Interview with Nancy Kress

The following is a transcription of the interview with Nancy Kress at ConFuse 93. The transcription was done by Hans Persson. The text has been edited by Tommy Persson and Hans Persson to make it more readable.

Carina Björklind: When I have read your books, I have got the impression that you write about technology from a humanistic tradition or viewpoint. It's obvious to me sometimes that you're not acquainted in detail with the technology but you use it very nicely, you get the characters together and all this. What's your background?

Nancy Kress: It's true, as you so tactically put it, that I may not get all the details right because I'm not acquainted with the technology. I don't have a scientific background; my degrees are in English and in education and I never even had high school chemistry because it was scheduled at the same time as French 4, and I chose French 4 because I didn't know I was going to be a science fiction writer. This was the wrong choice, but it's too late to do anything about it now. I wish that I did have a scientific background but I don't. So I need to rely on reading articles and on extrapolating from there and sometimes on experts. I have an expert right now in enzymes that is going to proof my next book for me to find out if I have said anything egregiously stupid, which I hope that he will tell me so I can take it out. That's half of the question. The other half of the answer is that the technology itself is of secondary importance to me. What I'm interested in is the effect of the technology on human beings. If it was the technology itself that were that interesting I would write a scientific essay. Or rather, I would read somebody else's scientific essay who knew what they were talking about. But science fiction is first and foremost fiction, and that means that what really interests me is the impact of these technological advances on human populations, large populations, small populations, and individuals. That doesn't mean that a science fiction writer doesn't have an obligation to try and get the science right. I think we do have an obligation to try to get it right and I do try, even when I get the details wrong. But it's of secondary importance. The main thing is, how will this impact people? Will it change our society? Will our society have to change around it? Will it mean that there are different winners and losers than there are at the moment? Will this change things that human beings have always wanted and longed for and loved, or will it change the way that they get those things or attempt to go about getting those things and that to me is the more important question and that is where I focus my attention.

Carina Björklind: In Beggars in Spain, you explore a whole lot of ideas, and especially their legal and political aspects, and you told me yesterday that you were interested in Ayn Rand when you were younger.

Nancy Kress: Yes.

Carina Björklind: And I think you splendidly point at the flaws in that philosophy.

Nancy Kress: The thing about Ayn Rand, with whom I was enraptured when I was in my early twenties as so many people are, and who I eventually outgrew, as many people do, is that although there's something very appealing about her emphasis on individual responsibility, that you should not evade reality, you should not evade responsibility, you should not assume that it's up to the next person to provide you with your life, with what it is that you need, whether that's emotional, or physical, and that that can be very appealing. But at the same time, pushed to it's really logical conclusion, objectivism, Ayn Rand's philosophy, lacks all compassion, and even more fundamental, it lacks recognition of the fact that we are a social species and that our society does not exist of a group of people only striving for their own ends, which is what she shows, but groups of people co-operating for mutual ends, and this means that you don't always get what you want and your work does not always benefit you directly. We had a panel earlier today on the importance of children in literatureChildren in Science Fiction, published in Månblad Alfa number 19. and how portraying children makes literature more real. One of my profound disagreements with Ayn Rand is that not only are there no children in Atlas Shrugged, there is no provision for them, because if she put them in, she would have to contradict her own views, which is that everybody's life essentially belongs to you and your only obligation is to strive for yourself. Those of us who are parents very often sacrifice our own well-being, short term or long term, for those of somebody else, in order that the race can continue, and if you really take objectivism and push it to it's ultimate question, you have to conclude, from her philosophy, that society as a whole does not have a responsibility for all of its children. What that means is that if you have an abused child, a child that is being beaten or tortured next door you have no obligation and no right to interfere under objectivism. It's not your problem. It's not your business. And there's something ultimately wrong with a philosophy that would postulate that. It doesn't treat us as a social species, which we are. It treats us as nothing but a collection of individuals, and the truth is that what makes human society entensioned is the pull between our obligation to the group, to the state, however you want to define it, and to the individual. The tension between the state and the individual is what gives most fiction its pull and when I wrote Beggars in Spain, I was thinking of Ayn Rand's objectivism at one pole, and at the other, Ursula LeGuin's Anarres in The Dispossessed. Anarres is LeGuin's version of anarchy, which is an intensely social system as she has set it up, and where solidarity is the basis for the construction of the society. So individual responsibility in the one end, solidarity in the other end, and what I wanted to do in Beggars in Spain is show that neither of these, to me, are especially good solutions. Objectivism because it ignores the fact that we are a social species and anarchism as Ursula LeGuin portraits it because it is to me too idealistic. It's based on the idea that if you abolish property, you'll abolish conflict and I think conflict is hardwired into human beings, I don't think it's necessarily connected with property. We can get into fights and arguments and wars over lots of things that are only tangentially connected to property. Obviously Ursula LeGuin does not come from a culture that commits crimes of passion. My people are Sicilian. So, I'm very aware there's more than that and one of the things I wanted to do in Beggars in Spain was explore that tension and I touched on it in the novella. The novel goes much deeper into those questions of the community versus the individual.

