Recently, we spoke to computer scientist, writer and speaker, Ramez Naam, about his passion for writing sci fi and where he gets his inspiration. (Part 1 is here if you haven’t read it.) In part 2 of this two-part interview, we talk sci fi films and TV, grounding fiction in science facts, and upcoming projects.
Recursor: What types of science fiction movies and television do you enjoy? Do you have any particular favorites?
Naam: I like movies that make me think. A lot of sci-fi is just shoot-em-ups in space. When you get beyond that, I get excited. I thought Ex Machina was fantastic.
On the small screen, Westworld just had an incredible first season, and Man in the High Castle always pulls me in. And of course, Black Mirror is disturbingly on-point a heck of a lot of the time.
What excites you right now about the sci-fi you’re seeing onscreen?
I think it’s meaningful that, for the first time, we have some sci-fi coming out that is not focused on action and adventure. Her was a sci-fi relationship film. Arrival had some thriller moments, but it was much more about language and how we think and about life choices we make. That’s a good trend for getting sci-fi out to a wider audience, I think.
What is it that you like about creating realistic science fiction as opposed to more fantastical science fiction?
I think I’m trying to understand the future for myself. I want to see where we’re going. And science fiction is actually terrible at predicting the future. But it can at least illustrate some possibilities. Fantasy, or fantastical sci-fi with faster-than-light travel or what have you, just doesn’t scratch that itch of actually understanding the future for me.
Is there anything that you’d like to see more of in science fiction?
I’d like to see sci-fi that’s neither apocalyptic nor cheerily optimistic, but instead puts those things in tension. Every technology has both good and bad effects. In general, I’m an optimist, but I also see those negative side effects. Can we tell stories like that? Where science and technology are making the world a better place, but at the edges, they’re also causing real problems — riveting problems — that need to be fixed? That’s what I try to do, and I hope to see more of it.
What projects are you working on right now?
I have a TV project I can’t say much about. And I’m about to start working on my fourth novel. It’ll be another science fiction novel set on Earth in the coming century, with a lot of focus on AI.
Ramez Naam is a computer scientist and the award-winning author of five books, including the Nexus series of science fiction novels and the non-fiction The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet. Ramez’s brain-hacking and civil-liberties-focused science fiction novels have won the Prometheus Award, the Endeavour Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, been listed as an NPR Best Book of the Year, and have been shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke award. Before turning to writing, Ramez spent 13 years at Microsoft, where he led teams working on machine learning, neural networks, information retrieval, and internet scale systems.
Follow Ramez on twitter: @ramez or visit him at http://rameznaam.com. To learn more about Ramez Naam’s Nexus trilogy, visit his page on Amazon.