"No science fiction writer predicted that we would go to the moon and land there and then go [he covers his mouth as though stifling a yawn]. And then stop. We never would have imagined anyone would abandon space travel. One of the saddest things I've ever seen in my life was on that trip down the Florida coast. I saw, lying on its side in the rain, a Titan booster: one of maybe three left in all the world."




















On upcoming books | On humor | On electronic publishing


Stuff coming out:

This [Callhan's Key] just came out, the [short story] collection [By Any Other Name] is coming out in February, a new [non-Callahan] novel, Free Lunch, comes out in May, then the original Callahan's Crosstime Saloon has been reprinted in paperback, then Time Traveler's Strictly Cash is coming out in paperback, then Callahan's Secret, the third one gets reissued in paperback. And Starmind, the third book that Jeanne and I wrote together is coming out in paperback. The first two are available in a single volume called The Stardancers, the third book Starmind at the time the rights were tied up but now it's coming in paper so those who liked the first two can follow what happened next.

We didn't write what we call "sneak-quels." You know, you can pick up book two and just read that one and never read the other two and you'll be fine; you don't miss a thing. It's not like if you don't read the third one you don't get to find out the ending. If you buy a book and then at the end find out you have to invest another 25 bucks to get any value out of this one, you've been conned. [Laughs]

We started another book [together] recently but it has nothing to do with dance. And we don't know if it will ever sell: we haven't got commercial in mind. We'll just write this one for our heads.

And I just finished reading the galleys for publication [By Any Other Name] and it was an interesting experience. About 10 or 15 years ago, for no reason I can name, I just stopped getting ideas for short stories. It was never a conscious decision. It wasn't: Just write books, that's where the money is. Although that would have been an intelligent decision, but I wasn't that smart. I simply stopped coming up with ideas for short stories and it took me years to notice. So I got the rights back to some of my old stories and I'm recycling this collection of stuff, the most recent of which is probably at least five years old.

The book is called By Any Other Name, because that was the title of my first Hugo-winning story. Some of the stories go back to 1973 and 75, and some are as recent as five years ago. It was very interesting, the thing I noticed was that again and again in these stories, I was too optimistic. I guessed wrong by being too optimistic. A lot of these stories take place in what was then the distant future of the 1990s say, or the year 2000. And in every case I assumed we were going to be further along than in fact we actually are. We'd be on Luna by now. Surely, if we got to the moon in the 70s, by now there would be a permanent settlement on the moon. Who couldn't figure that out?

There is, in fact, in this book one of my Globe and Mail columns in which I talk about futures that even science fiction never dreamed of. No science fiction writer predicted that we would go to the moon and land there and then go [he covers his mouth as though stifling a yawn]. And then stop. We never would have imagined anyone would abandon space travel. One of the saddest things I've ever seen in my life was on that trip down the Florida coast. I saw, lying on its side in the rain, a Titan booster: one of maybe three left in all the world. None of us predicted the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union. Some of us did predict that the Cold War would end, but it was usually with a very loud noise.

Over and over again I find in my short stories that I am, by policy, optimistic. Looking back on it and thinking it over after 25 years, I'm real proud of that. If that's a defect, it's a defect I'm sinfully proud of and I hope I can manage to maintain that excessively optimistic attitude for another 25 years.

In this collection there's one story -- it goes back to 1975 -- that's a grim, dark, there-is-no-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel story. It's called "Nobody Likes to Be Lonely." I wrote it at a time of great personal misery, before I met Jeanne. I almost cut it from the book and then I thought: You wrote it, it's not a bad story. It's just that overall, all my career I've had this feeling that mankind does not need art to bring it down. Reading the newspaper will do that, we don't need more depressing fiction. We don't need more bummer movies.

The best three books that have ever come out of my printer are the three I wrote with Jeanne because between us we make up a normal human being. You put two eyes together you get depth perception. You put two perceptions together and... my profession has many advantages: You get to sleep late in the morning, you don't have to wear a necktie or shoes, or even pants if you don't feel like it. The only thing wrong with it is, it's lonely. It's like masturbation in that regard: it's highly satisfactory except for the loneliness. It can be really pleasant to have someone down there in the pit with you: someone to watch your back.

Through her choreographic background, Jeannie has never had the luxury I've had. If I'm a little late, the editor was expecting that anyway. In her art, the customers show up on Thursday evening at 9 p.m. you'd better have the choreography ready. So she can produce when the bell rings: bing, bing, bing. I sit and stare into space for up to a year trying to figure out what happens next. The trivial business of putting that into words and arranging them into sentences and paragraphs I don't even think about. That's automatic. I don't understand why everyone can't do that. But what happens next can freeze me for a year.

