Edward M. Lerner Interview
by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu Interview ISBN/ITEM#: 0503EL
Date: March 1, 2005 / Show Official Info /
SFRevu:First off, I wanted to mention that I really enjoyed Moonstruck. Are you happy with its reception?
Edward M. Lerner:Thanks for the feedback. Yes, I?m quite happy with its early reviews.
SFR: I didn?t realize you?d written Probe in the early 90s until after the book. What was it about ? and is it in print?
EML: Probe opens with the discovery by a robotic probe of a derelict spacecraft adrift in the Asteroid Belt. As the robotic probe approaches to investigate, the apparently alien vessel explodes, destroying both. The plot hinges upon whether the encounter was real. If not, who might be behind an imposture, and why?and to what lengths will they go to protect their plans? Probe is presently out of print. I hope Moonstruck will be successful enough to entice a revival.
SFR: So what took you so long to write another? Does Moonstruck represent an evolution in your writing from Probe?
EML: Life intervened. Through most of the Nineties I concentrated on my day-job career and raising a family. As it happens, Warner Books bought Probe in 1990 just before I began work for a NASA contractor. Moonstruck eventually arose from that NASA experience.
In 1999, with both kids off to college, I gave myself a sabbatical to restart my writing. That resulted in a spate of appearances in Analog and Artemis magazines. I returned to a conventional techie day job in 2001, writing in my spare time. When Baen Books picked up Moonstruck in 2004, I decided to take a crack at writing as a second career. To your second question, I believe my style became more polished and my characters more nuanced over the years.
SFR: I liked the main character, who starts out as a Presidential Science Advisor. But c?mon ? a presidential advisor with good advice? What universe does that come from?
EML: Obviously (and sadly), few politicians have technical backgrounds. Human nature being what it is, all too often that means politicians are unreceptive to and/or uninformed consumers of technical input. That?s not to say technological knowledge in a politician is a panacea. Remember that nuclear engineer, Jimmy Carter? Historically, it takes a crisis to make politicians listen seriously to scientists. Existence proof: FDR heeding Einstein about the risks of a Nazi A-Bomb program. In Moonstruck, that crisis takes the form of enigmatic aliens come to Earth.
SFR: Science Fiction is often accused of social reductionism?planets have one culture and climate, aliens from a given race all belong to the same society, and it?s pretty easy to figure out who the good guys are. It strikes me that we?ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to your aliens, what would you say?
EML: Such homogenization is common in SF ? but also understandable. It?s challenging enough to invent a believable and interesting alien species (world). Giving that species (world) multiple cultures (or climates or ecosystems) is that much harder. Developing details that don?t affect the plot, just for purposes of a richer background, may not be the best use of the author?s time and creativity. A reasonable compromise may be to hint in passing at planetary/societal variation, then leave off-stage those variations that don?t influence the plot. Few complain when a crime novel set in Pittsburgh fails to discuss Indian monsoons and the culture of Tasmania.
?How easy to spot are the good guys?? should be asked separately from, ?Is the society too homogenized?? Human motivations differ within a culture?even within a nuclear family. Characters most interest me when their motives vary, their consciences are troubled, and their conflicts derive from individual wants and needs. Stories with multidimensional characters take more effort to write than good vs. evil morality plays?but I find the former more interesting.
How does this relate to the aliens in Moonstruck? To avoid plot spoilers, allow me an analogy. Consider the brief course of U.S. history. Suffrage expanded in stages from wealthy white men to all adults. For much of that history, slavery was legal. Marriage, a long-time bedrock social institution, may be on the verge of redefinition. Why expect aliens to relate to humans in the way you or I may feel appropriate, when we can?t decide who has which rights? Which is to say: There?s a social context behind aliens in Moonstruck acting at odds with humanity?s interests.
SFR: Where does the Moonstruck story go from here? Do you have another book (or two) in the series in process?
EML: There is ample opportunity in the Moonstruck ?universe? for sequels. With my publisher?s concurrence, I hope to add installments. All fan clamoring for new installments cheerfully accepted.
SFR: One of my favorite questions of people who are into SF is what their first book was. Do you remember? How did your journey as a reader go?
