Asimovs Chat with Ian R. McLeod
ChatMod: Hi everybody, thanks for joining us. I'm Ben Trumble for SCIFI. Tonight we're pleased to welcome Science Fiction writer Ian R. McLeod. Tonight's chat is co-produced by ANALOG and by ISAAC ASIMOV'S SCIENCE FICTION ( the leading pubishers of science fiction and fantasy in the magazine format. Our host is Asimov's editor Gardner Dozois.

ChatMod: Brief word about the drill. This is a moderated chat -- please send your questions for our guest to ChatMod, as private messages. (To send a private message, either double-click on ChatMod or type "/msg ChatMod" on the command line - only without the quotes.)...Then hit Enter (or Return on a Mac.)

Gardner: Ian, please visualize yourself on a virtual talk show. There's the couch, I'm an inadequate substitute for Johnny Carson. Tell us about your book.

Gardner: Hold it up so the camera can see the cover. <g>

Ian: Well, Gardner. It's funny you should ask. The book - and should I say here it's in all good bookshops - is a bit of an attempt to widen the fantasy field.

Gardner: Can you do a vague plot description?

Gardner: Ian, are you back?

Ian: Essentially, it's set in an alternate world where a substance called aether was discovered in the Enlightenment. Aether allows reality to be manulipulated; magic works.

Gardner: You've created a very detailed Secondary World here. Your settings feel very real.

Ian: The main character, I should add, grows up in Yorkshire, ambitious, but damaged by the twisting into a changeling of his mother. He wants, like most heros or anti-heros, to change the world.

Ian: The settings always felt real to me. Reality is very important when you're making unreality real.

Gardner: I suppose it would come as no surprise to anyone who's read the book to speculate that Dickens is probably a literary ancestor of this particular work.

Ian: Yes. He's a great writer. Not a huge influence in the general sense, but there were specific links which I was happy to explore.

Gardner: What other influences went into the meld?

Ian: D H Lawrence for the town where the protagonist grows up. Then Henry James for some of the grander scenes. And a dash Gene Wolfe and Mervyn Peake and Tolkien.

Gardner: A potent cocktail!

Ian: That was why it took so long to get it anything near right.

Gardner: What gave you the idea of the aether?

Ian: It was a way of legitimising what I wanted to do, which was to create an industrial near-reality where strange things could happen.

Gardner: Is this an idea you've been nursing for a long time, or did it come to you all at once?

Ian: Oh, and I think a few writers have done this before. Larry Niven did some Atlantis books with a similar idea of magic as a commidity which could expire, I seem to recall.

Ian: What I've been nursing is a way of writing logical magical realism.

Gardner: Magical realism where there's a real-world rationale--even if it is magic?

Ian: Exactly.

Gardner: When you first started playing with this idea, did you conceive of it as a great long novel? Or did it just grow?

Ian: It was always going to be a big book. I wanted something epic which covered a person's life.

Gardner: I think we have a couple of audience questions coming in.

Ian: Noises off...

ChatMod: <MarkS> to <ChatMod>: I think here in the US we read more of your short fiction than novels. Are novels a necessary evil to find a place in the market? Is The Light Ages the first in a series?

Ian: Funnily enough, I always set out to be a novelist. As is often the way with life, I found I missed one target to begin with, and hit another.

Ian: I hate the whole fantasy series thing, to be honest. But, then, I have to admit that my next book, The House of Storms, is based on the same aether premise and world history.

Gardner: You established a reputation as a science fiction writer. Why the shift to fantasy?

Ian: Novels certainly aren't a necessary evil, by the way. But publishing in the commercial sense is.

Gardner: You bet.

Ian: I've never drawn any distinctoin between SF and fantasy.

Ian: It could and has been argued that The Light Ages is an alternate world SF work. Basically, it's just a work of fiction.

Gardner: More audience questions?

ChatMod: <Robin> to <ChatMod>: Where did the idea for Breathmoss come from? I loved it in Asimovs. Dis it appear in the UK first? Why has it taken two years for it to up for an award? Will you attend the Nebulas?

