It’s always wonderful to listen to two leading genre writers chat about their craft, but that’s made even better when the two writers are close friends. We got to sit in on a conversation between John Scalzi and Mary Robinette Kowal as they talked about why they write speculative fiction, the role of the classic Strong Male Protagonist in today’s genre landscape, and how to properly pronounce Emperox.
Full transcript follows.
Mary Robinette Kowal: One of the questions I want us to talk about is why do we write speculative fiction and what advantages or benefits does it give over other forms? I’m presuming things like mimetic fiction or what have you.
John Scalzi: I don’t know. I mean I write it for two reasons—one aesthetic, one insanely practical. And, the aesthetic reason is just simply because I’ve always liked the format. It’s always been something that I’ve enjoyed. It’s not the only format that I like, but it is a format that I find really congenial to work in. And the very practical reason for it is because that’s what I started with and that’s what I “hit” in, and on a purely practical matter, once you’ve made a name for yourself in one genre it kind of makes good sense to just keep riding that pony as far as it will go. Because if you all of sudden switch to another genre entirely, then you have to kind of start at the bottom. And, I don’t want to do that anymore—I’m too lazy and spoiled at this point, you know what I mean?
MRK: Yeah, so it’s funny because I would’ve also broken it into similar things that I have multiple reasons. I probably would’ve done the aesthetic, practical, and the personal. The personal is—it’s what I read, it’s what I’ve always read. The aesthetic is that I actually tend to think of genre in general that there are structurally driven genres and aesthetic driven genres, and that science fiction and fantasy is an aesthetic driven genre. And, I like the pretty; I like all the wonder that goes with that. And then the practical is that it allows me to talk about the things that I want to talk about in ways that are…it gives me a little bit of a distancing thing that gives me space to talk about social issues or whatever I’m thinking about, without being like “and here is my platform”.
JS: Right, right. Look at my sandbox; it’s a really lovely sandbox. (laughs) It’s really interesting to me that though, that you say that you find science fiction and fantasy to be a more aesthetic than structural genre, because I don’t know if that is a thing I would’ve agreed with up until possibly the last 10 or 15 years. I think, when you think specifically about the golden age of science fiction that is intensely structural. And a lot of that had to do with who was acquiring it. It’s like, we want competent man, we want highly technical stuff, and we want to have a particular agenda. And that’s a very structural thing. There’s always been an aesthetic to it, but in terms of the commerce of science fiction, I think that that has changed quite a lot.
MRK: OK, so we may be using the work “structure” in different ways. What I’m thinking about is plot structure. If you look at romance—romance has a very specific plot structure. It has to have the structural element of a “happily ever after” ending. There has to be the wooing, there has to be the moment where there’s the breakup or the almost breakup and get back together. But, you have to have that “happily ever after”. Mystery stories, there is a specific structure to how the beginning, middle, and end look.
MRK: But, science fiction, you can lay science fiction on top of a romance structure, you can lay it on top of a mystery structure, and it remains science fiction or fantasy.
JS: Sure, sure. And that actually I do agree with because, one of the questions I get asked a lot is… I rather famously tell the story about when I sat down to write my first novel, flipping a coin as to whether it was going to be science fiction or mystery/crime fiction, right? And it came up on heads, which was going to be science fiction so that’s what I wrote. But, the thing that people say is, “do you want to write other genres?” And my answer is, I do write other genres. Lock In is murder mystery straight up, and it’s in the science fiction field. It’s very explicitly science fiction, it’s also explicitly basically crime fiction. So, you get the chocolate and the peanut butter, the best of both worlds kind of thing. And, to that extent, no, I agree with you 100%.
MRK: I am so glad, that means that I don’t have to make my counterpoint argument. I will say that, for me, things like must have X character doing Y kind of stuff—that is something that I think has not been part of the genre for a very long time. And, I’m not sure that it was ever really part of the genre as much as it was what was fashionable and being purchased.