EML: I can?t remember that first book, which mildly surprises me. I do know that during elementary school I read (and reread): Heinlein and Norton juveniles, Golden Age anthologies, and the works of Verne and Wells.
SFR: And now? What do you read these days?
EML: Where to begin? Of an SF nature, at least one monthly magazine (minimally Analog), a steady stream of novels, and the occasional anthology. I also reread old favorites: Understanding why some books have a hold on me will hopefully help me make my own stories memorable.
SFR: When you weren?t reading, were you making up your own stories? How did you turn into a writer? How did your first book sale come about?
EML: I began writing pretty much on a dare. My wife tired of me criticizing much of what I read, and asked if I thought I could do better. My first serious effort was the novel Probe, undertaken in blissful ignorance of how hard a first novel would be to sell. The ?how? part is nothing interesting?the standard: query, submit, get rejected, repeat?until the big call came.
SFR: When you write, do you think about the plot, the character, the reader ? or doesn?t thinking enter into it? Who is your ideal reader?
EML: I start with a premise or a question that may generate a premise. Moonstruck began with the question: What?s an original motive for aliens to contact Earth? With a premise in hand, I iterate between defining plot and characters. What happens, and who makes things happen, are codependent. Trivial example: if human understanding of an alien technology is plot-critical, a main human character must be a techie of some sort, with a plausible reason to be in the right place at the right time. And characters must be challenged by circumstances, or readers are rightly entitled to yawn.
My ideal reader? Someone coming to SF for neat ideas and to grapple with the possibilities of emergent science and technology.
SFR: Do you think you belong to any school of SF? Who to you admire in the current crop of writers?
EML: I?m unambiguously in the Hard SF school, where ?hard? denotes the importance of accurate science to the plot, not the pain level for readers.
I admire many more writers than anyone would care to see named. I?ll answer two narrower questions. Which authors most influence my writing? Whose works best suggest what I strive for in my fiction? Alphabetically: David Brin, James P. Hogan, Larry Niven, and Vernor Vinge.
SFR: Now that we live in something like the future, is Science Fiction?s job done? Did it have a job or was it just fun. And now?
EML: We?ve just begun meaningful exploration of neighboring planets. Computers, networks, and wireless communications are still young. Genetic engineering and nanotech are in their earliest infancies. Herewith one vote is cast for the proposition there is much future?and innovative SF?yet to come.
SFR: You?re pretty clearly cut from the Hard SF mold. Do you ever read Fantasy, and if so whose? Do you ever ponder why it?s gaining in popularity?
EML: I?ve read LOTR at least three times, but that?s an exception. I occasionally wonder to what extent fantasy?s growing popularity is in part a rejection of technology. In my experience, most people find science uninteresting and not worth their effort to understand.
Maybe SF will continue to influence a few minds?as it did mine?toward science. I hope so.
SFR: How do you feel about the future? What makes you the most hopeful and the most fearful?
EML: I?m generally optimistic. By many measures?life expectancy, environmental quality, and standards of living?the world is becoming a better place. Every day reveals new wonders: extra-solar planets, dark energy, and the genomic map. We?re on the verge of commercial space travel and personalized medicines.
Things could still turn out badly, of course. Stan Schmidt, the editor of Analog, advanced what he calls the Fermi Plague as an answer to Fermi?s paradox: If there are intelligent aliens, why haven?t they come? Why have we seen no evidence of them? The Fermi Plague suggests that sufficiently advanced technology gives small groups, even individuals, the ability to destroy a civilization. Will a terrorist destroy us all with a super bug, or use nanotech to dissolve the world into gray goo? I concede it?s possible, but I don?t see it as likely. The sane 99-plus percent of humanity must be sufficiently vigilant and proactive to prevent that outcome.
SFR: What are you currently working on?
EML: In 2000-2001, I had a series of novelettes in Analog and Artemis magazines (one of those stories was reprinted in Year?s Best Sf 7). The InterstellarNet stories have as their core premise that species orbiting nearby stars establish radio-based communications and evolve a trading society: e commerce in intellectual property on a really big Internet. I finished a novel set in the InterstellarNet universe a few weeks ago, from which I am still decompressing. Stay tuned.
EML: Thanks for the opportunity to speak with your readers.