Where many writers steer clear of weighty issues like the future of humankind, science fiction powerhouse Paolo Bacigalupi embraces them. His insights are on full display in his debut collection, Pump Six and Other Stories.
Editor Lou Anders has described SF as “enlightenment packaged in narrative.” Enlightenment seems to be a primary motivation behind many of your stories.
Mostly, I write because I’m worried about trend lines, articles I see in the science press, or telling events in my own life. SF has tools for writing about the world around us that just aren’t available in other genres. Reading good speculative fiction is like wearing fun-house eyeglasses. It shifts the light spectrum and reveals other versions of the world, mapped right on top of the one you thought you knew.
“The Tamarisk Hunter” is a chilling environmental cautionary tale. In your estimation, why haven’t there been more SF stories written on these obviously significant environmental issues?
When you say the word “environmental” and attach it to anything, it’s a red flag. No one likes the idea of being force-fed brown rice and granola, and that’s a legitimate concern with fiction about the environment. With my stories, I spend a lot of time trying to muddy the waters and avoid obvious solutions and value judgments. Story and characters have to be the primary concern; the politics always have to come second.
Astrophysicist Martin Rees postulated in his book Our Final Century that humankind only had a 50/50 chance of surviving into the 22nd century. Where do you see us in 100 years?
I think we’ll survive. The devil is in the details, though. Will we be living happy lives or ugly desperate ones? Will there be a lot of us, or only a few? Who will hold power? Who will control basic things like food and water? How healthy will we be? How pleasant will our environment be? At this point, we’ve still got choices, but my gut tells me that we should be worried.
Ideally, how do you hope this collection will affect its readers?
Bottom line, I hope they’re entertained. Beyond that, I hope the stories will provide interesting lenses for viewing the present and get people thinking about where we’re headed next, imagining the different future possibilities that lie in wait. I’d like to see people extrapolating like mad, all the time. They’ll have different opinions and ideas than I have, but at least we’d be looking forward. I’d like that a lot. At least there would be a conversation.