JS: Sure. But, I would say that what was fashionable and what was being purchased mattered to a significant extent in what was what we call the Golden Age of science fiction, because a particular editor or a particular small group of editors who were very much at the top of the food chain. They were the people that you would submit to first. And then, if they didn’t take it, then it would link down. So you always wrote to them, and then everybody else kind of got what they got. So there was always a bent or tone or mode that Golden Age science fiction had. There was still stuff around the margins of that, but the main thrust of the commercial aspect of science fiction and fantasy was distinctly colored by that.
MRK: Sure, but having a strong male protagonist was not something that science fiction had a lock on as fashion at the time.
JS: Well, that is true. (laughs)
MRK: That was just the fashion of the age.
JS: Yes, absolutely.
MRK: Aside from romance, what genre didn’t require…?
JS: A male lead?
MRK: Children’s literature at the time.
JS: Right, right. So children’s literature and romance—well, that’s a thing isn’t it?
MRK: Yeah. You know, it’s actually a thing that still happens today, when people find out that I am a writer. They ask if I write children’s books or romance. And, I love both of those things, and I do and have written both of them, but it annoys me that that is the first question that they ask.
JS: Sure. When I tell them I write books, the first question I always get would be “oh, is it something I would’ve heard of?” And then I would be like, since you haven’t heard of me the answer would be no, as a matter of fact it would not be, not at all.
MRK: Yeah, although sometimes I do find that people recognize a title and not the author.
JS: That’s true.
MRK: One of my favorite things is when I introduce a reader to an author who is, by any metric except to this reader, more famous than I am. And they have never heard of them. And they’re like, “oh, this new author Ursula K. Le Guin, I love her books!” (laughs)
JS: You’re like; I don’t know how to break this one to you, but… But, that actually brings up a really interesting point which is that because science fiction and fantasy is, as a literature, as opposed to every other aspect of media, because it is still sort of niche where you come into the genre matters. Because, if they come in with you, then a lot of your antecedents or people who influenced you will be new to them. And to them, those classics will seem almost derivative or not up to date. I’ve had that happen sometimes where people will read me first, especially people who are under the age of 35. They’ll read me first and then they’ll go backwards into someone like Heinlein and then they’re like—“hmm, I don’t know—his stuff’s OK, but I kind of like yours better.” And I’m like, well—one, thank you, and two, it’s definitely because this is the path that you took into this genre. And, it’s still something that is very possible to do in this genre that I don’t know if in mainstream it will happen as much.
MRK: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t read that much mainstream literature. I will occasionally dip over. When I go outside of science fiction and fantasy, I tend to go to mystery. And there I know that people definitely have the thing where they will come in as a modern mystery writer and then step backward—and then they go back and find Dorothy Sayers. Did you know that Agatha Christie did not write with an outline?
JS: I did not know that, and I totally get it because I don’t do outlines either. And, I don’t understand people who do. I don’t mean that in the sense that I know that there are people who actually do it exist and are not aliens, but more of I’ve tried to do it and one: I become intensely bored, and second: I hate every moment of it, and three: it just sucks all the fun out of it for me. Even when I write the Lock In series, which has the ostensible crime to be solved and murder to be solved, I don’t plot ahead so …
MRK: Do you know who did it when you start?
JS: Yes, I do but, for me, those books particularly are not about who done it, because—in the two books that are in the series so far—it’s not really so much of a mystery about who did it; it’s not so much of a “whodunnit” as it is a “how done it”, and that’s the thing that kind of motivates it. I think particularly in the first book, it’s very clear and everybody in the book talks about, like halfway through the book, it’s like, “we all know who did it”, right? But the question is how, how did that happen. And, often for that I’m just making that up as I go along. If it comes together at the end, people are like “ooh, that’s twisted” and I’m like “thank you! I was bending over backwards like a pretzel to do that”. Do you outline? We’ve actually talked about this before, but for the life of me I can’t remember what the answer is.
MRK: I do, although I outline less now than I did. Because, initially, plot and structure were the things that I didn’t grok, so that was why I had to put the most effort. I couldn’t… I kept writing things where it would have a great beginning, a great middle, and a great end of three completely different stories which just happened to have the same cast of characters. And it annoyed me, so I used outlining as a way to understand how that worked. What I find is that when I outline versus when I don’t outline, that they are equally hard but the difficulty point is just in a different spot.