Carina Björklind: A recurring theme in your work is the legal aspects when the law has not caught up with technology. We find this in An Alien Light where the rules are changed radically for the people who enter the dome. They find a new set of rules that they have to adapt to. In Brain Rose things have also changed. Is that something you are interested in?

Nancy Kress: Yes, I am, very much. Science and technology are advancing so fast, and at such an accelerating rate, that there are conditions and situations that are just not covered by at least American law. American law derives from English common law and it covered most situations for several centuries because although situations might be a little bit different, they weren't so different that you couldn't apply what we already knew. That's not true anymore. When teenage hackers in the United Stated started breaking into corporate computer systems, there was no one coherent body of law under which they could be prosecuted. And as a result, in some places, in Chicago for instance, you had a sixteen-year old who broke into an AT&T corporate computer. He did not take anything. He did not hurt anything. But he made a copy of some 911 special codes, just copied them, and then he bragged that he had them. When he was caught, as eventually he was because his bragging was not discreet, he was seventeen years old. He was charged with theft and with several other felonies and misdemeanors, tried as an adult and served nine months in a federal prison. At almost the same time in New York state, a sixteen-year old broke into a Bell Labs corporate computer and did almost exactly the same thing. When Bell Labs traced it back to him they hired him and put him on the pay roll as a security expert. There were no body of laws and no law enforcement agencies that had guidelines as how to treat this. Was it theft? Was is trespassing? If it was theft, the stuff was still there, you only copied it. If it was trespassing, you weren't physically there. What applies? Was it a misdemeanor or was it a felony? In 1986, the United States Congress enacted the computer fraud and abuse laws because they needed some way to deal with this. They were ten years behind. In the biological sciences, it's happened even faster. Surrogate motherhood and in vitro fertilization are causing tremendous difficulties. There was a divorce case in the United States, a couple that had fertility problems had had embryos fertilized in vitro and then stored, they were going to plant them, one by one, in her until one of them took, and have a baby that way. After they had the embryos fertilized but before they could start the implantation process, they got divorced. Both of them sued for custody of the embryos. Again, there were no laws to cover this. She won her case in New York and the embryos were awarded to her. He won an appeal in California, that said the right to procreate rules over the right not to procreate and the embryos were awarded to him. It's now on appeal, possibly it's headed to the Supreme Court. There was even a more bizarre case in Latin America, all of this as a way of illustrating your point, a very rich South American couple had seven embryos fertilized, and then before any of them could be implanted, or maybe one of them was, both of them were killed at the same time in a small plane crash. This is a catholic country. There is no abortion allowed. The lawyers are claiming the embryos are the heir to their fortune. His brothers are claiming that they are the rightful heir to this fortune. The last that I heard, that was still working its way through the courts down there. We don't have laws to cover these things, and when we get as far as cloning and genetic engineering, we really don't have any laws to cover them and it's moving fast. It's moving very fast. Who owns the moon? When we can get there on a basis longer than just to walk around and stick a flag up there, who owns it? Private enterprise, can they go up and can they claim parts of it, like they claimed parts of the New World in the 1600s, various powers, or should it be placed under the control of the UN, which can't seem to agree on anything. Who's going to own the moon? Who's going to own asteroids?

