About Benford's new novel,
I've heard of some amazing and innovative ideas for promoting
science fiction books, Greg, but how in the world did you convince
Buzz Lightyear to be your spokesman? I mean, everybody who watches
Toy Story has got to know that Buzz is plugging your
new novel when he yells "To Infinity -- and Beyond!"
Lightyear is based on Buzz Aldrin, whom I know. Great guy! When
he was writing an SF novel with John Barnes, I''d go over to
his home a mile or so from mine in Laguna Beach. He loved being
Lightyear! -- but groused good-humoredly about how he got no
money from it.
But I haven't seen Toy Story even
yet. So when my editor called up asking for a title, even though
I was a long way from finishing the novel, I said, "What
sort of title do you want?" Jamie Levine replied, "Something
I pondered. "Big scale?" She jumped at that: "Yes!"
I thought I'd make a joke, so said, "How 'bout, uh, Beyond
Infinity?" Jamie squealed. "Great! Uh
it mean?" I thought, came up with nothing, and said, "You
want it?" She was sure: "It'll make people think!"
Kevin: At least.
Well, it sure made me think.
Kevin: Maybe people will think you're ... a
Gregory: Or a lot crazy. Of course I know a
fair amount of mathematics - how many SF writers have published
in the Journal of Mathematical Physics? - and I did
know that there are categories of infinite numbers, for example.
Not all infinities are equal! Still, that's pretty arcane stuff.
Readers might prefer to watch paint dry.
Kevin: Well, they seem to like the literary
equivalent - but let's not knock the competition.
Gregory: Why not? Afraid of the unending-fantasy-series
Kevin: No, envious. Actually, I meant mainstream
Gregory: Oh, you mean Real Writers, concerned
with The Human Condition.
Kevin: When I was taking college creative writing
courses, my professors always seemed to content themselves with
what I came to call "breakfast dishes stories" - stories
in which a couple sat over their dirty breakfast dishes and had
a dull conversation about how their relationship was breaking
up. The End. That sort of thing always drove me nuts. I'm glad
to see (and so are our readers, I hope) that your mind and mine
both work on a grander scale.
Gregory: Well, I'm an astrophysicist, so it's
an occupational prejudice. All the things we study are gonna
live longer than we do!
Kevin: Ah, but not our immortal works.
Gregory: Except for the immoral ones, of course.
Y'know, that title led me to eventually include in the book some
of the newest ideas in cutting edge physics. Some theorists think
we may live in a universe that has more dimensions, and we're
sitting on a membrane in that - a "brane" that one
could leave if we could figure out how to move in larger dimensions.
Now, I already planned to set the book
a billion years from how. Be ambitious! I was worn out with hard-nosed
near-future novels like Eater and Cosm and
The Martian Race. The reason we see few far-future novels,
I suspect, is that the changes would be vast, the resulting society
incomprehensible. That's why far future novels tend to be set
in forests and non-technological societies. So I decided to tell
the tale from the vantage of a young girl, living in a forest
- then explode the story outward into the whole universe, in
classic old fashioned SF style.
Kevin: I notice that Gary Wolfe in Locus
said exactly that, and wishes you'd write more cutting edge stuff.
Gregory: Reviewers always want you to write
what they like, of course.
Kevin: But we want to write what we
Gregory: Exactly. I felt in the mood for a fairly
light-hearted romp through infinities.
Kevin: Seriously, you've already taken us practically
to the end of time in your Galactic Center series, and now you're
taking your readers to even more cosmic distances, into other
universes...not even satisfied with infinity itself, but you've
gone *beyond* infinity. Aren't you taking it a bit too far?
Gregory: I like to get out of town on the weekends,
and this seemed like a natural extension of that.
Kevin: I understand that Beyond Infinity
is inspired in part by some of the masterpieces of Arthur C.
Clarke. Even knowing that you lack no self-confidence, did it
intimidate you to be taking a page out of Arthur C. Clarke's
book (or making a novel out of his novella, as it were?).
Gregory: Sure. This novel emerges from a novella,
Beyond the Fall of Night, that I published in 1990,
together with Arthur C. Clarke''s Against the Fall of Night.
That novella was a continuation of Clarke's, and I shaped
it to fit the length (though not the style) of his original.
It was fun, especially the give and take with Arthur. Still,
afterward I felt that the result was unsatisfactory, but could
not see how to fix it.
Kevin: So fifteen years later --
Gregory: This novel attempts to remedy that.
Plainly the ideas needed more air to breathe. So I have expanded
the novella to more than three times its original size, and retitled
it. Trappings of Clarke's far future I have dropped or rearranged.
New ideas, principally those of extra dimensions in our universe,
I have pick-pocketed from the latest theoretical physics.
So it's a high-minded, far future yarn?
Gregory: Years ago a friend, David Hartwell,
used the term "transcendental adventure," and I thought
about what that might mean. This novel may be an example.
Kevin: Is it easier to stick closer to home
- by a hundred thousand miles or so, when you write about Mars
- or to run to the ends of time and space?
Gregory: Near future is easier. Everybody gets
the offhand references. But for scope, you need big perspectives
in time. This novel looks at how evolution might work out, for
example. A bit over a billion years ago, there wasn't much beyond
slime molds around; how about a billion years hence?
Kevin: What sort of things to you throw at the
TV when you hear commentators complain about the uselessness
of exploring Mars, or even of continuing the space program?
Gregory: I don't watch TV news coverage for
that reason. It's a medium with a one-day perspective. Not the
ones you want telling you about the future!
Kevin: So is this your definitive take on evolution?
Gregory: Once again I find that there are more
ideas in the novel than I could do justice to. Perhaps I will
eventually write a sequel, to explore the avenues opened by this
larger version. The far future is a big place. This is a snapshot
of where I think evolution and technology might take us. No doubt
the reality will be far stranger.