JS: For me, I don’t want to suggest that I innately understand plot and structure, because I don’t. But the one thing that I think made a huge difference for me is that before I wrote a novel, I spent six years being a film critic. So, I spent 6 years watching at least one film a day every single work day, which comes out to a couple of thousand films. And as a critic, so I had to look at story, look at plot, look at how things were proceeding, and break it down and make a review that was based on how well it was doing all those sorts of things. And, so basically, when you spend six years doing nothing other than breaking down how story is supposed to work and whether it works or whether it doesn’t, just by sheer repetition that’s going to stick in your brain. So when it came down to, when I started writing Agent to the Stars, but Old Man’s War in particular, there’s very much of a structure there just innately because I was paying attention to storytelling on a very critical basis for years and years. And, of course Old Man’s War in particular, very three-act structure which is, of course, the typical movie structure. And, it’s still a structure that I use. It’s certainly the structure I used for the Interdependency series. All of them have 3 “books” in them and that build.
MRK: Yeah, I was wondering about that. So you knew you were heading for The Last Emperox. At what point did you know that that’s where you were headed? When you wrote the end on The Last Emperox?
JS: Yeah—it’s Emper-oh (pronunciation) by the way.
MRK: Thank you!
JS: This is the thing I’ve said, because there’s been so much confusion over that. I tell people I pronounce it, and Will, who’s the audio book narrator, pronounce it emper-oh. But, I also recognize that emper-ox is a distinct regional variation and that way when people say, “oh, it’s emper-ox” and it’s like “oh, well I say emper-oh” and they’re like “oh no, I forgot” and I’ll be like “no, no, no, no, you just have an accent, you’re from the North.” (laughter) Or, something like that. The Interdependency series was really an interesting thing for me because I knew going in, and this was the first time, that I was writing a series. Like Old Man’s War and the Lock In series, and the Dispatcher series which I just wrote the second installment for. All of those were, let’s write one, let’s see how they do, oh! it’s done well enough, let’s write some more because they’re going to throw money at me. With The Interdepency, we knew going in. Initially it was supposed to be 2 books, but by the time I was like 3 chapters into book 2 I knew it was going to be a 3-book series. We always knew that there was going to be lots of time to build arcs, and so with that I had some things that I knew were going to happen. The first book was called The Collapsing Empire so it’s not a spoiler to go, by the way the empire is absolutely going to collapse. You kind of have to pay that one off.
MRK: I mean, it does seem that way.
JS: Right, right. And then after that it was simply a matter of, ok, what things am I going to put in book one, what things are going to be in book two, what things are going to be in book three, in a very sort of general sense. And I knew in a very general sense the entire arc and what was going to happen to whom and so on and so forth. I didn’t know when in the books these things were going to happen and I think that that was part of the discovery process for me. And, it’s really weird because, as I was saying earlier I don’t outline. But in the case of this particular series, since I knew I wanted to have it in three books, and I knew it had to wrap up sufficiently in three books, I didn’t want to get halfway through book three and go, oh no, I need another book. That was something where I did have to give myself, not in a document or something but in my brain, very specific things that had to happen at specific times. So, there very much was almost an outline, but not in a formal thing. It was just in the back of my head. It was like this needs to get resolved in book 1, this one needs to get resolved in book two. Having that was useful. To the same extent, with The Calculating Stars and the rest of the Lady Astronaut books, that almost feels like a hybrid situation where you have two books then after that that universe expanded.
MRK: So, it’s interesting because I had written several short stories in that universe before we did The Calculating Stars. Calculating Stars was supposed to be one book, and my plan had been that I was going to do it as three connected novellas to mirror the “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” structure. And I started into the third novella and it felt awful. And I realized that if I had actually written them as three individual novellas it would be fine, but starting the third novella where I started it which was, you know, the journey to Mars, meant skipping all of her time on the moon because otherwise it was just going to be a lot of repetition of beats. And so, I went to my editor and I was like I think this needs to be two books. So I had to re-outline it and that allowed me to unpack stuff. So the first novella, which is Part I of “Calculating Stars”, is virtually unchanged. There’s some unpacking in there, but the second novella totally expanded to become the second half and then the third novella became its own book. But that was very much “oh, these books have taken off”.
