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A writer can do altogether different things in a multi-volume book, like give supporting characters room to develop, and subsidiary plots more time to grow and intertwine with the main story. And although the multi-volume epic has become the norm in fantasy these days - particularly in so-called ‘high fantasy’ - it's still thought of as being somewhat strange among science-fiction readers, which gives me a chance to show readers new to me something in these four volumes that they may not have expected - that very long books can still be tight, tense, and compelling.
Of course, the main thing that brought me to the Otherland books was that the idea was just so much fun. The day I first thought of it I actually laughed out loud. An artificial universe whose builders could create anything they wanted, from perfect re-enactments of the age of the Caesars in Rome to tales of the Brothers Grimm, or even completely original worlds that nobody could ever anticipate. Now, how much fun to write would that be, I thought. A lot of fun, I guessed. That's when I laughed.
And, I'm pleased to say, I was absolutely right. I only hope readers enjoy it half as much as I have.
Otherland explores the development of a virtual-reality world. What implications do you see VR having for the human race?
I think in day-to-day, practical terms it will not make a great deal of difference. However, it will have a much more profound effect on our metaphysical outlook, I think. When most of the world's communication is done through electronic media, and you can no longer tell whether the person you are speaking to is real or not, then people are going to find themselves living in a literal world of Maya, the Buddhist concept of the ‘snares of illusion’.
Do you spend much time exploring the Internet yourself?
Less time than I could, more time than I should. It does interest me, although I agree that the current commercial potential has been exaggerated. But it's early days still, not unlike the American West a hundred years ago. You might have walked into a frontier town then and noticed that they only had one store, one doctor, one bar, and that all of the buildings looked pretty shabby, and all that would have been true. But you might also have noticed a vitality and freedom to that town, and a sense of change on the wind, even new myths beginning to form, and that would have been just as true.
Do you think that books as we know them now have a future in an electronic age?
Text is not going anywhere for a long time. It's the densest and most interactive form of information storage we have outside of pure mathematics. The forms in which text is delivered is another story. There may indeed come a day when people download books onto a small portable unit, like a pad, or smart paper. But a paperback book is quite a useful piece of technology as well, and hard to replace. What other kind of storage system is so easy to access, so easy to transport, and so cheap to replace if you leave it somewhere by accident?
What kind of preparation goes into creating your vividly imagined fantasy/SF worlds?
Everything you can imagine. The problem is, there's no formula. (If there were, it would be much easier.) One thing leads me to another, and another, and the main skill is knowing when to stop - that is, when the sensation of depth and realism would not be improved enough to warrant more effort in a particular area.
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and is printed with their permission.