Excerpted from The Collapsium by Wil McCarthy. . Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Hmm. Bantam has asked me to spice up this newsletter with something fun, interesting and unique, about my two Bantam Spectra novels, THE COLLAPSIUM and THE WELLSTONE. Or about science and technology and their impact on human affairs ("like the stuff you do for WIRED and the SciFi channel, Wil."). But you know, that's the sort of writing I do every day. That's my job. Well, that and engineering; over the years I've worked on robots and rockets, lasers and satellites, quantum dots and programmable matter, and even some secret stuff I can't tell you about. People do seem to find these subjects interesting, but I've written all about them for years and years. Read my novels if you want that stuff. That's what hard science fiction is for.
But what's really on my mind right now -- and on a lot of other minds out there, I'm sure -- are the basics of daily life: love, sex, food, death, home improvement, and the raising of children. I have two kids of my own, and yeah, they're a handful. And no, I can't think of anything I'd rather be than their daddy. It's a title I'll hold until the day I die, and indeed, there's nothing like a birth or two to remind you -- albeit pleasantly -- of your own mortality.
Like most people, I feel my life could be better in a number of particulars. But one thing about real life is that "better" usually gets steamrollered by "good enough." I've lived in the same house for 13 years now, not because it's my dream house but because it was the finest I could afford at age 23, and since then I've had no compelling reason to move. But now the kids are getting bigger, my wife and I are feeling restless and cramped, and the House on the Hill we've been staring up at for years just went on the market. And we're buying it, though the cost is dear. Like anything worth having, houses are always too expensive.
Is there anything more romantic and terrifying than purchasing a piece of the Earth? Is there anything quite as cleansing as a move? You pack up all the things you love, throw away all the things you don't, and when you're done the view outside the window is different. Hopefully better, but definitely different.
When there are children involved, you can't help wondering if you're doing the right thing. Is this better for them? Is it worse? Is it good enough? Kids are adaptable -- they'll slot right into any environment and call it normal -- but we all remember the way we ourselves grew up. We're anxious to give our children the same opportunities we had, and to shelter them from the problems we suffered through. Each generation finds its own answers, and each one gets it wrong in various ways which then crystallize the resentments of the next generation. And so it goes -- one way or another, we're definitely screwing our kids. But we mean well, and in the end that's all the little bastards can ask for.
This, by the way, is what my books are about: Life. People. Moving on. Solutions which bring fresh problems. Oh, sure, I love the eye candy, the brain candy. I throw in some quantum gravity, a space battle or two, and a bit of "wellstone" programmable matter (which really is cool stuff -- look it up if you're interested). These keep the story hopping, which is good because a brisk plot is important to me. They also give readers a bit more to think about than a mainstream novel really allows. But "hard science fiction" can be an intimidating label, because in addition to providing outlandish stories which could maybe actually happen, it can sometimes obscure the things that matter even more. If you ask me, any honest story is, at heart, a reexamination of our own humanity -- our love, sex, food, death, homes and families -- in a fun, fresh context. Or why bother telling it at all? Laser beams are cool, but what we really care about are the people who use them, or get shot by them, or whatever. Why do they need a laser? How are they going to get power for it, and are they going to die or maybe have sex? That's drama. That's what great fiction is all about. And mine, too! <wink>
-- Wil McCarthy, November 2002