I have had the same strategy of write one book, see if it does well and then let’s do some more. And it was nice doing the duology—writing them back to back, having them come out back to back, because it did allow me to go back and plant things in book one that I wanted to pay off in book two. They were about as close to simultaneous in creation as I think you can get. On the other hand, The Relentless Moon, which is a parallel novel to The Fated Sky, so it’s happening at the same time. It opens while Elma and crew are halfway to Mars. Literally, that is the opening of the first chapter of Relentless Moon is halfway to Mars. It’s Nicole, it’s what’s happening back on Earth, it’s all of the things that are alluded to. And I will tell you that if you ever decide to write a parallel novel make really sure that you leave yourself space in the timeline of the first novel, or at least that you think through what you’re promising, (laughter) before you sit down to work on that second novel. Because, getting those timelines to line up in ways that made any kind of sense, was a challenge. Let me just say it was a challenge.
JS: yeah. I had the flip thing happen because I have in fact written a parallel novel—Zoe’s Tale and The Last Colony.
MRK: Oh, right!
JS: The problem I had that necessitated the second novel was that, in the first novel, in The Last Colony I had a character go off-stage and then come back at a really convenient time with what was essentially a deus ex machina. It’s like, here’s the thing that solves your problem. And, I got called on it. They’re like, by the way, your book’s good, but come on, you actually should’ve explained this. And when I was writing the book to begin with I remembering going, “OK, I’ve got to send that character off and they’re going to do a thing and I could write it but it’s basically going to be a whole novella that exists within the structure of the book and makes no sense to do.” And I just can’t do it, and I was like “eh—no one’s going to catch it”. (laughter) Which was not true at all, of course, and I got caught. And when the opportunity came up to write Zoe’s Tale I was like, I’m going to use this, among other things, to account for that time that is a gap and then to close up this thing and then make it look like I meant to do this all along. Which, of course, was really the most important thing, setting pace as an author for a screw up that would have been easily avoided if I managed to…
MRK: I don’t know, outline something?
JS: Hush, quiet, hush now, hush! But yeah, exactly. In that case it’s almost the flip side of your case. You were trying to match up the timelines and, in my particular case, I was trying to account for space in the timeline that was just blank and made people come… you know, and brought everything back together. I was happy I did it because among other things—secret, don’t tell anybody! and of course this will go out to everybody— Zoe’s Tale is kind of my favorite of all the Old Man’s World books for a whole lot of reasons. And having the opportunity to use the character of Zoe to account for that time was a small portion of that.
MRK: Yeah. I also love Zoe’s Tale.
JS: Thank you! Thank you. I was literally just reading a section of it this morning. Because I was looking at, because Twitter being Twitter, we were talking about sub-genres of music that don’t actually exist. And, there’s a whole page in Zoe’s Tale where all these kids from all these different planets have their own particular type of music and they had to name all these little sub-genres of popular music. And so, I was reading that section and then I was reading it through again. And I was like, ahh—I love this character so much. Do you fall in love with your characters?
MRK: I do. Many times even the ones that are just jerks. They’re such a delight to write some times. But, yeah, I do. I remain very fond of Jane and Vincent. I have notes in my head for two other series with them, one in which they are firmly middle aged with teenagers and another in which they’re elderly and still having adventures and deeply in love. There are these things that I know happen to them later in life. Ginger Stuyvestant in Ghost Talkers—and this happens to her after the war, and then that. And then of course Elma, Nathaniel—yeah, I do tend to fall in love with my characters. You spend months with them.
JS: Sure, in quarantine with…
MRK: Yes, in quarantine. That’s been one of the things that has been oddest about Relentless Moon. You know, I wrote it last year and one of the things that happens is that there is a polio outbreak. And boy, that reads a lot different now!
