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Let’s Be Real: Sci-Fi Needs More Awesome Space Gods

The new John Joseph Adams anthology Cosmic Powers, which collects stories of super-powered adventure in deep space, was inspired by Adams’ love of godlike comic book characters.

“Half the time Silver Surfer is hanging out in the cosmos, between planets, talking to some sort of god-thing,” Adams says in Episode 255 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “There’s the Living Tribunal, or the manifestations of Order and Chaos. I love the idea of stories that are like, ‘Hey, we’re walking around on the head of a dead god.’”

Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley also admires those stories, and wishes those sorts of ideas would crop up more often outside of comic books. “The idea of spaceships running into gods in space I feel is not super-explored in science fiction,” he says. “Other than maybe Star Trek V or The God Engines by John Scalzi.”

Becky Chambers, who wrote a story for Cosmic Powers, says using religious imagery makes it easier for her to tap into a sense of wonder than in her other, more science-based work.

“Science is there to uncover the mystery, whereas if it’s just pure mystery and awe, that’s the realm of religion,” she says. “We’re going beyond what we can understand, what we can puzzle out and rationalize, and instead going into something that is awesome in the original meaning of the word.”

The way that science and religion might merge is something Tobias Buckell explores in his Cosmic Powers story “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance,” which imagines a robot taking confession with a superhuman AI that gets erased at the end of each session, ensuring total privacy.

“That’s what I would want out of a confession booth,” Buckell says. “I don’t want a human being who’s going to turn around and be like, ‘That guy!’”

Listen to our complete interview with John Joseph Adams, Becky Chambers, and Tobias Buckell in Episode 255 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Becky Chambers on crowdfunding:

“My first book was the first time I had any fiction out there. … I used Kickstarter to fund my remaining months of writing time. I was about two-thirds of the way through the manuscript and my freelance work dried up, so it was a sort of do-or-die, Hail Mary trying to get that book done. And I told myself at the time, ‘If this isn’t successful, it’s a sign that you need to go get a real job,’ and to my eternal surprise it was a success. So yeah, that was the thing that kind of got the ball rolling. … There were a few friends and family [who contributed], but most of the people were folks, I am assuming, who knew me from my games writing. But beyond that, to this day I’m just like, who were these people? Because I’m eternally grateful.”

Tobias Buckell on the Three Laws of Robotics:

“I happened to be reading a piece of scholarship about how Asimov came up with the Three Laws of Robotics, and how Campbell suggested them to him. … Campbell, who was the editor of Analog back in the day, was noted for making pro-slavery arguments and things of that nature. Friends of his at the time supposedly said that he just liked playing devil’s advocate, but I find it intellectually odious, and thinking about the fact that he was the one who came up with the Three Laws of Robotics, and I was reading about slavery and worker’s rights, those two things just immediately clicked together to inspire this story, which is about someone who was a person and is now a robot, and as a robot has to use some of the same tools as people who were once enslaved had to use in order to navigate their situations.”

Becky Chambers on change:

“The formist’s idea of what it means to be human is not what most of us here in the real world would consider human. The way the formist is described as having all these mechanical or constructed parts, and yet this is the form he believes is pure and superior. I think that’s just so spot-on, because if you’re talking about bigotry, or you’re talking about fundamentalism, all these ideas that ‘this is the way it’s always been and this is what is superior,’ those ideas change, not even by the century, but by the decade. … We migrate and we mingle and we change ideas about how our families and society and all of it are constructed, and yet in every iteration you have someone who says, ‘This is the best and this is how it’s always been.’”

Tobias Buckell on Obamacare:

“I started getting into the genre heavily around 2000-2006, as I started publishing short stories, and then my first novel. I remember, at some of the conventions I was at, just talking to all these full-time writers who were ahead of me, and so many of them didn’t have health care. Before 2010 there were so many bankruptcies, and there were so many writers who lost everything and needed help. It was so common, and there were so many stories that it was really dispiriting, I remember, at that time, and one of the most common conversations prior to 2010 was, consistently, how can freelancers get health care, how can we protect ourselves? And for this brief and shining moment, from 2010 to 2017, this seven year period, there was an explosion of writer friends of mine taking the risk to go full time, to create more, to make more, to do more, because they had the ability to buy health insurance.”

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