Alastair Reynolds on “Sixteen Questions for Kamala Chatterjee”

Revenger by Alastair Reynolds
Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Q: Tell us about your story in Bridging Infinity?

My story deals with a far-future engineering project to drill down into the Sun, for reasons that are explained in the story. But the story has its basis in the present, as the central protagonist is an Indian scientist who makes a critical discovery during her thesis work.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your story?

I wanted to keep very literally to the theme of “bridging”, and that meant some sort of physical structure connecting two points. I kept coming back to James Blish’s short story “The Bridge” about a vast engineering project on (or in) Jupiter, but I wanted to go beyond that to something truly nuts, but just about feasible at the extreme range of present speculation. I wanted to keep away from space elevators and wormholes! I’d read about the solar heliospheric oscillations during my own degree work, and it had always struck with me that there’s a lot we still don’t know about the interior life of stars. I also did some sniffing around about very high temperature materials, and found that creating an alloy that could survive on the surface of the Sun isn’t as mad as it sounds. The other inspiration for the story was drawing a parallel between the sometimes stressful business of defending your thesis work, and an actual interrogation.

Q: What do you believe makes a good science fiction story?

The ideal SF story would be written with a high level of literary craft, with an effective use of voice, viewpoint, structure and so on, perhaps some memorable characterisation, and it would also embed one or more interesting ideas in an original, surprising fashion. The experienced SF reader will be alert to the usual directions such a story might take, so the piece also has to work hard to subvert such expectations – while at the same time not short-changing the less experienced reader. In reality very few SF pieces ever hit all those high notes at once – none of mine ever has – but it’s a good set of objectives to aim for.

Q: What are you working on now? And if people like your story in the book, what other work of yours should they seek out?

I’m trying to nail down the latter part of a new novel, a sequel to my earlier book The Prefect, and which is set in the Revelation Space universe. If people like “Sixteen Questions”, I’d maybe suggest taking a look at my story “A Murmuration”, which also deals with science as a career, although from a rather different perspective.

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Charlie Jane Anders on “Rager in Space”

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Q: Tell us about your story in Bridging Infinity?

“Rager in Space” is about peer pressure, and that moment when you realize that maybe you’ve outgrown your best friend. Sion and D-Mei have been inseparable since they were kids, and they’re unrepentant party girls in a world where artificial intelligence failed for some reason that nobody understands. It’s a sad sort of world where nothing quite works, because the computers tend to go on the fritz whenever you need them. But then Sion gets an invite to go into deep space on the first interstellar spaceship, which is basically one big party bus in space. And then she discovers the reason why the Singularity (that moment where computers become smarter than us) never lived up to its promise.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your story? 

I had been tinkering with this story for a couple years, actually. I was interested in the idea of a couple of party girls going into space and maybe meeting aliens. For a while the story was called “YOLO,” which was absurdly dated even when I started writing it. It didn’t really click for me until I wrote the flashback to Sion’s childhood, where she’s struggling with the fallout from the failed Singularity and then D-Mei comes to her rescue. That made this into much more of a story about a weird friendship. And then I got obsessed with building out the spaceship and the A.I. politics and everything else.

Q: What do you believe makes a good science fiction story?

I’m tempted to say “the same thing that makes a good story of any sort.” Characters who go through something and are changed by it; a crux or conflict of some sort, that gets developed over the course of the narrative; a sense that the story is “about” something — some idea, some question, some thought experiment. Writing a science fiction story, I guess, lets you ask bigger and more ambitious questions, and build in a certain amount of complexity because SF readers are very comfortable with crunchy world building. And I love to start off with a crazy idea like “what if time travel was also space travel because of spatial displacement” and then build it into a personal narrative. Starting with the SFnal idea and then backing  into the personal story can be a lot of fun, as can the reverse. But I guess I’m admitting I have no idea what makes a good story, SF or otherwise, since every story is different. I guess a good story is one that lives on in your head after you’re done reading.

Q:  What are you working on now? And if people like your story in the book, what other work of yours should they seek out?

I’m working hard on my next novel for Tor, which is a lot less funny than “Rager in Space,” but hopefully just as weird. In the meantime, I should put in a plug for my novel All the Birds in the Sky, which came out back in January, plus I have stories in the recent anthologies Drowned Worlds and The Starlit Wood. If you can hunt down a copy of the summer 2016 issue of Catamaran Literary Reader, I have an incredibly weird story about a sex cult who creates their own afterlife. Oh, and it’s a ways off, but I have a story in John Joseph Adams’ space opera anthology Cosmic Powers, which might be the funniest thing I’ve ever written (or might just be kind of silly.)

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Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty on “Cold Comfort”

Women Up To Good, Pat Murphy
Women Up To Good, Pat Murphy

Q: Tell us about your story in Bridging Infinity? What was the inspiration behind it?

Pat Murphy:

If you crack the ice on the right Arctic lake and toss in a match, you can set off a methane flare.

That’s not fiction. It’s true. And that’s what inspired the story. (If you doubt me, search “methane lake” on YouTube, and you’ll find videos of Katey Anthony, a University of Alaska professor, demonstrating the technique.)

The Arctic is warming because of global climate change. As it warms, the permafrost is melting. As the permafrost melts, it releases methane, which bubble up in Arctic lakes.

And here’s the nasty bit: methane is a greenhouse gas that’s even more powerful than carbon dioxide. More methane means more warming, and that meant more permafrost melting, which means more methane and more warming…and so on in a positive feedback loop with negative consequences.

When you asked for a story about a super-engineering project, the melting permafrost was on my mind. My friend Paul Doherty and I had recently written about the permafrost and a (real life) project called Pleistocene Park for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. So I enlisted Paul in the creation of a project to save the world from the feedback loop of the melting permafrost. Of course, we started with an exploding lake.

Paul Doherty:

I have real life engineering friends who are creating the fundamental science behind what might turn into huge engineering projects to help save us from the arctic methane problem. I used their discussions together with my experience working with the scientists, managers, engineers, and crazed artists  at McMurdo Station Antarctica to inspire our story line and more importantly paint a picture of the personalities of the people in our story.

Q: What do you believe makes a good science fiction story?

Good science fiction has characters and situations that expand and stretch your perception & understand of the world and your place in it. There is something expansive about good science fiction — it makes you step outside yourself, considering viewpoints alien to your own. And good science fiction makes you wonder: what will happen if…. And what happens is unexpected but at the same time strangely obvious. Good science fiction deals with unexpected consequences.

And Then You're Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling over Niagara by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty
And Then You’re Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling over Niagara by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty

Q: What are you working on now? And if people like your story in the book, what other work of yours should they seek out?

Pat Murphy:

If you like this story, check out my short story collection — Women Up to No Good. I think two stories in that collection — “A Cartographic Analysis of the Dream State” and “Exploding Like Fireworks” — would appeal to anyone who likes “Cold Comfort”. And look for the science column that Paul and I write for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, where we explore science that may become part of the next SF story!

Paul Doherty:

I am co-author of a non-fiction book with Cody Cassidy, And Then You’re Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling over Niagara, which is due out in April 2017.

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Reviews of Bridging Infinity

Social media for Bridging InfinityReviews of Bridging Infinity are starting to appear. Here are some links, if you’d like to see what people are saying about the book:

 

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