JS: yes, it does. I’ve been having the thing where people are, because I talk about in The Last Emperox the whole idea of are people trying to save people or are people trying to save systems. Are you going to try to get as many people as you can through this, or are you going to be like—ahh—some people are going to die, but our economic system is going to be A-OK. And, I thought that I was not writing reality and it’s been a thing where it feels so on-the-nose. In both of our cases we’re like, no, we’re writing science fiction. But, and I think this is an important thing and I think we should talk about this, I think that both of us are good at understanding people. And, the understanding of people is why we were able to—you with the polio and me talking about systems versus people and stuff like that—kind of getting the moment right.
MRK: Yeah. I don’t know if you do this, but I think you do. I think we both tend to read history or be at least aware of it. There are patterns that we go through as societies that show up—that manifest differently. It’s been one of the things that has been most fascinating about the way the societal shifts are happening right now. The thing that people tell me is “do you really think that everyone would pull together the way they are in The Calculating Stars? It feels very optimistic”. I’m like, we just watched everyone in the United States, except for like 10%, but like 90% of Americans according to polls, actually hunker down just to keep each other safe.
JS: Yeah, absolutely.
MRK: And that’s like, there are a lot of negative consequences to this choice, and a lot of people did have to do it without choice because their place of employment closed. So, I don’t want to minimize those realities, but at the same time it is an enormous act—worldwide act of civic duty.
JS: Yeah, absolutely. And it has been really interesting to watch the flip side—the 10% who are like no grandma’s going to die, or I need a haircut or something like that. And that the response to that has been, you’re not getting it, are you? And I think that that is going to be something that is—one, it is heartening that 90% of the people get it and that is regardless of where you are on the political spectrum. But also, it does suggest that, you were mentioning that things happen again. They don’t happen in the exact same way, but they kind of echo each other. It’s part of that same, which I think is really apt at the moment which is that history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
MRK: Oh, I hadn’t heard that. That’s really good, yeah.
JS: And so, we are rhyming to literally a hundred years ago or just over a hundred years ago with the great flu. But also every single time that it’s basically everybody needs to come together because here’s this thing that’s happening and we need to do this. Most people are like, yeah, it needs to be done and it sucks but this is a thing that we have to do. And there’s always going to be that small group of people who are like “you don’t understand. This is about me!” And that’s what I think fundamentally what this has come down to, which gets reflected in both of our fiction. The majority of people really do understand that they live in a larger world. And there are always going to be the people that don’t. They people who are like, “well, I understand that I live in a larger world, but it’s about me making as much hay as possible while this particular thing happens.” Those people are in the minority, but they sure are useful for fiction.
MRK: yeah, they are. It’s like—oh hello villain, I will just take you from the real world and just drop you into my book.
JS: right, right, exactly—goodness gracious. We got really good mileage out of that first question, didn’t we?
MRK: Actually, I have been segueing us through additional questions.
JS: Oh, excellent. You are so smart.
MRK: I am skilled at ye olde segue. For instance, I was supposed to ask about your writing process, do you outline? Do you have a long term plan for your series? And, I was supposed to ask—oh, here’s one, I was supposed to ask if our friendship with each other benefits our writing.
JS: No, absolutely not, you’re the worst.
MRK: I know—you’re terrible.
JS: I hate everything about you and your writing. I never like your writing, it’s time to admit it.
MRK: It’s fine. I said that I liked Zoe’s Tale, it’s the one that’s palatable. (laughter)
JS: I don’t need your pity! I did, one time actually dedicate a book to you. I’m going to take that back now.
MRK: Well, fine then!
MRK: Fine. One of the interesting things with the Lady Astronaut books is that I decided that I was only going to dedicate them to women. And, I’m super glad that I’d already dedicated something to my nephew (laughter) before I started writing all these books. And, I may change that. I may change my mind on that, but at least initially.
JS: I find, just as a complete aside, that as I go further along it becomes more difficult to dedicate books to people, because you run through, I don’t want to say the usual suspects, but you run through the usual suspects pretty early on.
