The Hogan interview, part 2: On The Genesis Machine, writing sf & making science credible

By Michael Grossberg

I still remember reading James P. Hogan for the first time. What a discovery – and what a mind-expanding thrill.

His science-fiction novels were compulsively readable and scientifically plausible, while often upholding values I cherished, such as a commitment to reason, science, progress, persuasion, free inquiry and liberty.

I loved Inherit the Stars and The Genesis Machine – his first two acclaimed and bestselling novels – for their brilliant science-laced plots and fascinating ideas. And then I read Voyage From Yesteryear, an explicitly libertarian classic that won the 1983 Prometheus Award for Best Novel – and remains today one of the few novels that convincingly portrays a fully free society in a plausible future.

James Hogan (Creative Commons license)

A few years later, I had a memorable chance encounter and chat with Hogan at a World Science Fiction convention. He had a beer at a café while I drank in his every word.

As a huge Hogan fan, both then and now, I’m grateful for the opportunity to finally publish in full – without cuts – a lengthy and fascinating interview I did with Hogan many years after that, which only had a very small part of it published in a local newspaper in advance of Hogan being a guest of honor at Columbus’ Marcon and the first LFScon, held at Marcon.

Here is the second part of that long-lost Hogan interview:

Q: Your first novels – Inherit the Stars and The Genesis Machine – focus heavily on science and scientists. And you’ve largely continued that focus throughout your writing career. Why?

A: I guess I’ve always been interested in scientific and technical things. I was especially proud to get the science right in Inherit the Stars. It depicted scientists the way they are, doing the work the way they actually go about it.

A lot of science fiction shows scientists as caricatures. They were created by people who’d never been inside a scientific laboratory, or watched how real scientists tackle their problems. But I’d spent 20 years as an electrical engineer and computer salesman, talking to nuclear engineers, physicists, astronomers, chemists, just about every scientific discipline. So I knew how scientists work.

Q: The Genesis Machine, your second novel, ended up as one of the first three novels ever nominated for the Prometheus Award in 1979. How did you figure out what to write after your initial success with Inherit the Stars?

A: With The Genesis Machine, two ideas came together.
We’ve all read science fiction stories about a device for interstellar travel – a warp drive or hyperdrive. It’s basically a device to get the characters from here to there fast, a stage prop or convention to get on with the story,
I found myself thinking: There’s a story there, in itself.
So I began researching and brainstorming concepts of physics, including concepts way beyond what our science and knowledge recognizes.
I began to conceive a story about how the warp drive was discovered and began to become an engineering reality.

Q: You were finishing the last chapter of The Genesis Machine in 1979 when you moved here from Great Britain in 1979. How did you figure out what to write next?

A: My goal was to have three books under my belt before I quit my day job and went full-time as a writer.
Every writer needs a certain amount of handholding from an editor, especially a new writer. I mapped out my next novels in parallel with letters and questions to Judy Del Rey, who often wrote back with helpful answers.

I decided to write The Gentle Giants of Ganymede, a sequel to Inherit the Stars.

I also wrote Thrice Upon a Time, my first time-travel novel, and The Two Faces of Tomorrow, a story about artificial intelligence.

Every sf writer has to write a time-travel story and an artificial-intelligence book.

Q: To what extent were these and other novels written as alternatives to contemporary and conventional science fiction?

A: I was dissatisfied with a lot of the weaponry we see in sf. A lot of sf seemed to be thinly disguised World War II or Caribbean piracy stories. The sf stories would change cutlasses into ray guns and make the frigates space clippers in tales of capturing trading ships, but it was the same story and dissatisfying.

It often happens that the science is harnessed by the powers that be for weapons. Let’s say you’ve got a spaceship with hyperdrive that goes into hyperspace and comes out the other way. If you can send the spaceship, you can send the bomb.

I like to put real or believable science in my stories. For sf to be real sf, not just a romance or a Western or a fairy tale disguised as science fiction, the science itself has to be a necessary ingredient.

Note: Read the first part of the Hogan interview here.



* Prometheus winners: For the full list of Prometheus winners, finalists and nominees – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to the full set of published appreciation-reviews of past winners.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the evolution of the modern genre.

Watch  videos of past Prometheus Awards ceremonies, Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussions with noted sf authors and leading libertarian writers, and other LFS programs on the Prometheus Blog’s Video page.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.

Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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