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Interview: Tobias Buckell by Ernest Lilley
Review by Ernest Lilley *Interview  
Date: 31 May 2012

Links: Review: Arctic Rising / Author's Website /

Once Ernest Lilley finished the book, Arctic Rising, and wrote the review -- he had a few questions for the author. Luckily, Tobias Buckell was able to spare the time to answer a few questions.

SFRevu: What made you want to write a story set in the Arctic? Isn't that a long way from growing up in the Caribbean?

Tobias Buckell: A long way indeed. I think I got attracted to it when Karl Schroeder and I began compiling research for a short story set in a world without Arctic Ice. After we wrote the story, I just kept copying and pasting articles about the subject into Evernote until I had enough of them that I felt the weight couldn't be ignored.

SFRevu: I've seen comments that Arctic Rising was based on US Navy predictions about the future of the Arctic. What parts got your interest? Can you point us towards some of those sources?

Buckell: It was articles like this: 2812/
and this: blications/Game-Reports/FAOG_Game-Report_09-2011.pdf

Over a four year period I just kept bookmarking interesting pieces like this Dept. of the Navy memo from the Vice Chief:

"Scientific evidence indicates that the Earth's climate is changing, and the most rapid changes are occurring in the Arctic. Because the Arctic is primarily a maritime environment the Navy must consider the changing Arctic in developing future policy, strategy, force structure, and investment."
That was written in 2009, while I started the book in 2008. I had more of that sort of thing lying around on my hard drive, but it's a perfect example of the sort of stuff I was coming across while writing the book.

The US Navy has an entire website that is the forward facing entity for their TFCC project (Task Force Climate Change) with documentation and all sorts of stuff.

Simply put, the US military takes climate change *very* seriously. In fact, they are one of the largest investors in green tech in the world.

SFRevu: The world created in the novel seems like it would fit right in with Palo Bacigalupi's Shipbreaker and Windup Girl setting. Since you worked with Paolo on The Alchemist and The Executioness we know you share ideas...did you share this world?

Buckell: I think Windup Girl and this book are similar in that they are both picking apart the ramifications of climate change, but they're not the same world. In Shipbreaker Paolo was nice enough to name the Buckell cannon after me, as we've both been geeking out over the primacy of sail power that would come, I believe, in a post-oil environment. Already Sky Sail and several other companies are trying to bring sail power to large commercial ships, it's not that far fetched to imagine the sail powered hyrdrofoils we both use. So we do talk back and forth, and Paolo read and commented on a draft of Arctic Rising. Paolo and Karl Schroeder both had a huge impact on this book (I dedicated it to them both as a result).

SFRevu: There's a lot of Bond in the book; an action hero with lots of near death escapes, a plot to launch a solar powered weapon/climate change device, a bar called 'Pussy Galore', and a fair number of actual spies. So, how long have you had this Bond thing on the brain? Did growing up in the Caribbean make movies like Dr. No, Thunderball and Casino Royale more interesting?

Buckell: Actually I struggle with the Caribbean settings in those because Bond never really engages with the land and people. He's a total tourist. My frustration was that I always felt the islands were used just as quick exotic settings.

On the flip side, Bond is a fun and engaging character. It's certainly an iconic one. So I wanted to write a pseudo-spy thriller where I sort of poked back. My Bond is an African woman who is a bit more reluctant in her role. If anything, Roo is more 'Bond-ish' than she is!

So the book examines some of my reactions to the Bond mythos, both flipping things on their head, and also giving it a fair nod.

SFRevu: Your first published story was "Fish Merchant", which Scott Edleman bought for Science Fiction Age, and which came out in March 2000 (SF Age's last issue was May 2000, and is sorely missed). How do you feel about the story now, a dozen years later? How has your writing process changed since then?

Buckell: Sorely missed indeed! Scott was the first editor that clicked with me and even when he didn't buy my stories, could tell what I was trying to do. That story was a big breakthrough for me. It took a long time to figure out why.

All these years later, I still love it. Because it was me doing what I loved best. Poking at tropes, turning them around a bit while still bringing as much action as I could to the table. And it turns out that, while I avoided near future SF for a long time because I didn't have a high opinion of my abilities, my readers really like it when I go there.

The writing process is different for every project, to be brutally honest. I'm always changing, hopefully evolving.

SFRevu: When did you transition to writing full time, or will you, or did you ever not?

Buckell: That's a hard to answer question, because I kind of did transition to full time, but didn't. I used to get paid a very small salary working at a college nearby to help out with their educational technology. They let me go in 2006, so I set out to become a freelancer because I'd just purchased a house and couldn't find a technology job in rural Ohio. I worked for various blogs as an editor and writer.

It was great, because I set my own hours and was explosively productive. In the beginning it was like 70% freelancing, 30% fiction. As the years passed I managed to keep reducing freelancing work as fiction grew. At some point I was making as much off my fiction as I had at my old dayjob, but I kept the freelancing in order to make a decent living!

Right now it's about 60% fiction and 40% freelancing. I design eBooks for Subterranean Press, and I really enjoy it (I get to read a lot of great books in the process). I've pared off all other freelance work except for this. A bit of a risk, but I am getting a lot of writing done.

SFRevu: Do you remember the first SF you read? Did it have an impact on you, and what did you read growing up?

Buckell: When I was six or seven, I found a copy of Childhood's End and read it. It blew my mind. I started seeking out SF from that moment on!

SFRevu: What do you read to refill your idea bucket?

Buckell: I'm a fairly fast and voracious reader. Nowadays I have less time and energy due to recovering from a heart defect, so I'm really picky about getting drawn in. I tend to read lots of SF still, but I read mystery and spy thrillers as well. A ton of middle grade and YA comes via audiobook, I spend half an hour every night listening.

SFRevu: What other writers do you feel a connection to, and how did that come about?

Buckell: There are writers that are a part of your cohort, the people you broke in to publishing with. Paolo Bacigalupi and Karl Schroeder are both friends in real life, and people who's work I really respond to. When I got into the genre, I spent a lot of time following Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross and what they were doing. I'm not like BFFs with them (as they both live overseas I rarely run into them), but they've always been very nice to me and I'm again, interested in what they're doing on the page.

As for writers I stalk from a distance, after reading my first Alastair Reynolds novel, I devoured everything he'd written. He writes the sort of space opera I just really adore.

C.J. Cherry's Merchanters series had this immense impact on me when I was starting out writing. The reason I set out to write space opera in my first few novels was almost totally because of Merchanter's Luck.

SFRevu: Have any of your stories been optioned for movies? If you could pick one to make a film out of, which would it be?

Buckell: Arctic Rising is the first book I've written that has gotten a bunch of queries from Hollywood, but it hasn't been optioned yet (as I write this email). If I had to pick one it would be Arctic Rising, in a heartbeat.

SFRevu: What are you working on now?

Buckell: A young adult novel called The Trove. Think Star Wars meets Cyperpunk to retell Treasure Island.

SFRevu: Are you having fun?

Buckell: I learned a while back that I had to enjoy the act of writing itself in order to not lose myself in the maelstrom that is trying to be an artist for an income. It can be a punishing way to try and make a living, but the art has to come first. And for me a major part is that spark. Have fun first, so that no matter what happens next, you can at least be proud of what you did.

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