Nerdatron recently interviewed a great up and coming science fiction author, Mike Buckley. Buckley recently published a collection of his short stories, Miniature Men, available now on Amazon.
Read Mike’s latest short story, “A Gaze of Faces”, here at Clarkesworld Magazine, one of the best science fiction periodicals on this planet or any other. You can read more of Buckley’s short stories on Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction, and Pravic, as well as Clarkesworld.
SPOILERS! INCOMING! ALERT. ALARM!!!
Let’s get this interview started right … with a movie trailer!
Nerdatron: What would the summer blockbuster movie teaser trailer look like for this story?
Mike Buckley: Interesting; I’ve never given thought to this story retold as a movie. I suppose we’d see Irvine walking down a dark street in the spiral. Voice over: “The search for ourselves takes us into the darkest places…” We see the ghost, hideous, being studied by Emmy. Music! We see Irvine fighting in the spiral. We see Emmy getting her Viz. And then we see the ghost with the truth, all that is left over from Origin Earth…
Nerdatron: Awesome. Love it. If that doesn’t make you want to read the story … by the way, here’s the link again: “A Gaze of Faces”. And the tagline introduction?
Mike Buckley: I think I’d introduce it by saying it’s a story about finding history and then realizing we have to fight to keep it, and to make it mean something to our lives today.
Nerdatron: First, some background. The setting for this SF short story is unique and great at the same time. It’s a subterranean colony shaped like the intergalactic corkscrew/auger that created it: The Spiral. Tell us about the Spiral. Has it appeared in any of your other writing?
Mike Buckley: I’ve written some about spirals. To me, they represent a dark vision of a space colony. I grew up on brighter visions: Star Wars, Star Trek. Gleaming cities. My writing has taken me closer to people left on their own, far away from home, to build a society that fits the ideals they brought with them.
But why a spiral? I’m not sure. I like the idea that a ship would drop a lander, which would be programmed to dig into the ground in a way that would make a tunnel the colonists could use as their first shelter. I guess I just enjoy thinking about cities, and different, odd ways they might be shaped. This probably goes back to loving Italo Calvino and China Mieville.
Nerdatron: Some more background. There’s a somewhat monstrous symbiote that inhabits the colony. It melts onto a colonist’s face — gross! yes! — when they come of age and remain in place symbiotically thereafter.
What does the Viz represent in the story? Is there some symbolism at work? Does it impart certain powers?
Mike Buckley: The Viz, to me, came from having children. I’d find myself saying things to them about the world they were coming into—that sometimes people lie, cheat, victimize, and that you need to be aware of it. Basically I’m telling them that the world is dangerous and unfair, and I can’t do anything about it. That’s true in larger ways too, and true to more extreme degrees in other places in the world.
So I tried to imagine an SF world in which a PARASITE would freaking TAKE YOUR FACE and we just had to live with it. What would we say to each other to ease the pain?
Nerdatron: Well, that’s fantastic. I would love to read more about the Viz. Please consider giving the Viz its own story! Only, maybe not the musical version. Ahem:
Nerdatron: Again on the Viz and without giving much away, how is it connected to the title, “A Gaze of Faces”?
Mike Buckley: Well, titling stories is always hard for me. It’s always the last part of the writing, and pretty much like squeezing blood out of a stone. “All Original Brightness” (another story of mine) came from Paradise Lost, which was a suggestion from a friend, and so I looked to friends again for this one, and posted an inquiry on Facebook: If faces were things that moved in groups, separate from people, what would we call the groups? These labels strike me as usually very beautiful. A murder of crows, a parliament of owls. So what about faces?
There were a lot of answers. An arcade, a look, a consortium. A gaze of faces was one that struck me as right, so I went with it.
Nerdatron: That’s perfect! If faces were flesh-grazing parasitic animals, what would you call a herd of them? Now, I’m thinking about a field of these things staring back at me. [burrr, shivers]
Nerdatron: What was the kernel – the initial question or imagining – that inspired this story?
Mike Buckley: In an early draft of “All Original Brightness” (also in Clarkesworld) there were “ghosts” in the AI tech that the wounded soldiers are fitted with. The editors at Clarkesworld thought the ghosts didn’t fit, and I agreed, but Neil Clarke asked me to rework the idea and send it along when it was, to one degree or another, working.
What came out of it for me was the divers, the vaults, and the ghosts as historical clues.
Nerdatron: What happens when a good editor challenges a creative person? More great stories. Excellent.
Why SF? Is it because you get to explore worlds not permitted in other genres? You’ve written that “part of what SF does well [is ] using the ideas that used to be evoked through magic, but now evoked through science” – what are the other parts?
Mike Buckley: Yes, exactly. I started as a literary writer, and then read Stanislaw Lem, and realized I wanted to write weird books about space and lasers and the future and magic and all that… Another way to put it is that I realized that, in writing “realistic” fiction, I’d agreed to a set of assumptions about reality with which I did not entirely agree.
I’ve heard SF called the last refuge of the philosopher, and I agree, but also in many ways it’s better than philosophy. It’s narrative, so it turns a thought experiment into an experience experiment.
And also, why can’t serious writing be about space ships, and lasers, and beasts? Why can’t serious writing slice open our assumptions about reality? I mean, what do we know about reality anyway?
Check out these books from the author of Solaris, Stanislaw Lem:
Nerdatron: “Last refuge of the philosopher” – that’s a great line. Where do you see your SF going? I read one of your 2015 blog posts that said you were working on a novel that includes an apocalypse – how’s that going?
Mike Buckley: It’s done, and I’m trying to sell it, and working on the next one.
My SF has always been dark, and it’s always been about the body. I was sick when I was a kid, and spent a lot of time getting shots and seeing doctors. I used to have these terrible nightmares in which my arms had no skin but just chicken wire stretched over bare muscle, and doctors were needling the muscle again and again… I think a lot of my concern with how our bodies are depicted, are affected, and are changed goes back to those days. Sick kids can feel helpless and at the mercy of this weird, unpredictable thing that they live in, the flesh.
Nerdatron: Wow, a similar thing happened to me … ur, “Nerdatron” … when I was a kid. The doctors had me on so much Phenergan™ that I started having weird dreams, like that scene from Poltergeist when the guy starts ripping off his face. Hey! Not unlike the Viz!
What are you searching for in your writing? What’s your itch and how are you scratching it?
Mike Buckley: I have no idea, and if you know, please don’t tell me.
Nerdatron: Perfect answer. What do you think is the greatest SF movie of all time? Maybe not the greatest, but what SF movie is your guilty pleasure or the most re-watchable?
Mike Buckley: When it comes to SF movies, I’ll watch anything. I’ve seen Starship Troopers like sixty seven times, even though I wouldn’t call it great, by objective standards. I like Looper, Snowpiercer, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
I like the idea of immersing myself in a story. When I was in college a friend and I decided to get Disney passes, go every day, and sleep in a car every night. We’d listen to only Disney music. We’d eat only Disney food.
I’d really like to do the same with Star Wars. I want to set up a time when I can watch the whole timeline—movies, Clone Wars, maybe a few games—totally unbroken.
Nerdatron: Yes! And while aboard the Millennium Falcon, of course … playing Dejarik holo-chess.
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