Noms de Plume: S.M. Stirling
Location: Santa Fe
Key Book Titles: The Draka series, Island in the Sea of Time, Go Tell the Spartans, Prince of Sparta, The City Who Fought
Years in New Mexico: 12
Is your work, especially in alternate history, political in nature sometimes?
Not really. Not usually. You can’t help but put some of your assumptions about how the world works and what people are like into your work. I don’t write science fiction set in the near future for a number of reasons. People think science fiction can predict the future. It can’t. Except on the shotgun principal. A stopwatch is right twice a day. People who write books set in the immediate future tend to look real dated real quick. It happens to a lot of science fiction classics.
Why do you write here? Just the great weather? What was first attractive about New Mexico?
First it was the sunlight, the quality of the light. I get seasonal affective disorder when I live in the north. Toronto, where I was living, is a very nice city. But you can go four months without seeing the sun. Gray skies, gray-faced people shuffling through slush between gray buildings. It was just driving me batty.
Why do so many sci-fi writers live here?
Partially, it’s part of an inertia factor, sci-fi writers tend to cluster. There’s a few of us who moved here and then it snowballed. Santa Fe isn’t a cheap place to live, but the state as a whole is not so expensive. Now that we’ve got the freedom to live anywhere, we’re living in the best places and New Mexico is one of the best places. Although I’d hate to have to live here on a schoolteacher’s salary.
Do you think science fiction is respected in the literary world?
No. The only time academics pay any attention to us is when they’re slumming in the swamps of popular culture. Occasionally, you’ll see a mainstream author, say Margaret Atwood, writing what amounts to sci-fi and they often don’t know they’re doing it. Of course, the problem with mainstream writers writing science fiction is that they’re not very familiar with the field. They think they’re doing something new and fresh, when actually we did it to death 50 years ago.
So why isn’t science fiction as well respected?
Because it’s popular. The way literature in the English-speaking world has developed over the past couple of generations, anything that’s popular is immediately under suspicion. Look what happened to poetry. Poetry used to be something with a mass audience. Ordinary people read it. Then the college professors got their hands on it and now they only write it for each other. The market keeps science fiction honest, because we have to stay in contact with our audience and give them what they want because we’re competing for their beer money.
What’s your source material? Politics, people, everyday events ...
I was a historian in my original trade. Well, actually, I was a lawyer, too, but I never practiced and I had my fin removed. But every writer I know has always had very colorful, very detailed, structured daydreams. Of course it’s not only science fiction writers who do that, but every writer does that. I’ve always told myself stories in my head. Eventually I decided I need to write this down and have other people read this. I think it’s that way for most writers. When you’re reading as a teacher you think, “Well, heck, I could do as well as this.” Some people can and some can’t.