By SARA ARTHURS
Tobias Buckell will have six short stories released this year, recently sent out an e-book outlining his advice on writing, and is teaching writing to university students in Alabama.
All this follows a year that saw good reviews of his new book and multiple award nominations for another short story, and comes two years after his contemplation of giving up writing altogether.
Buckell, of Bluffton, is a New York Times-bestselling science fiction author who has been nominated for awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus, and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author.
“The Tangled Lands,” a book he cowrote with Paolo Bacigalupi, was released in hardcover in February 2018 and is now out in paperback. The book consists of four novellas set in a world in which, every time someone uses magic, a poisonous bramble sprouts. The bramble is, little by little, smothering the land. Practicing magic is forbidden — but people still do it, and each time they do, more bramble arises.
Buckell’s book began as a passion project in 2010. Audible.com asked if he could write a novella and partner with someone else who would also write one, which could then be sold as a combined audiobook. Buckell and Bacigalupi each wrote their story, communicating via Skype.
Buckell’s story, “The Executioness,” grew out of his reading a history of failed executions — true stories of people attempting to execute others and it going wrong in “horrific” ways. He started writing about a daughter, stepping into her father’s role as executioner, and botching her first execution.
As you start asking yourself questions, “You begin to unpack a world,” he said.
He and Bacigalupi enjoyed creating that world, and decided to write two more stories. It was a “secret passion project” with no deadline.
Upon reading all four stories, Bacigalupi’s agent suggested putting them together into a book.
Buckell noted that “The Tangled Lands” received positive reviews from The Guardian and The Washington Post. And, as someone who appreciates beautiful books as objects, Buckell loves the book’s cover.
His story “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance” was a finalist in 2018 for the Locus Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best short science fiction piece of the year, and the Eugie Foster Memorial Award for Short Fiction. It was reprinted in four of the five “year’s best” science fiction collections; translated into French and Czech; and was two votes shy of being nominated for a Hugo, in essence a “people’s choice” determined by those who attend the World Science Fiction Convention.
Buckell thinks one thing that resonated with readers is that the book dealt with a “sense of wonder.” There is a “Guardians of the Galaxy” feel to it but also, he said, a larger moral conversation with older works in the genre.
Buckell grew up in Grenada and the U.S. and the British Virgin Islands. He learned while attending a presentation on the history of slavery and colonial repression in Grenada that people who were enslaved would respond with work slowdowns and taking orders literally. He had previously been taught that these tactics arrived in the West in the 1960s, following Mahatma Gandhi, but learned through the presentation that they had a history dating back hundreds of years.
“Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance” looks at the morality of putting robots into servitude.
“An intelligent, conscious robot would basically be enslaved,” Buckell said. “It’s the Star Wars problem.”
A robot, he thought, couldn’t protest, but “it could be passive-aggressive.”
Buckell is spending the semester as a Humanities Center Visiting Eminent Scholar and professor of English at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where he is teaching a course on writing science fiction. He is also teaching, primarily long-distance, in the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Southern Maine.
“I love sharing thoughts about writing,” he said.
He’s created a book with those thoughts from more than 20 years of writing, called “It’s Just a Draft.” He recently sent out an e-book to Kickstarter backers, and is creating the print edition.
Last year, he published an essay in which he spoke of having become burned out in writing, and how he came out of that.
“Creative folk really responded well to it,” he said.
Buckell turned in so much work in 2016 that by early 2017, he was “seriously considering not being a writer anymore. I was tired of it.”
He’d been buring the candle at both ends, but learned that you can’t say yes to everything.
He is now revising a fantasy novel he co-wrote with Dave Klecha. He described it as “Full Metal Jacket meets Lord of the Rings”: “It’s machine guns and elves.”
This, too, was a secret passion project they created for the fun of working on it. It hasn’t been sold for publication yet.
Buckell’s Caribbean science fiction novels, which came out from 2006 to 2008, will be released in a new edition with beautiful covers.
“I loved those books deeply,” he said, adding now they can gain a cover that is “unabashedly Caribbean.”
Buckell’s work includes the Xenowealth series, which begins with the novel “Crystal Rain”; other standalone novels; and more than 70 stories. His works have been translated into 19 languages.
Short stories coming out this year include: “The Blindfold” (A People’s Future of the United States, February); “Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex” (“New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color,” March); “Apocalypse Considered Through a Helix of Semiprecious Foods and Recipes” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May/June); “N-Coin” (Apex Magazine, May); “Through Sparks in Morning’s Dawn” (“Wastelands: The New Apocalypse,” June) and “By the Warmth of Her Calculus,” (Mission Critical, July).
“Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance” can be read online at http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/zen-art-starship-maintenance/ .