Robert Charles Wilson : The idea wasn't born fully-formed -- like most of my ideas, it evolved. But when I conceived Spin I was doing a lot of reading and thinking about what you might call "cosmic time," events that take place on time scales far longer than the brief span of a human life. I wanted to find a way to dramatize those events, to bring them into the realm of human awareness.
Actusf : How did you imagine the spin ?
Robert Charles Wilson The simplest way to make long-term events perceptible was to slow down our perception, in this case by imagining an Earth preserved through time like an insect embedded in amber.
Actusf : The spin isolates the Earth and at the same time changes relation with time. However, we have the impression that beyond the scientific intellectual challenge, the consequences on the human race interested you the most. What were you the most interested in actually ? The Spin or the consequences on the human race ?
Robert Charles Wilson : The intellectual and the human questions are inseparable. I suppose one could write abstractly about what the poet Tennyson called "the long result of time" -- but I wanted to imagine it as a lived experience, a real event in the life of a handful of characters and of a generation of human beings.
Actusf : This novel is very rich: it contains many ideas and events. How did you work ? How long did it take to write it ? Was it difficult ?
Robert Charles Wilson : I spent a little more than two years on the writing of the book. The research took time, and keeping the various thematic and scientific elements in balance was a delicate process.
Actusf : How do you usually work ? Do you keep up-to-date with scientific news ? Were there a lot of research to write Spin ?
Robert Charles Wilson : I'm not a scientist, just an interested observer of science. I do try to keep up to date -- I subscribe to New Scientist, for instance. But it's hard for me to distinguish between "research" and reading for pleasure. Writing a book is a little like assembling a mosaic out of colored stones: you pick up interesting things here and there, hoping they'll fit together in some pleasing and unexpected fashion.
Actusf : Were there some parts more difficult to write than other ? If yes, why ?
Robert Charles Wilson : Whenever a story leads into areas with which I'm not intimately familiar -- settings, characters, or intellectual milieus -- I have to tread carefully. The writing slows down. A book, any book, is a river: white water here, whirlpools there, now and then smooth sailing.
Actusf : Now let's talk about your characters. We have the feeling that you are very close to them. At the same time, Tyler has some kind of distance in the tale. As if his life interested him less than Jason's or Diane's. Do you agree with this, and do you see it as a consequence of the spin ?
Robert Charles Wilson : I wanted all the characters to be distorted in some sense by the spin. Tyler's self-effacement -- and his deep identification with Jason and Diane -- is his defense mechanism. But he's also, in a sense, a realist in the face of their deep idealism. He doesn't need to understand the spin on a profound level or confront its spiritual implications. He's content to be, perhaps, one useful person, hoping to save, not the world, but his oldest friends.
Actusf : The behaviour of your characters is very different. Confronted to the spin, Diane takes refuge in religion, whereas Jason tries to understand the phenomenon with science. In general, however, the human race continues almost as before, as if nothing was the matter. Do you agree ?
And do you think that humans are actually capable of acting "as if nothing was the matter" ?
Robert Charles Wilson : I don't underestimate the temptations of denial. Maybe Europe is different, but it's painfully obvious that here in North America, for instance, there are people who will insist on driving their SUVs until the very last drop of oil is extracted from the Earth. As a species, we're not very good at facing crises that are both very large and very slow.
Actusf : What did it represent to get the Hugo award ? Does it put a certain pressure on you for the continuation ? Do you think of it when you write ?
Robert Charles Wilson : As a mature writer ("grizzled," as the 19th century writer Oliver Optic once put it, "with the snows of fifty winters"), I can be philosophical about awards. I have to admit, though, that I've been aware of the Hugo award since I first discovered science fiction as a child. It was never my ambition "to win a Hugo," but I was delighted to receive it -- and my inner fifteen-year-old hasn't stopped grinning.
I don't think of it when I write, in all honesty. If there is any kind of pressure, it's about meeting the expectations of readers. Axis, the sequel to Spin, is a rather different kind of book. It isn't exactly "more of the same" -- but I'm not convinced that my audience really wants "more of the same."
Actusf : A propos continuation, what can you tell us about that ? What is going to happen to the characters ? Apparently you planned to write 2 additional volumes, didn't you ?
Robert Charles Wilson : Axis will be published in English in September of this year. Only one of the characters from Spin appears at any length, and she's not a central character in Axis. Axis takes place beyond the Arch, in Equatoria, on a world apparently designed for human habitation -- but in a universe vastly older than the one we're accustomed to, deeply conditioned by the work of the Hypotheticals. The question becomes: is humanity itself an unconscious player in the vast, slow ecology of the stars ? What does it mean to live in a world in which nature itself has become a kind of artifact ?
Actusf : Will you talk more about the "Men from Mars" ? Truly speaking, when reading Spin, we feel like knowing more. What can you tell us about this ?
Robert Charles Wilson : We learn a little more about Mars and about the Fourths in Axis, but you'll have to wait for Vortex for their final destiny. (And I'm working on an unrelated novel called Julian, set in a post-collapse 22nd-century North America, which will see print before Vortex.)
Actusf : When reading Spin, we think of Quarantine by Greg Egan, even if both books are very different. Nevertheless, have you read Greg Egan's book ? What is your position toward him ?
Robert Charles Wilson : I was very impressed by Teranesia and some of Greg Egan's short stories. Obviously, in terms of his grasp of physics and his ability to communicate ideas, he's in a class of his own. I haven't read Quarantine, so I'm not sure how apt the comparison is. But I'm flattered to be compared to Egan in any context.
Actusf : You are going to visit in France to meet with your readers. What is the question NOT to ask you when signing a book ? :-)
Robert Charles Wilson : The one I'm afraid of is, "Do you speak French ?" Because the answer, I'm ashamed to say, is no. I come from an officially bilingual country, and I consider being monolingual a kind of backwoods embarassment -- but I've never mastered a language other than English.