The Genre Online Interview – Best Selling & Award Winning Author David Brin.
By Mark Rivera
David Brin is a Best Selling Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell Award winning Science Fiction Author, Futurist, and Physicist with specializations in astrophysics and applied physics and he is also a consultant to NASA, various government agencies and a speaker on a variety of topics that include transhumanism, as well as being a 2010 fellow of the Institute of Ethics in Immerging Technologies. David Brin is also very much a renaissance man in the same manner that Grand Master of Science Fiction Author Isaac Asimov wrote books on a variety of subjects, including Shakespeare. He is not afraid of going against the grain when it comes to discussing hidden subtexts within such fan favorite media franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek, 300 and The Lord Of The Rings. David Brin has also written contemplative examinations of contemporary civilization with books like The Transparent Society and his YouTube videos discussing subjects like The Age of Amateurs, wherein he acknowledges the contributions laypeople have and can make in various fields of science that can improve our understanding not only of the world beyond our beloved Earth, but life on Earth itself and all while contributing toward leaving a legacy of a better tomorrow for the next generation.
Another admirable quality is David Brin’s openness and his lack of ego in the sense that Brin contributed detailed information for the Uplift Saga edition of the role-playing game GURPS and Brin interacts with his readers and fans online in a professional, but never authoritarian manner. I can also state without hesitation that most accomplished authors do not offer their readers and fans that kind of access unless they are selling something. David Brin is a professional writer, but he has not let that affect his behavior as a human being. I could go on and on listing his accomplishments, but I think anyone interested in his work should discover it for him or herself and be thankful there are still voices out there that challenge us to be better without belittling others and ourselves. Thus I am honored to present this interview David Brin granted me to discuss his new science fiction novel Existence, which is published domestically by Tor Books.
Mark Rivera) David, before Existence was officially announced with a release date and publisher earlier this year, you told me that you had been working on this book for seven years. Something I can relate to and yet I must ask, why did it take seven years to bring Existence to fruition?
David Brin) More than seven, it turns out! Well, I have been working. I came out with several small books during that time, like Through Stranger Eyes, Tomorrow Happens and Star Wars on Trial. I’ve also been writing, in parallel, my first science fiction comedy novel and another in which aliens kidnap a California high school (and live to regret it.) These may come out in fairly rapid succession.
But yes, EXISTENCE was the main show and a big beast! It is chock full of fresh ideas… at least one per page… and hence I took special care to make sure that, despite its length and complexity, it came across as smooth and easy and fun to read. That kind of quality control takes time, I’m afraid. Circulating drafts to fifty or so pre-readers and fine-tuning every scene. Still, I will try never to take that long again.
Rivera) A quality you have instilled in your works is the secular notion that people have a responsibility to improve the human condition, increase knowledge, and prevent long-term evils. In Existence you cleverly illustrate it in a way that is not like the idea of the lone voice crying “wake up,” but rather a dichotomy of characters separated in a future Earth where the wealthy have moved on to the stars and the rest of the 99 percent has by default achieved an intriguing quality of life squatting on the abandoned properties left behind by the one percent. Add to that the possibility of an extraterrestrial invasion and I must ask how did this vision come about? Are you perhaps more pessimistic than you were twenty years ago? What makes you believe a future like this is possible, especially in these troubling times?
Brin) Well, I’m not sure I’d say that EXISTENCE depicts quite the dichotomy as exaggerated as you put it. While there certainly is a powerful “first estate” of trillionaires, the world’s middle classes managed to fight them to a tense stalemate. Only a minority are in grinding poverty, though that is still more than a billion souls and some of my best characters come from that gritty side of life, finding ways to use both new technology and human ingenuity to survive in changing times.
Rivera) Do you think there is any hope for sanity and mutual cooperation in the world we live in where deregulation of safeguards that protected and ensured the continued existence of the American middle class have been chipped away? In a country that was once the beacon of hope for the world, the United States has become akin to an imperialistic thug and even our ally in the Middle East, Israel seeks to provoke a war stating there are weapons of mass destruction in Iran yet Israel in itself has a superior army and intelligence gathering service and they are rumored to be within the top five nuclear powers on the globe. Can we stop the madness and all live in peace, mutual respect, and understanding or do you predict a very sobering future for the citizens of the Earth?
Brin) I find this question loaded with assumptions with which I don’t agree. But having said that, I recommend that people read Steven Pinker’s new book THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE, which clearly shows how much progress has been made in human affairs. Percapita health and welfare have risen steeply. No other generation saw such high proportions (a majority) of the world population living in modest middle class comfort, in homes with sanitation, electricity and always sufficient food and kids in school. The rate of violence percapita on planet Earth has declined, steeply, every decade since 1945.
Some will deny this angrily… but without any facts. Others will accuse me of being some kind of fascist, just because I admit the blatant fact that there’s been a lot of good news. Both groups are dead wrong. In fact, I believe we desperately need to have much more progress, or we’re doomed as a species.
