An Interview with Sci-Fi & Fantasy Author Catherine Asaro
JMW: Hello, this is Jean Marie Ward from BuzzyMag.com, With me today is best-selling science fiction and fantasy author Catherine Asaro. Welcome, Catherine.
Catherine Asaro: Hi.
JMW: I understand that in just a few weeks, less than a month, you’re going to be the guest of honor at Windycon.
Catherine Asaro: That’s right.
JMW: And, in honor of the occasion, they have put up an anthology called “Aurora” –as in, the goddess of the dawn – “in Four voices.” Which features a lot of your shorter pieces and, in fact, a discussion of physics?
Catherine Asaro: Well, actually, what we did for that anthology is that it’s got a collection of several of my novellas, including “The City of Cries,” which is one of the best things I’ve ever written; “The Spacetime Pool” — which I won the Nebula for and also “Aurora in Four Voices” which is the title of a story in the anthology.
The stories in that anthology were picked with a particular theme in mind, which is the mathematics that I use in my writings. Several of the stories in there depend on a specific, sort of, “mathematical tricks” that I was playing with; including one that was eventually published in the American Journal of Physics about getting around problems at the speed of light. It doesn’t work physically because it requires you to make your speed an imaginary number, which don’t exist. But mathematically it works just fine.
There was another story, “The Spacetime Pool” which was one I wrote about — a lot of things happened — but there was a lot of math that the story is based on; including can you model the Moorish arches and architecture from the Moorish mosques, palaces; like the Alhambra — these beautiful buildings that were built by the Moorish.
If you look at the repeating arches, gorgeous arches, you can model those as sinusoidal functions (the sums of sinusoidal functions). And if you take a Fourier transform of them, all sorts of interesting things happen. So I got intrigued by that when I was describing the palace that the story is based in.
I talked about that and I sent pictures and an essay of the arches for on of the cathedrals, which used to be a mosque, in Spain. I showed that if you actually take a sum of sinusoidal functions, they look like the arches and then I took the Fourier transform and showed them. I also talked about some of the math behind some of the stories.
JMW: Yeah, but you’ve not only used the math to describe the visuals. You’ve used math and physics as the basis of some of your stories.
Catherine Asaro: Oh yeah, of course.
JMW: How does that work?
Catherine Asaro: Well, it’s funny. I never really thought that I was doing it because I’ve been a scientist my entire adult life. I got interested in physics and chemistry when I was in my last couple years in high school but I didn’t really get into it till college. I’ve done it ever since then. So, to me, it’s just natural to include in my writing; I don’t even think of it.
But when I was trying to get published and I sent — David Hartwell had look at some of my work. At one point I asked him “Well, what are you interested in particularly now?” He said, “Well, the hard science fiction that you write is really what — I would like to see more of that.”
I was very naive at the time, I was just getting into the field, and I said “what is hard science fiction?” So he said, “you know, science based. You’ve got a lot of science in your fiction.” And I said, “I do?” He said, “Yes, you do.”
So for some of my novels, like “Primary Inversion” — of which you can get a free version of it in the free library on Baen Books, it’s a rewritten version that I specifically gave to the library. That one has a lot of the physical basis. In fact, the physics comes from that paper I wrote for the American Journal of Physics, which describes how you can go faster than the speed of light. I used all those cute little tricks in mathematics in the story, and went into a lot of details. Maybe even more detail that some readers wanted. In a few places I had numbers.
Another one of my books “Spherical Harmonics” does that too. In fact, “Spherical Harmonics” is this beautiful angular momentum mathematical function. I had pictures of them in the book and pictures of flying models and so I get a little carried away.
JMW: Which came first for you, the science fiction or the physics?
Catherine Asaro: Oh, definitely the science fiction. I didn’t grow up thinking I would become a scientist. I was a dancer when I was little. I got interested, when I was 3 to 4 years old, in ballet. And I started taking classes as soon as they would let me take ballet classes — since I was about 5 or 6. And I did it for most of my life until in college, once I decided to try math and science; the dancing had to go by the wayside for a while. You can only do so much and I had to catch up on all these years of science and math classes. I got back and took some in college. I directed mainly jazz dancing in Harvard University Ballet at the graduate school. I was running the whole program for a while; we had dance classes and I was [inaudible 06:13] shows. I was also writing my doctorate in physics so I finally had to stop dancing and finish my doctorate.
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.