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David Brin interview
[ Literature -> Interview ]
Interview posted by Ausir Wed 01 Jun 2005, 3:58 PM
More info on Person: David Brin | More info on Literature: The Postman
Perhaps one of the most influential science fiction artists of the 20th Century, David Brin is the author of more than 15 novels, including the Nebula and Hugo-award winning Startide Rising, The Hugo-nominated Earth, and the Lotus-winning The Postman.

David Brin's Homepage
The Postman Site

A former science teacher who holds a Ph.D in Astrophysics, Mr. Brin's unique blend of sci-fi, excellent writing, and delightful storytelling make his novels an intellectual and literary treat. Recently, Mr. Brin took some time out of his very busy schedule to answer some questions for our readers.

Jason Mical: Many of the visitors on our site are interested in writing for "Fallout." You wrote your own RPG, Tribes, with gaming legend Steve Jackson. Could you comment on the design process - high points, low points, and just what it was like to build your own game from the ground-up?

David Brin: There were no 'low points.' Steve is a pleasure to work with and really knows his stuff. He loved TRIBES from the start, and all of the early prototype tests at conventions drew raves, Still, he was skeptical at first that you could be successful commercially with a game that requires at least six and preferably eight fairly mature players of both sexes.

The inspiration for TRIBES came from a 'game' that Professor Jared Diamond made up for an article he published a decade ago in DISCOVER Magazine, to illustrate how hard things were for our ancestors and how early sex-roles might have become established. His "Darwinopoly" game was very simple, designed more to illustrate principles than for playability.

Steve and I took the basic notion of role playing in the Neolithic and created an entirely new format - one aimed toward the more sophisticated tastes of adults, allowing lots of character interaction and negotiation, rather than smash-and-grab. Violence is quite possible in TRIBES! But it can be risky, even for powerful characters, who would be much smarter to use bluff and intimidation, exactly as things were in our ancestors' time.

It's a very social game, working best with eight players willing to devote at least a couple of hours. Ideally players should be an even mix of men and women, though they can play the opposite gender. In fact, that makes it kind of interesting!

Above all, TRIBES is fun, and even kind of sexy... in that every round features an Opportunity for Reproduction, which is the main aim of the game, as it is in most of Nature.

JM: "Fallout" is a post-apocalyptic RPG. Your novel "The Postman" is considered one of the best, if not the best, and most unique, in that genre. What was your inspiration for "The Postman," including Gordon's role as the unlikely hero, the setting, and the overall theme(s) of the book?

DB: The Postman was written in part as a response to all those post-apocalyptic tales that seem to relish in such a fall, depicting the resulting world as gritty but fun for Real Men. In fact, such a world will only favor a narrow class of feudal lords, who will crush and subdue every other male they see and end all rights for women. The rest of us will pine away for simple things -- good food, telephones, toothbrushes, postmen... civilization. This love of civilization is the one core element of my book that Kevin Costner conveyed well in the film version... which incidentally made it kind of hard for me to hate him, despite some major rudeness on his part. How can I hate a guy who was faithful to the core message - the 'heart' - of my book? Sure, he messed up big parts of the plot, but I can imagine much worse happening. The movie is a lobotomized but good-hearted cousin to the book, and that's okay.

Oh, another thing; reviewers downed the film in 97 for its 'sappy patriotism' and for portraying 'postmen as heroes in a post-bio-terrorism world.' But look around you today! The tale seems eerily appropriate now!

JM: In "The Postman," the cause of civilization's downfall was not the bombs or the diseases, but rather the usual heroes of so-called "typical" post-apocalyptic literature, the survivalists.

DB: In the book, America had already been weakened by bio terror plagues before waves of selfish violence took down the rest. But the real enemy was the kind of male human being who nurses fantasies of violent glory at the expense of his fellow citizens. Self-righteous people can talk themselves into forgetting they are part of a civilization. They can then feed on that culture, bringing it down. It's happened many times in the past. It could happen to us.

JM: You wrote "The Postman" back in the 1980s, and a lot has happened in the US and around the world since then: Ruby Ridge and Waco, events that seemed to fuel the fire of militias and survivalist movements; the Oklahoma City bombing by a terrorist who sought, as you described of the Holnists, the downfall of the government; and, most recently, the September 11 terrorist attacks that have only brought us closer to the possibility of nuclear- or even bio-terrorism of the kind that could, potentially, wipe out large segments of our population and, more importantly, our government infrastructure. Did you ever see a Holnist-style destruction of society as a possibility in the Reagan era? Or, in the pre-OKC or post-OKC 90s?

DB: Yes I did. That's much of the reason I wrote the book.

Predicting has a spotty record in science fiction. I've had some failures. On the other hand, I also predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of fundamentalist Islam... and I'm not happy to be right in all of those cases. Still, the portrayal of a World Wide Web in my 1989 book EARTH seems to have been my best 'futurist' coup so far!

