In part 2 of our interview with sci fi writer Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky and Six Months, Three Days, we discuss favorite genre authors, her work at io9, writing funny sci fi, and more. (If you missed part 1 of the interview, view it here.)
RECURSOR: Who are some of your favorite sci fi/fantasy writers, and why?
ANDERS: I’m a huge fan of Ursula K. LeGuin and Douglas Adams. I’m a huge fan of Iain M. Banks’ work. He was one of the authors who really inspired me to write. When I read Consider Phlebas years ago, it was like a lightning bolt hit me, and I thought, “I could actually do this. This is the genre that has all this amazing potential and would be so cool to write this.” I knew I could never write anything as amazing as the Culture books, but he inspired me to try and do something different.
I also read another book around the same time that inspired me to write — Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. Her book is much more literary and very science fictional and very strange. Both those books together made me see the science fiction genre can do a lot of different things.
You’ve written non-fiction too — io9, McSweeney’s, Mother Jones, Salon, and so on. How has this experience shaped you as a writer of fiction?
I love the journalistic rigor of trying to arrive at a factual account of something, strip out all the BS and come to something that’s truthful. I think that can be very powerful.
My time at io9 helped me immensely by allowing me to look at science fiction and how it works, what it means to me, how it can be great or terrible, what makes it work or not work. It made me think more about these questions. I feel I came out with a much stronger grounding in the sci fi genre. It was a great opportunity that really changed my perspective.
The biggest lesson I learned about my own writing and the genre in general, while working at io9, is that it’s easy to get tricked by externals — what other people have done, what the fans like, what I think is popular right now, what I think is going to sell. I think that it’s often really treacherous to start thinking in those terms.
Do you think of yourself as a novelist these days, or a short story writer? What do you feel are the differences between the two types of story?
It’s hard to make a living writing short stories, unless you really luck out. I think that generally novels are where the action is, especially for science fiction writers. But novels take a lot of time to write. I’ve been working on my current novel for months and months — since early 2014 actually — but I think I’m getting there.
Short stories are where you get to play around a little bit more. You can do more experiments in short stories, because you don’t have to sustain it as long.
We loved your humorous story “Rager in Space” in the anthology Bridging Infinity. Its style is different than other stuff you have done. Is it something you plan to expand, either the style of it, or the characters?
I don’t have plans to expand that particular story, but I do plan to do more funny stuff. I like doing humor a lot, but it’s hard in science fiction, especially in book length. I definitely dialed back the humor in All the Birds in the Sky a lot. I would like to write more humorous stuff and see if I can push that further.
What projects are you working on right now?
I’m working really hard on my next novel. It’s set on another planet, with interplanetary colonization by humans. It’s somewhat hard science fiction. I’ve talked to a couple of scientists about the science of the book and how to make it realistic. That’s going to be a thing where when I’ve finished the story, I’m going to have to go back to more scientists and make sure that everything that happens in the book is scientifically plausible.
Another thing I’m really excited about coming up is John Joseph Adams’ Cosmic Powers anthology, which comes out in April 2017. It is cosmic space opera — fun, zany space fantasy inspired by Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy. I wrote the craziest space opera story I could come up with, called “A Temporary Embarrassment in Spacetime.” I had so much fun writing it that I wrote a second story in that universe. If that goes well, I might write more about those characters; they are flying by the seat of their pants losers, con artists, thieves trying to make a buck in a tough galaxy. It’s probably the silliest thing I ever wrote.
Are any of your works being developed as TV series and/or films yet?
There’s a lot of conversations going on in Hollywood. People have been talking about doing stuff, and I have meetings and things. Basically my attitude is, until you see it announced, it’s still in discussion and anything could happen. Until you can line up and buy a ticket, you never really believe it until it’s actually happening for real. But there are definitely some conversations happening, and it’s been really gratifying.
We have to ask. What do you think of Recursor?
I like all the categories — post-apocalyptic, military sci fi and so on. It’s cool. It’ll be exciting to see where it goes.
Yeah… we’re blushing! 😉