Richard Paul Russo : I first began reading science fiction when I was young, 8 or 9 years old, and read quite a lot of it through my teenage years. I lost interest for a few years, then started reading it again when I discovered the New Wave writers like Roger Zelazny, Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delaney, Robert Silverberg, Ursula LeGuin, J.G. Ballard and others. I was about 20 years old at the time, and that's also when I started writing. As I was learning to write, I wrote different kinds of stories, including literary fiction and science fiction and mysteries, because I was interested in many types of fiction. I was not a very good writer at that time, however, and did not publish any of those stories.
I was learning, however, and slowly getting better. The most important thing is that I began to truly take writing seriously. For a time I concentrated on literary fiction, and published a few stories in small literary magazines. Then I switched to writing science fiction, because it was more interesting and exciting to me. It took me a few more years of writing stories that I couldn't publish until I eventually began to write stories that were good enough, and in 1985 I started selling regularly.
Richard Paul Russo : I have written only science fiction over the last twenty years, which includes eight novels and more than thirty short stories. As a writer, there is something exciting and energizing to me about writing science fiction. It's difficult for me to articulate the reasons, but part of it is that science fiction allows me to take unusual and different approaches to writing, no matter what I'm writing about. My primary interest is always people, but with science fiction I can look at people in a truly different way, and that's exciting to me. Also, science fiction seems the best way to explore how we are moving into the future even as we are living in the present.
While I've written science fiction that takes place here on Earth in very near future, such as my second novel, Subterranean Gallery, and the Carlucci novels, I am just as attracted to writing science fiction that takes place in deep space and in the far future. For me, there is something very awe-inspiring, as well as frightening, about the vast size and scale of the universe, especially our own relationship to it, and one of the most effective ways to explore and convey that is by writing about the far future, and setting stories in deep space, far in time and space from our contemporary lives.
ActuSF : How is born the idea of Ship of Fools ? We cannot help thinking about Alien or about some of the Brian Aldiss' novels. What were your influences for this work ? What did you want to make ?
Richard Paul Russo : One of the earliest adult science fiction novels I read was Brian Aldiss' Starship (or Non-Stop), when I was eleven or twelve, and it made a huge impression on me. For some time I wanted to write a book about a colony starship that had lost its way, or its sense of purpose - not in imitation of Aldiss, because I wanted to explore the ideas in my own individual way, but certainly inspired by my memories of those early reading experiences. I also wanted to write a book that treated religion in a serious way - not to advocate for any particular beliefs but to look at it with respect. Those two main interests somehow came together, and the result was Ship of Fools.
ActuSF : The end is very much open. Is it to be continued ?
Richard Paul Russo : I did not plan to write another related book to continue the story, and for several years I did not even consider it. However, recently I have begun to reconsider the idea, and now I think my next novel will be a follow-up to Ship of Fools. One thing is important to me about that: I want it to stand alone, so that someone can read it and enjoy it even if they have not read Ship of Fools.
ActuSF : You earned the Philip K. Dick award for this book. Did it count for you ? And in a quite general way, do you think that to receive an award is important for an author ?
Richard Paul Russo : I was very pleased to receive the Philip K. Dick Award for Ship of Fools, and it felt just as good as it did the first time -- my second novel, Subterranean Gallery, also won the Philip K. Dick Award, for 1989. I was happy both times because it meant that at least some people really liked my books.
However, I think it can be dangerous to attach too much importance to awards. Receiving an award can be helpful to an author's career -- it can bring extra attention to an author's work, and perhaps increase sales of the author's books. But it can also affect a writer's mind, or ego, which can get in the way of the writing. Focusing on awards, and worrying about winning them, can badly interfere in the work itself.
ActuSF : Again, the same question about The Rosetta Codex. How this novel is born ?
Richard Paul Russo : I don't really know what the sources or influences are for The Rosetta Codex. When I was working on the final revisions of Ship of Fools, I had an image of a boy watching boats rowing across the water at night. I set aside the revisions, and wrote the scene about the boy and the boats, which eventually became the first chapter of The Rosetta Codex. I didn't know anything about the story or the boy, and I discovered the story as I continued to write it. That's usually how I write, at least in the early stages of a book or a story. I have no idea what the story will be about, and I find out as I go along writing it.
ActuSF : In both books, there are some aliens within the main characters. In both cases, they are not present but your heroes find their remains. Is alien archaeology a subject that interest you and why ?
