Tucked away in the Harvester Building in downtown Paonia are two of America's top sci-fi authors, Paolo Bacigalupi and Rob Ziegler. Bacigalupi has won numerous awards including the prestigious Hugo and Nebula awards.
His Ship Breaker won the Michael L. Printz Award.
Ziegler's book Seed was number three on the Barnes and Noble science fiction list for 2011.
Both writers share their visions of a post-apocalyptic U.S. in their books. Bacigalupi writes mainly for a young adult audience, although adults avidly read his books as well. Ziegler focuses on an adult readership.
The two grew up in the North Fork Valley. Rob attended Paonia Jr. and Sr. High School through his freshman year and then finished high school in Idaho. Paolo graduated from Hotchkiss High School.
Knowing each other for so long and working in the same office — Paolo downstairs at a standing desk leveled at just the right height by six copies of one of his books under each leg, and Rob upstairs in the loft — do they compete?
"We actually work that out in the gym. We do blood sport — all that mixed martial arts," Paolo deadpanned.
Rob adds, "I put tacks on his chair sometimes."
Rob owes the extra time he spent in school detention for encouraging his writing ability. If he wrote three pages, he got out of detention.
"Yeah, in middle school I was in detention a lot. There was nothing to do in detention and I would just write stories," Rob said. "My buddies and I were loud and obnoxious little troublemakers. There were certainly teachers we would like to antagonize."
Rob and Paolo were introduced through a mutual friend. Rob was just 14. Paolo was a sophomore.
"I was a good kid. I just got my straight As and kept my head down," Paolo shared.
"That was a smart path," Rob laughed.
"Smoother in certain ways," Paolo said. "I remember when I went to Hotchkiss all the seniors were picking on me."
Why write science fiction?
For Paolo it was because he read science fiction when he was growing up. "I think most people imprint on things early on and whatever is deep entertainment when you are a kid is what you hold onto later. I read lots of science fiction as a kid. I hated the books we had to read in school." His father read science fiction. Paolo found science fiction fascinating.
"I firmly believe I would neither be a reader nor a writer if I had to just read what they were shoveling into us in school," Paolo continued.
"Regarding the broken futures that I write about, that evolved over time," he said. "I'm really interested in looking around the world and asking the classic science fiction question, 'If this goes on, what will the world look like?' Whatever 'this' might be, whether it's a question about genetically-modified foods or whether it's a question about how our politics function. Certainly for The Drowned Cities I was very much interested in politics and our political dysfunction."
He looks at an idea and says, "If we are this dysfunctional about just being able to talk to one another and solve a fairly straightforward problem in a rational way . . . what are the implications for us as a society? So, I run that out into the future. If for 100 years we keep being this way, if we keep acting this stupid, what kind of world do we build for ourselves? If we continue to vilify one another, what kind of world do we hand over to our kids? So, I try to build out that question mark. For me, it's just processing anxiety. I look out at the world, and I see we don't do a very good job of solving problems. That frightens me, so I write out one of the possible scenarios."
Rob, in his current book, is looking into media. "Media in terms of the media bubbles in which we live, with information no longer being something journalistically-based. It's more consumer product. You have a worldview or ideology to which you are inclined, and then you consensually go online and cherry-pick the bits of information that reinforce your worldview rather than getting a more objective consensus-based set of facts and then have those adjust your worldview," Rob explained. "So, more and more we wind up in a place where we aren't talking to each other. We're just throwing barbs at each other or doing all this research to feel justified in all that rather than coming to some . . . problem-solving."
Paolo interjected, "When we talk about contemporary fiction, short of mysteries and romance and others — they are contemporary, but they are genre — then there is contemporary fiction and literature."
Rob disagreed. "I think we're having two different discussions here about what literature is. Literature on one side is a marketing construct. But if you look at what literature is in a more academic sense, you can't help but take in very specific genre like BRAVE NEW WORLD, 1984 . . . What you have is fiction that actually is engaging with the world and trying to pick apart its components and really help our reader look at it in an incisive and fresh way."
Paolo added quickly, "And that could happen in any genre. That could happen in science fiction. That could happen in contemporary fiction."
Rob pressed on, "So I'm throwing this right back at you. What you write is literature."
Paolo let loose a howl. "I think you literally end up in a weird space. When you say, 'I write science fiction,' you can literally watch people go, 'Oh! I don't read that,' and then they turn away," Paolo said. "So, let's think about other ways to talk about what I write. I write apocalypse literature. I write dystopian literature. I write young adult literature."
Dystopian literature is about a utopian world gone very wrong.
Rob is currently working on Angel City, which is about media; Paolo on The Water Knife, which is all about the drought.
"Both of us are behind on our deadlines," Paolo confessed. About writing for the young adult market he said, "There's nothing wrong with engaging your reader and making him want to turn a page."
But that engagement is something that adults like, too, and both of these authors are adept at capturing the imagination of their readers from the first chapter to the very last word in thoughtful satisfaction.blog comments powered by Disqus