Publik Anders Holmström: Doesn't the United States want to lay claim to the moon as they were there first and put their flag on it?

Nancy Kress: I wouldn't be surprised, but I don't think it's a claim that should or would stand. But all of these things are happening, well, space travel seems to be shelved momentarily, but everything else and especially in the life sciences is going forward so fast that we will have to deal with these things -- eventually. Sooner than we think. And I think that's a really interesting area for science fiction to explore which is why I write about it so much.

Carina Björklind: How do you feel about space and space travel? Is that important to you as a science fiction fan and writer?

Nancy Kress: It makes me feel guilty. And the reason it makes me feel guilty is that I think I should be intensely interested in the American space program, and the truth is that I'm not and science fiction is the reason I'm not. Having grown up with stories where we are already out there, spanning the galaxies and settling other planets, the tiniest next little stage in the development of the shuttle simply isn't dramatic enough. So, whenever there's another shuttle launch, I read about it in the paper and I read about it in the magazines, and if it's televised, I dutifully turn it on and watch it for twenty minutes, but it doesn't really hold my heart because I grew up with Asimov and Clarke and Heinlein and LeGuin and all of their space-spanning stories and, damn it, I wanna see that! And I regret having been born too early.

Carina Björklind: How do you get your ideas? You have touched upon for instance medical problems and technological problems. The range of technologies that you have used in your stories is very broad.

Nancy Kress: You know, Harlan Ellison used to have an answer to that question. People would say ''Where do you get your ideas?'' and he would say ''Schenectady'', which is a city in upstate New York because he couldn't think of anything else to say. The truth is that I don't know where I get my ideas. They just appear. Sometimes, they will come from something that I've read, but sometimes when I've read something, it won't turn up as an idea for a story for another ten years. It drops into the well of unconscious and does whatever it does down there and maybe it will surface in another ten years. The biggest fear I have as a writer, and that I think many writers have, is that someday I won't have any more ideas. I'll reach for it and it won't be there. I've heard writers say ''Oh, I have thousand of ideas, it's just finding time to write them.'' That's not me. Whenever I have three ideas, I feel rich and I write them down and I hoard them and I feel, OK, for the next few months I'm OK, I've got three ideas. But I don't have that many of them and I guess I just have to wait for them to come from wherever they come, out there in the ether somewhere and often it does feel that they're gifts that have just turned up in my mind from someplace else.

Carina Björklind: You have written or are writing about nanotech. Have you finished the book or are you writing it right now?

Nancy Kress: I'm writing it right now. That idea actually I do know where it came from, to be truthful. Somebody recommended to me that I read K. Eric Drexler's book The Engines of Creation and they said if you're interested in the next step in technology, this is it, nanotechnology, and I said what's nanotechnology? They looked at me as if I had just said what's a school bus? What's a table? They said: ''You don't know what nanotechnology is?'' I said no, you know, forty lashes with the whip, but tell me what it is. They said everything is made of atoms, and if you re-arrange all of these atoms, you can take any molecule and re-arrange the atoms and get a different kind of molecule if you have the right kinds of things there with teeny teeny little computers. I said ''Oooh ... oooh!'' and instantly, I could see that this was going to be an incredibly fertile field for speculation. We can't do it yet very well, the speculation is laying itself wide open. So I went and I read a lot of different things on it and the novel I'm writing now, which is the sequel to the novel Beggars in Spain takes place when the supermen that I have created, the superintelligent humans who have had their IQ boosted through genetic engineering, move very rapidly into nanotechnology with which they can re-arrange atoms and build pretty much anything that they want to do. While I was researching it, I also read some writers savvier than I who'd already gotten there, like Michael Swanwick's book that won the Nebula last year, Stations of the Tide. He's writing about the far future -- I write about the near future most of the time and I have for the last several novels. In his far future, nanotechnology already exists and is a given thing. His major character who is a diplomat of sorts has a briefcase which can make anything you want out of anything else. You throw in a bunch of dirt and it can re-assemble the atoms into whatever it is that you want. This is proscribed technology. It's only allowed to a few people and it's not allowed on the planet surface because they're afraid that it'll completely disrupt the society which, as you can see, it very well might. But this briefcase is a wonderful creation. First of all it is equipped with a computer system as well and it can talk and it addresses him as ''boss'', the major character and if it happens to get stolen or lost, it calmly runs back to him, it finds it's way back. I want this. I want to be able to buy this at my supermarket. Michael has the knack about writing about the far future where technology is integrated into society and that's what he does well. I write about when it's just in its infancy. Because what interests me is when the technology is in its infancy, where can it go wrong? And that's what my book is going to be concerned with. Where can nanotechnology and genetic engineering, which are used in tandem in my novel, where can they go wrong? And, of course, since the answer is ''everywhere'' there's plenty of conflict available for a near-future nanotechnology novel.

