I write science fiction and fantasy—mostly novels, but short stories too—and I’m best known for my high-tech science fiction. I live in Hawaii; it’s where I grew up and went to school. Quoting from my author bio, I’ve been a writer, a mom, a programmer of database-driven websites, and an independent publisher. What am I passionate about? Well, the world, this world, the most interesting world there is, the only known living planet, the planet to which we are exquisitely adapted—yet so many of us fail to appreciate this amazing, beautiful, irreplaceable world, threatened now by global warming and an ongoing loss of biodiversity, and by war, and runaway technology.
What sparked your interest in science and science fiction?
My dad was big into popular science—through TV and books—and that interest rubbed off on me. At the same time, I loved to read, and I loved adventure stories. The stories could be set in the wilderness, on a sailing ship, the seashore, or someone’s backyard—it didn’t matter. I was into it. It was an easy step from there to science fiction, especially since my dad loved the genre and always had books around.
You’ve been described as one of the pioneers of nanopunk fiction. What is nanopunk, and would you consider it an accurate description of your work?
It’s nice to be considered a pioneer, but nanopunk isn’t a term I use. I mean, most of my stuff is not very “punk.” I like the terms nanotech or biotech science fiction better, though granted those terms are not nearly as catchy!
What prompted you to write The Nanotech Succession series? What was it about nanotechnology that drew your interest?
Like so many people back then, I was inspired by K. Eric Drexler’s Engines of Creation–and I also knew just enough about biology and biochemistry to recognize that we are made up of naturally evolved nanomachines. So maybe some of this stuff was possible? And if it was, what then? That question was the seed from which the entire series grew.
Personally, I love the realism of your more unlikable characters. I’d say “villains”, but I’m not sure that’s the correct word, since they have a lot more complexity and depth of motivation than a typical movie baddie who just wants to destroy the world. I’m thinking of characters like Roxanne in Tech Heaven or Kirsten Adair in The Bohr Maker. How do you go about creating characters like that? Do you base them off real people? Perhaps an old boss?
I call them antagonists—and they all have their own story. In the two books you mentioned, the protagonists are exploring the bleeding edge of technology, pushing the envelope as far as they can. The antagonists are there as a foil, a means to make the protagonists’ quest more difficult, but also to represent an opposing view. There are a lot of reasons to legitimately oppose what the “heroes” are up to in these books. A good antagonist lets me explore issues from multiple points of view, exposing the positive and the negative. Kirsten Adair is cruel and brutal, but she’s got legitimate concerns. And Roxanne—I love Roxanne. She’s my secret hero because though she behaves badly, she’s mostly right.
One of our missions is to promote STEM and nanotechnology. Many of my colleagues attribute their initial interest in science to Star Trek or other science fiction works. Sci-fi and fantasy writers seem to be better than professional scientists at generating interest in STEM. What are some things science fiction writers can teach professional scientists about communicating effectively?
“Sense of wonder” is a term often used in conjunction with science fiction, though only a segment of the genre is really interested in trying to evoke it. Still, I think that’s one key to capturing the interest of bright kids who might go on to do good things for the world. Try to communicate the sense of wonder that led you to your work, along with a can-do sense of the possible. This world is facing a lot of serious problems. Give young people reason to believe the research and problem-solving is all worthwhile.
Looking at science fiction from the 1950’s and 60’s, it seems like people at that time had a much more optimistic view of science and technology. For example, a lot of comic book heroes created at the time—characters like Tony Stark, Reed Richards, and Janet Van Dyne—were scientists or engineers. Star Trek depicted a life beyond the stars that included equal opportunities for people of all genders and cultures. I worry we’ve lost that sense of hope, because a lot science fiction created today is pretty dystopian. Scientists in today’s movies are usually the bad guys. Do you have any sense for what caused that shift?
In part, I think, people are just more cynical and more aware that things go wrong. They know science does not always improve the world. Three things that popped into my head when I first read this question were DDT, Agent Orange, and nuclear war. All were huge concerns in that era. There was also a sense of hubris. I do think there are more good movies and shows these days dealing with STEM topics. For All Mankind is a recent one that really impressed me.
It’s interesting to look back at older science fiction and see how accurately it anticipated the future. Early writers envisioned a lot of the technologies we have today, but they often got things dramatically wrong. (I’m always amazed by the amount of smoking in Asimov books.) As you look back at some of your earlier work, are there any technologies that past-you would be impressed to learn she forecasted correctly? Are there any technologies she’d wish she had predicted?
I’ll leave it to readers to decide what I got right, but two things that have profoundly influenced the degree of difficulty in writing near-future fiction (things I didn’t struggle so much with in the early days) are the ubiquity of smart phones and surveillance cameras. Wow, those two things can drain the suspense right out of a lot of potentially dramatic situations! :-)
Last Question: If you had to hire a nanobot to do a job for you, what job would you hire it to do?
Ha! Every now and then, when I have an especially frustrating day getting basic technology to work properly, I pause and wonder if we’ll ever reach the point where we’ll trust the really tricky stuff to work. But just a single nanobot, huh? So many possibilities! Do I go with health? Or environment? I can’t decide!
Linda, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today! We look forward to reading your future work. If you'd like read more from Linda, you can find her books through various book sellers listed on her website.
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