Tobias Buckell is the author of many short stories, three speculative fiction novels, plus a novel set in the Halo universe. He’s also an avid gamer, and a brand new dad to twin girls. Born in the Caribbean, he strives to include that flavor in his novels.
Q1: What draws you to write science fiction and/or fantasy, hereafter referred to as speculative fiction?
TB: The sense of possibility, the open-ended ability to write just about anything you could imagine.
Q2: What was the first piece you ever had published?
TB: Besides the high school newspaper? I think it was a short, 750 word piece up on Jackhammer Magazine. It’s the first piece I got a check for ($8.00, the editor rounded up their penny-a-word rate). I still have a framed photocopy of the check. My first ‘big’ sale in the genre was to Science Fiction Age, where I sold my story ‘The Fish Merchant.’
Q3: What did it feel like?
TB: There was a lot of inarticulate and loud happiness.
Q4: What was the defining moment that made you say “Yes I’m a writer”?
TB: Seeing my first story in print, in a magazine that people could buy at most stores and was even in grocery stores at the time, made me feel a writer.
Q5: How long have you been writing? What keeps you writing?
TB: I’m 30, I started submitting short stories to markets when I was 15. What keeps me going? I love doing it!
Q6: Who are some of your influences? (Authors, Personal Friends, Teachers, etc.)
TB: I enjoyed Clarke and Asimov, though Clarke a bit more, to be honest, as an influence. Later the cyberpunks got me pumped up about SF/F, because they were a bit more blue collar, street-oriented, inclusive, bringing in developing world countries as players on the global scene. That struck a deep chord in me, growing up in the Caribbean and all. Clarke was also way more of a globalist as well, and I think that’s what attracted me to him more than other authors.
Q7: What’s your favorite speculative fiction work?
TB: I’m rather fond of Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep. I startled Vernor at San Diego Comic Con at a bar once when I told him I’d read it 40 times (I read rather fast, books I enjoy usually get reread several times) in high school, and charted out how many pages there were in each chapter and what POV they were in so I could draw a chart of how the novel was constructed because I wanted to write a novel like that. I’ve since dissected more novels in similar fashion, but his was the first that I kept coming back to going ‘how’d he accomplish this?’ over and over again.
Q8: Tides From the New Worlds contains 20 short stories, each one a little different. Will any of them ever lead to a book?
TB: One of them already did, Fish Merchant lead to Crystal Rain, my first novel. There are some other stories in there that I wouldn’t mind taking further, like Tides. I’ve written another short story in that universe, and I would really like to explore a fantasy world where magic is tied to how much life you use up for a spell, or magical event, and where there are progeric children wandering around cities who’ve been used up by magic.
Q9: Which of the short stories is your personal favorite and why?
TB: Fish Merchant, all these years later, is still one that I like because it was the first time I suddenly got the bike to stay up as I pedaled, so to speak. Before that I kept falling over.
Q10: When you set out to write Crystal Rain, did you ever think it would be published?
TB: I had a hunch. I was still writing short stories when I met my agent, and he asked me to write Crystal Rain. He was very excited about the book, so I was very hopeful for it.
Q11: Do you think that the fact that Crystal Rain features an overwhelming array of characters of color, including the main character, affected how quickly the book was picked up?
TB: Hard to say. On one hand, it got a lot of rejections, but they didn’t specify why. One house said it was confusing because I was white-looking, but the people in the book were all minorities, and they weren’t sure how to sell that. I know it’s affected some sales, some have emailed me hate mail based on the idea that Caribbean peoples would rule the stars. But on the other hand, I’m still plugging away selling books and gaining readers, so it’s not a show-stopper. Some people are just never going to be your audience.
Q12: Is John DeBrun based off of anyone in real life?
TB: No, I don’t know anyone in my life with a hook for a hand.
Q13: What about Pepper?
TB: Pepper is my homage to the dangerous action hero. He’s just as liable to get you killed as to save you.
Q14: Why do you think so few authors of color and characters of color show up in speculative fiction?
TB: There are so few characters of color because the authorship isn’t very diverse, and it’s not high on awareness of most white authors to focus on main characters of color. Because the field then looks white, there is a perception that non-white people aren’t welcome (a perception not helped by a lot of cluelessness from core genre in all sides of diversity, inclusiveness). If you look at the number of diverse authors working in mainstream literature, particularly in academia, which has nominally higher levels of authorship than SF/F, it’s because some effort was made to reach out and cultivate and invite authors in. We haven’t had a ton of that until very recently, where thanks to the internet, non-white authors have been able to discern that there are non-white friendly editors/fans/readers. Since like-minded non-white authors could confer, there is also more of a sense that they can try to stand up and be counted, whereas before they might have felt like they were the only one trying to do so, and maybe give up after a while.
There’s a somewhat racist fallacy that inviting, encouraging, or growing non-white talent instantly means imposing quotas, and then someone stands up and says ‘and we only want the *best* fiction, not quotas.’ It’s interesting because it assumes at its core that casting your net wider can only work if you include lesser work, or that non-white authors can’t produce work as good as white. Encouraging and seeking out don’t equate to quotas, but even now, many resist even specifically asking or stating they’re looking for more diversity in both characters, outlook, worldview, and authorship.
Q15: Do you feel that by writing books like Crystal Rain, you’re making a difference with readers about their perceptions of speculative fiction and who should be included?
TB: I hope so. I know I’ve made a difference to some, I had one reader break into tears when they met me because I had main characters of color and they got so little of that in science fiction they felt left out and invisible, and coming across the few books that did this was always an emotional event for them. I’ve had a few readers email to say that they didn’t want to read a ‘Caribbean SF’ book because they were resistant to the whole idea, but after getting recommendations, ended up reading and enjoying.
Q16: Where do you think the future of speculative fiction is going? More inclusive or more exclusive, and why?
TB: Orbit just sent me Nora Jemisin’s first Fantasy novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, of a series that I’m really looking forward to cracking open. I’m supposed to get a copy of David Anthony Durham’s next book here soon. Nnedi Okorafor is writing some awesome stuff. I can’t wait for Nalo Hopkinson’s next book. So that’s a sign that things are not hopeless. On the other hand, if you compare demographics of novelists to the demographics of the US population, diversity is still vastly out of sync in the field. I think if SF wants to survive, just looking at the US census’ estimated makeup of the US in 20-30 years, we will need to be able to speak to more than just a monochromatic future, because it’s certainly not where the very obvious near future is going.
Q17: What are you working on right now? Will there be any more books set in Crystal Rain’s world, beyond Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose?
TB: For now the Crystal Rain world is on hold, the sales were not moving up as quickly as hoped, and while online sales and preorders for Sly Mongoose gave me my best opening week yet, chain bookstores hardly carried Sly Mongoose. I may look into taking the series (I have 2 more books carefully plotted out, and 20,000 words written of the fourth book) around to a smaller publisher, as it might be a good book for them (like I said, we had awesome sales via Amazon.com and indy stores), but we’re trying to reboot the chains’ interest in me with a new direction. I’m writing a near future novel called Arctic Rising for Tor, about what happens when people start trying to terraform Earth in the near future to prevent further global warming. As a near future cyperpunk/techno thriller sort of thing it’s a new direction, but early readers have been pretty psyched about it.
I’m also, at the same time, enjoying writing a young adult novel called The All Tree. But I’ll have more information about it in January or so.
For more information about Tobias Buckell and his writing, including excerpts for reading, visit tobiasbuckell.com or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
You can purchase Crystal Rain and the rest of the series through Amazon.com and Tides From the New Worlds through Wyrm Publishing.