Allen Steele is a multi-award winning science fiction author. He is known for works such as Coyote Saga and The Near-Space Sequence.
JMW: Hello, this Jean Marie Ward for BuzzyMag.com. With me today is Allen Steele, the multi-award winning writer of the Coyote Saga and The Near-Space sequence. Welcome, Allen.
Allen Steele: Thank you. Nice to be here.
JMW: Glad to have you. If every actor wants to direct, every journalist probably wants to write fiction. You made it happen. What prompted you to make the leap?
Allen Steele: Well, I’d always wanted to be a science fiction writer. That happened beginning when I was 15 years old. I really made this decision. And it wasn’t just to be writer. It was very specifically to be a science fiction writer, so that was when I began writing with professional intent. By the time I got out of college, it became apparent to me that I wouldn’t be able to make a living as any kind of a fiction writer, so I went off and did journalism. And for a little while, I thought I was going to be a full-time journalist and part-time science fiction writer. But as it turned out, I got kind of burned out on journalism. And at that point that this was beginning to happen, very fortunately, the novel that I had been writing part-time in the evenings sold. So with what very little money that I got from the first sale of that novel, I pulled the plug on my journalism career and became a full-time science fiction writer. And I’ve been doing this now for about 27, 28 years and haven’t looked back.
JMW: That’s great. Why science fiction? And particularly, why hard science fiction? What was it that resonated for you?
Allen Steele: Well, science fiction, again, is because I’ve been reading it probably since I could read. It just seemed natural that this is what I was going to want to write. So there was never any point that it was going to be why write science fiction. It was more why not write science fiction. Hard SF, it was because I prefer more realistic kind of SF. I like having answers to the universe. I don’t mind fantasy. I read some fantasy, but I don’t think in those terms. I can’t think in magical terms. I prefer a cause and effect universe. And not only that, but one of the things that I love about writing hard SF is the research phase of it. I like going out there and being able to learn stuff. In a way, when I’m doing research for a novel, very often it feels like I’m doing a self-taught college course in a particular subject, and my final project is going to be the novel that’s going to come out of it. So it’s a learning process for me as well as for the reader.
JMW: How do you research things that haven’t happened yet?
Allen Steele: It’s a matter of extrapolation. You start with that which we already know. And I go and I research very carefully whatever particular subject that it is. If I’m writing a novel about time travel, for instance, I read up as much factual stuff as I can about this particular field, as well as the theoretical. And then based on that, I try to extrapolate how reasonably a time machine, if one existed, would actually work. If I’m writing about interstellar travel, which I do quite a bit of these days, I look at the latest theoretical work on this, and then try to build from that what my realistic starship would look like. So the research becomes the story.
JMW: V-S Day is more of an alternate history than some of your other work like The Coyote Saga most particularly. Was the process any different for researching that, or was it the same process overall, it was just in a different direction?
Allen Steele: Very much the same process. A lot of it was historical, finding out exactly what happened during World War II. And then extrapolating how things might have happened differently if the Space Race had begun during World War II instead of a couple decades later. And a lot of this I had to build backwards, in a way, because I had to figure out how you would build and launch a spacecraft without the benefit of microelectronics, how one would compensate for navigating in earth’s orbit when you didn’t have a lot of the navigational tools that were available only a couple decades later in real life. But it was much the same process really.
JMW: Cool. The notion of Frontier is front and center, if you will, in your work. I can’t help wondering did growing up in Tennessee, one of our first frontiers, influence that?
Allen Steele: It was not so much Tennessee, although there is some of that, as it was New England. It’s been largely forgotten that New England, particularly Massachusetts, was the frontier. In the place where I live in western Mass, up in the hills behind my house, are a number of old settlements, the ruins really, of places that were once houses and farms and so forth. And it is a reminder to me when I hike these areas that there was a time when this was as foreign as Mars is now. It was a very much of a new place.
And when I began work on Coyote, it was originally intended just to be about a realistic novel about the first starship from earth and the first interstellar colony. And as I got into the novel, though, I began to realize what I was really writing about was a science fictional retelling of the story of America. And when that occurred, the story opened up for me in very unexpected ways. And so a lot of the research I did for that was about early America. I went to places like… in Deerfield, Massachusetts, they have a historical district where they’ve tried to keep the houses much the same as they were in the 17th and 18th century. So I spent a lot of time in those houses, in that area, looking at this very closely and getting ideas of how one would build a colony from scratch on a distant planet.
JMW: Cool. What are you working now?
Allen Steele: Well, I have two novels coming out. I have a novel called Arkwright, will be due out early this next year. And it’s also about interstellar travel, though from a different approach. And this one is about a family’s multi-generation effort to build and launch the first starship. And the story begins in 1939 and ends in the 25th century.
Allen Steele: And the next novel, the one that I’m now writing, is completely different. I am writing the first New Captain Future novels since 1946.
JMW: Oh, to go along with your award-winning short story?
Allen Steele: Not related. Not related.
Allen Steele: That’s the Death of Captain Future.
Allen Steele: That was a satirical piece. In this I got the rights of Edmond Hamilton’s estate…
Allen Steele: …to do a new Captain Future novel. So I’m updating and rebooting this classic space opera character and bringing him into the 24th century.
JMW: Oh, why do I think of Duck Dodgers right now?
Allen Steele: This one’s kind of interesting. It feels like I’m getting the rights to do the first new James Bond novel or the first new Doc Savage. I’m taking…
Allen Steele: …a classic character and redoing him and bringing him up to date. It’s like I’m writing the first new James Bond novel if nobody had heard of James Bond in 50 or 60 years.
JMW: That’s so cool. That’s so cool. Do you have any release dates for Arkwright and for the Captain Future novel?
Allen Steele: Arkwright will be out in the first half of 2015. I’m not sure yet when. Since I’m still only halfway through, Avengers of the Moon is the working title.
JMW: Oh, cool.
Allen Steele: Then I don’t know yet when that will be out. I’m assuming 2016.
JMW: Okay. We’re sort of wrapping up now. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Allen Steele: Thank you all for reading my books. I greatly appreciate your support.
JMW: That’s wonderful, and we appreciate you writing them. Thank you, for BuzzyMag.com
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.