Engaging science fiction stories from a writer with a philosophical bent? Yes, please! That’s what you get when you explore the creative imaginings of sci-fi author and philosopher Craig DeLancey. We chatted with him about his views on writing, sci-fi, and what he’s working on these days.
RECURSOR: What first drew you to writing?
CRAIG DELANCEY: I’m a child of the Apollo missions. The moon landings are some of my earliest memories. From the dawn of my consciousness, I expected a glorious American future of rapidly expanding space exploration. So, my first goals were to be an astronaut and exobiologist. But when I became a teenager, my interests shifted to fiction and philosophy. The resulting trajectory was straight at science fiction.
Why does fiction appeal to you as an art form?
CD: Who doesn’t like imagining different possibilities of existence? It’s probably the most fun we have as humans.
The beauty of fiction is that you can do it alone, and you have total freedom as a creator. To be honest, I love all the media: TV, film, theatre. But they’re harder to break into. With fiction, I don’t have to move to LA or Manhattan and bang on doors for a gig.
(But hey, that said, maybe one of the great filmmakers here on RECURSOR will drop me an email. Let’s have digital lunch!)
Who/what are your sci-fi influences?
CD: I must start by saying, above all, Nancy Kress. I had the opportunity to study with her, and that was transforming.
There are a number of books that are sacred to me, and I return to them often—The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin. DUNE. Hyperion. Solaris. Startide Rising. John Gardner’s Grendel.
In short stories, I really admire those writers of the 1950s who are pithy and somehow convey immediately an excitement and joy in their writing. Here I’m thinking of Matheson and Bradbury above all.
But I should contextualize all that by saying, I read a lot. I read contemporary plays. I read what are called (alas) contemporary literary novels. I read some comics. And I read a lot of philosophy. I’m writing a book on Albert Camus now, which means I’m reading and rereading all the literature that influenced or responded to him.
And, of course, I love Star Trek and Stranger Things.
Your story “RedKing” is an engaging example of cyberpunk noir, with a computer virus that can turn people into killers via corrupted brain implants. What inspired the story?
CD: I have a passionate conviction that the danger in AI lies not in it revolting against us, but in it exploiting our natural tendencies—such as our natural tendencies to be kind, to be concerned for suffering, to want to help those in need.
Some scientists argue that this is what dogs and cats do: they are parasites on our love for children. I don’t buy that. Dogs and cats are mammals. We know they have minds and consciousness and can suffer or flourish, because they’re our relatives. But someone out there is going to write AI that is all front-end, empty except that it pretends to have a mind and pretends to suffer and pretends to really need you to distribute it and maybe also to send it a few dollars.
You see people pouring over their phones for hours. When I’m doing it, it feels great. But when I watch someone else doing it, it looks obsessive and a waste of their precious time. What will happen when the AI that is designed to keep us interested is very advanced? Will we neglect all human relations, in order to feed digital parasites?
“RedKing” sprung from those kinds of considerations. Games can be obsessive. What happens when the games can move into your skull, and shape your view of the world?
William Gibson comes to mind anytime we see cyberpunk. Are you a fan of his work?
CD: I have long aspired to learn from Gibson’s economy and power. I tell anyone who will listen that “Winter Market,” a story Gibson wrote back in the 1980s, is the most perfect SF short story. I read it a couple times a year to remind myself what good SF writing is.
I follow Gibson’s career with fascination. He’s such a mindful writer, and everything he does I find surprising. For example, I appreciate how each series of books he writes moves closer to the present, until finally he is writing science fiction in the present. What does that tell us about ourselves, our time, and the nature of how science fiction has shaped us? It’s as if he reveals that SF has become realism.
Your bio mentions you have a background in philosophy, which seems fitting for a writer. How does philosophy inform your sci-fi?
CD: Not just a background, it’s foreground too! Philosophy is how I pay the bills. (It sounds like a bad joke, doesn’t it? Writer chooses philosophy as safe backup job.) I’m a professor of philosophy, and my area of research is metaphysics. I teach classes on logic, metaphysics, existentialism and other things at Oswego State. My car’s vanity plate is METAPHY6.
Philosophy shapes my writing so much that I cannot easily explain how and in what ways it does so. It also shapes my sense of what literature should be: a vision of a kind of way of being in the world. And, of course, it shapes how I think about world building. There is a lot of advanced logic, for example, in my novel Gods of Earth.
What projects are you currently working on?
CD: I’m a hybrid author. I publish some things traditionally, and some things independently.
In my self-published fiction, I continue to grow my space opera series, The Predator Space Chronicles. These are the adventures of Amir Tarkos, the only human in a special military force that exists to prevent and punish ecological crimes. The fifth chronicle, called Earthfall, will be out soon. Readers can get an electronic version of the first chronicle, called Well of Furies, for free or dirt cheap (depending on the store). Give it a try!
I’m doing final revisions on a near-future SF tale called The End of Now. It’s about a woman who invents a device that allows us to slow or speed the flow of time in a volume of space; this leads to world revolution, and the possibility of interstellar travel. I’d like to publish the book traditionally, but I haven’t started shopping it around yet.
Finally, I just finished and am revising a short story sequel to “RedKing,” called “Sojourner.” It will be followed by a third short story, forming a trilogy. Then I’ll publish all three as part of my Dangerous Ideas series of books. These are books in the spirit of grand old SF. Each volume is a novella—usually constructed as three stories forming a trilogy—that take some big idea and run it to the limit. They are what if tales, each in a size you can read in an evening.
How can readers keep up-to-date on what you’re up to?
CD: I’d love for people to sign up for my new newsletter. I send out free fiction to subscribers, and give them an update every month or so. Anyone can sign up here.
Craig DeLancey is a writer and philosopher. He has published dozens of short stories in magazines like Analog, Lightspeed, Cosmos, Shimmer, and Nature Physics. His stories have also appeared in translation in Russia and China. His novel GODS OF EARTH is available now with 47North Press. He also writes plays, many of which have received staged readings and performances in New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Melbourne, and elsewhere. Born in Pittsburgh, PA, he now makes his home in upstate New York and, in addition to writing, teaches philosophy at Oswego State, part of the State University of New York (SUNY). For more information, visit his website and Facebook page.