MRK: You get through your family…
JS: Yeah, you get through your family, you get through your teachers, you get through a lot of your friends but you can still find people who are fairly apt. I did a general dedication for The Last Emperox which is actually not far off from your decision to dedicate the Lady Astronaut series. The dedication for the Emperox is “To the women who are done with other people’s shit.”
MRK: Nice, yeah.
JS: And part of that was because it functions very well for that particular book, but the other thing was last year as I was writing this a number of my women friends were just dealing with other people’s shit. And it was…being fortunate enough that my women friends trusted me enough to tell me about all the shit they were having to deal with that I could actually hear it from them. And also, kind of being appalled at what they were having to deal with on a regular basis, and all the other nonsense. So when it came down to it I’m sitting there thinking about it, and I’m thinking I want to dedicate this book to someone, who am I going to dedicate it to? And, all of a sudden, again because I was thinking about what was in the book and who it was appropriate for, just all the women that I’d been listening to last year just dealing with all their frustrations. And yet they managed to deal with it and, in many cases, get on top and over and through that. And I was like, well, this seems like a good dedication to put in this particular case.
MRK: Yeah, that is a good dedication.
JS: Thank you.
MRK: Let’s see. One of the questions that they do want us to ask, that I cannot segue to, is what character from The Last Emperox/Interdependency would you like to see in the Lady Astronaut series? Would they do well and vice versa?
JS: I can answer that coming in. Elma would make a fantastic Emperox.
MRK: No, no. She would, the anxiety issues—that would be…
JS: No, no. I disagree. I think the anxiety issues are real and I’m not attempting to minimize it, but I think the qualities that she has of not only coping with the anxiety, but using that to build her own character and build her identity and become who she is in those books is exactly, is not exactly but has parallels to what Cardinia does as the Emperox. So, if I were bringing Elma in I’d be like, here’s your job. You’re going to hate it but you know what, you’re going to be good at it and you’re going to end up saving a lot of people.
MRK: Yeah. She would do that. Nicole is, of the Lady Astronauts, Nicole is the one that I would probably send into your universe.
JS: And why is that?
MRK: For all of the reasons that you said about Elma, except that Nicole has been a politician’s wife so she knows politics, she knows how to work people, but she also cares very deeply about people. So, she would be good at it I think. Of the characters that I would import from the Interdependency series into the Lady Astronaut universe is, and I’ve been sitting here trying to remember his name because I’m terrible with names.
JS: That’s OK, I can fill it in for you.
MRK: Love interest.
JS: Marce Claremont.
MRK: Marce Claremont. I would import Marce Claremont in a heartbeat. He would be so good at problem solving and dealing with like…they would wind up with cyclers and he would do amazing, amazing things.
JS: Yeah. Well he is, he was a fun character to write because, and for a number of reasons but one of them was that he was going to be kind of a utility infielder as opposed to a traditional protagonist. We have in the…
MRK: I’m just going to pretend that I understand “utility infielder” in any way, shape, or form.
JS: It’s a baseball reference and what it means is the guy you put in to, you know, your shortstop has pulled a muscle. You send in the utility infielder and he does shortstop for a while and, oh wait a second, now my second baseman has stubbed his finger.
MRK: Got it.
JS: You bring him in and he can do a credible job for all these particular sorts of things, and knowing that, it was kind of fun because Marce shows up in the book and I think that there were a number of people who would be like, “well finally our protagonist has arrived”. And, Marce doesn’t want any part of that. What he wants to do is like—give me the information and here’s the information, you can use this information however you want to use the information but I’m going to be back here crunching numbers and giving you options. I think that was…it was, I think, surprising for some folks but also it was fun as a writer to write somebody who understands that his role is I’m going to be helpful. Things are going to happen because I have done this stuff, but I’m not going to be the guy that’s going to make it happen. I’m going to be the guy that helps to make it happen.
MRK: So, how do you think the role of men in science fiction, both as characters and writers, has changed over the past five years?
JS: (laughter) Oh, not at all, I mean, we’re exactly the same as we have been.
MRK: I know you are.
