DAMIEN BRODERICK is a native Australian and five-time Ditmar Award-winning science fiction author, editor, and reviewer. He has written or edited approximately forty books, seven of them with Rory Barnes, and has been dubbed “The Dean of Australian Science Fiction”. He sold his first short story collection at age twenty, as an undergraduate at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. THE DREAMING DRAGONS is listed in David Pringle’s SF: THE 100 BEST NOVELS. Winner of several awards, including four Aurealis Awards and the IAFA‘s 2005 Distinguished Scholar, he recently held a two-year Australia Council Literature Board fellowship to write a two-part novel based on the Singularity (GODPLAYERS and K-MACHINES) and is currently science fiction editor for COSMOS Magazine. In 2007 he published a study of recent parapsychology, OUTSIDE THE GATES OF SCIENCE. His most recent edited popular-science book was YEAR MILLION, a look at the very far future by Gregory Benford, Pamela Sargent, George Zebrowski, Robert Bradbury (who invented the Matrioshka Brain hyper-structure featured in fiction by Charles Stross and others), and a dozen others. This year Damien expects to see eight books newly in print. He is a Senior Fellow in the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne. He lives with tax lawyer Barbara Lamar in San Antonio and Lockhart, Texas.
Favorite authors, sf novels, and science books include:
THE STARS MY DESTINATION by Alfred Bester, THE CITY AND THE STARS by Arthur C. Clarke, THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS by Robert Heinlein, THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula Le Guin, MORE THAN HUMAN by Theodore Sturgeon, the work of Philip K. Dick, CAMP CONCENTRATION by Thomas M. Disch, SPIN by Robert Charles Wilson, THE FEMALE MAN by Joanna Russ, PROFILES OF THE FUTURE by Arthur C. Clarke, THE SELFISH GENE by Dawkins, GÖDEL, ESCHER, BACH by Hofstadter, MIND CHILDREN by Moravec, and THE ANTHROPIC COSMOLOGICAL PRINCIPLE by Barrow and Tipler
What brought you to San Antonio and what did you think of this place when you got here?
I married Barbara Lamar, a Texan, who was living in the wilds of central Texas on her 160-acre permaculture farm, and we decided San Antonio was the nicest city nearby we could afford. I have to confess a hankering for Austin, but their real estate is insanely expensive. But I like living here; the weather is not unlike Australia’s (they’re both hellish hot at times and troubled by droughts), and there are good libraries and medical, and the locals are friendly.
You’re currently a multi award-winning author and the fiction editor for COSMOS Magazine. Do you have a set routine for how you balance the two, or is it more organic?
There’s no rhyme or reason to anything I do. Well, I read for COSMOS on a daily basis when we’re not on submission hiatus, and then edit the stories we buy, but it’s only one piece every two months. I read a lot, and when I get into writing mode I turn into an obsessed fiend, terrifying to behold. That muttering you hear is me talking my way through a story or book.
You’re credited by many as inventing the term “virtual reality.” What’s the story there?
It’s a phrase I used (along with “virtual matrix”) in a novel I started writing in the late ’60s and only sold a decade later. THE JUDAS MANDALA came out in 1982, and was one of the many sf novels and stories that made use of the idea of realities not quite as real as everyday reality but usually more enticing. (Clarke’s THE CITY AND THE STARS actually opens with a VR adventure game, and that was in 1956.)
As a noted futurist, you evaluate how humans and technology affect each other. Where do you see that relationship heading right now?
We’re continuing to converge with our technologies, as we’ve done for tens of thousands of years. Modifications of body and mind and ecosystems is inevitable and accelerating, even though we’re still only in the foothills of the slope. Meanwhile, in the depths of recession, it mightn’t seem that way, even for people effectively wired to iPhones and Twitter. But I do still expect a Singularity or Spike… not that I’m likely to be around to see it.
What do you think about the current state of today’s science fiction literature? Optimistic about its future?
It feels overwhelmed by what Adam Roberts wittily calls fatasies. But a lot more good, even great, sf is being published than ever was, on the whole, in Golden Ages past. Possibly not as fertile and astonishing as the cascade of genius that spilled out in 1952 and 1953, but some fine work is coming along—even if a lot of it is being published by small devoted presses rather than the megacorp publishers, who prefer to be safe with franchises churning out the mixture as before.
