Posts Tagged ‘Tobias Buckell’

tobiasincentralparklgTobias 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.


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crystalrainlargeCrystal Rain by Tobias Buckell
Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction (May 29, 2007)
ISBN-13: 978-0765350909

John DeBrun is literally a man with no past. Washed up on the seashore 27 years ago with no memory and only the chain around his neck to tell him his name, John has managed to build a life for himself, despite his terrible handicap. With his wife, Shanta, and son, Jerome, he lives the life of a coastal fisherman on the island world of Nanagada, suffering through nightmares and a feeling of deep loss as he tries to make new memories to fill the hole left by his amnesia.

That all changes, though, when the Azteca on the other side of the Wicked High Mountains invade, looking for slaves and sacrifices for their strange, alien gods, the Teotl. Forced to flee before the invading army, John heads for Capitol City without his family, determined to join up with the mongoose-men, the best fighting force the Nanagadans have to offer. He’s hunted by both the terrifying Teotl and a brutal man named Pepper, for reasons he can neither remember nor understand. It’s up to John to find some way to stop the Azteca, regain his lost memories, and save his family, all while trying to stay alive.

Nanagada is a colony planet of Earth, but the reasons why this branch of humanity has ended up there, or what they were meant to do, have been lost hundreds of years ago. With the flavor of the Caribbean woven throughout the story, Buckell paints a vivid world full of diverse people, with strange enemies, and even stranger friends. John is a strong man bent under by the force of his unknown past, and the fate of his family. A rare figure in speculative fiction, he’s a black man trying to make his way in a world he doesn’t remember. He shows emotion freely, genuinely loves his wife and son, and is doing his damnedest to either save them or make someone pay, hard.

Pepper is someone from John’s past, a walking, talking killing machine with dreads, who has a secret soft spot for lost causes and hopeless people. Haidan is a man of honor, the General of the mongoose-men charged with protecting Nanagada, and weighed down by responsibility and a creeping sickness. Oaxyctl is an Azteca who befriends John, madly driven by his bloodthirsty gods to get the secrets from John’s memory any way he can. And Prime Minister Dihana is a shrewd, tough young woman determined to keep her people alive while at the same time bringing them back out of the dark ages. All these characters and more make for a riveting tale.

There are several recognizable influences in the book. The Azteca are modeled after the Aztecs of South America, the alien Loa that many in Capitol City worship are references to the practice of voodoo in Haiti and other areas, and even the Rastafarians briefly mentioned come from Jamaica. This mix of religions, peoples, and historical references makes for a rich and varied background against which the main story takes place. It is rare to find an author with a deft touch for so many unusual cultures, but Buckell pulls it off beautifully, probably with plenty of help from his own Caribbean upbringing.

The tech in Crystal Rain remains relatively low key up until the very end, turning the focus on the main players instead of the shiny machines as some authors do. What tech does appear has an almost steampunk quality at times, with soaring airships, armored locomotives, and a steamer ship that can pop out treads and crawl over land. There is also a hair-raising tech scene towards the end that brings to mind something that happened in the Matrix, but I don’t want to spoil it by giving away details. Just read the last few chapters with care.

Crystal Rain is a fascinating and memorable experience, and a great opening for the start of Buckell’s first series. The only problem I had at times was the cant with which some of the characters spoke, but it’s an adjustment that comes quickly once the story picks up. If you’re into adventure, betrayal, grotesque aliens, strange technologies and a life or death struggle, go pick up Crystal Rain immediately. And while you’re at it, pick up the next two books, Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose. This is a series worth reading.
Check out Tobias Buckell’s website where you can read the first 1/3 of Crystal Rain for FREE! or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
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Other Reviews of Crystal Rain:

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Enduring Romance

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Author of the WeekStarting next Monday, November 2nd, I will be interviewing a science fiction/fantasy author every week, as well as reviewing one or two pieces of their work. There will be questions about their pieces, getting published, the experience of being an author and a writer, how they choose their characters and why, along with many other topics.

There will also be some book giveaways, for those who might be interested.

I’m looking for suggestions on your favorite science fiction and fantasy authors who you might like to see interviewed. I love talking to the big name authors, but I think an interview and review event such as this would most benefit the less well known authors, those authors just getting started. I’m hoping that the draw of the bigger names will help bring attention to the smaller authors.

And of course, I’m hoping that everyone who stops by will learn something about what being an author means, and what science fiction and fantasy mean to readers and authors alike.

My first guest author will be Tobias Buckell, Caribbean science fiction writer. I’ll be reviewing Crystal Rain, the first book in his science fiction series, and Tides From the New Worlds, his short story collection.

For a full list of the authors already signed up and scheduled, visit the AOTW page tab at the top.

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Tides from the New Worlds: In Orbite Medievali by Tobias Buckelltides

Installment 9

In Orbite Medievali is based on the idea that the Earth is not, in fact, round. What would have happened to the voyage of Christopher Columbus if the world were flat? This is an idea I haven’t read before, and it really intrigued me. The terror and confusion the crew feels as they fall off the side of the world is very much how I imagine I would feel. Also, Columbus was kind of a jerk, and I liked that Buckell wrote from the perspective of the lowly grunts on the ships.

