Friday, October 12, 2012

When the Historical Meets the Fictional: An Interview with Kevin J. Anderson

Today, we are very excited to feature an interview with Kevin J. Anderson, best-selling author of the Saga of the Seven Suns series, along with many of the Star Wars spin-off novels and Dune prequels.  Fantasy Matters contributor Mark Schelske caught up with him to talk about the re-release of The Martian War, a novel that offers a new perspective on H.G. Wells' classic novel The War of the Worlds.

Mark Schelske: You’ve written for bestselling science fiction franchises such as Star Wars and Dune.  So what has it been like to return from galaxies far, far away and sit in Wells’ time machine?  How was the trip back to the Victorian era to play in H.G.’s sandbox?

Kevin J. Anderson: HG Wells is one of the main reasons I became a writer.  War of the Worlds is the first movie I remember seeing, when I was 5 yrs old, and it changed my life.  War of the Worlds and The Time Machine were the first two adult novels I ever read (I think I was 8), and I have loved Wells's work ever since.  I've been writing "steampunk" Victorian/Wellsian SF for a long time (since my Gamearth trilogy 1989-1990), but I have also explored a lot of other literary landscapes.  With my earlier novel Captain Nemo and Clockwork Angels (with Rush drummer Neil Peart) I have really enjoyed the unabashed sense-of-wonder of what the early masters of SF came up with.

MS: The historical context of the book is filled in by the non-fictional characters of H.G. Wells and Percival Lowell.  How much time did you spend researching them?

KJA: I read many biographies of both and, as I said in the previous answer, I have been fascinated with the life and imagination of HG Wells for a long time.  I took a road trip to Flagstaff, Arizona, to spend a day at the Lowell Observatory (where much of the novel takes place), the Arizona meteor crater, just to get a feel for the place.

MS: You do an excellent job of integrating characters from other stories by H.G. Wells.  Was it your intention from the start to borrow from The Invisible Man, The War Of The Worlds, The Island Of Dr. Moreau, and The First Men In The Moon?

KJA: Yes, I wanted The Martian War to be a tour-de-force mashup of the "greatest hits" in Well's fiction.  While plotting the story, I reread all of Well's classics, tried to get at the nuggets that made the stories so seminal to the genre.  I wanted The Martian War to hit all the high points.

MS: Lowell and Moreau seem to be an odd couple who balance each other.  What inspired you to pair these two together? 

KJA: One fictional, one historical, and both with similar fascinations but entirely different personalities.  After researching the real Lowell and getting to know his personality, he seemed to be a perfect partner and foil to a domineering abrasive scientist like Moreau.  I put them together in the story and watched the sparks fly!

MS: Given that Dr. Moreau’s diary is pivotal in telling your story, is he your favorite character by Wells?  Or is there another who wasn’t featured in your story?

KJA: Most of Wells's characters were first-person narrators, so you didn't get a real sense of their personalities.  There are other great ones who didn't appear in this novel (the parson and the artilleryman from War of the Worlds are two examples), but Moreau was so larger-than-life, and so different from the expected "eccentric scientist" character that I had to give him a major role.

MS: Did you have any hesitation with this project knowing that a beloved masterpiece, War Of The Worlds, would be the template for The Martian War?  Is that your favorite book by Wells?

KJA: No hesitation at all.  As I said, that is one of my favorite books of all time. I've read it over and over again, listened to the Orson Welles radio drama, seen the movie dozens of times (the real one, not the Tom Cruise one!), listened to "Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of War of the Worlds" more times than I can count, even saw it live in Melbourne, Australia.  I wanted to do a novel that captures the breadth and imagination of Wells.

MS: Now that you’ve tackled technologies from the Victorian era, how do they compare to other technologies you’ve written about?  Are heat-rays of the Martians as magnificent as the lightsabers of Jacen and Jaina at the Jedi Academy on Yavin 4?  Are the canals on Mars as grand as the mechanized underworld of Ix?  Is a cavorite sphere as improbable as The Brain Interactive Construct used on Krypton?

KJA: Unquestionably, yes!  I can't describe just how much fun I have on the job.  You just listed some of my best projects and I had a fine time with all of them.  When I take on a project I immerse myself in that world, in the cool parts of it, in the technology and the rules. then I just have a terrific time with the story, and I hope the readers have a terrific time with what I come up with.

MS: Likewise, now that you’ve expanded upon the race of Martians and Selenites, are they as relevant today as other alien species you’ve written about?

KJA: I think the idea of a species becoming so complacent, so much of a "user" and so incapable of normal survival is deeply relevant.  Wells used the similar idea many times, the Selenites, the Martians, even the Eloi and Morlocks.  It's the dark side, and the downside, of superior and specialized evolution.

MS: The 1938 Orson Welles radio adaptation of War Of The Worlds caused a sensation.  The news bulletin format led people to believe an invasion was actually happening.  What if other descriptions of the invasion had been documented around the world by people like Jules Verne, Mark Twain, etc.?  It seems like you answer that question in your next book War Of The Worlds: Global Dispatches.  Could you tell us a little about this project and what other authors will be involved in its release next year? 

KJA: If the Martian invasion had actually happened in 1898 as described in Wells's novel, what would other great writers have written at the time?  David Brin and Gregory Benford write a story about Jules Verne's account of the Martians in Paris. Mike Resnick writes about Teddy Roosevelt and the Martians; Dave Wolverton gives Jack London's account of the Martians in the Yukon; Robert Silverberg gives us Henry James's version.  We have other accounts from the eyes of Mark Twain, Joseph Pulitzer, the Dowager Empress in China, H. Rider Haggard in Africa, Mark Twain, Pablo Picasso, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rudyard Kipling, Albert Einstein, Leo Tolstoy, HP Lovecraft, even Emily Dickinson, even a piece with Percival Lowell from The Martian War.  And great authors, too—in addition to the ones already listed, there's Connie Willis, Howard Waldrop, Walter Jon Williams, Barbara Hambly, Allen Steele, and more.  It's a really innovative anthology.

MS: And just for fun, do you think the NASA lander Curiosity will find life on Mars? 

KJA: Probably not tripods...