JS: Things just, I mean, speaking as a white man let me tell you my thoughts on this because clearly…You know, I’m going to get on my soapbox or sandbox or whatever it is. One of the things that I think has been really interesting, in the last decade specifically, is that the generational change has come through science fiction—science fiction and fantasy, speculative fiction in general, in a really profound way. In a way that a lot of people, including me frankly, just did not necessarily expect. To be clear, I do think the sort of panic that a certain section of science fiction writers had when they saw the next generation bubbling under the surface…they genuinely felt their assumptions of privilege being challenged. That freak out was to me something that just accelerated what was inevitably happening anyway. The push back was so extreme and was so bald-facedly antagonistic that people had to decide what they wanted from the genre moving forward, and whether they wanted to commit to the genre or not. I think that what’s been really interesting is that the people who’ve really committed to the genre have been the younger/newer generation of writers who are like, “no, we really are here, we really are staying, we really are going to claim this for ourselves.” And that doesn’t mean that the people who were in a panic have all of a sudden disappeared. It’s not a battle in that sense. They’re all still writing. They’re all still publishing. They’re all still doing their thing. But, the center of gravity in the genre has really changed. And I think that the thing about, for me at least, is I don’t find it a problem. I mean, maybe it’s my huge ego speaking, which never happens. But…
JS: No, never!
MRK: Tell me, white man.
JS: Tell me, as a white man… But, that’s the whole thing, is that I just genuinely feel that what I’m writing and what I’m doing is good in and of itself. I do not…my stuff can compete with your stuff. My stuff can compete with Nora [Jemisin]’s stuff. My stuff can compete with Charlie Jane [Anders]’s stuff. My stuff is out there and as good as anyone’s. As far as it goes, I’m not worried about all of a sudden people who are not like me rushing in towards the center and becoming the new center of gravity. It’s like, great bring it on! This is fantastic because these are my peers. I’m…to go back to the question that we facetiously alluded to earlier, I’m super proud and honored that I get to be your peer. Because, I don’t know if you know this, I don’t know if anyone’s told you this, I don’t know if people become aware. But, you are really good at what you do.
MRK: (laughter) Thank you, that’s very kind, very kind.
JS: Have you heard? Has this been brought to your attention?
MRK: It is something that I continue to be astonished by.
JS: Yeah! But, that’s the sort of thing. I’m super happy this gets to be my peer group. I look at the Hugos from 2010 to 2019. Starting with Paulo and China and moving forward. These are the people that I came up in the genre with, and just the fact that it’s like—here we are. And, now we’re in the process, we’re still in the game with all of this, it’s not like we’re being shuffled off, but now comes another generation of writers. And they’re just, and it’s really excellent and I’m really excited to be here for it. So, yes, it’s absolutely changed for the white man out there, but you know, so what! You step up and participate or go off in a corner and lick your wounds because everybody who is here deserves to be here and everybody who’s here is really, really good.
MRK: Yeah. I like having new and different and wider things to read. I like it a lot.
JS: Well, and that’s the whole thing. If you are not completely out of, just completely biased in ways that are not understandable, can you make the argument that, for example Nora, isn’t one of our best writers? Can we make the argument that the Calculating Stars did not deserve the sweep that it made last year?
MRK: Well, I can certainly tell you from things that I’ve read that there are many people who would make that argument.
JS: Yeah, but they’re bad arguments and that’s the whole thing. And not only for the books in and of itself, but the books that were nominated alongside those books, all of those books. In each of those cases you look at it and any of these books could win, totally fair. And so yeah, once again, you could make the argument but you’re going to be making a bad argument so why would you make that argument? Why wouldn’t you just be like yeah, in fact these are really spectacular books and this is a really great time to be a writer.
MRK: It was a really good list last year.
JS: Yes, it was.
MRK: And actually, this year’s—the Nebula and the Hugo ballots—I’m very excited about both of them. Speaking of which, I have a Nebula meeting in 5 minutes.
JS: Oh, OK. Well, I think we’ve given them—we’ve talked about an hour haven’t we?
MRK: yeah, I think so. They’ll have plenty to cut down to make that into a thing.