Paolo Bacigalupi Interview, Part Two

Uploaded by buzzymultimedia on 15.07.2011

Transcript: - Paolo Bacigalupi Interview, Part Two
JMW: We've talked about "Windup Girl" your multi-award, nominated,
winning first novel. We've touched on "Ship Breaker," which is your YA. I
understand that "Ship Breaker" kind of surprised you. You weren't expecting
that story to come up.
Paolo Bacigalupi: I was working on "The Windup Girl," and I'd been working on it for
several years, and I was pretty burnt out. At one point I sent a version of
"The Windup Girl" to my agent to take a look at. I wanted to give her sort
of a heads up about what she was going to have to deal with. I felt bad, I
felt like if she wanted another bail out point, this was the moment to give
it to her and be like "Just so you know, this is what I'm working on.
Because if you hate it now, you're not going to like it any better later."
In the meantime, I decided to write something else. My wife had actually
been talking to me a lot about how she was having a hard time getting some
of her students to read, and especially her boy students. I started
thinking about "What do I have in my book collection that I would give to
her kids?"
I started rooting through my old science fiction collection. All the books
that I used to love. A lot of those were the Heinlein Juveniles. It was
"Have Spacesuit, Will Travel," it was "Citizen of the Galaxy," "Starman
Jones," things like that.
What you saw was that some of those hold up okay. "Citizen of the Galaxy"
is still a pretty decent read, even now. "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel" is
just ridiculously dated now.
JMW: It's hard sometimes to go back to the books you adored.
Paolo Bacigalupi: It's painful.
JMW: Yeah.
Paolo Bacigalupi: It's painful, yeah. One of the things I started thinking about,
well, if boys aren't reading right now, part of the reason seems to be our
fault within science fiction, essentially. Science fiction was always...
I'm beeping here.
Science fiction was always the starting point for me, as a reader. It
wasn't any "literature," it was the trash. And yet our trash has become
very grown up, our science fiction space has become extremely grown up,
extremely erudite, extremely self-referential, in many cases. It's
difficult to get the full value of Charlie Stross if you haven't also read
Neal Stephenson and William Gibson. That time line of development is really
I started thinking about what does entry level science fiction look like
today? What would that be? If you're going to do entry level science
fiction now, you don't put it in the science fiction section, you put it in
the young adult section. I started poking around with a couple of ideas. It
was interesting, because I knew I wanted to model on something like
"Citizen of the Galaxy," "The Boy who Learns Better."
I knew I wanted to write about the environment. I knew I wanted to write
about certain sustainability issues. What actually ended up happening was,
I wasn't exactly sure of the scope of the story, or exactly how it would
work, but I remembered I had recently seen this video about Edward
Burtynsky, who's a photographer. He takes photographs of the most fabulous,
bizarre landscapes, and the strange human affected landscapes in the world.
One of the places he'd gone to was Bangladesh, and the ship breaking yards
of Bangladesh. The photos he took there were so epic that I started
thinking, "Wow, this is the spot where I want to work. This is something I
want to use." The story starts with these kids working on a ship breaking
operation in the future where they're tearing apart all these old oil
tankers and freighters. It's all the last pieces of the oil burning age,
they call it the accelerated age.
That was really powerful to me. Having that there as one central image was
all that rust, and all that oil, and all that child labor as these kids are
working to tear this thing apart. Then I had this other idea, it was like,
out on the ocean, they can see other, better lives going by. There are
these beautiful, high technology clipper ships out on the ocean. They've
got high altitude parasails, and they've got hydrofoils, and they're fast,
and they're sleek.
I really wanted to work with ideas of technology where you say "I want to
make a sustainable technology look just as sexy as a Ferrari. I want it to
look aspirational in some ways." That formed sort of bookend ideas for what
the story was going to be about. These kids living in rust, dreaming of
getting out to something beautiful and fast, but also, frankly, wind
JMW: Not rusty, very clean.
Paolo Bacigalupi: Right, exactly. All clean, clean tech, right? Suddenly the book just
started to write itself, and I wrote it in about six weeks, front to back.