Publik Anders Holmström: There is one near-future nanotechnology novel by Greg Bear, Queen of Angels, where we begin to have a more advanced kind of nanotechnology.

Nancy Kress: I read the reviews of that and they were good, but I haven't read the book yet. Is it a thing you recommend I should read?

Publik Anders Holmström: Yes.

Nancy Kress: OK. I will. I will. I like Greg's writing.

Carina Björklind: How is it to be a female writer in the US?

Nancy Kress: Well, I don't want to say too much about it. I'm going to talk about that in my guest of honor speech tomorrow night and then I would just be giving the guest of honor speech twice if I went through all of that now, so I won't answer that question in depth right now. Let me just say that I don't think, as far as I'm aware of, that I have ever experienced any discrimination against my writing because I'm a woman -- in the United States. I have heard writers say, female writers, who have a lot more trouble selling foreign rights in some countries, notably Japan, which tends to prefer to buy male writers. I don't know whether this is true, because I have never sold in Japan, which may or may not mean anything. As far as the United States go, I don't think that I have ever experienced any discrimination as a woman writer. Science fiction is so broad-based -- if we can take in three-armed green aliens, we can take in women.

Publik Anders Holmström: Are you sure that three-armed aliens aren't easier to understand than women?

Nancy Kress: No. I'm saying that if science fiction can stretch far enough to take in three-armed aliens, it can stretch far enough to take in women.

Publik Jessica Santesson: After reading An Alien Light, I was wondering if you are engaged in the fight against cruel experiments on animals?

Nancy Kress: No, I'm not. Was that a feature of An Alien Light?

Publik Jessica Santesson: Oh yes, indeed! I'm a member the Swedish society against cruel experiments on animals and when I read it, I thought, well, this book they should be selling. Because it shows a relation between animal and experimenter.

Nancy Kress: For those of you that haven't read An Alien Light, human beings are being studied by aliens, more advanced than they are. They have taken two warring tribes -- this is another planet but they're human -- and put them up in a walled city to see how they interact. The book is concerned with violence and they want to try to understand human violence. The aliens are at war in space with humanity and humanity so far is winning. They're trying to figure out why human beings interact violently, and more profoundly, if violence has any evolutionary advantage. Since this is a much older race than ours, and we seem to have come along so fast, is there any relationship between the fact that we are a violent species and the fact that we have advanced very rapidly in their view. So, human beings themselves are used as laboratory animals, although not for vivisection, but for study, by the aliens, but no, I didn't think of that as a parallel to the anti-cruelty to animals. I see where you could read it that way, but I didn't think of it partly because I'm not involved in that particular crusade, and partly because it seems to me there are -- I'm going to get in trouble here, aren't I? -- profound differences in the way that we treat animals and the way that we treat human beings, so it didn't cross my mind, but I can see where you might be able to read it that way.

Carina Björklind: In Brain Rose, I think you have a very witty idea, this ...

Nancy Kress: Only one?

Carina Björklind: No. I was going to point at one. There are environmentalists called Gaeists that are just wonderful.

