FR di Brozolo uses science and technology, which he covers professionally as a journalist, as the starting point for his fictions. “Science and technology are window dressing for the real themes that speculative fiction talks about,” he observes. And how does he compare writing fiction to writing news? “It’s a lot more fun”.
What do you think will become of books?
I think physical, bound, paper books may not always be around (though aficionados, like me, insist on them, so they’re not going to disappear overnight). But the popularity of e-readers and audiobooks tells me that long-form narratives, whether fiction or non-fiction, aren’t going anywhere – may even be as strong as ever. Also, e-commerce and smartphones make them more accessible than ever: I once finished an e-book while I sat on a hill overlooking Portland, OR, waiting for a bus, ordered another from Amazon and started reading the new one immediately. I love that I can do that.
Will there be a resurgent of short stories like when print formats such as anthologies, newspaper supplements and magazines used to dominate?
Probably not – it’s a long tail scenario where the big names, writing long-form fiction, will continue to dominate. At the same time, the economics of writing favours long-form, because short story collections typically sell badly, and because short fiction markets don’t pay as well as novels compared with the effort the author puts in. E-readers will make short fiction easier to distribute, though, so I wouldn’t rule out short stories yet.
You are a science journalist. You are used to reporting in short form for audience who can only consume your content in one sitting. How much of that discipline goes into your short stories?
Not enough! But more seriously, though news writing is very different from fiction, the elements of style remain the same across both. Every word has to justify its place, and if you don’t communicate what’s happened and what it means, you’ve failed.
“There are pleasures to writing a well-crafted piece of non-fiction, but the fun of fiction is seeing where the narrative takes you, regardless of how strictly you’ve outlined your story”.
On a professional level, you are also exposed to a high level of information on tech and life sciences. How does that inform your stories such as Grand Ideas (space exploration) and I Just Don’t Know You Anymore (clones)? Is science making you optimistic of humanity?
At the risk of sounding pretentious, both stories were informed rather by existential questions, like whether you’re the same person if you wake up in a cloned body or how you find your place in a world that doesn’t necessarily value the only thing you know how to do. Tech and life sciences provide the starting point.
As for science making me optimistic, sure – we may use the internet to yell at each other and look at cat pictures, but it’s also making cheap a lot of things that used to be expensive and time-consuming (like language learning). Put another way, the better we understand the world the better able we are to improve it.
Why do you think science fiction has a gothic element to it? Frankenstein (Mary Shelley), The Machine Stops (E M Forster) and Rappaccini’s Daughter (Nathaniel Hawthorne) don’t give us much room for hope in technology.
Not to contradict my earlier answer, but the question of technology going out of control is also valid, of course. I mentioned that science and technology are window dressing for the real themes that speculative fiction talks about, but these stories you’ve listed play into that by showing how uncritically embracing all technology, and ignoring human experience, can lead to disaster.
“The economics of writing favour long-form, because short story collections typically sell badly.”
How does writing fiction compare to writing news?
It’s a lot more fun! There are pleasures to writing a well-crafted piece of non-fiction, and I’m proud of a lot of the reports I’ve written at work, but the fun of fiction is seeing where the narrative takes you, regardless of how strictly you’ve outlined your story. A lot of that diversion comes from seeing how your characters react to a situation you’ve created for them, and the drama that unfolds as they navigate it.
William Gibson or Philip K Dick?
I wanted to write some clever third option, like Neil Gaiman (because he’s had more influence than either Gibson or Dick on my desire to write fiction). But I’ve read more work by Philip K Dick, especially short fiction, and his work has probably influenced my approach to short science fiction more than anyone else.
Grand Ideas was published in 2016’s Outliers of Speculative Fiction anthology. I Just Don’t Know You Anymore was published on in Spinetinglers in 2013. Another short story by di Brozolo, Take Your Daughter to Work Day, was self-published in 2012.