Shaun Farrell: Your book Quantico was recently released in the U.S., and I found the details behind its release both interesting and somewhat confusing. Your website says the book was brought to the states by a three way deal among Bookspan, Easton Press, and E-Reads. I also found an edition online from HarperCollins, which, I assume, is the UK edition. Can you explain to us the story behind getting Quantico into the U.S.?
Greg Bear QUANTICO was under contract to my U.S. publisher, but for reasons no one can now figure out, or is willing to discuss, they let it go and continued the contract for another novel. This left it orphaned this side of the ocean, until Bookspan and Easton Press brought it out in separate editions. Bookspan is the umbrella for many book clubs, including Book of the Month Club and the Science Fiction Book Club. CDS Books picked it up for major trade distribution, and their U.S. trade hardcover edition will be published with substantial promotion this spring. Ultimately, QUANTICO will likely sell many more copies overall than if it had been published as planned. Which is ironic, since I’ve been grinding my teeth in frustration about this for over a year now!
SF: Quantico delves into the topic of terrorism and shows a world living in fear. Since you’ve written this book, do you see any reason to have more hope in our ability to combat terrorists?
GB: Terrorists in one way or another helped shape the 20th centuryand the 19th century as well. (Kipling refers to the politics of what we call the Middle East as 'The Great Game.') Major world powers always face radical ‘isms' run by people without real military strength, and agitation and terror is a prime tool for such endeavors. Radical and political Islamists have played their international terror games against the Westand their own peoplefor over fifty years now, and yet, in the United States, because of the shock and trauma of 9/11, we’ve acted as if this is something new, unprecedented, unforeseeable, part of a long-term “war” that must be fought internationally, overtly and with huge military force. This must please the extremists to no endwe’re acting as if they’re a nation-state we can defeat in air and ground battles. They’re not. They’re a long-term cultural movementsome would call it a disease, others a growth phasewe must protect ourselves against by measured, focused, rational proceduresas well as occasional forays into places like Afghanistan. Remember the shores of Tripoli
SF: What kind of research did you have to do into FBI procedures to write this book?
GB: Many, many volumes of FBI history and personal biographies by agents helped me refine impressions I gained while visiting the Academy in 2000. I also read police procedure textbooks, referenced blogs and diaries from Academy students, and poured over dozens of other volumes to catch up on Islamic traditions, history, and of course, biology. A visit to Frederick, Maryland, to give a talk at the National Cancer Institute, carried the added bonuses of being given tours of Fort Detrick (which I had written about in Darwin’s Children) and meeting with world experts on such topics as anthrax and pathogenic viruses. With their help, I refined my story to reflect the very real and alarming possibilities, without providing actual recipes. I’ve been fortunate enough over the past ten years to have visited many of the research labs and institutions I’ve written about in these novels, including the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda.
SF: In a future where humanity begins to infuse computers into our bodies, which we actually do now, on a limited scale, what changes do you foresee in our political and religious landscape?
GB: At first, personal networks will be treated as “add-ons,” things we refer to for leverage or out of boredom. Ultimately, the effect will be a greater and more immediate sense of connection with our fellowsso long as we don’t limit our outreach to those who agree with us. Like all electronic communication, these channels will likely be both useful and irritatingbut I doubt we’ll see any radical shifts in politics or behavior for decades after the initial “chipping.” People are remarkably adept at shaping tech to meet their old demands, rather than letting tech shape them.
SF: It seems that your newer booksDarwin’s Radio, Blood Musichave less hard SF elements than most of your other work. Can you talk about that and what other new things you want to do with your writing?
GB: 'Hard SF' over the last few decades has been reduced by some connoisseurs to stories about astronomy and physics. This is something the grand master of Hard SF editing and publishing, John W. Campbell, Jr., would have deplored. The hardest SF novels of recent years were Darwin’s Radio and Darwin’s Children, I contend. They’ve been reviewed in science journals and even been cited in scientific papers and texts. And yet, because so many SF readers still regard biology as 'squishy,' they haven’t kept up on the extraordinary developments that are going to change our lives, and the lives of our children. This is not true of the mainstream audience. Biology is clearly a front-runner in the news and science journals. Dead Lines, the exception, is a bit of a scary romp, a high-tech BOO!but the others form a thematic series. I call Darwin’s Radio, Darwin’s Children, Vitals, and Quantico my Life Sciences quartet. All address the changes we will face because of discoveries in the biological sciencesand how history, politics, and power will shape us, limit us, propel us forward.
