Interview with Mike Resnick

Figments (F): Much of your fiction could be described as utopian or dystopian; although your dystopian stories leave place to hope while messages and warnings hide in your utopias. How do you choose to go with one or the other when you start a new story?


Mike Resnick (MR): The first thing to do is take a hard, realistic look at the situation. Is it of Man’s making? Is it inevitable? If it’s a Utopia, what effort will be required to keep it going? If it is a Dystopia, can it be halted or reversed. If you want a story to be believable, you’ve got to stick with the facts as we understand them.

F: There seems to be a current trend towards writing dystopian fiction. Do you think speculative fiction writing generally tends toward brighter futures or more pessimistic outlooks? How did you see the genre evolve over time?


MR: I think every writer, every person, has within him, by definition, only one concept of Utopia. (Which is to say, if there are 3 or 4, then by definition none of them are Utopia, which is perfect and cannot be improved upon.) The problem, of course, and the reason for the abundance of dystopian fiction, is (as I pointed out in Kirinyaga) that all societies evolve and change, so if you have a Utopia today, by next month or next week or possibly even tomorrow it won’t be a Utopia any longer.

The flip side is that most writers, science fiction or otherwise, can envision one Utopia, but any of them can envision dozens of different dystopias. And then there’s the form: fiction requires conflict, and dystopias offer far more grounds for conflict than Utopias.


F: Works of yours including Kirinyaga and Birthright deal with the often negative impacts of earthly and extraterrestrial human colonialism over long stretches of time; do you believe that we as a species can learn from our past when and if we eventually settle on other planets?


MR: I’d like to think so, but as I look at the world – its history and its present – I don’t see much cause for optimism on that point. I continue to hope for it, but I refused to be surprised by everything from Isis to child abuse.


F: How do you recommend aspiring science fiction writers balance contemporary social relevance with futuristic settings in their work? 


MR: My advice to new writers for half a century has been to write about things you care about, about issues that are important to you. There are enough viable markets that if doing so eliminates your story from consideration at one or two publishing houses or magazines, there are plenty left that are more concerned with Good than with their particular hobbyhorses.


F: Some of your writing, such as “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge”, span incredibly vast time scales; how does a writer keep the story and characters fresh and immediate in the face of so much change to the societies and species involved?


MR: The little vignettes within “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge” each concerned different people at different points in Man’s history; the only continuing characters were the aliens who supplied the framing device. Thus, in the vignettes you see the basic causes/reasons for the particular aspects of Man that the story is dealing with, and in the framing device you see the conclusions.


F: Is there a specific utopian/dystopian novel or story, in your own work or someone else’s, that you would like to recommend to our readers?


MR: There’s no shortage of them in our field. I would say that among the best are Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, George Orwell’s 1984, and Barry N. Malzberg’s Herovit’s World (which is about the dystopia in which science fiction writers must function).