I just find those who deny that lots of progress has already happened to be deeply un-helpful.
Rivera) How did you come up with the idea for The Infomesh?
Brin) By extrapolating from the present. It is less of a leap than I performed in EARTH (1989) when I showed web pages…
Rivera) In Existence, you have a movement that seeks to slowdown the advancement of technology. Has our exponentially growing technology exceeded our ability to control it wisely? Are we facing a new cold war based solely on racing technology of all types and not just who has the most bombs to blow us all away quicker than you can say Doctor Strangelove?
Brin) Well, yes, sort of. Certainly there will be many onrushing challenges to our wisdom and ability to cope with rapid change. One deeply human response is to cry out “stop!” You can see this reflex on both the reactionary right and the romantic left. Both reckon that the past was better and wiser than the present. That science threatens us more than it solves problems. They are deeply mistaken…
…and yet they might BECOME correct in the future. There may come a point when the worrisome side effects of sci-tech threaten to overwhelm the benefits. When such people step up, present cogent arguments and evidence (instead of mystical nonsense) then we’re behooved to listen, to argue fairly. If they do.
Rivera) There is a dichotomy explored in the book involving first contact with an extraterrestrial species that evokes both pessimism and a self fulfilling prophecy and on the opposite side of the coin, a quotation from Darwin about the impossibility of understanding the "complex contingencies" on which existence depends. Do you think the likelihood of an extraterrestrial or interdimensional contact with a species not of our world will be the end of the human race, as we know it or a rebirth? Perhaps both?
Brin) Sorry, I do not understand that question. What I THINK you mean is to ask whether alien contact might be beneficial, or dangerous, or something in between?
Rivera) A criticism I have read regarding Existence is that you introduce a lot of intriguing points of view, but few are resolved. This is countered by reviews that claim the book as one of the best first contact books ever written. Did you intentionally want to provoke a polarized response?
Brin) Of course. If you aren’t stretching the reader, you aren’t challenging or providing what they paid for! At least, what they expect when they take on one of my books.
Rivera) You are not the first or the last author to explore a first contact scenario. Were any works of the generation of science fiction authors before you like Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End an inspiration to you? Have you seen Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, perhaps the most polarizing film of the year and if so, do you have any thoughts on a film filled with a lot of potential that has gone on to be compared in relation to the film it is a loose prequel to, Alien, as akin to comparing it as what The Phantom Menace is to the original 1977 Star Wars feature film? Will we be seeing a feature film or television adaptation of Existence in the years to come?
Brin) Existence would be challenging to film. There are so many ideas and side stories and alternatives the characters weigh. In a ninety-minute movie you must keep up the pulse pounding action! I do that in EXISTENCE, too! But a novel gives you pauses to explore things in more detail, weighing the trade-offs. Alas, Prometheus added little to our conversation about destiny or our relationships with the alien.
Rivera) On the subject of Hollywood feature film adaptations, I have to mention the 1997 feature film adaptation of your book The Postman. I love the book and I liked the movie. From my point of view as a writer and reviewer, I think the initial critical reaction was biased against Kevin Costner for reasons I don’t know because aside from one slow romance scene in a log cabin that could have been cut down to quicken the pace and an ending that doesn’t stylistically fit with the rest of the film, I think it is a good movie that works both as post apocalyptic science fiction and a western. How do you feel about the film fifteen years after it’s theatrical release?
Brin) The early, non-Costner scripts were flat out evil garbage that reversed every moral aspect of the story. Costner tossed it and brought in Brian Helgeland, whose script was sweet and faithful to my overall message in the book – one of courage and hope. And Costner as a director does one thing exceptionally well. He is one of the greatest lyrical cinematographers in history. His films are musically and visually drop-dead gorgeous.
Alas, his final cut of The Postman was a bit of a mishmash, uncoordinated and in several places just plain dumb, which might have been avoided with a more collaborative attitude. Still, let me emphasize that I can live with sweet, big-hearted and gorgeous and dumb. It’s not the worst combination and all-told, I think the film is under-rated.
Book’s better though.
Rivera) A number of your older works have been republished in print and digital copy. Of these books, do you have a favorite that you would like new readers to check out after reading Existence and can you tell me anything about your upcoming projects both in fiction and non-fiction?
Lots to see at http://www.davidbrin.com, including the vivid trailer-preview of Existence and previews of other books. Here’s hoping we all live to see a glorious civilization, truly worthy of the name.
Rivera) Thank you David.
There are a number of books mentioned in this interview that you all may be interested in reading so below I have posted book covers with links to purchase them at Amazon. Some are available as digital downloads for Kindle as well. Thank you all for reading and as David Brin has said to me on occasion, “Thrive!”
© Copyright 2012 By Mark A. Rivera
All Rights Reserved.
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