Ian: I wanted to do something a bit more exotic. The single sex thing might have been influenced by The left Hand of Darkness. And thanks for liking it!

Gardner: The two-year thing is out of Ian's control.

Gardner: You have to talk to SFWA about that.

Ian: No, it didn't appear in the UK first. And most things are out of my control.

Ian: I won't be at the Nebulas. It's a long way to come over, much though I'd like to.

Gardner: The Nebulas have what they call "rolling eligibility," which means that a book or story has two years of eligibility, basically.

ChatMod: Like the baseball Hall of Fame :)

Ian: Right. I didn't know that. Awards are something I try to let roll by me. At least until I win them!

Gardner: That's why almost nothing on the ballot is actually from 2003. <g>

Ian: Am I up for the baseball hall of fame too?!!

Gardner: Did you ever get to pick up one of your awards in person?

Gardner: Yes, Ian, you are. Which will puzzle future scholars.

Ian: Not yet. I've been there when I haven't won an award, though. Scarred me for life, it did.

ChatMod: To ChatMod > Do you work on novels and short fiction at the same time then? Taking breaks from a big book for a shorter elegant project, then going back to the book?

Gardner: I wish!

Ian: I did with The Light Ages, in part because I was stuck. The book I've written since, which should be out late this or early next year, was written in one go, so to speak.

Gardner: Any novels projected beyond that?

Ian: I've just started work on another one. This is a more "SF" work. It's about a woman born about now, looking back over a life which leads towards what I believe is termed the or a singularity.

Gardner: Sounds great. Keep us in mind for any novellas that can be cut out of it.

Ian: One of the things I'd like to prove to myself or the world is the thinness of genre distinctions.

Ian: Yeah. One thing about breathmoss is that it's supposed to be the start of a novel. I've just not written the rest yet.

ChatMod: Something to do after you win the Nebula

Ian: Strangely enough, I can see The Light Ages leading towards a fairly SF future.

Gardner: To say nothing of being swept into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ian: I'm also hoping for awards in the Stinking Rich catergory.

Gardner: Might be interesting, Ian--what would their 22nd century be like?


ChatMod: Just a reminder. We're chatting with writer Ian Macleod. Tonight's chat is co-produced by Asimov's Science Fiction and Analog magazines. ( This is a moderated chat -- please send your questions for our guest to ChatMod, as private messages. (To send a private message, either double-click on ChatMod or type "/msg ChatMod" on the command line - only without the quotes.)...Then hit Enter (or Return on a Mac.)

Ian: Well, I think that the changelings, who finally rise to some sort of control in The House of Storms, would be able to open gateways between worlds.

Ian: Fantasy and SF really can be joined. They would be a little like the pilots in Dune.

Gardner: Well, when scientists talk about things like quantum realities, black holes, rolled-up dimensions, and so forth, it's already a bit hard to tell that from fantasy, or at least mysticism.

Ian: Exactly. So there is a far-future book to be done which will, I think join something resembling the Breathmoss world with that of The Light Ages.

Gardner: Actually, Ian, that sounds like an interesting scenario. You ought to write a few stories in that future just to get the feel for it. <g>

ChatMod: For the 2007 Nebulas...

Ian: Yeah. But at the moment, I've got this old woman talking to her meremaid brooch. Which can hear her, and has stored her family videos and memories...

Gardner: You can only enter the Baseball Hall of Fame once, but you can win any number of Nebulas...

ChatMod: Another audience question

ChatMod: <Robin> to <ChatMod>: I thought Breathmoss was the start of something bigger... I kept waiting for Asimov's to run the next bit... This may sound like a ridiculous question... But to making a living writing sf and f in Britain do you have to establish yourself in the overseas markets as well? Can you make a go of it domestically?

Ian: A very good question. Writing is always a pretty hazardous business moneywise.

Gardner: Editing isn't exactly stable either.

Ian: I have a supportive wife, and I also do part-time teaching. That way, I can write as well, and the money has got better, without ever being brilliant.

Ian: And you do need overseas markets. Either that, or a life of crime.

