Jul 24, 2018

 

Author Spotlight - Brenda Cooper

- About the Author -
Website: www.brenda-cooper.com
Twitter: @brendacooper
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Short Stories, Literature & Fiction

Brenda Cooper is the author of nine science fiction and fantasy books. Her most recent novels are POST (eSpec Books, 2016) and Spear of Light (Pyr, 2016).  Her other works include Edge of Dark (Pyr, 2015), The Creative Fire (Pyr, 2012), and The Diamond Deep (Pyr, 2013) as well as the Silver Ship and the Sea series (available in audio today, and soon to be re-released via Wordfire Press) and Building Harlequin’s Moon, with Larry Niven (Tor, 2005).

Her most recent short fiction includes “Along the Northern Border” (Man and Machine, 2016) “The Hand on the Cradle” (Humanity 2.0, 2016), “Iron Pegasus,” (Mission Tomorrow, 2015), “Biology at the End of the World” (Asimov’s, August 2015), and “Elephant Angels” (Heiroglyph, 2014).

Brenda blogs frequently on environmental and futurist topics, and her non-fiction has appeared in Slate and Crosscut.

She is the winner of the 2007 and 2016 Endeavor Awards for “a distinguished science fiction or fantasy book written by a Pacific Northwest author or authors.”  Her work has also been nominated for the Phillip K. Dick and Canopus awards.

A technology professional, Brenda is the Chief Information Officer for the City of Kirkland, which is a Seattle suburb.

Brenda was educated at California State University, Fullerton, where she earned a BA in Management Information Systems.  She is also pursuing an MFA at StoneCoast, a program of the University of Southern Maine.

Brenda lives in Bellevue, Washington with her family and three dogs.

- Interviews -
[whiskeywithmybook] I always like to hear how an author got started writing. What inspired you to start making up stories and writing them down?
I don’t really ever remember NOT making up stories. When I was a little girl, my parents gave me a chore. I had to use the garden hose to water a long string of trees beside our uphill driveway. One of my earliest memories is standing with the hose making up little story-songs for hours. In the long run, I turned out to be good with story and completely unable to carry a tune. I still make up story songs, but primarily for the dogs. They don’t seem to mind that I can’t sing on tune. And of course, I make up stories and put them into books. So maybe the answer to your question is that a boring chore and a garden hose inspired me.

[unboundworlds] It seems that your more recent fiction is focused on changes that humanity will have to deal with sooner rather than later: artificial intelligence and transhumanism, ecological damage and remediation. Have your interests or concerns changed over the years? Are you more comfortable addressing them now?
Good question. A lot of my broad interests have been fairly steady. Technology fascinates me. I wrote early stories about uploading (with Larry Niven) such as “Finding Myself.” Edge of Dark and Spear of Light are clearly conversations about transhumanist ideas. Wilders is set closer to now but I do have hints of AI in the megacities and a strong subplot about dependency on technology. I have been interested in the natural world as long as I’ve been interested in technology. The books (other than Wilders) that explore the relationship of man and nature the most are Mayan December and The Silver Ship and the Sea. I’ve also written about inequality and imbalances of power in the Silver Ship Series and in The Creative Fire. Sometimes when I write about a topic I want to approach it from more than one direction as a way of really digging deeper. Most of my books explore more than one theme. Sometimes I write around multiple takes on the same topic, kind of as a way to explore ideas. Think of it as futurist scenario-building. POST is a YA novel set in the same place and timeframe as Wilders, but with a very different future scenario about what happens in the fifty years between now and then.

I hope I’m more comfortable as a writer. Certainly, I’ve persevered through a lot in this industry and I really think the more you write, the better you get. At least as long as you stretch. I try to learn something new with each novel I write.

[unboundworlds] A lot has been written about climate fiction, or “cli-fi” as an emerging sub-genre. Is Wilders part of that wave?
Yes. On purpose.

Causing so much damage to such a beautiful and complex place is a moral travesty. Anything I can add to that conversation is good. Every species we drive to extinction is a stain on our collective souls. We can probably engineer a future for humanity, or at least for some of humanity, but frogs not only can’t build a spaceship, they don’t know they need to.

The problem is bigger than climate. It’s toxicity, habitat destruction, the introduction of non-native species, and the simple act of not even noticing what is around us — much less caring. So how we treat the natural world is the biggest problem facing us. It could kill us. But it’s not insolvable. We’re going to have grow up and work together as a global population to solve it quickly enough to avoid far more serious disaster. That’s going to take innovation, technology, brilliance, empathy, and maturity. We do have those traits.

I do want to note that I don’t think climate fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction. It’s more like a shared pool of wisdom and concern that writers from many genres are exploring. Science fiction is contributing great writers like Kim Stanley Robinson, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Tobias Buckell to the pool. Fiction is contributing Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Rick Bass, and Jim Shepard. Poets are writing about climate change, and so are playwrights and songwriters. Documentaries abound. This discussion is – rightly – mixing and connecting writers from many walks of life.