I recall that back in the sixties, Campbellin Analogpublished many stories and serials that we would now call techno-thrillers. Real Tom Clancy material by writers like Joe Poyer and Mack Reynolds, near-future stories by Rick Raphael and many others. Quantico is in that tradition, with lots of tech and political prognostication. I suspect John Campbell, Jr., would have understood right away what I’m doing in this noveltaking readers through the next decade in a solid, serious and challenging way. And saying, “If this goes on
SF: You were just given the Heinlein Award along with Jack Williamson at the World Science Fiction Convention in Anaheim. Tell us about that experience and what the award means to you.
GB: It’s an honor, that goes without saying. Jack Williamson is one of my heroes, a man who taught Mr. Heinlein himself a thing or two about writingand Robert A. Heinlein is one of my literary forefathers, the writer who established so many benchmarks we all have to observe and measure ourselves by as we journey into the future. I’m pleased to be included in their company.
SF: What’s new with developing Darwin’s Children for the screen? I know that the SciFi channel wanted to make too many changes to your story, but is anyone else showing interest?
GB: There’s been no further news on that front. Projects like this sometimes have to go through many iterations before they reach the screen.
SF: What young writers have you met that you think will lead science fiction literature into the future?
GB: I certainly don’t moan about a decline in written SF. We have many more excellent writers, covering a wide variety of topicsa virtual renaissance of new science fiction. Unfortunately, this plethora of talents is being challenged by a publishing industry undergoing its own challenges and hard-times, and new writers are having real difficulty starting and maintaining their careers. But in some respects, ‘twas ever thus. Entertainers have always had to be flexible. Perhaps that’s why I’m re-reading THE ILIAD in Robert Fagles’s translation
to remind myself how much ancient masters knew about audiences and story-telling that we’ve forgotten!
SF: If you could collaborate with anyone on a novel, who would it be?
GB: I’ve never collaborated directlyand probably never will. The closest I’ve gotten to that is fitting between Brin and Benford on the Second Foundation Trilogy, which was funbut collaboration only in an extended sense. Working with another writer is too difficultrather like the joke about two people meeting, and one says, “I’ve got a split personality.” The other responds: “You, too? Why, that makes four of us!”
SF: Greg, you will be at Emory University in September as visiting Nat C. Robertson Distinguished Professor in Science and Society to kick off a new seminar about science writing. Can you tell us how you got involved and what you’ll be doing in the seminar?
GB: Emory sent an invitation a while back, and it seemed like a fine idea to help them bring more students into science and writingand writing about science. A multi-disciplinary approach. I’m looking forward to the events they’ve scheduled, and for a chance to see Emory and find out what the students and faculty are doing. Meeting with students and scientists always stimulates new ways of thinking about my favorite topics, including biology!
SF: You are an accomplished artist in addition to your many writing feats. How does art allow you to express yourself differently from writing, and what does it mean to you?
GB: I’d love to get back to doing art, but I haven’t done much more than sketch for years. Visual art certainly shaped the way I think when writing a storybut that doesn’t mean I write from set visions of a novel’s environment. Mostly, art is about color and motion, depth and impactnovels and stories, about dialog and rhythm, breadth of emotion, and living through words and word-play.
SF: What’s next for you?
GB: Having dug deep into contemporary politics and biology, I’m now fleeing to the far, far futurewith an adventure story set both in contemporary Seattle, and a hundred trillion years in the future, in a city at the end of an unimaginably ancient universe. This one’s both a challenge and great fun to work onkind of a combination of Arthur C. Clarke, Tolkien, and Jorge Luis Borges!
SF: Greg, is there anything else you would like to add?
GB: Sums it up for me! Thanks!