Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Beyond the Fermi Paradox

by Rob - April 20th, 2015.
Filed under: Interviews, SETI, Uncategorized.

I had the pleasure, however virtually and metaphorically, to sit down recently with Edward M. Lerner and discuss his latest novel. InterstellarNet: Enigma is the newest addition to Ed’s popular InterstellarNet future history. Here’s a little of what we discussed.

RJS: I’ve read InterstellarNet: Enigma, and it has a lot of moving parts. How do you describe the novel to people?

EML: As one conundrum beyond the Fermi paradox. (Laughs.) Too cryptic?

It’s implausible, or so we’re often told, that we humans could be the only intelligent beings in the vast and ancient universe. And yet, for all we know, human beings are unique. Any civilization with tech just slightly improved from our own could, within a few million years, colonize an entire galaxy — but Earth shows no evidence of having ever been visited. As for eavesdropping upon the radio chatter of our presumed interstellar neighbors, after fifty years SETI researchers can report only a Great Silence. So, as Fermi pointedly asked: where are they?

All the while, for storytelling purposes, we writers love to imagine alien intelligences in the neighborhood. And not only do we want fictional aliens nearby, they and humans should have similar capabilities. That way, in our conflicts — and stories need conflict! — we’re fairly evenly matched. Think Star Trek, for example, or Larry Niven’s Known Space, or the earlier books in my InterstellarNet series. Long story short: I went looking for an explanation beyond authorial convenience for not just intelligent aliens, but peer-level aliens, to cluster in our neighborhood.

RJS: And you came up with a doozie. (Laughs.) And it’s something I can’t comment on, without spoilers. But didn’t I see this in Analog?

EML: Yes and no. Roughly the opening third of the new novel first appeared in Analog, in 2013 as “The Matthews Conundrum” and last year as “Championship B’tok.” Extended a bit, those two stories are the opening episodes of Enigma‘s overall storyline.

RJS: Ah, b’tok, the alien strategy game. As I remember it, b’tok is to chess about as chess is to rock-paper-scissors.

EML: Exactly. B’tok is how the alien Hunters traditionally teach military strategy. And it’s not only military matters at which the Hunters excel. These aliens think Machiavelli was a charmingly amusing naïf. You really don’t want to tick off Hunters, especially when you have even bigger problems.

RJS: Which brings up a new bunch of spoilers. You said something about episodes?

EML: Right! A few weeks ago, my publisher and I agreed that the storyline made a great serial. So InterstellarNet: Enigma is first appearing as an ebook serial. The traditional book format will come later.

If someone finds they didn’t care for part 1, well, they’re only out 99 cnets. We hope and expect folks will want to read to the end.

RJS: I recognize a cue when I hear one. The serialization begins when? And where?

EML: (Laughs.) It began just a few days ago. New episodes will come out about once a week, concluding in mid-May. At Amazon, B&N, Apple iBook store … you name it. The serial will also be available directly from FoxAcre Press, at FoxBytes. And, to be complete, later this spring the publisher will offer omnibus ebook and print editions

For more about InterstellarNet, visit Ed’s website, Edward M. Lerner: Perpetrator of Science Fiction and Technothrillers, and his blog, SF and Nonsense.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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