By Byron Merritt (2006-10-14)Mrs. Buckner--like Connie Willis (author of To Say Nothing of the Dog)--has broken the mold when it comes to what most readers think of when they envision a science fiction writer. Many see the geeky-looking computer nerd (always male) plunking away at a keyboard while imagining visits to distant galaxies. But M.M. Buckner isnít a man, nor is she imagining other galaxies. Her works center on Earth and its inhabitants in the near future, the focus always on the characters, the science aspect there but subtle. And her stories are excellently laid out. Donít believe me?
Her first novel, Hyperthought (Ace, 2003) won the Southeastern Science Fiction Achievement Award for Best Novel and was nominated for the prestigious Phillip K. Dick Award. M.M.ís second novel, Neurolink (Ace, 2004), received an A- rating in Entertainment Weekly (a periodical that rarely rates science fiction works). And now her latest novel, War Surf (Ace, 2005) has just been nominated for the Phillip K. Dick Award...again.
Most of these accolades werenít that surprising to me after I learned a bit more about this breakout writer. Buckner graduated with English Honors from Memphis State University, studied writing at Harvard University, then earned her Masterís degree in Creative Writing at Boston University. She has traveled throughout Europe, New Zealand and North America, lived in California, Alaska, Maine and Massachusetts, and now resides in Nashville, Tennessee. Oh! And she loves to kayak (in fact, sheís a certified instructor in whitewater and sea kayaking.)
No doubt her enthusiastic love of the outdoors also helped germinate many ideas, some of which sheís recently put to use by writing a major research report for the World Wildlife Fund. But when sheís not doing that, sheís playing around with science fiction (and quite well, I might add.)
Having recently read and enjoyed War Surf, I decided to ask Mrs. Buckner for an interview and she graciously accepted. I hope you enjoy it.
FWOMP: Why science fiction?
M. M. Buckner: Science fiction has no rules. It's the most imaginative category of fiction because it arises from both the intellectual discipline of science and the artistic urge for storytelling. What will tomorrow hold? That's the question we all ask. We do our best to analyze and speculate, but ultimately, the hopes and fears we feel about the future are rooted in our collective dreams.
FWOMP: How do you write a novel?
MMB: For me, each novel begins with a small germ of an idea. It grows through daydreaming, research, talking with friends and experts, listening to the news. I work steadily, hours every day, and I try to be as methodical as possible, doing outlines, drawing story maps, etc., but ultimately, the process is messy and unplanned. The best ideas pop up unexpectedly. I love that.
FWOMP: You cover a lot of moral issues in War Surf (the efficacy/unnecessary need for immortality, the negative and positive aspects of medical-biological alterations to humans, the need for change in economy/governments even if that change means destruction, etc.). Do you feel it is the job of writers today to put these issues to readers, or is this just simply for entertainment?
MMB: Okay, it's very hard to talk about this because for me writing is more emotional than intellectual. I guess my job as a writer is to make a story that will move a reader on an emotional level. Simple entertainment is a good thing, and every story must succeed on that level. But the very best stories take us farther, move us more deeply--and stay with us longer. That's a huge challenge, but that's what I want to do..
FWOMP: Take us through a normal M.M. Buckner writing day.
MMB: I get up around 5:30 or 6:00 am, enjoy the peace and quiet with coffee, breakfast and a good book for about half an hour, then start writing. I write all morning. Then around noon, I go to my job at the agency [Mrs. Buckner currently works as a creative director for a marketing agency -Ed]. I work part-time, three or four afternoons a week. A day when I have nothing else to do but work on my novel is my favorite kind of day.).
FWOMP: ***SPOILER ALERT*** I noticed at the end of War Surf that Nasir (the main character) decides to sacrifice himself because: a) his usefulness as a 248-year-old man is not really needed anymore; and b) the bio-NEMS in his blood will help rejuvenate Heavenís population and perhaps make them immortal. I see religious overtones here, a kind of "eat and drink of me and you will live forever" aspect. Was this a conscious writing point on your part?
MMB: Eating and drinking of "the gods" has been part of religious practice around the world as far back as history is recorded. I think it must be part of our zeitgeist, or our Jungian archetypes. Whatever. It's a strong image that resonates with just about everyone because it combines selfless love and violence, the sacred and the carnal. It was so obviously right in this story that I couldn't see leaving it out..
FWOMP: War Surf takes a dark look at the future of corporate greed. Do you feel weíre seeing a lot of this in our present day world and is that why you wrote about it?"
MMB: Greed is intrinsic to human experience. Today's corporate criminals didn't invent it, they're simply carrying on a time-honored tradition. Greed is a good subject to write about because we all carry this dirty little secret of our own personal greed. That's why we love to read about outlaws. But greed forms a triad with two other emotions: vengeance and compassion. If we're the victims, we feel a raging desire for vengeance, which we call justice. If we see others being victimized, we're moved by compassion-- "suffering together." These are great big emotions, a complicated triad that's churning inside everyone of us. That's the kind of tension writers love to explore.
FWOMP: I could definitely see a sequel to War Surf to find out what happens to Earth and Sheeba and Heaven. Any plans for that?
MMB: No plans for a sequel.
FWOMP: Letís talk a bit about your literary successes so far: Hyperthought, Neurolink, and War Surf. Do you have a favorite amongst these?
MMB: My favorite book is always the one I'm working on now. This new one is very cool. It's all about water. Sorry I can't tell you more because there are still too many things I'm trying to work out.
FWOMP: Many science fiction writers travel to the stars in their stories...but you donít. Your novels focus on what I like to call "the human factor," and you keep them on Earth. Do you enjoy this aspect of your style/writing? Why not go "outside" Earth?
MMB: One impulse for writing science fiction is to explore how present conditions might play out in the future. This is a subject I care about because we're moving into the future faster than ever before. If we can think ahead, maybe we can make better decisions. For the next two or three hundred years, most humans will continue to live in and around Earth, so that's what I write about. Also, I personally feel a kind of reverence for the Earth. A lot of what I think and write emerges from that spiritual bond.
FWOMP: Any future M.M. Buckner works fans should be watching for?
MMB: Oh definitely. I can't give you the title yet, but please watch for something about water in 2007.
Byron Merritt/FWOMP and M.M. Buckner, March 2006