Interview with Tobias S. Buckell

Hi there,

This Q&A would have appeared sooner, but I was on vacation! Tobias S. Buckell's new book, Ragamuffin (Canada, USA, Europe), has just been released, so I figured it would be nice to have a chat with the author!

My partner in crime for this one was Larry (Dylanfanatic) from and

To learn more about Buckell and his books, check out


- For those of us not familiar with your work, what can you tell potential readers about both Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin?

I call Crystal Rain my Caribbean steampunk novel. It's full of airships, steam powered trains, brass dials, flintlocks, that sort of thing. The world its set on is a lost colony settled by people of Caribbean background that has also lost its technology, and is working its way back up. Ragamuffin is my Caribbean space opera. Space opera is that genre of great big outer space adventure. Merchant ships observing great civilizations clash on a big scale, strange inscrutable aliens manipulating humans, that sort of thing. Only my heros in this book are Caribbean space merchants, branded and outcast as pirates. Both are picked with a lot of high octane adventure and fun. And explosions.

- Are you happy with the way Crystal Rain was greeted by the SFFcommunity?

Gosh yes, it was very well received and exceeded my grandest hopes for it. It got on the Nebula semi-final ballot, on the Locus Award for Best First Novel final ballot, and it got lots of great reviews and reader praise. I'm excited that the paperback is out, I'm hoping a whole new set of people get their hands on it!

- Will you be touring to promote Ragamuffin this summer? If so, arethere any specific dates that have been confirmed as of yet?

I'll be in Greensburg, PA at the end of the month, at Flights of Fantasy in Loudonville, NY August 22nd, and for now, that's about it. I'm really focused on finishing book three, and once that is done, I'm going to try and set up fall activity and touring.

- What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write both Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin in the first place?

I really wanted to try my hand at the tropes and traditions of the genre that I loved so much, but with a fully Caribbean flair and background. I felt that in the future all people would be in the future, not just the typical cast of Westerners.

- When crafting the dialogue for Crystal Rain and for Ragamuffin, howdid you go about deciding which Caribbean dialects to use?

I used bits of Grenadian and stuff from the Virgin Islands that I was familiar with. It was a tough enough gig finding the right balance, and something I still agonize over how to represent and pull off. I didn't want to use apostrophes and differently spelled words, so I focused as much as I could on the grammar and unfamiliar word combinations to try and get it across.

- One of the themes of both novels seems to be how conflict affects even the bystanders. Was this a conscious decision?

Yes. I grew up in the middle of a revolution and an invasion, and it always occurred to me that action novels do pass over the side effects and impacts of war on everyone. Heros run around offing people left and right, but what impact does that ever have on them? In the real world they suffer PTSD or develop elaborate self-stories to cushion that impact. Or they're pyschotic and like doing it. And the people whose lives they pass through are tremendously affected: friends, families, bystanders. In either case, the follow up is that there is more to it than just target practice.

- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?

Gosh, I like it when other people analyze my stuff like that. I'm a bit bashful there. I think my sense of fun is a strength. I'm really devoted to not boring people. I feel like, no matter what, you'll whip through my books quickly and have a good romp.

- Were there any perceived conventions of the SFF genre which youwanted to twist or break when you set out to write both novels?

Sure, I wanted to feature characters who were of Caribbean descent in a prominent action adventure, genre-iffic novel, and do it well. I think the world is becoming more multi-cultural and diverse, including our own country, and that we needed more books that reflected that on our shelves if our genre is to survive and gain new readers and remain relevant.

- Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award? Why, exactly?

NYT, in a heartbeat. Don't get me wrong, I'd be an enormously happy author to get, well, any kind of award. But on the practical side of things, I want to make more money so I can write more books. About half my income is SF/F writing related, the other half is freelancing and blogging. If I could entirely focus on books all day, I would be one chipper author. Secondly, I really love the books I've written and poured my heart into them. Being a bestseller would mean more people were getting exposed to them, and that would mean a tremendous amount to me.

- What authors make you shake your head in admiration? Many SFF authors don't read much inside the genre. Is it the case with you?

I love the genre. I think we're in the middle of an incredible burst of coolness going on right now, and that I am now reading so many great books. It sucks to list a handful, because then I leave out others who I feel deserve props. But here is a current list of authors I'm digging on right now: Alistair Reynolds, Sean Williams, Neal Asher, Mark Budz, Linda Nagata, Karin Lowachee, Paul Melko, Paulo Bacigalupi, Karl Schroeder, Scott Westerfeld, John Scalzi, Ian McDonald, Peter Watts, Sean McMullen, Daniel Abraham, Tim Pratt, Ken MacLeod, Chris Roberson, Philip Reeve, Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow,China Mieville and David Anthony Durham (I just started reading Acacia last night and am about halfway through, people, check this Fantasy out, it's seriously freaking awesome, and considers the political implications of all the high fantasy tropes out, it's great). I'm also a very fast reader, I do a book every couple days, many in a day if I really like them.

- Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of thecovers that grace Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin?

It's so killer important, and authors as a whole have usually so little control. I know I pick up books with killer covers myself. Myself, I've been super fortunate with the collaboration between my editor, Paul Stevens, Irene Gallo, Tor's art director, and Todd Lockwood, the artist for both my books (and for the third, it looks like). Tor has done me well, and I love both my covers for those books. I think they kick ass and promise the same.

- To what degree, if any, are groups such as The League of HumanAffairs influenced by what we see happening in the world today?

You know, it's always interesting to me when modern analogues are drawn from my work. It's flattering and interesting in that it supports my age old belief, from English major days, of Reader Interpretation theory. In that I believe a book and its reader and what the reader draws from it is king, not necessarily what the author would like to force on them.

The League actually draws most of its inspiration from Toussaint L'Overture and his Haitian freedom fighters. Slaves led by Toussaint basically kicked the French off Haiti, in pitched military battle, much to Napeleon's surprise in 1803 when he had his brother-in-law try to reinvade the island to reinstate slavery (and by the way, the Louisiana purchase comes about after France then gives up on the idea of Caribbean and North American dominance after losing Haiti to the slaves, thus adding to the US Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma,Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota and chunks of other nearby South-West territory). After freeing themselves from bondage, Haitians suffer under military strong dictators who rise to power continuously. I imagine the League to be fighters against a great evil, who make so many sacrifices in fighting that greater evil they become something of a lesser evil, but an understandable one. You can understand Haiti's progress, anything is better than slavery, so they make the choice of a strong leader, decisive in military action. I see Americans today who say that in war for your right to freedom you have to give up other civil liberties, and early independent Haitians made a similar choice, it's just that when you cede leadership with that mentality in mind, it can trap you.

- Another theme that I noticed in your Nanagada-related stories is that of imposed change, whether it be the Loa altering themselves, the Gahe-controlled humans, or Nanagadans interacting with the League in "Necahual." Would it be safe to say that there are many complex interrelationships going on beneath the surface of your stories as these disparate groups mix and mingle?

Cultural power dynamics fascinate me. I'm trying to show that they're complicated, and gray, and that it also creates a lot of ground for conflict. And a novelist's trade is all about conflict! People do try to dodge talking about these sorts of things, I think making it far away in a bizarre future helps people decouple a lot of their own baggage and engage with the concepts a bit more.

- The fact that there is a website dedicated to your work is an indication that interaction with your readers is important to you as an author. How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with your fans?

I love answering questions, blogging, and meeting my readers in person. They're the ones who spread the word, and that my career hangs on, and hey, they're cool enough to read my work, so that means they have to be people I'm interested in! :-)

- In your short story "Necahual," there is a tantalizing hint about the origins of the Azteca. Will we be learning more about them in future stories?

Bits and pieces yeah. I'm working more on where they are going as a culture than where they came from.

- What can you tell us about your forthcoming collection of shortstories which will be published by Wyrm Press?

I've published over thirty short stories in magazines and anthologies that have been translated into five or six languages now over the last seven years. But they've been scattered all over the place. My readers do try to track them all down (I know of one dedicated reader or two who has the whole collection and has had me sign them all), but it's tricky, particularly if they're just now finding out about me. And my stories play with all sorts of things. I've wanted to pull most of them together for a while now, and Wyrm Press came to me to offer to do it. I'm really excited about it, as I think people will get a chance to see my range here. We'll also put something new in the anthology for readers, so that should be fun.

- What will be your next novel-length project? What's the progress report?

I'm just past halfway in my third book, Sly Mongoose. It's got au nique setting that I've been geeking out on, one that lets me posit aphysics-backed rationale for cities floating in the air. And lots of blimps. And zombies as well. It's a bit out there, but it's the most science and technology backed novel I've done yet. And as a result the pyrotechnics are pretty dang cool.

- Honestly, do you believe that the speculative fiction genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now,and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.

You know I'm not in high school anymore, so lit people's attempts to convince the public that they're really the cool crowd is about as useful to me as listening to a band geek shout that only classical music is real music. Meanwhile everyone is out there huffing on SF, F, mystery, suspense, spy novels, romance. Genre: we're the hip hop, rock, and pop that people are consuming in print, or watching on TV, even if no one is supposed to like us. Yeah some people don't want to associate, or validate, but you know, people are never so uncool as when they're uncomfortable with their own skin. I don't need anyone's permission to want to play on the bigger, cool field with more and wilder ideas and tools. I'm just doing it because it's fun.

- Anything you wish to add?

Gosh, I think I've probably said enough! Thanks for interviewing me, this was a great pleasure!

2 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

This was a good read - Buckel nicely straddles the line between verbose and spare. :) Thanks, Pat!

Graeme Flory said...

I've only just discovered Tobias Buckell so it's really good to find out more about him and his influences.
Cheers Pat and Larry!