Meanwhile, Jeanne always knows what happens next and just has a little trouble putting it into exactly the words she wants. So you put us together and it's just great.


On humor...

Too much art these days amounts to an unending scream of pain. So I've always felt an obligation to be the guy who runs up to the front of the airplane as the wings are smoking and says: You know, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the airport. [Laughs] If we calm everybody down, maybe the pilot will come up with something. But it definitely isn't going to help if the passengers riot.

Again, I grew up with that generation which it simply never occurred to us that there was the slightest chance the world would not in our lifetimes end in nuclear fire. We were expecting nuclear winter, the apocalypse, the end of all life on this planet within our lifetime. I don't know why but it seemed inevitable. I still don't think we've fully recovered from the missing last step phenomenon of suddenly realizing that we're probably not going to eliminate life on the planet, in my lifetime, anyway.

Artists leaped for joy when the bomb came along because -- boy! -- does that give you a great last act. You swing the big club, boy. Whack! Thousands of artworks envisioned the end of all things. Right down to Terminator II they did that beautiful evocation of what it would actually be like about a mile from the blast center and watching total hell come at you. Part of us was yearning, almost, for the end of civilization: Then I can wear black leather and I can be a surly sonofabitch and I don't have to show up at work at 9 o'clock and if I want a woman, I'll just take her. Come on, guys, adolescent fantasy.

Once in a library I ran across a rogue translation of The Ramayana which some say is the oldest work of literature that there is. An ancient Persian story about Prince Rama. Basically, Prince Rama starts out full of ideals and then meets reality and gets the rug yanked out from under him, gets disillusioned and grows wiser. It was the template for the story that's been repeated a million times. But at the end of The Ramayana -- in this translation at least -- at the end of the book he makes his way to the feet of the wisest man in the world and says: Master, everything I was taught was a lie. Everything I believed in was an illusion. Is there nothing in life that is real?

And the wise man ponders and says: [Affecting the voice of an ancient wise man] My son, three things in life are real. God, human stupidity and laughter. But the first two pass our comprehension. We must do what we can with the third. [Laughs] Cackling insanely he disappears over the hill and the curtain comes down. That made a powerful impression on me a long time ago. You know, God and human stupidity are beyond me. That's another department. I just work here. But laughter? I can handle that. I can tell a joke and it may not be an answer, but it will do until an answer comes along.

There's nothing as good as laughter. Morphine can't touch it. Demerol's got nothin' on it. Gimme a giggle. The local cancer society has a special room they call The Humor Room for terminal patients. Everything in this room is hilarious: books, games, videos. If you need a giggle, go in that room and something will make you laugh. They came to me and said: May we have some of your stuff? And I've never been so profoundly flattered in my life.


On electronic publishing:

I've got one novel in particular called Night of Power. It has to do with a race war on Manhattan Island. Well, all the science fiction editors in the world live in New York, so they didn't think it was funny at all.

The book was my worst seller. It started out slow, but then it tapered right off. For years since, people come up to me and say: Boy, I really liked that Night of Power. It's one of your best novels, is it ever going to be reprinted? And it barely got printed the first time, not a chance of a reprint. I tried: no one wants it. But after enough requests, I thought maybe I could sell it online. So I offered it to Bibliobytes. They had it for years. No one wanted it. Total royalties to me were around 11 bucks.

People apparently just don't want to read novels onscreen. Maybe shorter work. Martha Soukup, a science fiction writer, said that this cyberbook stuff is never gonna work until it passes the three Bs: So you can read it in Bed, on the Bus and in the Bathroom. So far nobody has come up with a reader you can use in direct sunlight that'll work.

I'm waiting for this e-commerce thing to prove itself to me. My friend Ted Powell has maintained a Web site for me -- the official Spider Web site -- for years and the problem is that it's based on a server where he's not allowed to do commercial stuff. So we just started a new commercial Web site specifically in the hope that maybe we can sell stuff on this Internet. And so, as we speak, we're producing a CD to sell that is me reading aloud from Callahan's Key plus four songs [that were originally recorded for the computer game version of Callahan's Crosstime Saloon]. If anybody buys it, maybe we'll try reviving Night of Power in some form on the Web site. So far I remain unconvinced that there's any gold in this gold rush. There's a lot of smoke and a lot of noise, but I just don't see it.



...Going to space & Dan Quayle


...Beginning writing, his first encounter with science fiction, writers he admires & Tom Waits


...Start page


...Callahan's & Usenet, Becoming Spider & other jobs he doesn't have