Jamie Todd Rubin is a science fiction writer and blogger. His fiction has appeared in Analog, Apex Magazine and Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show. He writes the Wayward Time Traveler column for SF Signal and he vacations frequently in the Golden Age of science fiction.
The future of books is a big challenge for anyone in these days, from authors to readers. As an author how do you see things change in the book universe? Which aspects do you think are going to move faster?
I see the form or container evolving and changing, but the content staying more or less the same. A big deal has been made about the evolution away from "traditional" paper books to e-books. I was an early skeptic, but I've come to love my e-books and see many advantages over the form to the traditional book. That said, Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels read the same regardless of whether you read them on paper or on a Kindle. Shakespeare and Dante read the same, as do Carl Sagan, Will Durant, Robert Heinlein, and John Steinbeck.
When writing was first recorded on papyrus, I imagine there were naysayers, decrying the fact that we had no need to record our stories because our memories were good enough. There were probably even cynics who thought, "This is the death of the story as we know it." When Gutenberg made it possible to mass produce books, there were probably those who wondered why, since so few of the human population could read. When publishers started producing mass marketed paperbacks, I'm sure there were people who rolled their eyes and thought that we'd reached the death of the novel. So it's nothing new to see these kinds of complaints as texts move from paper to digital containers.
So what is the future of books? They may look different than they look now, but Shakespeare will still be Shakespeare 100 years from now, Asimov will still be Asimov, and people will still read them.
In reading the news, I'd occasionally come across a report in which someone was sentenced to 2 or 3 consecutive life terms in prison. I never saw the point. It seemed to me that life in prison was just that--you're there until you die. What would happen, I wondered, if someone was sentenced to 3 or 4 consecutive 70-year prison terms--and managed to live through all of them. This is the exception to the rule. 280 years in prison is nearly 10 generations. Would the prisoner be treated as a hero upon his release, despite his crimes? Would the distant descendants of those he'd harmed feel some kind of genetic anger toward him? In If by Reason of Strength, it were those questions that interested me most.
In the Cloud I turned the idea on its head. What if immortality was more or less standard practice--thanks to high technology--and had been for thousands of years. "Death" would have no real meaning. Uploading your consciousness into a computer would be nothing more than a transference. What would such a culture be like? It might change our definitions of death, funeral, wake, to say nothing of how we interact with those that have been uploaded before us. My picture was one of normalcy, where the virtual world would interact seamlessly with the physical world. You'd be uploaded one day, but later that day you could place a video call to your children who are still living in the physical world. Of course, anything normal has its problems. Things can go wrong. Going into the hospital for routine surgery has its risks, and there are some people who are seriously afraid of those risks. So while In the Cloud is about a world where extended life is the rule, Mani is the exception who suspects there is more going on than meets the eye.
Your science fiction lives in a traditional atmosphere and feel. How are you able to render it still so relevant?
My science fiction is heavily influenced by writers like Isaac Asimov and Cyril Kornbluth and Alfred Bester and so it comes as no surprise to me that it lives in a traditional atmosphere. I'm not sure there is anything conscious that I do to render it so, other than apply the principles of traditional science fiction to twenty-first century ideas. Mostly, I like writing the kind of science fiction that I like reading, and any capability I have in that respect comes from my enthusiasm, imagining how much I'd enjoy reading a story similar to the one that I am writing.
What do you think about the current science fiction stories? Which are the main quality you can see in them, today?
I think we are in another golden age of short science fiction, in part thanks to the ability to make short fiction more readily available in electronic format. In addition to the Big Three print magazines (Analog, Asimov's and F&SF)--all of which are also available in a variety of electronic formats--there are a number of newer science fiction magazines: Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Daily SF, InterGalactic Medicine Show, Apex Magazine, Interzone, and Strange Horizons just to name a few. These magazines are putting out lots of stories each month and it so happens that many of those stories are very, very good. This year's Nebula Award nominees in the short fiction categories are all so strong that it is difficult to decide among them.
I see three things happening in science fiction stories today that are worth noting: some writers are making renewed effort at legitimate science in the stories, what used to be called "hard science fiction." The writers doing this today do it particularly well, in my opinion. Second, there are writers who are challenging old notions of what science fiction is, something that I think is vitally important, despite being a huge fan of the Golden Age of the 1940s. This is how science fiction lives on and evolves. It's happened many times throughout its history and its happening again today. Third, we are seeing more of a diversity in writers and in style and this can only be good for science fiction.
I'd like you to give your best reading suggestions to our readers. Could you pick three titles that they can't miss?
And then, for those who are looking for good writing advices: do you have three tips for them?
1. Practice. Practice. Practice. Unless you are a naturally gifted writer, the only way to get really good is, like anything else, with lots and lots of practice.
2. Read as much as you can from the genre. Before you can break the rules and be truly innovative, you need to know what those rules are.
3. Have fun! For crying out loud, isn't that what this is all supposed to be about in the end? Write because you love writing.