Nancy Kress: OK, thank you. This is another case where an idea did come to me from something I read. James Lovelock, in the early 1970s and his collaborators published a book called The Gaia Theory which was dismissed in reputable scientific circles in the United States as sort of crackpot. Since then, I have heard people say that they need to take another look at this because some other evidence has come to light but the basis of the Gaia theory is that the entire biosphere, the entire Earth, acts as an organism to protect itself. In other words, if conditions that gave rise to life and that protect the biosphere get changed in some way, the biosphere itself will try to act to re-change them back to what is optimum for maintaining life. One of the examples that they give is that the seas should be a lot saltier than they are, from the amount of salt that has been washed down over the centuries from the land masses and the rivers, and yet, as far as we can tell, from the existence of one-celled animals and trilobites and things, the salt content of the sea has not changed that much for millions of years -- but it should be a lot saltier. And that therefore there are compensating mechanisms going on someplace and then they explore what these are, some of which I have forgotten, having to do with underwater volcanos and things. Anyway, I read this and I thought there are possibilities here and in my future in Brain Rose, a near future, there's a group called the Gaeists that have seized upon this idea, not so much for religious purposes, and not so much for scientific purposes, but what has happened is that a group of corporations have rather sneakily funded a publicity campaign and a religion which says, OK, if the Earth is a self-regulating bio-mechanism, and no matter what anything does to it it will re-assert itself to keep things optimum for life, then whatever man does to it, it will re-assert itself. In other words, we can pollute as much as we like, because the biosphere will come along and correct it and the Gaeists, some of whom are rather cynically involved in this, some of whom are actual believers, from a religious side, are out there spreading this, the result of which has been to loosen governmental regulations on polluting and on eco-problems, because hey, the Gaia theory and the biosphere will take care of it and will regulate it. Thank you, I'm glad you liked that.

Carina Björklind: What are you working on now? What we have seen in Sweden this far of your books is An Alien Light and Brain Rose. Beggars in Spain is on the way, but what more can we expect from you?

Nancy Kress: There are three early fantasy novels that are out of print. For some reason after the third fantasy novel, I decided I was going to write science fiction, not fantasy. I don't know why. Again, this was one of those things that drifted in from the ether and that I felt I had no real control over. And then came An Alien Light and Brain Rose and the most recent novel, Beggars in Spain, first was a novella that appeared in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and now I've turned it into a novel. Not by taking the story and re-writing it with more details, but by taking the story, letting that stand as the first quarter of the book, and then extending it another three generations. These are genetically engineered people who don't need to sleep, and so it takes them through another three generations and what the consequences of that are. That just came out from Avon in hard cover a few months ago. What I'm finishing now is the sequel to that and it doesn't have a title yet because I'm very bad at titles and I inevitably think of them long after the work is done and my editor is saying ''Well, we have to call it something.'' And then I eventually come up with something or other. So it has no title, but it takes place another dozen or twenty years after the close of the novel version of Beggars in Spain when the super-sleepless, who have vastly boosted IQs, are into nanotechnology, which has the scope for, as I said, a lot of mischief.

Carina Björklind: How much short fiction do you write? When I started reading you, I realized that you have quite frequently novellas and short stories in Isaac Asimov's and other magazines.

Nancy Kress: There's about fifty short stories out there. There's a collection coming in November, called The Aliens of Earth -- not my title, finally my editor said ''Not only we have to call it something but I'll call it something since you won't.'' And he called it The Aliens of Earth, it's coming from Arkham House in November and it collects many of my stories since my most recent collection which was back in 1985. There are a lot of short stories. I prefer the short story form. If I could make a living at it, I would write nothing but short stories and novellas and novelettes. I'm better at it and I like it better. In some ways the novella in the perfect length for science fiction. It's long enough so that you can develop a complete society, but it's not so long that the reader begins to spot the flaws -- what you call the details that are wrong -- and it's not so long that you have to keep spinning out, what is basically after all improbable, at any great length. I find the novella's the perfect length and if I could make a living writing only novellas I would -- but you can't. There's so much more money in novels, so I try very hard to write the best novels I can, but I still think I'm a better short story writer and all of my awards have been for short stories, not for novels.

Publik Audience: When you make a science fiction movie, are the writers science fiction writers or are they more conventional writers?

Nancy Kress: It depends. I think science fiction movies have a pretty dismal record of dealing with print science fiction. There was a novella by Barry Longyear called ''Enemy Mine''. A very nice story. You already know the story, I can see that. A very nice novella. It was turned into a movie that was so bad that once when Barry was asked for a list of the ten worst movies in science fiction he wrote Enemy Mine, Enemy Mine, Enemy Mine, Enemy Mine, all the way through. The third Aliens movie, William Gibson did the original script and they completely threw it out and started out with non-science fiction writers and made a heck out of it.