Gardner: To give my own spin on the question, to sell novels prominently in the U.S., I do think you have to be visible in the U.S. short fiction markets, to some extent.

Gardner: If you only publish in the British markets, the American book editors don't notice you. Look what happened with Charlie Stross.

Ian: I think that's true.

Ian: Chris Priest is regarded as "too English". How stupid can you get!

Gardner: He'd been laboring along in INTERZONE since 1987, and couldn't sell anybody a novel over here. Then he creates a buzz in the American short fiction market, and all of a sudden book editors are breaking down his door. (Stross, that is.)

Ian: I've always tried to deal with universal themes. Maybe that's been a help.

Ian: I think Stoss did get better, as well.

Gardner: Yes, it always seems to me that the flaw in the argument that the American audience won't accept books that are "too English" is that people over here still read Jane Austin and Dickens.

Ian: Shakespeare would probably struggle in the current market. Now, there's a short story..

Gardner: Actually, my guess that Shakespeare would be writing weekly TV dramas. Or else scripting reality shows.

Ian: As I say, it doesn't seem to have been a major problem (yet!) for me.

Ian: There's a lovely Martin Amis short story where poets get the big money and screenwriters live in garrets.

Gardner: Clearly NOT written by a screenwriter. <g>

Ian: Any thoughts, audience, on whether Sf is heading up or down at teh moment?

Gardner: To throw in a tickleish question, what's your favorite short story of your own work? If that's too tough, how about your top five?

Ian: I like Turkiluk, the eskimo story. Then Marnie. And The Chop Girl.

Ian: Papa's a story I've been thinking about a bit, too, as it deals with the sort of future shock I'm trying to write about again.

Gardner: Interesting. If I was going to name my top five favories of yours, those probably wouldn't be it.

Gardner: "Papa" probably would be.

Ian: But I only re-read my old stuff when I have to for editorial purposes, so my memory could be faulty.

Gardner: I'd probably name "Breathmoss," "Papa," "The Summer Isles," "New Light on the Drake Equation," and "Starship Days."

Ian: Funnily enough, I had to re-read Breathmoss for my new short story collectoin, and didn't like it as much as some of the others.

Ian: When I do write more short fiction, I'd like it be shorter. Proper short stories...

Gardner: Tell us about the new collection.

Gardner: I've always liked novellas. <g>

Ian: Breathmoss is the lead title, and it's bookended by The Summer Isles. I'm fairly certain that it contains better work on average than my first collection. And I've written the introductoin myself in pompous authorly terms.

Gardner: That sounds like a first-rate collection.

Ian: It's out from Golden Gryphon, I think next month.

Gardner: Any chance we'll be seeing the novel version of THE SUMMER ISLES?

Ian: If you can read French, it's definately coming out. Otherwise, PS publishing are interesting. (hope they don't mind me saying that).

Ian: I'm also working on my English editor.

Gardner: I could think of several other small presses who might be interested.

Ian: I meant interested. Interesting as well, I'm sure.

Ian: Your take on the gay theme has made more and more sense to me.

Gardner: Well, we're almost out of time. Other than the projects we've already mentioned, anything you'd like to plug?

Gardner: That's why I thought that Meshia Merlin would be a good bet.

Ian: Look out for The Light Ages in paperback, and read lots of stuff. Good books don't start or end with any particular label.

Gardner: Well, Ian, thanks for coming.

Ian: I'll be at the British Eastercon, by the way. And I'll be in Glasgow next year. We missed each other in Washington, didn't we?

Gardner: Since it's now three in the morning there, I suppose we should let you get to sleep.

Ian: Ah, and I've just woken upzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Gardner: Yes, I couldn't make the WFC. Don't know if I'll be in Glascow. May be in Boston this year.

ChatMod: Our time is about up. An interesting chat. Thank you Ian. Tonight's chat was co-produced by Asimov's Science Fiction and Analog magazines. ( Join us again on April 13th when we'll be chatting with Nebula nominees James Van Pelt, Eleanor Arnason, John Kessel, Kage Baker, Molly Gloss and .... Ian R. McLeod. We'll open the floor no

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