lunes, 25 de mayo de 2015

Interview with Ramez Naam

Today I have the distinct pleasure of joining Leticia Lara, from the wonderful blog Fantástica Ficción, to interview Ramez Naam, author of Nexus, one of the novels that I enjoyed the most last year. Hope you like the interview (you can read a translation into Spanish at Fantástica Ficción).

Leticia Lara & Odo: When did you know you wanted to become a writer? Which other authors have influenced you the most? Is there any current writer that you admire?

Ramez Naam: I’ve been a reader of science fiction my whole life, but I didn’t ever seriously intend to write a novel! Nexus arrived almost by accident. I wrote a few chapters for fun, thinking the whole time I was writing a short story. Friends liked it and encouraged me to improve it and to keep it going. At some point I realized I had a novel growing.

There are so many great authors. John Barnes is amazingly versatile and has influenced me quite a bit. Cory Doctorow I admire for both his books and for his continual fight for social justice. Recently I’m a huge fan of Hannu Rajaniemi, who’s become a friend. His Quantum Thief trilogy is one of my favorite pieces of science fiction of the last few years.

LL&O: Although you grew up and currently live in America, you were born in Egypt. Do you think that has had an impact in your writing? What do you think about the diversity of SF literature nowadays?

RN: I grew up aware that there was a wider world. Many Americans don’t. The US is such a large nation, most of a continent really, that Americans can often ignore the world outside their borders.

There’s so much science fiction being written now. But it’s rare for non-American authors to get into the American market. So I’m thrilled to see Liu Cixin get a Hugo nomination for Three Body Problem. Inside the English language, Ian McDonald has been a big influence on me in his setting of his novels outside the US – in India, Turkey, Brazil.

LL&OHas you work on Microsoft influenced your way of writing? What can you explain us about Apex NanoTechnologies? What is similar and what is different between writing code and writing fiction?

RN: Working at Microsoft and in a startup taught me a lot about how technology actually works, and how it gets built.

Code and fiction are quite different, but I manage my writing of fiction as if I was writing code. I build a plan for the book – a detailed outline. And then I turn that into a schedule for myself, with assignments of certain scenes or chapters on certain days. Different writers keep themselves on track with different tools. That one works for me.

LL&OYour books are set in a very near future. Do you fear they become obsolete soon?

RN: Oh, I’m sure my books will get obsolete! It’s not even because they’re set soon, it’s because the world changes so fast. I had people actually driving cars in the future. I had far too few drones. Most books set in space still have human pilots for space ships. We’re going to look back at that and laugh.

LL&OWe really love your story “Water”, but we also find it a bit terrifying. Do you think we are ready for that kind of technology? Do you think that scientific research should be mainly funded by private companies or by governments?

RN: It was meant to frighten. J I think the research can be funded by private companies, but we need consumer protections. We aren’t really close to brain computer interfaces being mainstream yet – I think – but they have both huge promise and some real challenges when they’re ready.

LL&OAlso talking about “Water”. How do you feel about being nominated for the Seiun award?

RN: It’s a huge honor! And Nexus has not yet been translated to Japanese, so I’m hoping that this exposes Japanese readers to my work…and maybe leads to Nexus coming to Japan.

LL&OWhat are the main differences between writing fiction and non-fiction? Do you hope to reach the same audience with both?

RN: Some people read only one or the other. With non-fiction you can be more clear and more direct on your point. With fiction, your point or message has to be secondary to telling a good story. At the same time, people come up to me and say that my novels kept them up reading until 3 in the morning. No one has ever said that about my non-fiction.

LL&OIn both your fiction and non-fiction books you have a clear (and quite optimistic) position in favor of scientific research and technological progress. Do you think that all research is legit? Is there such a thing as “dangerous knowledge”?

RN: Some knowledge is more dangerous than others. The knowledge of how to make a nuclear bomb or a bioweapon is dangerous. But people apply the idea of ‘dangerous knowledge’ far too broadly. When you see someone saying that, usually they’re trying to stop an idea. And usually that’s not because the idea is dangerous to society – but because it’s dangerous to the powerful.

LL&OYour book More Than Human was published almost 10 years ago. What has changed since then? Which is the recent advance in brain implant and body augmentation technologies that you are more excited about? Are transhumans and posthumans closer or further far away than what you expected when you wrote the book?

RN:Things have moved more slowly than I expected them to in More Than Human. I thought, by now, we’d have more progress in gene therapy, in aging, and so on. It’s given me more appreciation for how slowly science moves, and how many exciting discoveries don’t work out.  That said, I’m still very excited about brain-computer interfaces, and I see a new wave of innovation happening there.

LL&OWhat do you think about the idea of the so-called Vingean Singularity? Is it unavoidable, as Ray Kurzweil and others claim, or is it just fantasy?

RN: I don’t see a ‘singularity’ any time soon. It’s very hard to have runaway self-improvement. Making something twice as smart probably isn’t twice as much work. It’s probably four times or ten times or a hundred times as much work. I wrote a blog post about that here: The Singularity is Further Than it Appears.

LL&OWhat can you tell us about your future projects? Apex, the third book in the Nexus series, has just been published. Will it be the last book in that universe or are you planning to visit it again?

RN: I love the Nexus world, but Apex is the last book set there – at least for a while. It’s time for me to try something new. The next book will be another science fiction novel. And that’s all I can say about it right now!

LL&OAre social networks important for you relationships with other authors and with your readers?

RN: Absolutely. I have friends I’ve made online – particularly on twitter – that I’ve never met in person. Authors share ideas, and support and cheer each other on. Fans send compliments and questions and interesting links they think you should see. It’s great.

LL&OWhat can you tell us about the possibility of publishing your books in Spanish? What do you think about reading translations? Do you think the translator needs to be guided by the author?

RN: Nexus is being translated into Spanish right now! It’ll be released by Editorial Planeta. I don’t yet have a date for it. I trust my translators. They have a very hard job to do, but so far the feedback from readers around the world is that they’ve done an excellent job.

LL&OIn addition to your writing, you are a frequent speaker in all kinds of conferences and symposia. What is the strangest talk you’ve been invited to?

RN: The most intimidating talk I ever gave was to a group of neuroscientists. The head of an institute asked me to come speak to his staff about the future of brain science. You can bet I was nervous! But it went extremely well.

LL&OWhere can our readers learn more about you and your work? 

RN: At or on twitter: @ramez 

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