Sunday, 22 January 2017

An interview with Graeme Rodaughan, author of A Subtle Agency

Hooray, I hear you say, an article with opinions other than her own. Graeme Rodaughan, author of A Subtle Agency has kindly agreed to give his views on science fiction writing and on future science, what will come to pass and how we should manage it. Graeme lives in Australia and this interview was conducted online, which is simple enough, but if you consider that fifty years ago it would have been done by post on a boat and a hundred years ago it would have been impossible unless we were really, really good at shouting, what improvements can we expect in the coming half or full century? I can happily dedicate a lot of my evenings to this kind of talk. Take it away.
Faith: Graeme, what’s the purpose of a sci-fi novel? Is it entertainment or is it to make us think about humanity’s issues from a new perspective, is it a prediction service or is it just a format for a master of language and imagination to show you what they can do?
Graeme: All of the above, as follows. (i) As entertainment: The first purpose of story is to engage the reader in an immersive experience that transports them into the author's world. The story must connect with the reader emotionally and fully engage their imagination. Science fiction has been a lifelong engagement for me that has allowed me to explore so many things that are not available in everyday life. I love science fiction and I'm sure that I will continue that love affair for the rest of my life. 
      (ii) As intellectual provocation: Absolutely. Mary Shelly's Frankenstein is a classic example of this attribute. The scientific revolution and the rise of industrial society has granted humanity great creative power - will we use that power wisely or will our creations rise up and destroy us? George Orwell's 1984 looks are the nature of power relationships. Robert Heinlein's A Stranger in a Strange Land looks at sexual politics. The list goes on and on. The great value of science fiction is that it allows every aspect of the human condition to be examined and discussed through a hypothetical "what if" lens.
       (iii) As prediction: Yes. Both optimistically and pessimistically. Although, it seems that far more often society travels a path beyond anyone's predictions. There are some noteworthy examples of predictions that have come true, such as hand held communicators from Star Trek.
       (iv) As author flair: Don't we all? Every author I've read, and every author I know, is doing their best to master language and imagination to display it with narrative power and effective prose.
Faith: Which science fiction books do you wish you had written and why?
Graeme: None of them. I treasure so many books and authors precisely for what they are and the contribution that they have made. My only need is to write my own stories and to connect readers with them.
Faith: Do your choices tell us you are a description, dialogue, nostalgia or ideas person?
Graeme: I look for economy of description to the point of being sparse. Action and dialogue are my primary vehicles for telling a story. Yes, I am very much an ideas person. When someone has a "re-programmable reality" as the fundamental basis of their story world, you know that you are not dealing with an ordinary story.
Faith: Which sci-fi or engineering concepts attract you and can you see them ever happening?
Graeme: Scientific and technical progress is accelerating. I read a report a few years ago where it was noted that China was graduating ten times the number of engineers as the USA. There are a lot of new technologies that are just over the horizon and rapidly approaching. Many of them present very real danger if misused precisely because they are so powerful. The scientific/technical edge enjoyed by western civilization over the last few centuries is being rapidly eroded and will contribute to the evolution of a multi-polar world power structure. Key technologies going forward are as follows: 
      Human genetic engineering. Nuclear fusion. Genuine Artificial Intelligence. Advanced humanoid robotics. Widespread use of nanotechnology in many fields. Rail guns and directed energy weapons. Automation of warfare via drones/robots. Cost effective large scale energy storage. All within the next fifty years.
Faith: What ways have you found to fire your imagination and explore new ground?
Graeme: This happens naturally. Remaining grounded is the real struggle.
Faith: Are we losing control of our planet, what is its future and what technologies can we develop to solve our next set of challenges?
Graeme: We don't have total control of the planet, nor are we powerless and without impact. I would posit that we are more of a threat to our own civilization than we are to the planet. Our current civilization was built on cheap energy, if we destroy it we probably won't get another chance to build another one. This is our one shot and we need to make sure it counts for the future of human civilization. 
      The key threat we have is our reliance on centralised, hierarchical power structures. Centralization, by its very nature creates hierarchy, which by its very nature creates inequality. To solve our problems we need to start living outside these traditional structures so that we engage the true potential of humanity. The opposite of centralization is peripheralization, aka decentralization. When you hear a phrase like "Empower the edge" you are dealing with the sort of structure that I recommend.
      An example of technologies that support peripheralization are peer to peer networks. They enable genuine grass roots movements that generate localised bottom up solutions. The internet is a key technology empowering decentralization. All the technologies that I mentioned above have the potential to support either further centralization or peripheralization. Which pathway is followed is a human choice, not a technical one.
Faith: Thank you Graeme for giving us your thoughts on sci-fi today and our reality of tomorrow. The following is an introduction to Graeme's latest novel:

"In a universe where reality can be re-programmed, any wish can be satisfied or any nightmare realised. Set in a very near future Boston & New York. In a world that looks a lot like ours. Vampires rule from the shadows, but they are not unopposed. Standing against them are two ancient secret societies. The Order of Thoth and the Red Empire, united in their opposition to the vampires and bitterly divided by their different values.
      A young Anton Smith, a Boston university student in his freshman year, and star Hockey player comes to the attention of the 2nd most powerful vampire in the world, General Chloe Armitage. She has a visionary plan for the future in which she needs Anton to play a critical part.
      Anton's world and everything that he thought he knew is shattered, he is thrown onto the streets of Boston and must quickly adapt to survive. But will he learn what he needs to know quickly enough to make a difference or will he become a knight in an ambitious vampire's chess game where the future of humanity is at stake. 

Graeme’s new novel can be found through this link:
Graeme has an author page on Goodreads here:

1 comment:

  1. Hi Faith, thanks for the interview, it was a pleasure working with you on it.