I’m reviving this column, beginning with my friend and mentor Kevin J. Anderson. Kevin has had numerous New York Times bestsellers, is well-known for collaborating with Brian Herbert on the continuation of the Dune universe, and instructs at numerous writers’ workshops and seminars throughout the year. Kevin is arguably the hardest-working author in the SF/F field, and he’s got a terrific original SF novel out; the first of three in a trilogy, following up on his Saga of the Seven Suns series.
Brad: This is the first book in your second series set in the SAGA OF THE SEVEN SUNS universe. Having already covered a lot of territory in the first novels, what are you looking to explore now, with this second bunch?
Kevin: In the Saga of Seven Suns, I created a whole universe — countless planets, cultures, political structures, races. It was truly my love letter to science fiction. When I wrote the seven volumes, a million and a quarter words, I had a huge story to build and bring through its whole story arc — but I always had another grand story in mind. I set it up in the original Saga, planting many seeds, but I held it in reserve for when I was recharged and ready to return to that universe. I had to clear my head (by writing a dozen novels or so!) and when I came back, I was ready for an Even BIGGER threat to the universe.
Brad: This is a book (and a universe) that heavily blends aspects of science fiction, with quasi mythology; in the form of near-eternal and ancient forces rising from the past to the threaten the (future, in the book) present. What present-day influences or mythologies (if any) did you draw on to create your (imagined) future conflict?
Kevin: The key word is “saga” and I wanted a story truly BIG enough to fill a whole fictional universe. Not just a trivial story about one person in one city on one planet. I wanted to show the whole tapestry, and I have studied a lot of history, a lot of mythology, a lot of legends, and also my lifelong love for science fiction. That’s what I brought to the table, mixed up in my imagination-processor to tell a story that ranges from the small concerns of two star-crossed lovers to political decisions that might bring about the fall of empires.
Brad: Do you see machine intelligences being an inevitable threat to real civilization, assuming humans develop far enough to make them; or encounter alien machine intelligences built by other species?
Kevin:I rely on machine intelligences for almost every aspect of my daily life, whether it’s a google search or Siri navigating me to a friend’s house, or watching computer models on the Weather Channel. I am not afraid of fire, or tools, or the wheel. I find them useful.
Brad: Would you call yourself a futurist? Should science fiction even try to predict anything?
Kevin: I don’t think “predicting” is the point — “experimenting” is. Science Fiction, and fiction in general, allows us to imagine scenarios to their extremes and to learn from them. I love taking an idea and running it to possible conclusions. Not to predict what’s going to happen, but to experiment with how things might happen. And doing it infiction is usually more palateable than doing it in polemics.
Brad: Since the scope of your story is so big, with literally galactic stakes, what do you consciously do as a writer to bring the story back down to human scale? So that you can tell it from a personal point of view that readers may identify with?
Kevin: By telling the story from a human (or relateable alien) perspective. I see the gigantic story as the Main Character, the driving force, but it is told from dozens of points of view, from the highest noble to the lowest street urchin, so you can see the story, the saga, the galactic war, from ALL perspectives. Readers may not identify with every character, and they may loathe some of them, but they will also feel very close to some of them.
Brad: Why three books this time, instead of another seven? As with the first series?
Kevin: Because seven books — ALL of them over 170,000 words long, ALL of them delivered exactly on time each year, every year, for seven years — was an exhausting high-wire act I’m not sure I want to attempt again! And the seven books was a complete story, not just a book and a bunch of sequels. I plotted the whole seven-book arc and held it in my head as I spent seven years writing it. This time, my brain capacity only allowed three books (but, in my defense, they are BIG books!)
Brad: Do you find yourself unconsciously channeling themes and ideas you’ve worked on before? With so many different novels under your belt, do you have to sometimes remind yourself specifically which universe you’re working in?
Kevin: When I’m working on a book or series, I am totally immersed in it and I live with all those worlds, those plots, those characters as my imaginary friends. I am very close to all of them and I hold them in my mind. A few years after they are published, though, I can mentally file them away and focus on the current project, which is what consumes me right now. (I just finished dictating my chapters in the first draft of NAVIGATORS OF DUNE, but I put that on a back burner while I do my final edit on CLOCKWORK LIVES, which is where my entire focus is right now . . . and when I’m done with that, I edit NAVIGATORS and then begin the prep work to write ETERNITY’S MIND, the third and final novel in the Saga of Shadows trilogy. After that . . . well, I’m not thinking so far ahead!