Which of your novels would you most recommend to someone who’s encountering your work for the first time?
I guess THE DREAMING, which is my preferred title for THE DREAMING DRAGONS from 1980; it missed the Campbell Memorial award (Harry Harrison told me) because one of the judges got his votes in late… (I bit my tongue savagely.) It’ll be out in a revised edition from Fantastic Books in the next month or so. I like the GODPLAYERS / K-MACHINES diptych from 2005-6, but a lot of readers had trouble with a narrative that works more like frantic music than like traditional plot. Anyone interested in sampling my short fiction should try UNCLE BONES, just out.
You’ve got several short stories lined up for 2009. What’s coming, and where will it be published?
I had a burst of short fiction writing last year, and Sheila Williams took five stories for ASIMOV’S (one of them, “The Qualia Engine”, is the title story in my next Fantastic Books collection, due around the end of the year). One of my favorites, a tribute to Cordwainer Smith, will be out in mid-summer on Tor.com. Jonathan Strahan has a rather Ballardian piece in the issue of Subterranean he’s editing. And Paul Di Filippo and I have a rather naughty tale titled “Cockroach Love” due around the end of the year from the Aussie zine ANDROMEDA SPACEWAYS.
You’ve been busy. Two new books, the aforementioned UNCLE BONES and I’M DYING HERE, just released. UNCLE BONES is a collection of four long stories. Were these conceived together originally, or did they seem to fit together in retrospect?
Nope, they represent slices through my entire writing career. Half the book is the short novel “The Game of Stars and Souls”, which is a massive revision and extension of the very first novelette I ever sold, in 1963, when I was 19. The title story was in ASIMOV’S in January. The other two are from the early 1980s; both were published in US original anthologies. If I’d been living here 25 or 30 years ago, part of the network of young sf writers, I’d probably have been far more prolific and, well, visible. Before the internet, it was pretty hard for people outside the UK or USA to make an impact. But I’ve always been equally interested in other topics as well, such as parapsychology and popular science writing. When I was 42 I went back to university to do a PhD on the ways scientific and artistic forms of discourse intersect and differ. But instead of staying and becoming a formal academic (my honorary position with the University of Melbourne as Senior Fellow has no duties and no pay), I went back to writing books, mostly, and criticism or reviews. I’ve had six books of theory and critique published—which I wrote because they were fun.
You co-wrote I’M DYING HERE with Rory Barnes. How did you decide to collaborate?
Rory and I were pals at Monash University at the dawn of time. Monash, in suburban Melbourne, is now a world-famous center for biotechnology and medicine, but back then it was a newly opened scatter of stark buildings afloat in red mud. Rory and I and a few other guys and grrls shared a sort of half-rural “urban commune” down the road from the campus, and managed to set the kitchen on fire and burn half the building to the ground. We’ve written several books together, by every conceivable means—hot keyboard, where one stands up and the other sits down and tries to finish the paragraph, chapter-alternating by email, one of us taking an entire novel by the other man and changing the setting entirely. In my forthcoming novel QUIPU, from E-Reads, I stole some great scenes from one of Rory’s abandoned novels and inserted them into my book (with his permission, of course). TRANSCENSION has only my name on it but large slabs were drafted by Rory before he lost interest in the book and I went through and changed a lot of it into a strange vernacular of the future… Something similar with I’M DYING HERE. It’s all been extremely interesting, technically, and a lot of fun. Hmm, maybe we should write one bi-continentally.
What are you currently working on?
Oddly enough, nothing in particular. I’m hoping to sell an original anthology of popular science essay on the topic of mind uploading, along the lines of 2008’s YEAR MILLION, but that’s still under consideration.
What’s your favorite place in San Antonio?
The northern extension of the Riverwalk has been my favorite place to walk for the last couple of years. Watching it slowly accrete out of what sometimes looked like a sun-baked open sewer into the marvel it is today has been truly pleasing — and rather uplifting. People can do this!
Favorite San Antonio food?
I always enjoy a good dish of Red Chili Kangaroo Tail and Koala Enchiladas, washed down with a Foster’s lager. Damn, the name of the eatery has slipped my mind. Somewhere on North St. Mary’s, I think.