The Hogan Interview, part 6: On AI, favorite novels and advice to aspiring writers

By Michael Grossberg

Two-time Prometheus Award-winner James P. Hogan left a lasting legacy for sf fans and liberty lovers.

James P. Hogan (Creative Commons license)

Hogan had a lot to say, both in fiction and non-fiction, about humanity, technology, liberty, science and politics.

Here is the sixth and final part of a Hogan interview previously unpublished in its full, uncut form:


Q: Code of the Lifemaker, a 1984 Prometheus Best Novel nominee, was your first novel with a primary focus on artificial intelligences. What interested you about that emerging technology?

A: I wrote Code almost as a tongue-in-cheek spoof.
But in this novel, about an evolving living-machine intelligence, I’m asking all the serious questions we ask about artificial intelligence – an intelligence that’s not a machine.

Q: Of all your novels so far, do you have any favorites?

A: I’m especially fond of The Proteus Operation because of all the political research I did. That added real-world historical realism and political realism, while the novel still qualified as an sf mainstream novel.

Q: What other works are you particularly proud of?

A: I’m proud of Bug Park, a juvenile sf novel about Kevin, a very bright 15-year-old boy. His father is a scientist and he has an inseparable Japanese-American buddy named Taki. The story is set in Seattle.

Bug Park plays with the premise of life at the microscopic level, which has always fascinated readers, writers, and moviemakers.

Q: What fascinates you about that classic sci-fi premise?

A: I’ve always found these magical shrinking machines ridiculous. At that microscopic level, the mass hasn’t changed. Those kids in Honey, I Shrunk the Kidswould be like nails going through the floorboard.

So my story take a different approach, with greater realism. Insect-sized robots and assembly-line micro-technology will build the next scale down.

Bug Park puts you in the lawn, experiencing this micro world in a new entertainment media. When this technology is perfected, it’s going to make virtual-reality technology obsolete.

Q: How has your writing evolved?

A: I think my evolution is common to any writer… My stories now reflect a leaner use of words, fewer adjectives and adverbs.
There’s less of a tendency for the author to jump in and intrude to explain things. I think these are all signs of uncertainty, of an immature writer.

Q: Do you have advice for aspiring writers?

A: I tell aspiring writers to burn your television, live within walking distance of a 24-hour restaurant and do whatever else works for you.

For writing, if you’re going to write novels, every scene that you create, every word and idea and dialogue is going to be a product of your own judgment. Does it flow easily? Does it say what I want to say? So the most essential thing is to cultivate your own judgment, and trust it.
Paradoxically, that means you should be very, very leery of advice from others – including me. Just learn to trust your own judgment.

Q: You often are a guest of honor at sf conventions, from Columbus’ Marcon to Norwescon, Seattle’s large regional convention. What do you like about attending sf conventions?

A: For most writers, the socializing is the most fun: meeting real human beings.
Writing is the loneliest job in the world. You’re in a room alone with a keyboard. I’m not a natural hermit. You cannot shut yourself off from the world.

Q: You are a strong advocate of both liberty and technology. How do you see their relationship?

A: Science and freedom are linked. They are inseparable in this way: Technology is necessary but not sufficient to freedom.

I find it difficult to envision true individual freedom, if it doesn’t rest on sufficiently advanced technology that can make material shortages a thing of the past. When you control whether people starve, whether or not they live or die, freedom is difficult.

The phenomenal amount of freedom and cultural potential we have today is being squandered. We’ve solved every material problem. We can clothe, feed, transport and house every human being on this planet, and many more. We have 19th century notions of education and economics trying to mesh with 21stcentury economics.scienc

Life just keeps getting better – thanks to science, technology and freedom. But our real problem is political and social. The issue now is who gets to decide.

Check out the previous parts of this long-lost Hogan interview: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five.

Prometheus, the light bringer (Creative Commons license)


* 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.

Libertarian futurists believe that culture matters! We understand that the arts and literature can be vital, and in some ways even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights and differences.

Through recognizing the literature of liberty and the many different but complementary visions of a free future via the Prometheus Awards, the LFS hopes to help spread better visions of the future that help humanity overcome tyranny, end slavery and war and achieve universal liberty, respect for human rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.


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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