Robert Charles Wilson was born in Whittier, CA and moved to Canada at the age of nine. His short fiction has appeared in numerous publications including Fantasy and Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy, Tesseracts, Northern Frights and Northern Stars. His story "The Perseids" was a World Fantasy and Nebula Award finalist, and an Prix Aurora Award winner. An author of ten novels, his first, A Hidden Place was a Phillip K. Dick Award finalist. He went on to win the Philip K. Dick Award for Mysterium and the Prix Aurora Award for Darwinia. His short story collection The Perseids was a World Fantasy Award finalist and New York Times Notable Book. His 2001 novel, The Chronoliths was a New York Times Notable book as well and a nominee for this year's Hugo Award for Best Novel. He currently lives in Toronto and is at work on his next novel entitled Blind Lake.
The SFRevu crew caught up with Hugo Nominee Robert Charles Wilson recently at this year's World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, California.
SFRevu: Your bio tells me that you were born in California in '53, and moved to Canada in what...'62? Where in California did you live, and what made you move?
RCW: I was born in Whittier, California, back in the days of orange groves, smog alerts, and duck-and-cover exercises. My father worked for Gibson Greeting Cards, and when the company opened a division in Canada (what they used to call a "branch plant"), he was transferred to Toronto.
SFR: Growing up Sciffy in Canada. What was it like? Do you remember when you discovered SF? What impressed you as a kid? Did you have friends with similar interests?
RCW: My interest in SF goes so far back I can't even begin to parse it. Bad movies and kids' books: The Spaceship Under the Apple Tree, Invasion from Mars, the Mushroom Planet series...although my real literary god from those days was a mainstream writer, Eleanor Estes. I usually found friends with an interest in SF, or dragged them into it by force of my own enthusiasm
SFR: Did you follow the space race in the 60s? Do you remember where you were when Apollo 11 landed on the moon?
RCW: What I remember about the space race in the 60s is how frustrating it was for a kid well-versed in SF. TV commentators giving long and often laughably incorrect explanations of fundamental ideas like "escape velocity" or even "weightlessness." Usually throwing in some remark to the effect that this was "reality, not Buck Rogers." Feh. The moon landing itself felt like a momentous historical event no one was really appreciating -- an evolutionary advance received like a circus stunt. (Though there were those, like the venerable Walter Cronkite, who actually got it.)
SFR: What do you like most about Canada?
RCW: Ignore those who envision Canada as a nation of the chronically polite. Don't even think about starting a bar fight with a Canadian. But it's a country with a great and gentle mythology about itself. Canadians think of Canada as the nation that welcomes refugees: United Empire Loyalists, fleeing slaves, U.S. draft dodgers.... Canada's 9-11 stories tend to focus on the people who were stranded in Halifax and Newfoundland by the airline shutdown and billeted with local people: welcoming strangers in a time of crisis. In fact Canadians can be as insular and blinkered as anybody else, but even a half-truth is half true, and I like the Canadian mythology very much.
SFR: Do you get to hang out with other writers at all? Do you go to Cons much? I mean besides the ones where you have a Hugo nomination.
RCW: I see the local writers fairly often, and I've toured and done some promotion alongside Rob Sawyer. I get to conventions when I can: Worldcons, local events. I like Readercon enormously but it's a hard one to get to, given family obligations during the summer.
SFR: How did you get started writing? How did you make your first sale?
RCW: When wasn't I writing? I taught myself to read before I went to school, and I took up writing soon thereafter. I made my first sale to Analog back in the mid-seventies, but that was a fluke (I was nineteen), and I didn't really get started publishing until I sold a few pieces to F&SF around 1985.
SFR: Have there been any editors that were especially helpful as you developed?
RCW: Ed Ferman was very generous. Shawna McCarthy bought a story of mine for Asimov's back when she was editing that magazine, and when she moved to Bantam as a book editor she was kind enough to ask me if I had anything of novel length. (That was the genesis of A Hidden Place.) Shawna's my literary agent today.
SFR: I read in your August 2001 Voyageur interview with Karen Bennett (http://voyageur.idic.ca/RCWilson01.htm) that you were working on a novel about a quantum telescope. First off, how's that going and what is it about? Secondly...what is a quantum telescope anyway?
RCW: The novel's called Blind Lake, and the submission ms goes off to Tor this week. Some of the most interesting advances in telescopy have happened this decade: I'm think of the extrasolar planets discovered orbiting other stars. At the moment we can only infer the existence of these planets; we can't image them directly. That will eventually change with the advent of space-based interferometers; at that point we can begin to do find even small, Earth-sized planets and analyze their atmospheric spectra for signs of life. What I'm imagining in Blind Lake is a (wholly speculative) new form of telescopy that allows us to visualize the surface of such a world, examine a sentient, alien culture in great detail, and even follow a single individual from place to place and day to day.
There is, of course, a price to be paid for all this new information....
SFR: We're seeing a lot of Quantum stuff in SF. Rob Sawyers quantum computers in Hominids for instance. When did the physics for all this take place, and are we starting to see some application?
RCW: Quantum physics has been one of the great collective scientific endeavors of the 20th century and remains one of the great scientific mysteries. As for applications, I suppose one of the first quantum-physics apps (if you choose to look at it that way) was the laser. Lately things have gotten much stranger. If you're curious, type "quantum wells" or "Bose-Einstein condensate" or "superposition states" into Google.
SFR: Is the 21st century going to be a century of soft science, or does physics still have some arrows left in its quill?
RCW: See above. We're just getting started. And hold on to your hat.
SFR: How do you think global warming is going to affect Canada? Is it going to go through a population explosion? Will it be the next Untied States?
RCW: Questions too big to answer in a short space. What am I, psychic?
SFR: If you watched the original Star Trek, you probably saw the episode where Spock complains about having to work in a vacuum tube technology. Yet you happen to like vacuum tube yourself. What's their attraction?
RCW: There are hobbyists ferociously dedicated to vacuum tubes -- when you're done with quantum physics, try out "vacuum tube audio" on your search engine and watch the results roll in. Really, I only dabble. But there's a wonderful simplicity to vacuum tubes; you can build quite interesting stuff with your own hands; there's the thrill of working with lethal voltages; and, heck, they're made of glass and chrome and they glow in the dark.
Our house here in Concord was hit by lightning recently. Took out two computers, a printer, our phones and answering machine, our VCR and TV set -- they all had to be replaced. My homebuilt tube gear survived unfazed. (Picture it: the Sony TV in hopeless meltdown; the tube amps looking on in smug self-satisfaction: "Hey, that was fun! Let's do it again!")
SFR: How do you feel about the future?
RCW: Equal parts hope and dread, I
suppose, but I retain the SF writer's fascination with change. Bring it