Alien Artifacts and Talking Squid: A Conversation with Prolific Sci-Fi Author Tim Pratt

This is the second in my series of interviews with this year’s nominees for the Philip K. Dick Award.

Tim Pratt is the author of over 20 novels, picking up a Hugo Award and nominations for the Nebula and many other awards over a productive and varied career. Until now, however, he’s written mostly contemporary fantasies, avoiding science fiction–even though he’s always been a fan of the genre. “I always thought I just wasn’t qualified to write science fiction,” he says in my conversation with him on the latest episode of New Books in Science Fiction. “I felt my grasp of the physics and orbital mechanics and the hard SF elements weren’t good enough.”

But after finishing his Marla Mason urban fantasy series, he was ready for something new–and no longer felt intimidated by the idea of writing science fiction. “I thought, ‘It’s not as if writing science fiction means I have to write utterly plausible, completely grounded, hard science fiction.’ There’s a continuum that at one end has hard SF and at the other end has Star Wars.”

The Wrong Stars, one of six books short listed for this year’s Philip K. Dick Award, is the first in a planned three-part space opera and reveals Pratt to be a master storyteller. The novel has fascinating characters (including two colleagues who are sewed together into one entity by well-meaning aliens ignorant of human physiology). It’s got a plot of surprising twists that unfolds at a rapid clip. It’s got sufficient threats to the human race to keep the stakes high. It even has romance and humor.

And, of course, The Wrong Stars is full of the kind of mind-bending inventions and concepts that only an advanced alien species–or wildly inventive author–can devise.

“I actually literally made a list when I sat down and started thinking about making a space opera system—what are things I really love in science fiction? I like really interesting weird artificial intelligences. I like bizarre incomprehensible alien artifacts. I like talking squid from outer space. I like wormhole bridges and all the problems that come when you can travel places so quickly that you can violate causality. … I just wrote down all this stuff and I’m going to get most of it in the three books.”

This is the second in a series of interviews on New Books in Science Fiction with this year’s nominees for the Philip K. Dick Award. I also interviewed Meg Elison and Mur Lafferty. The winner, Carrie Vaughn for Bannerless, was announced at Norwescon on March 30, 2017 during a ceremony in which all the nominees read from their novels.

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