The heroes of the hour aren’t the snotty nobles, including Columbus. It’s the engineer and the cook and cabin boy. The descriptions of the experience as they fall through empty air and cascading sea water are realistic and frightening. Buckell aptly predicts how it would feel to common, uneducated men of that time to experience something so far beyond their control or understanding.

This is a good story, but hard to describe without giving too much away. Just read it and find out for yourself the questions that come to the minds of the men as they realize their world isn’t as perfect as they were lead to believe.


You can check out Tobias Buckell on his website, or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
The master post can be found here, Tides from the New Worlds

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tidesTides from the New Worlds: Her by Tobias Buckell

Installment 8

Her is a surreal work, combining science fiction and magical realism in a way that is incredibly unsettling and mind-bending. We follow a high ranking bureaucrat as he handles the ins and outs of working and living on a giant floating woman in space. They don’t know where she came from, they know only that she exists and is a source of useful materials. They mine her toenails, they cut her hair like trees, they use patches of her skin for cloth and paper. On her breast is a space port, in her eyes people swim and sail.

The vision of a planet as a woman has been used as a metaphor since the beginning of human kind. The term “Mother Earth” is well known, although often seen as hokey. Buckell paints a startling and disturbing view of what it would feel like to do to a person what we so casually do to the planet now. The answers are unsettling and sad, the brutality that is shown in the story is casual and thoughtless.

The questions raised are serious and hard to handle. Is it our right to treat our planet so callously? Is our casual taking of resources any different than plundering a sleeping woman? There is an almost unconscious undertone of rape and molestation, and the narrator goes through the story with a constant, slightly sick feeling.

I don’t know if Buckell was truly trying to send an environmental message, or merely evoke a sense of wrongness about taking and using a person or thing so unthinkingly, but either message is valid. There is also the idea that we may someday discover unbelievable things while traveling space, but I can only hope that by that time, we are a kinder, gentler race. As the anthology progresses, I think the story ideas get stranger and more imaginative, and it’s easy to see him growing as a writer as the stories get better and better. More to come soon.


You can check out Tobias Buckell on his website, or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
The master post can be found here, Tides from the New Worlds

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tidesTides from the New Worlds: The Shackles of Freedom by Tobias Buckell with Mike Resnick

Installment 7

In the theme that seems to be emerging, I see Buckell questioning preconceptions and trying to stretch the stories covered in speculative fiction. The Shackles of Freedom is one such story. A modern doctor, (and by modern we’re talking space age technology, easily cures cancer, etc.) decides to go to a newly colonized planet to practice medicine without all the bureaucratic restrictions that have begun to stifle him. Dr. Hostetler will be administering to a colony settled by a group of Amish colonists.

There are no administrative restrictions on his practice, but the Amish people have their own religious restrictions on what the doctor can do to help them. The torment he feels over this contradiction eats at him as people he could have easily saved at his high tech hospital die on his plain wooden table, but it becomes so much worse when the Amish girl he has come to love falls gravely ill.

Dr. Hostetler must decide whether her convictions and those of her people, are more important than her life. He must also decide whether he can continue to be the doctor of a people who refuse to be healed. The answers he finds are hard and heart wrenching.

I really liked the questions this story raised. What happens when you must continually fight against your own patients to help them? What would happen if in the future humans really did colonize other planets? Would those religious enclaves still exist, but in space? The alienness of the planet that Hostetler and his patients inhabit is usually subtle, but at one point it is brought sharply into focus.

The story is surreal, but it could also easily happen in our own country right now. The look at Amish life is also fascinating, especially as I grew up with the Amish living in my own town, present but so very separate, so very alien to me. I’m excited to share where Buckell goes next in his collection!


You can check out Tobias Buckell on his website, or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
The master post can be found here, Tides from the New Worlds

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Tides from the New Worlds: Shoah Sry by Tobias Buckell with Ilsa J. Bicktides

Installment 6

In this collaboration with Ilsa J. Bick, Buckell touches on very traditional themes in Feminist Science Fiction, but in an interesting way. We are introduced to a future that is made up entirely of women, with men mysteriously going extinct at some point in history.

Instead of a utopia where women live together in sisterhood, there are desperately fighting factions. In a world where children are reproduced through cloning and genetic manipulation, one faction, the Talorans, wish to look for male genetic material in order to bring the other half of our species back. The other faction, the Imperialists, wish to suppress this material and bring all women under their thumbs. The title refers to the Taloran’s word for this material, and for the person that the material will help them create.

On a secret mission to a distant planet thought to contain the fabled genetic material, two women from the Taloran faction crash land and must escape from the Imperial Inquisitor coming to kill them. Dinah, the one that holds the key to the revitalization of the race, is sent off, while the other stays to fight. But as Dinah tries to escape, she slowly begins to change, and also begins to realize that her sisters do not always have her best interests at heart.

This story is fascinating to read. There are so many themes packed into it. Why are the women fighting so hard to bring Man back into the picture? Is the integrity and dignity of the individual more important than the mission? Can you trust someone who has been raised as your enemy? Does the freedom to make a choice, instead of the forcing of that choice, change the outcome? Are you forever bound by what is contained within your genes?

I truly liked this story, and I plan to pick up some of Ilsa J. Bick’s other work to see how it compares. I think this collaboration brought up some very interesting questions from the two authors, and I hope they’ll do something again someday.


You can check out Tobias Buckell on his website, or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell
The master post can be found here, Tides from the New Worlds

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