APEX DIGEST INTERVIEW: M.M. Buckner
by Jason Sizemore
So it’s been awhile since your last novel (WAR SURF — winner of the 2006 Philip K. Dick Award). What’s been going on the past couple of years?
You’d be surprised how many years a novel can swallow up. I’ve been writing WATERMIND. The research has been great fun because the story is set in present-day southern Louisiana. I traveled through all the areas where the action occurs, and I talked to local people, including experts on the water control structures along the Mississippi River. Also, I read many books and articles about the river and the region. Then, of course, I spent a lot of time thinking about the story, then writing it. You know what they say: Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. WATERMIND is being released as a Tor hardcover this November. Is there a greater sense of accomplishment having a work come out as a hardcover as opposed to mass-market paperback like your previous three books?
Hardcover is durable. The paper and binding are formulated to last for generations. Yes, I’m very pleased that WATERMIND will be available in hardcover. Paperback books have advantages, too. They’re smaller and less expensive. My personal library has plenty of both.
However, my first three novels will come out next year in what may be the most popular format of the future – they will be e-books available for download from Amazon and other online booksellers. (They’ll also be available in print.) Lightweight bookreaders like the Kindle and Sony Reader are selling fast, and for good reason. People love the convenience. You have to see and feel these electronic bookreaders to understand how easy they are to use.
The publishing industry is changing so rapidly, it’s hard to see far ahead. For me, the main reward comes when people enjoy the stories I’ve written – in whatever format they appear.
How do you describe WATERMIND to potential readers?Imagine a liquid artificial intelligence that emerges from trash in the Mississippi River.
My research for WATERMIND revealed that every day, the Mississippi carries up to 400,000 tons of rubbish from forty-one US states and three Canadian provinces. All of North America’s most advanced technology flows into the river – microchips, nano-devices, pharmaceuticals, genetically modified seed.
WATERMIND is set in the present-day Louisiana Delta, where a radically new primordial soup gives birth to an elusive entity. Drifting in the water, the Watermind is more alien than anything that might come from outer space – because it springs from our own waste-stream.
Norman Spinrad in his enthusiastic review of WATERMIND in Asimov’s states “…Watermind is also a sort of sub-species of the Southern Regional novel, a novel of place, in which the region of Louisiana through which the Mississippi wanders from Baton Rouge to New Orleans is a major character too-the landscape, the flora and fauna, the local deni-zens, the music, the food, the patois.” Are you from the Baton Rouge/New Orleans area? Or are we witnesses to the vivid imagination of a SF writer researcher from the dark confines of her office?
I am not a Louisiana native, but I have explored Baton Rouge, New Orleans and the region between. I’ve climbed on the levees and visited all the major flood control structures, including the Bonnet Carré Spillway where the novel’s climax occurs. Regional cooking delights me, so it was fun to include local recipes. Needless to say, I also listened to a lot of zydeco music while writing WATERMIND.
As an outdoor lover, I’ve kayaked many rivers and tromped through many beautiful marshes to see birds and wildflowers. Of course, I’ve never explored a toxic dumping ground like the one described in the novel, but “Devil’s Swamp” is a real place. The description in the book is accurate. It really is an EPA Superfund Priority Site. I drove all around Devil’s Swamp but couldn’t get inside because of the high fences. So I resorted to Google Earth and other web sites that gave me a virtual fly-over tour via satellite camera. Isn’t technology miraculous?
I can’t say I’d ever read a SF novel where zydeco music plays a key role in the plot of the book. What inspired this?
You’ve probably noticed that the theme of WATERMIND is about mixing things up to make something new. The Watermind neural network comes from a mixture of pollution and computer parts. Many other elements of the novel echo that idea – Zydeco, the Creole people, language and culture, the Voudon religion, the recipes, even the weather. The three main characters are also mixed up. Max is a man of mixed race. Roman has mixed motivations. CJ Reilly is a mix of her troubled parents, but in the end, she’s not like either of them. She’s someone new.
As a fan of your fiction, one of my biggest gripes about “MM Buckner” is that you’re not prolific enough. Do you think the Tor hardcover will expedite the next few books?
My next novel, THE GRAVITY PILOT, is in the works now, under contract with Tor. I’m writing fast and furiously, and I hope it will be ready to come out in 2009. But I am not a writer who can turn out several books a year. For me, every project requires time for research, interviews, background reading, then writing and thinking and rewriting. I am not a fast writer. I guess every writer is different.
All four of your novels are steeped in some hard SF. Are you a techno-geek?
Don’t I wish! I envy techno-geeks. Their savvy astonishes me. No, I’m not a scientist, but I believe science can save us from some of our worst mistakes – if we support the work. We need more young people to fall in love with science and enter the field. We need better science education, starting in pre-school and going all the way up the ladder. We need broader funding for scientific programs, and our scientists need free rein to explore every question. Yes, we need to focus again on Space! You see, I have passionate feelings. I revere the search for knowledge.
Has Jerry Bruckheimer contacted you to buy the rights for a Hollywood blockbuster version of WATERMIND?
Everybody needs a dream, and that’s mine – although I’m hoping the call comes from Spielberg. Lots of people ask me this question about movies. Readers often say my books are “cinematic.” Well, some dreams come true, so…we’ll see.
Who are some of your writing influences? Your style reminds me of Ian R. McDonald (River of Gods, Brasyl). Have you read anything by him?
I’ll certainly put McDonald on my list. Thanks! This year, I have the honor of serving on the Phillip K. Dick Award jury – in fact, I’m the Chair. Right now, I have about a dozen books waiting to be read, and more come in every week. I’m seeing lots of new SF writers, and it’s very exciting. So much excellent work. Making a choice will be difficult, but for now, I’m just enjoying the good reads.
As for my writing influences, they are too numerous to list. I am an English Lit. major, with a Master’s in Creative Writing. So as you’d expect, I’ve read the major cannon of literary greats. Often when I was writing WATERMIND, I naturally thought of Mark Twain’s masterpiece, HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Also, Melville’s MOBY DICK was not far from my mind.
What’s next after WATERMIND?
Tor currently plans to bring my next book out in 2009. THE GRAVITY PILOT tells the story of an exceptionally gifted skydiver who loses his girlfriend to web addiction. To save her, he must leave the open air he loves and delve into the dark surreality of webspace, which he knows nothing about. Two characters stand in his way – the ruthless owner of the wikiverse where the girlfriend is trapped, and the owner’s desperate daughter, who exploits the skydiver for her own ends but also falls in love with him.
As you might guess, THE GRAVITY PILOT is a futuristic retelling of the Orpheus myth, where a man tries to rescue his sweetheart from the underworld. There are lots of dramatic skydiving scenes, and as part of my research, yes, I made a skydive. What a thrill!
Are you touring for WATERMIND?
Right now, I’m spending all my time finishing THE GRAVITY PILOT, so I won’t travel much. However, I’m available online any time, and I love to hear from SF readers. I invite anyone to contact me through my web site: www.mmbuckner.com. It’s my pleasure to answer every email.