1. What are you working on now? Books? Short stories? Any upcoming projects you want to let us know about?
I’m systematically getting my older books reverted from Harper Collins (done!), Bantam (now done!–Heart of the Comer is out), Ace (working!) etc. Then I have Lucky Bat reissue them in e-editions and sometimes Print on Demand, as with my 1992 novel Chiller, reissued in 2011. I often include a new introduction, making them true second editions.
Beyond that, I have a new novel coming Fall 2012 from Tor, co-written with Larry Niven, Bowl of Heaven. More novels to follow that, including the Bowl sequel, to be called Shipstar. Many of my books remain in hard editions (“p-books” I’ve heard them called; printed) like Timescape and continue to sell well. But I spent five years starting and running some biotech companies and did little writing. That blows you out of the stores. I had half a dozen paperbacks in Barnes and Noble in 2005; now there are few. Time to get back in, on new terms.
I always write a half dozen or so shorter works per year, usually commissioned, to stay in the game. In science fiction (sf) you can get new readers with your short fiction, the traditional path. It’s nice being included in Best Of Year collections—good advertising. To drive this further, Lucky Bat has brought out my 5th short story collection, Anomalies.
2. What about topics? You’ve broken ground in your novels about time/space and even about cryonics. What science are you tackling now?
Bowl of Heaven is about what Larry & I call a Big Smart Object. His Ringworld is a Big Dumb Object since it’s passively stable, as we are when we stand still. A Smart Object is dynamically stable, as we are when we walk. There’ve been several Big Dumb Object s in sf by John Varley, Bob Shaw, George Zebrowski and others.. Our Big Smart Object is larger than Ringworld and is going somewhere, using an entire star as its engine. But why? Fun!
As well, Lucky Bat brings out further titles like my novel Cosm this year, which did well at Harper. They reverted my books, so now it’s my turn. Publishers just can’t get their backlist into e-formats fast enough to avoid having authors like me get them back. It’s a rought & ready era!
3. You’ve mentioned — and you’ve proven — that you’re intrigued by the new world of publishing. Why? What is the magnet for you?
Of all genres, sf should look to the future. The digital transition can liberate authors and readers as never before, with publishers playing not the single pipeline but one of several paths. Plus, digital carries the scent of permanence, liberating prose from matter so it can transcend time.
Want to be read in a century? Go digital. I have dozens of books and hundreds of stories that need moving to e-formats.
4. All but your book, Chiller, recently published by Lucky Bat Books after rights reverted to you, have been published by traditional publishers. How does that model differ for you from the experience of publishing through a house like Lucky Bat Books.
After 47 years publishing, I know enough to shape my own books – art, especially. So getting to commission new art, arrange formatting and not dealing with %$@#*! art directors is a gift. Where else in the arts does a creator get so little say in how his work gets presented?
(I had arranged for a jacket illustration of an anthology I coedited: a lovely 1948 Bonestell painting showing the US east coast from orbit…and an art director flipped it because he thought it looked better mirror reversed…for the jacket of Skylife, from Harcourt. So the coast was unrecognizable. Aaargh!)
Plus, publicity (what little remains) can be contracted out. Distribution through Amazon is potent, and one can arrange placement with Barnes & Noble, etc. Piecemeal publishing, distribution and advertising can be quite effective. Look at the newbie authors who’ve sold a million e-books! These are methods in their infancy, a brave new whirl.
5. Are you planning to be on the road or at any conventions this year where your readers can see you?
No plans as yet…last year I hit worldcon, World Fantasy Con, Condor & Loscon—plenty of fun. I’m Guest of Honor at VCon in Vancouver late Sept and I’ll be at Loscon the day after Thanksgiving. In October Larry & I will do a west coast book tour—Mysterious Galaxy in LA & San Diego, Books Inc in Palo Alto, Dark Carnival in Berkeley, Borderlands in San Francisco, University Bookstore in Seattle, Powell’s in Portland, maybe more.
6. As a professor of physics at the University of California Irvine, you’re conversing with students every day. Do they ever challenge the physics in your science fiction? Or make it a part of the classroom discussion?
I use sf examples especially in mechanics classes—is the ringworld stable, etc.. I’ve been a lifelong researcher, with hundreds of scientific papers published, and several books—so I truly care about communicating science to people.
A fun part of Physics Through SF, a course I taught at UC Irvine, is seeing where you should tweak the physics to make the story work better. Hal Clement called it “the game” and it’s mostly played these days at Analog. I posted a long piece about this on my blog, gregorybenford.com.
7. What lies ahead?
A whole new landscape in publishing. I suspect that within this decade fully half of all new books will appear in e-formats and stay available forever. An enormous backlist will reside there. Many editors will be as freelance as writers are now. (A fine senior editor I worked with many times has gone freelance already, http://betsymitchelleditorial.com/.)
This is more than an opportunity; it’s a revolution. Join it!