Richard Paul Russo : I hadn't thought about that before, but now that you ask I can say that yes, archaeology in general, not the specific idea of alien archaeology, is of great interest to me. I'm fascinated by the process of trying to
understand other cultures and other times through the excavation and study of surviving remnants of those cultures. I can see using similar methods and approaches to try to understand intelligent aliens.
Richard Paul Russo : Yes, I think that's right. What interests me is the drive to learn more about the universe and our place in it. Part of that drive is the question of whether or not there are other intelligent beings, and what that might say about us.
ActuSF : For you, is it the same breed in both novels ?
Richard Paul Russo : No. The books have no connection to each other, and there is no connection between the aliens in one book and that aliens in the other.
ActuSF : I wanted to have a word with you about the Sarakheen, those men half-human half-robot. They appear as a forecast for the future of humankind. How do you see them ? Do you really think they can be the future for human beings ? How do you see this future ?
Richard Paul Russo : While I don't see them as THE future of human beings, I do think people who have more and more machine-like qualities will be a PART of our future. I don't think I have any real idea of what that will look like, but I believe there will be human beings that are very different from what we are now, and the relationship between them and "normal" human beings will be difficult and challenging.
ActuSF : There is a notion of quest in your novel. Was it important for Cal to live all those horrors in his childhood ? We almost have the feeling that the family "prestige" is more important for him that his own obsession for the Saints' Cemetery, don't you think ?
Richard Paul Russo : It was important for Cale to experience the terrible events of his childhood because they provide a clear picture of the range of human behaviour, and an understanding of how awful human beings can be to one another, even when the civilization is supposed to be "advanced" or "progressive." For me, his quest is for the possibility of some way to move beyond such behavior, not just for individuals but for humanity as a whole. That's why he is obsessed with following through on his discovery of the alien artifacts, because he hopes that the interaction of human beings with the aliens or the remains of their civilization may provide a new way for humanity. As for the family "prestige," I guess I disagree - I think his family's prestige is much less important to him than discovering the Saints Cemetery or whatever else he may find; in fact, he's willing to risk what remains of the family's fortune in order to equip his expedition.
ActuSF : Do you think we could classify those two novels as being New Space Opera ? Does identifying your books as part of a trend is something meaningful for you ?
Richard Paul Russo : I would like to answer these two questions together, because they are closely related to each other. To be honest, I don't really know what is meant by the phrase New Space Opera, so I don't know if these two novels would be classified that way. I don't think too much about trends, or classifications, because I don't try to write a specific kind of thing. I just try to write about things that are important to me, in ways that work best, and if other people want to label or identify them in some way, that's fine. I understand why people classify sub-genres or trends, whether for marketing purposes or to help provide ways to talk about new directions or common approaches that different books or writers are taking, but I don't want thinking about those things to interfere with my writing. A number of people called my Carlucci novels Cyberpunk, but I never really thought about them that way, and I think that if I had been deliberately trying to write Cyberpunk novels to become part of a trend, that would have affected the books themselves, and not in a good way.
ActuSF : Tell us about your trilogy about Lt Franck Carlucci. What the story is about ?
Richard Paul Russo : The Carlucci novels are not a trilogy in the traditional sense, because each novel stands by itself, and can be read without reading any of the others. Each novel has a completely different story. They are related, however, because Lt. Frank Carlucci, who is a homicide detective in San Francisco about 25 years in the future, is a main character in all three of them.
ActuSF : Same question for The Dread and Fear of Kings, a novel we can read online. What is its subject ?
Richard Paul Russo : This is a story about a human colony on another world that has either been abandoned or forgotten, has no access to space travel, and has therefore been isolated for a number of generations. In particular, it is about a man, a self proclaimed "King" who is obsessed with power, yet is dying, and is attempting to find some way to stave off his own death. More than that, it is about the inner struggles of people who recognize that those in power are causing misery and death to other human beings, the terrible struggles of conscience and trying to decide where loyalties lie, about trying to decide how and when to act, and what risks are worth taking.
ActuSF : What are your projects ? What are you working on, nowadays ?
Richard Paul Russo : I have just finished writing a novel for a computer game. It was the first time I had ever done anything like that, and I enjoyed it. I prefer to write my own stories, though, and that's what I will be doing now. I have recently written a couple of short stories which will be published soon, and, as I mentioned earlier, I think my next book will be a follow-up to Ship of Fools. I also plan to write a children's science fiction novel soon.