Publik Anders Holmström: They threw out a hell of a lot of scripts.

Nancy Kress: Yes.

Publik Anders Holmström: They went through scripts like confetti.

Nancy Kress: We don't have a good track record. Oddly enough, TV has done better. The Twilight Zone series would often take exactly what had been written by real science fiction writers and Star Trek used real science fiction writers. An award winning episode by Harlan Ellison, The City on the Edge of Forever, was not changed at all, but then you'd have to be a pretty brave person to mess with Harlan Ellison in the first place.

Publik Johannes Berg: I was just wondering since you have written previously three fantasy novels and now you're primarily writing science fiction novels. Do you consider yourself a person who used to be a fantasy writer and now write science fiction or do you still write a lot of fantasy in the short forms? I haven't read much of your magazine stuff.

Nancy Kress: I still write some fantasy in the short forms, but not high fantasy. It's contemporary fantasy, it takes place in our world and it's more like Twilight Zone stuff, although I think it has some more sophistication than that. But no, I consider myself a science fiction writer and again I don't know why the shift happened but it did happen.

Publik Johannes Berg: I thought that was rather interesting because we hear a lot of complaints from both Britain and the United States these days that all this fantasy stuff is pushing aside the science fiction. Have you any idea of why you don't write fantasy?

Nancy Kress: Well it wasn't for that reason. No, this is the Norman Spinrad complaint and I don't have a whole lot of patience with it. It seems to me that the criterion by which you look at a work of fiction ought to be ''Is it good?'' Not ''Is it fantasy or is it science fiction?''. These are essentially artificial categories created by publishers. You take something like faster than light travel -- this is clearly a fantasy idea, it violates what we know about science, and yet it has come into science fiction and now it's a sacred cow, you cannot move it. Fantasy is such a much older literature that in a way you have to consider science fiction a subgenre of it, in that fantasy has always dealt with that which does not exist as far as we know and so does science fiction deal with that which does not exist as far as we know. It's a subgenre of fantasy. To try to deal with categories really doesn't interest me very much.

Publik Johan Anglemark: Do you in any way find the political correctness to be something which affects you as a writer in any way or do you write exactly what ... Is it a problem for you, for American authors, science fiction authors?

Nancy Kress: It's not a problem unless you dislike arguments. If you like arguing about it, it's not a problem at all. If you want to please everybody, it would be a problem, because there's no possible way of doing it. In Beggars in Spain, in the novel version, there aren't any real villains in the sense that there are people that you can point to, these are the guys in the black hats, these are absolutely the bad guys because my fiction almost never has villains -- complete villains or complete heroes. I don't believe in the concept. I think pure evil, pure unadulterated evil, is rare. It exists, but it's rare. Most of what we call evil is selfishness or stupidity or misguided blindness -- selfishness mostly. But it's not real pure evil. Selfish evil says ''I'm doing this because it's best for me and to hell with you.'' Real evil says ''I'm doing this because I like causing pain.'' And I don't think that's as common as fiction would have it be. I'm getting back to your point but it's the long way. So there are no real villains, but the closest thing I've come to in the novel is a woman named Jennifer Sharifi who is one of the sleepless. They are being persecuted somewhat because they are more intelligent, they're supermen in a way. They need to withdraw from normal society into their enclave which they call Sanctuary and as time goes on in the novel, they need to withdraw farther and farther until finally they move up to an orbital. In the last section, Jennifer tries to secede from the United States. She tries to take the orbital and have it secede but since Sanctuary is fantastically rich, and is controlling much of the stock market at this point, it's going to have tremendous tax consequences, not to say that you can't just allow people to go and take chunks of real estate that are registered to the United States and go off seceding. We did, we had a civil war over this issue once -- but she tries to do it. Her reasons are, in her context, valid. She's not a nice person and some of her methods are not only illegal, they are the methods of terrorists. Jennifer Sharifi is the daughter of an Arab prince and an American movie star. I needed this, because I needed a lot of money, but I wanted her to have a certain amount of glamour enticed to the United States as well. This makes her either an Arab or at least an Arab-American and this is politically incorrect. You're not supposed to have all your terrorists be Arabs because too many of the world's terrorists are Arabs and you're not supposed to go around doing this. I have taken a certain amount of flak for this and the novel has only been out for two months. It doesn't bother me. I'm not saying that all Arabs are terrorists, I'm not saying anything against the Arab culture, I lived in an Arab country for a year and I grew extremely fond of the place, it's nothing to do with that. So I just don't let it bother me. I think that the way to deal with an insistence on political correctness, which is from a small but very vocal minority, is just to enjoy the arguments.

