Tobias S. Buckell is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 60 stories and science-fiction novels, which have been nominated for awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus, and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author. Born in the Caribbean and later living in Grenada and the British and US Virgin Islands, this worldly wise author currently resides in Bluffton, OH.
We had the pleasure of talking with Tobias ahead of his keynote at indieLAB. Read on to discover his thoughts on what it takes to write powerful sci-fi, the process of writing with a co-author, and what’s next for his career.
What are the top three elements of powerful science fiction, if your opinion?
Powerful science fiction to me has always meant a work that challenges me to reexamine the world currently around me. When I can finish a work and come back to my own reality, but see it a little differently, then I find the work powerful.
I also think powerful SF takes us away to a different setting, and that by doing so we often tend to let go of some of our assumptions in that journey, which can make us more susceptible to the moment where it challenges us.
And lastly, like any other genre, I think there has to be a great story embedded in that, with memorable characters. In that sense, I think powerful SF is universal to what makes all great fiction important to us.
What are you tired of seeing in your genre?
The moment I’d say I was tired of something, someone will point out a great example of it. I think we’re in the middle of a great explosion of genre work right now, so I’m not tired of anything. I’m not able to keep up!
That being said, the field is not nearly as diverse as I’d like it to be. I really want more work from more diverse folk hitting the shelves. There’s been growth in that area, but we’re still far, far from reflecting the actual diversity of actual demographics.
How have the various places you’ve lived influenced your work?
I grew up in the Caribbean, and the islands and their history have had a big impact on me. From the rhythm of how I write at times to the fact that I am always interested in power on a cross-national scale, I think you can take me out of the Caribbean (I now live in the US) but never the Caribbean out of me!
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?
If you could choose one author from history to talk with, who would it be, and what would you ask them?
I’d want to talk to Alexandre Dumas. He was prolific and is still often ignored by academia, but was mixed race at a time when that blocked so many opportunities. And yet he’s still read today for fun. His father was a black officer in the Napoleonic army. There’s a fascinating book about that called The Black Count. It inspired The Count of Monte Cristo.
What has collaborative writing with other authors taught you?
You really figure out what you care about in your own writing when you have to justify it out loud to someone else constantly throughout a story. I have also learned to flesh out a story do a depth I wouldn’t have done on my own, because if I am flying by the seat of my pants and writing something by instinct and a collaborator asks ‘why,’ I want to have a good answer. That has forced me to become a more thoughtful writer on many different levels.
Which story or novel are you most proud of, and why? Which was the most difficult to finish?
My second novel, Ragamuffin, was the most difficult to finish, and I’m proud of it because of that. I rewrote the first third over five times. I was hung up with fear about trying to match the first book, and struggling to grind through. It was a challenge. But by finishing it, I learned a lot about how to work on future books when the passion and enthusiasm weren’t there.
What are you working on right now?
A fantasy novel where dead gods are mined for their magic.
Can you give us a brief preview of what you’ll discuss at indieLAB?
I am going to talk about perseverance and how special the act of writing is. As well as tell some funny stories about the ups and downs of being a hybrid author in an ever-changing world.