Actusf : How is born the idea for "We were out of our minds with joy" ?
David Marusek : My stories generally start with an image. I can see somebody doing something, and I’ll jot that down in my notebook. Later, when I go through my notebooks looking for story ideas, sometimes I find that the initial images have grown in my imagination. Sometimes characters and situations accrete to them, and I jot those down too. Eventually, if I’m lucky, when I look again, the germ of a story is there. This is how I cultivate ideas, unconsciously and little by little, sometimes over years.
For “We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy,” two completely separate images on two different pages came together. One was a picture of a couple at an orphanage holding a baby they were adopting. The baby was undergoing a medical procedure that was changing its original DNA into a recombination of its new parents’ genes. In other words, it was possible to adopt a baby and change it into your own biological offspring. In the original image, I saw that the baby was only partly converted and still had some of its original features as well as some of its new parents’. The second image was of a married couple. The husband is captured by a bizarre machine on a city street. He is trussed up by this machine, and he’s terrified. Bystanders run away. His wife is horrified by the scene and, without thinking, runs away too and abandons her husband to his fate. These two images stuck with me for a number of years, until one day I realized they belonged together! That’s where the story started.
Actusf : Why do you have decided to grow this story to the point of making it a novel ? Was it planned like this at the beginning ?
David Marusek : No, at first I thought of it as a stand-alone novella. For years after “We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy” was published, fans were telling me I should expand it into a novel. Even my editor at Asimov’s Magazine, Gardner Dozois, suggested I do so. But I had no idea what happened to Sam after he left Eleanor, and it took about five years before suddenly I saw Sam at the end of his life. Only then could I take up their story again.
Actusf : Tell us a bit about the character Sam, how do you see him ? Counting Heads is a novel really rich with many themes. Was it complicated to make it so ?
David Marusek : Very complicated. It seems to me that many (if not most) stories that are set in the future will change one or two aspects of our world and leave everything else as it is today. So, for example, there are faster than light spaceships, but ship time and Earth time are perfectly synched, completely ignoring the effects of relativity on the passage of time (as in the Star Trek universe). In Counting Heads I wanted to see if I could change not one or two things in our world but everything all at once: technology, politics, society, the economy. In real life, everything changes everything else, and I wanted to see if I could account for as much change as my imagination could handle. Moreover, I wanted to shine the light of my imagination into the lives of people from different classes of society, from the ultra-rich to the underclass.
So, yes, this all became rather complicated. A rapidly changing society is a moving target. I didn’t try to think my way through it. Rather I relied on my unconscious and wrote what felt right, constantly editing as new insights replaced the old. The whole process of writing Counting Heads took me seven years of daily work.
Actusf : From where did you draw all these ideas ?
David Marusek : Everyone has ideas all the time. Ideas zip through our minds all day long and as dreams when we sleep. Usually we don’t pay them much attention. One of the jobs of the writer is to capture shiny ideas and pin them down before they get away. I’m constantly on the lookout for ideas that I can use. My notebooks are full of them.
Actusf : Tell us about "Mentars" (I am not sure of the translation). They are virtual entities but they are aware of themselves. How do you see them ? Is it a future stage for computers in your opinion ?
David Marusek : I am of the opinion that our conscious minds are generated by and contained in our physical brains. In other words, I am a materialist. I don’t believe that our minds exist in some spiritual state outside our bodies or that they survive the death of our bodies. Our brains, therefore, are marvelous machines, and if we can understand how three pounds of jelly can create a mind and become conscious of itself, then we should be able to create artificial minds. At the very least, we should be able to reverse-engineer the brain and duplicate its functions in non-biological materials. In Counting Heads, the resulting artificial minds are not derived from computers but from our own brains. Thus their mode of thought is familiar to us. And as a side effect, they seem to be resistant to the Singularity (something I address in my second novel, Mind Over Oship.)
Actusf : The society that you present is a kind of total globalized one. Is it what we should expect in your opinion ?
David Marusek : The world of Counting Heads is only one of many possible futures, one in which the forces of globalization prevail over the countervailing resistance of tribalism. Such an outcome is by no means a foregone conclusion, in my opinion. The hallmarks of tribalism, local control of resources, religious cohesion, strong familial identity, are more in harmony with the human psyche, as evolved through the ages, than the forces that feed globalization: extreme concentration of wealth and power, subjugation to technology and market forces. Globalization feels unnatural because it is. It is an overpowering force that may be shaping a world in which only post-humans are able to thrive.
Actusf : Same question with the sort of "classification" for human beings, the Russ, the Jerry ... It is making us shiver a little, isn't it ? Humans can be present under the form of virtual clones in parties, is it something that you are afraid that we could do later ?
David Marusek : You think human cloning is chilling ? I don’t see it that way at all. On the contrary, I see human cloning as inevitable and desirable. Granted, in the world of Counting Heads, the cloned workers the jerrys, russes, evangelines and others. Are being terribly exploited, but that unhappy situation, as we will see in later books, may change.
Actusf : This is your first novel. Your bibliography includes many short stories. For what reason ? Did you feel more comfortable with the short form so far ?
David Marusek : I came to short stories in a roundabout way. When I first started writing, I thought of myself as a novelist. But my first novel kept expanding with no plot and no end in sight. After six years of work, I decided to put the novel away and learn how to write short stories. At least that way I could get something published. I attended Clarion West, a six-week workshop held each summer in Seattle for aspiring science fiction writers. At the workshop, students were responsible for writing a new short story each week and critiquing the work of fellow attendees. It was quite an intensive course, and I learned the short form rather quickly. I even sold my first story during the workshop to Asimov’s Magazine, a prestigious sale. Then, a month later, I sold a second story I wrote at the workshop to Playboy Magazine. Finally and at last I felt I could call myself a writer. So I stayed with short fiction for about eight years, building a reputation and professional contacts so that when I did return to novel writing, I had already established my career.
Actusf : What has been the audience for this novel ?
David Marusek : My readership seems quite diverse, from teen-agers to retirees, scientists to graphic artists, and everyone in between.
Actusf : Is living in Alaska a challenge to be published in the United States in science fiction ? Or does it change nothing ?
David Marusek :Actually, Alaska is an inspiring place for a science fiction writer to live. There’s a lot of primary research taking place here on: global climate change, nanotechnology, alternate energy, the aurora, cold weather testing, even space exploration. There are two spaceports in Alaska: a university-owned rocket range and a private launch facility. As far as the business end of publishing is concerned, I have excellent agents in New York City and Hollywood, so I don’t have to be there in person to enjoy first-rate representation. Meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place to live than Alaska. The natural environment is a feast for the eyes, with clean air and water and blessed bucolic peace and quiet.
Actusf : What are you working on now ?
David Marusek : I have just finished Mind Over Ship, the sequel to Counting Heads. It picks up right where Counting Heads leaves off and advances the story of its major characters.
Right now I’m catching up on my reading, reading two or three books a week. Soon I will decide what my next big project will be. In the meantime, besides reading, I’m working on short stories.