Carina Björklind: In both the novella ''Trinity'' and in Brain Rose, you talk about God. In ''Trinity'', God is something that is not aware of its creation, us, and in Brain Rose it's more like something that wants to evolve. To me that was quite a new idea.

Nancy Kress: It's actually a very old idea. Deists said, the deists of which Benjamin Franklin and many 18th century rationalists were members, said that God set the universe in motion but is not personally supervising or much interested in what happened to it since and that's essentially what I worked off of in ''Trinity'' although in a different way. I am not myself a religious person. However, I am one of those people who wishes they could believe in God -- I don't but I wish I could. I think that if you could believe in God, you would have a way of organizing your thoughts about the universe, you would have a reassurance that the universe makes some sense, that there is a design there. You would have a reassurance that there is meaning in the world, however you choose to define it. I don't have these things. Being unable to bring my intellectual beliefs into any kind of leap of faith, that Kirkegaardian last leap that I cannot take. That goes from reason into faith. I nonetheless am aware of the lacks that this creates and I would intensely like the universe to make sense. That's why I write science fiction. It's a substitute for religion. I know that sounds very strange, but it's as close as I can manage to come. If the universe is not going to make sense to me at a deep meaning level through religion, and it's not, then the best I can do is try out various different schemata for how it might make sense in the thought experiments of science fiction and fantasy. However, a lot of my stories, you've identified two, there are more, show this longing, wishing that I could believe that it did make sense in some way that existed beyond my own mind. So, yes, that is very much a theme in my work and it comes out of my own longing. Somebody called it the ''absence of God story''. Here comes Nancy with another ''absence of God story'' and that's essentially what I write. I write about the absence of God and the longing that that creates.

Publik Anders Holmström: Why would the universe make sense if there's a God in it?

Nancy Kress: Well it wouldn't. If there were a God in it -- it depends on how you define God -- if there were a God in the sense that there were a creator, a creation always has some kind of intrinsic structure and design, I would be able to believe in a design. If it were a personal god, taking it one step forward like the Judean or Christian god, that was actually interested in the design then that too would lend a certain amount of sense and depth of meaning and sense to it. Granted, there are religions, Zen is one of them, Daoism, in which you can presuppose a larger force than man without necessarily presupposing a design with meaning. This actually makes more of an appeal to me intellectually. That lack is there emotionally, that wishing, that longing, for which we are no more responsible than any of our other desires. We all have desires that don't necessarily really fit with what we believe or think that we should believe and it's out of those kinds of tension that you create fiction.

Publik Robert Brown: Are you writing science fiction to make people watch out for what can go wrong in the future? Are you trying to make a difference?

Nancy Kress: I'm not egotistical enough to think that I can make a difference or that anybody with any influence is actually going to listen. I write science fiction because it interests me, because there are readers whom it also interests and because it is a way for me of doing what I just said, imposing, at least temporarily, some design, some meaning, some pattern on the universe. I also write it because like most writers I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on. I was one of those kids that read and read and read and books have been one of the few stable forces in my life since I started to read at five. Books have been one of the few things that were always a part of my life. It might change in other respects, religion might come and go, children get born, they grow up, they move on, husbands come and go, occupations change. Books have been a solidity for me and I can no sooner stop reading than I could stop breathing and writing is the next step beyond that for those that wish to do it. You get so immersed in them that the characters in your head are as real as the characters in your life and when you come to that point, it's almost a necessity to write about them.

Thank you.

LSFF:s hemsida