[goodreads] You draw a stark contrast between the world of “Inside,” where megacity-dwellers have the advantage of ubiquitous technology and expansive material comforts, and “Outside,” where wilders fight to resurrect blighted ecosystems while average people fight simply to survive the challenges of extreme weather, depleted resources, failing infrastructure, and violent competition for food and shelter. In spite of their apparent comforts, many Insiders struggle against a malaise that often leads to suicide while Outsiders seem to live with more vigor, despite the lethal hardships they face. Is this intended to draw a distinction between physical health and mental health, between sustaining the body and the spirit? How have your own experiences living in the Pacific Northwest inspired this viewpoint?
Well, I love Seattle. Truly. I don’t live in it – I live on an acre and half outside of the city, but we’re close enough to go in for meetings, events, and social nights out. So I don’t think the issue is about living in the city vs. living in the outside. I think it’s about dependence of technology, and about goals and dreams. Inside of my future cities, people are on a basic income. They have to contribute something for that, but it’s not much. They CAN earn more for more sophisticated jobs, so there is upward mobility. But people don’t need to strive very hard. Cities – even today – can be lonely places. Future Seacouver is mostly a fabulous place, and many people have great lives there. They even have a space program. But others struggle with first world problems. Depression, loneliness, malaise – these are more problems of the rich than the poor. Outside, there’s little time to focus on loneliness and no one is sending you enough money to live on. At some level, I believe humans are better off when they have concrete goals about something greater than themselves. Whether that’s Lou saving buffalo or unhappy people fighting the cities, the people outside have goals. So yes, at some level, I think many of them are healthier. Great question.

[goodreads] The Wilders are “environmental stewards” charged with healing the ravaged landscape and restoring decimated animal and plant species so that the Outside can once again sustain a healthy population, both human and otherwise. Although they live fairly primitive lives in many ways (riding horses as their primary mode of transportation, living modestly in ranch-style housing), the Wilders leverage powerful technology called ecobots to assist them in their mission. How do you see natural and technological forces being combined to solve the problems faced by your main characters in the world of Wilders?
Well, we will need technology. Absolutely. A friend and fabulous futurist, Gray Scott, introduced me to the idea of ecobots. I’ve written a lot about robotics, and I am certain they will be part of our future. I see that as both good and bad, and as complex.

We will need technology to make headway on our environmental problems. We’ll tag bigger mammals. We may need nano-bees to pollinate. We’ll certainly use sensors. We may need geoengineering (scary, but likely nonetheless). We’ll use drones. We are already doing most of this on some level. We’re tool users, and we can make pretty fine tools these days. Imagine what we can do in fifty years?

[whiskeywithmybook] As a technology professional, can you tell me about advancements you have seen lately that really impressed you? Have there been any that scared you?
I asked an engineer friend of mine this question. He said “batteries.” After all, we’ll need energy storage for cars and houses and sensors. I thought it was a good enough answer to pass on. I’m also quite excited by robotics and AI, as you can probably tell after reading my last two books. We have created difficult problems from the need to manage our own climate and ecosystems to social challenges. AI will – hopefully – help a lot. We have access to piles and piles of data and new tools to analyze it with. We may need machines to help us form the right queries and questions of all of this data. For example, we now use it like statistics – to support whatever we want to believe. How many maps have you seen of “red states this” and “blue states that” in the news? A lot more than we’ve seen maps about solutions to anything. For example, perhaps we could take data and develop politically denatured frameworks like “solve for maximum effective employment where minimum wage allows a two-income family to take one vacation a year and afford health care” and get good answers that didn’t match the political platforms of either party exactly. I’m excited about anything that captures carbon. Lastly, I’m excited about the many, many ways that we can map things. Seeing something visually (such as the effect of sound on orca whales layered over the mortality of whales as ocean noise increases laid over the location of shipping lanes….). Can you tell I could talk about technology all day?

As to the next part of your question, raw technology does not scare me, but we humans wielding technology before we fully understand it is quite frightening.
• Old and still a challenge: Nuclear bombs were the big scare of my childhood. Six-year-old Brenda had to climb under her desk and hide during weekly nuclear drills. Either I’ve never outgrown being six, or we are closer to a real nuclear problem than we’ve been in decades.
• Current technology: I worry a lot that the constant over-stimulus of most humans via electronic devices and entertainment may be reducing our ability to focus and to think creatively. It’s not the devices themselves, it’s our addiction to them (and yes, my addiction too). We have huge problems to solve, and we need both the information we get on our devices and quiet time to think in order to solve them. Once more, technology as bright and frightening.
• Up and coming technology: As climate change becomes more real, I’m fairly certain we will try to engineer our way out of it. But climate is complex and I can imagine a lot of scenarios where the unintended consequences could either worsen the problem or simply kill us all. So geo-engineering scares me, especially since I think we will need it, and I think we will use it. I hope we’ll succeed.

In the end, I’m more excited about technology’s ability to help us than its ability to harm us. It can, has, and will do both, of course.

[whiskeywithmybook] What books have you read recently that you really enjoyed?
I just finished Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140. Wilders could be on the timeline to that book, only on this coast. Of note, KSR is one of my favorite writers. He’s literary and smart and kind and does his homework. I recently finished a collection of climate stories called Loosed Upon The World. I really loved many of those stories. Right now, I’m reading an entire stack of books about wolves as research for the sequel to Wilders. I read a lot of popular science. E.O. Wilson’s fabulous Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life influenced Wilders and The Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel, How they Communicate, by Peter Wohlleben, is equally fabulous.
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