Wednesday, August 4, 2010
With this book, the ideas came first, but not the ones you name, actually. I was initially interested in writing about the environment and cool sustainable technologies. That was the real seed for the story. But as I crafted Bright Sands Beach and the world of the ship breakers, another set of themes emerged--the need to rely on one another for survival, the vast differences between the wealthy winners of the future and the losers; and as Richard Lopez came on stage, with his addictions and violence, the theme of family and what we owe our parents ended up taking over the narrative. So the world-building and story-telling ended up creating their own driving rules. I started with a map and a plan, and then took a sharp turn and went off-roading, instead.
I was really fascinated with the half-men, especially as they related to the theme of loyalty – they are essentially as loyal as you get in SHIP BREAKER’s world. Can you tell us a bit about their development? Will we ever find out how Tool was able to be his own patron?
Yes. You'll definitely see Tool again. I've always been interested in bio-engineered characters, and anyone with the blood of tiger, dog and hyena running through his veins is too interesting to leave alone. When Tool first arrived onstage for me, he was almost fully formed, and he turned out to be a good metaphor for questions not only of loyalty, but also a stark example to illustrate questions of nature vs. nurture that Nailer finds himself wrestling with. Tool has the blood of dogs running through him, and he's expected to obey his patron at all times. To be the well-trained animal. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much what we expect of our kids, as well.
I’m totally psyched for SHIP BREAKER II – THE DROWNED CITIES. When is it coming out and what can we expect?
Not sure when SHIP BREAKER II will come out. I've got a bunch of revisions to do, so I'm sort of delaying the process more than I'd like. Hopefully sometime next year, though. You can expect to see Tool again, and Nailer's life is far from secure. To say more would sort of spoil the surprises that I'm lining up, but you can expect to see more of the world fleshed out, and to get a better sense of parts of its history, as well.
Do you read a lot of dystopian/post-apocalyptic literature? Any influences? Any recommendations?
Actually, I don't read that much of it. My influences all come from environmental journalism. I look at current trends and then try to extrapolate on what might come next. If oil is getting scarce, then what might the world look like? If we're destroying ecosystems, what does that mean? Mostly, what I like to do is turn up the volume on a trendline that already exist and is already playing out. I think of my stories as thought experiments, and to the extent that other people call the results dystopian or post-apocalyptic, I think that reflects how ugly some of our current trends are.
If I was going to suggest something to read, I'd say most of the writings of Michelle Nijhuis are interesting, she's an environmental journalist and a friend of mine, and I'm always stealing from what she writes about. Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker is doing a great job of sketching out the broad lines of the future based on what's happening today, and it's scary as hell. David Quammen's book Song of the Dodo is a fabulous look into the science evolution and extinction, and what it has to tell us about our present. Journalists like these ones are mining the present for the stories that are telling us what tomorrow will look like. I turn to them again and again so that I can understand our own narrative arc.
As far as fiction that I've read and liked, and that used the tools of dystopia particularly well, I'd recommend MT Anderson's FEED. It's about as smart as it gets.
The dystopian genre has really exploded in terms of popularity in the past year. Do you think it’s been played out? Or are readers insatiably hungry for these types of stories?
I didn't really understand that there was a dystopian genre until SHIP BREAKER was labeled that way. I've always thought of myself as writing extrapolations, and really (let's whisper it), science fiction. There's a long tradition in science fiction of writing speculations that ask the question "If x goes on, what does the future look like?" I think of myself as being pretty firmly embedded in that tradition.
Regarding the current taste for devastation, I suppose that to the extent that it has something relevant to say, it always will have a place.1984 still survives because of its continued relevance. Books like LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow continue in that tradition, and I think that relevance doesn't get played out. If dystopian literature has something worthwhile to say, it will survive; if it's a shtick, it will die in favor of some new shtick.
Visit Paolo at his website to find out more about SHIP BREAKER and his other novels. You can also read the first 30 pages of SHIP BREAKER via Hachette's open book app.
Thanks to Little, Brown, I have three copies of SHIP BREAKER to give away today to readers with US mailing addresses (no PO boxes please). To enter, just leave a comment about some aspect of today's interview. Contest will remain open until August 31st at 11:59 CST.