It was done, it wrote itself. I knew the characters, I knew what they were
supposed to do, I knew how they were going to interact. The next chapter
was always waiting for me to get to it. It was probably the most
exhilarating writing experience I've ever had.
JMW: That's cool. We're going to go from the most exhilarating
writing experience you've ever had to a dark, guilty secret. You confessed
in the last panel that you read "Gossip Girls." What is with that?
Paolo Bacigalupi: It's good. It's actually almost perfect. There's a bunch of
different layers to it too, because you can't quite...
The first thing about the "Gossip Girls" is that they're such awful people,
and they're so delightfully awful, and also pathetic as they bang up
against each other and just do terrible things to each other, and stab each
other in the back, and cheat on each other, and everything. Interestingly
they feel like protagonists to me, people who are actively involved in
whatever they're doing.
I contrast that with something like when I read "Twilight," which I had a
much harder entry point to, where I couldn't ever quite identify with
Bella. I'm actually a sucker for romance stories in general, I love them, I
just love them.
JMW: Cool.
Paolo Bacigalupi: It was interesting because "Gossip Girl" pushed all the right
buttons for me for characters that I could really connect to, whereas
"Twilight" wasn't really doing that, because Bella was never really a
character, especially in the early stages, where I could get into and
believe that she was driving her destiny. The one thing about the "Gossip
Girls" is they're always driving their destiny, even if it's awful.
JMW: I actually thought it was pretty cool that you admitted that.
Do you have more stories planned in the world of either "The Windup Girl"
or "Ship Breaker?"
Paolo Bacigalupi: I have another book that I'm writing in the world of "Ship breaker"
right now, it's called "The Drowned Cities," and it'll be out in about a
year. It's not a sequel, there's one character that will show up again from
the first book named Tool, but otherwise it's a whole new cast of
characters and it explores a different set of ideas. I was interested in
what made the world fall apart and how people let themselves fall apart,
sort of exploring that aspect of the world.
JMW: Either book can be an entry point to that particular series?
Paolo Bacigalupi: Oh yeah, standalones, complete standalones. I actually am thinking I
don't really write sequels. The mechanism for sequels is something I don't
really understand or can't really quite pull off. I tried to write a
sequel, I ended up throwing it away, for "Ship Breaker." I wrote 90,000
words, it just didn't work, I threw it away. I wrote a companion novel
instead. It was really depressing.
JMW: Oh, gosh. 90,000 words, talk about heart breaker.
Paolo Bacigalupi: It was a whole draft, it was a solid, whole terrible draft.
JMW: Other than the companion book to "Ship Breaker," "Drowning..."
Paolo Bacigalupi: "The Drowned Cities."
JMW: "The Drowned Cities." What are you working on, what can we
expect to see next?
Paolo Bacigalupi: It'll be a little ways out. I think actually the next thing I'm
working on is actually a fantasy novel, of all things. I just recently did
a shared world project with a friend of mine Tobias McCall. I wrote a
novella called "The Alchemist." There are some ideas in there that I want
to explore.
I'm really interested in using fantasy to look at some questions about the
tragedy of the commons, global warming, but to recast those questions into
a depoliticized sort of elude that allows you to talk about the mechanisms
of the environment without actually raising all those red flags and saying,
"Hey global warming! Hey carbon credits!," those kinds of things but to
talk more about how human behaviors impact environments. I'm really
interesting in using the fantasy tropes to try to explore that form.
JMW: Okay. We're coming up on the close. Is there anything you'd
like to add?
Paolo Bacigalupi: I'm all good.
JMW: Okay. Where can your fans find you? On the web? In the
bookstores? At cons?
Paolo Bacigalupi: They can find me at I'm going to be guest of
honor down at ArmadilloCon this year.
JMW: When is that?
Paolo Bacigalupi: Late August.
JMW: That's good.
Paolo Bacigalupi: That's as much as I got, it's all a blur for me. I'm also on Twitter
and Facebook and I can be Googled up for those.
JMW: Okay, great. There will be screens of that. Thank you very much
for joining us at This is Jean Marie Ward, signing