We'll see if I'm prescient in KILN PEOPLE, my new novel and the most original thing I've done in years. (Published by TOR in January.) Take the notion of golems - temporary clay people (not clones). Using a "home copier" you ditto your memories, then at day's end you download the golem's memories. As a citizen of this future, you've done this a zillion times and take it for granted. You live your life in parallel, sending expensive "study golems" to the library while cheap models clean the house and your real body works out at the gym. 2/3 of the population is clay, has no rights, and doesn't think it's unfair.... Huge fun. Bad puns like psycho-ceramics. Golem blanks come in ceram-wrap. Get it? Well, maybe some predictions are less likely to come true.

JM: One of my favorite characters in all of literature is George Powhatan, "The Squire of Sugarloaf Mountain," from The Postman. I identify with him completely: the knowledge of what the "good fight" is, but the feeling that "I've done enough" at the same time realizing that the job will never be complete. Do you identify with that inner conflict, too? Do you ever just want to retire and live in your lodge and shrug off "Cyclops'" toys, content that you've fought the good fight in your life? And do you, like George, find yourself returning to the struggle?

DB: Thanks a lot. I agree with you. But the opinion isn't universal. There are those who feel the last third of the book went over the top with the 'augments.' In fact, I think Costner's brief showing of the titles to the Van Damme cyborg movie -- booed by the Holnists in favor of Sound of Music -- was a dig at me. If true, it was immature. His way of rationalizing cutting me out of the creative process. Sigh.

JM: Science Fiction has always been a genre dominated by men - male authors writing about male-ish subjects for male readers. In your books, women take a much more active, and even equal, role. What do you think about the current role and future roles of women in sci-fi, from authors to characters to readers?

DB: Cool! And here's something I don't think even one pundit has talked about, so far. Today, if you are a young starlet who wants to make it in Hollywood, some of the old things still count - family connections, stunning beauty, great luck... but there's one more absolute requirement. You have to be able to deliver a six foot flying decapitation kick with a truly fierce expression on your face!

Think about it. Laura Croft, Femme Nikita, Buffy, Charlie's Angels, Witchblade, Xena... the list goes on and on.

Oh, sure, the imagery is still sexist. But it's a more respectful kind of sexism! No one can possibly deny that. It shows that males can make some progress. Our idealized image of beauty is still terribly unrealistic, but at least now she can can kick butt! Don't let anyone tell you there's no such thing as progress...

And yes, I'm proud of my female characters - like Maia, in GLORY SEASON. They have always been ahead of that curve.

JM: This one is kind of a required question, I suppose: which writers, Sci-Fi and otherwise, do you think had the largest influence on your work?

DB: Well, Heinlein, Niven and Sheckley, naturally. Some LeGuin. Haldeman, Zelazny and Brunner. Outside of SF I loved Huxley and Joyce for their insights and G.M. Fraser for his sense of verisimilitude and fun.

JM: Other than KILN PEOPLE, what's on the horizon?

DB: "Forgiveness" is a 90 page hardcover graphic novel (or in French, as "Band Dessinee"...a posh word for a high-class comic!) that is set in the Star Trek universe, based on a story I first envisioned in the 1960s! This is my first graphic novel, collaborating with the famed artist Scott Hampton.

Another graphic novel will appear in mid-2002, much darker and foreboding. In fact, it is the darkest thing I have ever written, based on a novella of mine that came in 2nd for a Hugo Award, about a parallel world in which the Nazis win World War II. It is called "The Life Eaters."

Also on the horizon for summer 2002: CONTACTING ALIENS: THE ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO DAVID BRIN'S UPLIFT UNIVERSE. This will be a wonderfully fun tour of the many alien races that people have enjoyed in books like STARTIDE RISING and THE UPLIFT WAR.

JM: And, one last one, just for me: What's your favorite science-fiction movie, and why?

DB I go to films, sit down, and before the title appears I adjust my 'control panel'... my expectations for what I'm about to watch. For some film universes, like Star Trek, I turn my IQ down a notch or two. in order to watch Star Wars, I must turn both my IQ and mental age WAY down, and also (I'm afraid) my moral sense, because of Lucas's longstanding love affair with elite demigods and his openly avowed hatred of both science and democracy. At the other extreme, I leave the dials set to adult levels for some films like GATTACA, because they are the real article. Made for grownups. This way, I can appreciate a wide variety of productions.

And so, I have to say that the film I enjoyed most in recent years - with the simplest uncritical sense of raw pleasure - was one that the adult in me found utterly appalling! From the very first scene, I knew I had to zero out my IQ and mental age (though not my morality sense). Every circuit devoted to plot consistency and logic had to be flat-lined and ripped out by the roots! Not a single moment of the show made even an iota of sense...

... and yet it was an absolute pleasure to watch, because of the waves of sheer joy that poured from the screen. I am, of course, talking about THE FIFTH ELEMENT, an absolute mess of a story, but on a scene-by-scene basis it was impossible not to have a good old time.

There is definitely something to be said for pure, exultant joy.

JM: Thanks so much for taking the time to do this for me, and for us. I really appreciate it. When my writing career takes off, I hope to have the chance to meet with you and talk about some of these (and other!) questions in person someday. Or, maybe just relax and have a nice beer.

DB: Well, don't wait for success!

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