1) All the Sad Puppies selections came from a list of stories that fans felt were their favorites from 2014. What about your story do you think brought it to the attention of whomever suggested it?
Presumably, because they liked the setting, the characters, and the story of my novella, “Flow.” “Flow” was the sequel to 2013’s “Thaw,” (the cover for which won the Analog Reader’s Award for Best Cover of 2013). The whole series of stories takes place after the next Ice Age (a politically incorrect supposition in itself), and the protagonist, Rist, is himself quite politically incorrect, though dark-skinned; he is a diminutive, sexist smartass (as are most males in the primitive society in which he was raised) and his mouth gets him literally into deep shit. The story, actually a vignette, ends in a (literal) cliff-hanger that will be followed by “Fall,” where Rist descends into yet another kind of society existing some 30,000 years from now. It will likely be called non-PC as well, though I have to remind people that authors are not necessarily the same as their characters.
2) What kind of stories do you write normally write? Is your nominated story in that tradition? Or is it a departure for you?
Of the 50 or so SF stories I’ve had published since 1980, most have been short, near-future tales of the effects of technology on society, either humorous or deadly. “Flow” is quite a departure from that tradition, a longer story taking place in the far future in rather primitive civilizations. My two e-books (available for Kindle and Nook), an anthology of mostly previously-published short stories, Other Heads & Other Tales, and a novel, Valley of the Shaman, illustrate both the short and long forms.
3) When did you start writing?
Stimulated by my family’s tradition of telling tall tales, I began writing fiction and poems in elementary school, including a small, self-printed neighborhood “newspaper,” with poetry published in junior high school, and letters to the editors of papers and magazines through my college years. I had a short humor piece about Isaac Asimov in Bob Vardeman’s fanzine Sandworm in 1971, and began publishing paid non-fiction in 1972, finally selling three SFnal items – to Analog, Asimov’s and Omni — which got me into SFWA in 1980. Since then, I have published over 500 items of fiction, non-fiction, articles, essays, columns, photos, fannish musical plays, and poems, in more than 100 venues worldwide, including science fiction, space travel, speculative technology, the paranormal, UFOs, ancient technology, politics, humor, filks, a few occult country-western songs, and even some serious stuff. (You can Google me for all this and much more.)
4) What do you do in life other than write?
My wife, kids, grandkids, family and friends are the most important part of my life, but I do other things, too. Early on, Heinlein’s stories pushed me toward rockets and engineering, and I worked my way through college as a missile tracker at White Sands Missile Range, kind of a dream job for a teenager. I earned three degrees in engineering, worked for Bell Labs, Sandia National Labs, and started some companies myself, dealing with everything from rockets to nukes to virtual reality to biotech. So I have always been an engineer, entrepreneur, SF fan and writer. But SF provided the inspiration for all of it. I am now living in the future I once only dreamed of, and a lot of it is really great!
While serving as a Fellow at the White House Science Office, I founded SIGMA, the science fiction think tank, comprising 40 SF writers who provide pro bono futurism consulting to the government. I am now retired except for writing, SIGMA activities, and an occasional consulting task, so my fiction output will be increasing since I no longer have to endure bosses or manage employees.
5) Who do you feel influenced your work? What other authors do you look up to? Whose work brought delight to your reading life?
My earliest SF reading was Heinlein, H.G. Wells, Verne, Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke. John W. Campbell’s editorials and articles in Astounding were very influential in my thinking, but it was Robert A. Heinlein whose style, outlook and political attitudes shaped my own as no one else did. I named one of my sons Anson, after him. And I am proud to say that just last week I finally ordered my own set of Heinlein’s complete works, The Virginia Edition.
Writers whose body of work I respect and who come to mind right off, include Murray Leinster, Clifford Simak, R. A. Lafferty, Greg Benford, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Walter Jon Williams, Catherine Asaro, Steven Gould, Geoff Landis, Chuck Gannon, Michael F. Flynn, Paul Levinson – too many more to list, and I am sorry to leave out so many. Lately I would also add frequent Analog contributors Brad Torgersen, Ron Collins, Jay Werkheiser, Martin L. Shoemaker, Dave Creek, Ed Lerner, Sarah Frost, and others.
For delightful mind candy, I enjoy alternate history, and the hands-down Master there is Harry Turtledove. I once complimented Harry that his writing style reminded me of the fiction of Gore Vidal, a writer whose works I greatly admire while detesting his politics. (There could be an object lesson in there for some critics of Sad Puppies nominations.)
6) Can you fill in the blank? “You might enjoy my work if you are a fan of ______.”
The kinds of science fiction that John W. Campbell, Jr., long-time editor of Astounding/Analog, used to ask his writers to create – stories set in the future, but stories that those people would be reading then, about their own time. I call it “contemporary futurism.”
7) How did you come up with the idea for your current nominated story?
The entire story – “Thaw,” “Flow,” “Fall,” and others yet to come – originated in a waking vision I had 20 or 30 years ago, of strange people observing the ruins of a present-day building emerging from a melting glacier. I made a note of it but I never took time to develop the story further. Then in 2012 when I was visiting Peru and pondering some of the massive stoneworks there that had apparently undergone some kind of cataclysmic events many thousands of years before, the story began to coalesce. I wondered what far-future people would think of us, based on just the artifacts that survived, and what kinds of societies they would develop, and in general, what all would be going on when our own era was nothing more than legend and myth. Just as we look back on long-forgotten prehistory.
I wrote much of the first novella, “Thaw,” in the airport lounge in Lima, Peru, during an eight-hour layover between flights in April 2012, while many of my impressions were very fresh. I have absolutely no idea where the small emu-riding characters or their society came from, or what they will do, in any detail. I just watch them and report. I wish I could go directly from mind-video to digital video, but that will probably take another decade or two.
Quite frankly, I have really enjoyed the opportunity to dismiss all of the current hysteria about global warming, by setting the stories after the next Ice Age begins to thaw. And the miles-thick glaciers will return, as they always have, at least every 100,000 years — SUVs, farting cows, and Al Gore notwithstanding.
8) Care to share with us any glimpses what you are working on for the future?
I am currently working on at least one non-fiction book that will reveal some previously unknown facts about archaeoastronomy. Learning the 3D modeling software to do this is lots of fun.
Concurrently, I will continue the post-Ice Age stories to see for myself what my characters will be doing. There at least three more individual tales in the story arc, with some events on a settled Moon and a colonized Mars.
I am also developing a novel about nanotech drugs and weapons gone awry, another one about time travel in the Yucatan, and yet another about a one-legged Confederate civilian detective during the Civil War.
And I have many more sketch-notes on short stories and articles than I will probably live long enough to write. Trouble is, they keep popping in every day, so the stack of notes never gets smaller.
But as I have said elsewhere, “Science fiction is my life.” And it is (mostly, until lately) a lot of fun.
“Flow”, Arlan’s Hugo nominated novella, is available for free from Analog here.
Read Arlan’s other work:
VALLEY OF THE SHAMAN (novel):
OTHER HEADS & OTHER TALES (short story collection):
Also available at BarnesandNoble.com for Nook