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By Patrick (2007-02-06)
Q: On your website www.rifters.com, you provide additional information and background for your novels on a scale that is positively Tolkienian. Your passion in the work is evident, but I'm curious as to what inspires you to go above and beyond what most authors do. What is driving you to provide this resource?
I really, really don't like conventional forms of self-promotion. While I love hanging around with people at cons, I tend to avoid doing signings, launches, and readings because I'm always afraid that nobody's going to show up. So online promotion's pretty much the only other option.
A lot of author websites are just that-- they promote the author, they jump up and down and thump their chests and shout out "Look at Me! Buy My Books!" It is to cringe-- and I'm not being all smug and superior here, because I too crave fame and adulation. I'm as much of an attention-slut as anyone in this business (or I would be, if more people paid attention), but although I am a needy sonofabitch, I don't want to look like one. So what do you do if you want to draw people to your website, but you don't want to make yourself look like a narcissist?
Well, if you're not going to promote yourself, the only other thing to promote is the material. So that's what I do. I build a little parallel environment, an immersive thing that plays it straight and tries to make you forget that you're even talking about a book, written by a professional liar. I want the site to feel more documentary than fictive, which is why I present it in the form of confidential memoes and surveillance telemetry excerpts and so on. And when you do that-- when your goal is to induce the sense that the surfer is actually spying on a real future-- then you can't afford to intrude as an author and point to yourself, because that shatters the illusion. (Although I do have one wing of the site - "The Real World" -- which is more conventionally All About Me.)
Overall, I think it's a pretty innovative approach. The only down side is that, judging by my hit counts, it doesn't actually work.
Q: What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write BLINDSIGHT in the first place?
A throwaway line in an afterword by Richard Dawkins, from an early-nineties anthology of ecological and evolutionary essays collected into a light blue trade paperback with a picture of a wasp's nest on the front. I do not remember the name of the book, and I can't find it on Amazon (at least, not under "Dawkins").
Anyway, he was winding down the book, and mentioning all the things we still didn't know about life, and consciousness was on the list: "We don't know what it's good for," he remarked (I'm paraphrasinig here); "one can certainly imagine a meat robot, shaped by natural selection, that behaves exactly the way we do." Of course, he was just rehashing the classic Zombie argument, but this was the first time I'd ever encountered it and it kind of got into my brain and festered. For over ten fucking years it festered. And if I've made any contribution to the field at all, it's that perhaps I'm the first one to give up. (SPOILER ALERT: skip the rest of this answer if you don't want to read Blindsight's thematic punchline.) Everyone else is still looking for some reason for self-awareness to exist, some adaptive advantage that it confers. And I really, really hope they're right, but I can't think of one. And you know, in evolution, not everything is adaptive. Most mutations are neutral or deleterious. So maybe there is no advantage, maybe it's a fluke, maybe it's actually maladaptive and on the way out. I suspect a lot of people might be haunted by that possibility. I think I'm the first one to openly fart at the funeral, though.
Q: Were there any perceived conventions of the scifi genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write BLINDSIGHT?
Well, I was a little tired of aliens, both literary and cinematic, that basically seem to be humans in rubber suits with one or two cultural knobs cranked to eleven. On the other hand, it's a bit too easy to throw a big black slab at the audience and say "There's no point in even trying to understand the aliens because they're, you know, alien". If something evolved in Darwin's universe, it's damn well going to adhere to certain natural laws, and that makes it tractable. So I wasn't so much breaking a convention as I was treading the razor's edge between two conventions. I tried to ensure that everything was deeply weird-- life without genes, intelligence without conventional cephalisation-- but nothing was unjustifiable.
And of course there are the vampires. That was just a kind of intellectual wank for my own amusement: I wanted to see if I could take one of the most absurd and unjustifiable creatures ever to spring from myth, and plausibly handwave a scientific justification for all those absurd elements. Again, I wasn't really shattering a convention (although I was definitely poking it with a stick and laughing at its discomfort); I was reinforcing the standard mythology using biological rationales. I didn't know if I'd be able to pull it off until I came up with the Crucifix Glitch; after that it was, Hah! Bring it on!