This week the Enquiring Hitchhiker has several new interviews. The first of these is with Dr. Gregory Benford. Dr. Benford is one of the leading authors of hard science fiction working today. His novel In the Ocean of Night was one of my first introductions to the idea of artificial intelligence.
The Hitchhiker asks…
Question 1. Ben Bova has commented that there is too little science fiction about scientists, their lives and the work that they do. Clearly, you are an exception to the rule but why do you think this is the case, even among scientists who write science fiction?”
Writing well is hard, and scientists are often single-minded, so never develop the narrative skills to really enjoy writing, as I do. I realized early on an advantage: You get to use material from part of life that few know and few writers attempt.
Question 2. You come from a science background how did you end up in the writing business and what advice would you give to a person trying to get into the writing business today?
If you possibly can, don’t write for money. It’s too hard to make it work, especially full time. I’ve always been a hobbyist and think that gives you freedom to enjoy it more. I’ve been very lucky in timing, coming in as the New Wave energy lapsed and there was appetite for more traditional, Campbellian sf. I added some literary graces to hard sf. Many have done this now of course.
Question 3. Who are the writers who have most influenced your writing?
The usual: Hemingway, Faulkner, the great English poets pre-Shakespeare, & in sf, Clarke, Heinlein, Disch, Russ, Silverberg, John D. Macdonald, Donald Westlake, Raymond Chandler. I learned a lot from them about narrative craft.
Question 4. This is sort of a personal question so bear with me on this. You and I are both from the South and we both work in a science field (albeit archaeology isn’t exactly a hard science). When I first started I moved to the border area of New York and Pennsylvania to work on a multi-year dig. I experienced a massive amount of anti-Southern bigotry not from the local people but from my fellow archaeologists who tout themselves as paragons of civility and liberalism. Did you experience anything similar as a Southerner turned scientist?
I changed my Alabama accent to a flat California one first year of grad school at UCSD…for good reason. Liberals aren’t really liberal, though they’re blind to that–they’re in love with a value system that needs villains. Be aware. When I taught in the English Dept. at UCI (honors program, and upper division journalism), I noted that American literature has been strongly Southern (Twain, Faulkner, Welty, both Tom Wolfes etc) but literary theory has a Northern cast. Many think it odd that I’m from the South, but that just reflects the monoculture of academe—which desires diversity in everything but opinion.
Question 5. Can you tell us a bit about your role at Reason Magazine and maybe a brief run down of your political beliefs?
I’m a Contributing Editor. I write a piece for the magazine when they bring me an interesting topic. I used to help shape issues, writing cover stories, but in recent years do much less. I’m a middle level libertarian. Don’t believe in open borders, as some do. Prefer some aspects of old line, cultural conservative views, which note the importance of continuity and community in shoring up liberties. Dislike our militarist impulses of late, though my father was a professional who fought in WWII and Korea and retired as Commandant of the artillery school, Ft. Sill. (I and my identical twin brother were in the reserves but never served.) I grew up in occupied Japan and Germany and saw the aftermath of that colossal struggle. A list:
1. I don’t think trying to manage Arabs or others is our proper job. Our Navy should keep the sea lanes clear for trade, but policeman is not our role; doing that endangers the structure of our Republic, as Eisenhower pointed out.
2. Nor do I like borrowing money from China to give it to people who hold us in contempt, hoping to curry favor.
3. I’d like a simple tax code and an end to the long-ago lost War on Drugs.
4. In law, change the costly legal rules from “discovery” to disclosure, as the Brits do.
5. I would consider advocating that California leave the Union, since it is simply too large an entity to run its affairs without being able to control its borders, make most of its laws or print its own money. We see now the limits of the Federal Republic model.
These ideas put me outside most political movements, of course.
Dr. Benford thank you for the interview.