

Have you started on your next book -- can we have a hint?

I'm working on a trilogy about the World Wide Web gaining consciousness, and the relationship it develops with humanity. The overall trilogy will be called the WWW series, and the three books will be titled Wake, Watch, and Wonder. These won't be the computer-takes-over stories or we-upload-into-the-computer stories; rather, I'm trying to work out a realistic way in which flesh-and-blood human beings might actually co-exist peacefully with advanced artificial intelligence.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


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