This week, I had the opportunity to interview Toronto author Douglas Smith. Smith’s work spans the speculative genres from horror to science fiction to fantasy, often blending and recombining speculative elements.
You may have seen some of my review of Douglas Smith’s work on Speculating Canada, but if you have not, click on his name in the tags section to the left.
Check out my interview with Douglas Smith this Saturday, October 6 and have an opportunity to gain some of his insights into his own work and the speculative genres in general. Explore Mr. Smith’s insights on how SF can be a medium for social change and can be used to question the paths that we as a human race are choosing, insights into the ability of authors to cross genres and the potential of SF as a means of freeing an author from limits, and a discourse on his inspirations and passions.
Here are a few quotes from the interview:
Douglas Smith: “I read widely as a kid across genres, especially SF, fantasy, and mystery, but general fiction as well, so when I began writing, it just seemed natural to write across genres.”
Douglas Smith: “I think that the genre’s greatest power as a literature is, to paraphrase the great SF anthologist Damon Knight, to hold up a distorted mirror to our current reality, to focus on some aspect of our world which needs to change (in the writer’s opinion). It’s that “if this goes on…” type of story that allows SF to provide a social commentary in a way that mimetic fiction cannot.”
Douglas Smith: “I’ve always thought of horror as more of a mood rather than a genre, so when I include horror in my stories, it’s more that I think those elements fit with the broader character arcs or the plot, rather than that I’m aiming at a writing a horror story.”
Douglas Smith: “Fantasy or SF can use other worlds–future or alternate–to focus on aspects of our real world, our shared beliefs, our conflicting beliefs, our humanity, our inhumanity, our potential, our failings, to let us view ourselves through a different lens, at a slightly different angle. Speculative fiction, by the very nature of its unreality, can make us see our reality in ways that mimetic fiction cannot. How we relate to those views, which messages resonate with us as individual readers, can then tell us something about ourselves.”
Douglas Smith: “Asking a writer where they get their ideas is like asking a beleaguered doctor in an under-staffed emergency room where she gets her patients. And you’ll get a similar response from both: I don’t know and I don’t care. I just try to fix them up as best I can and send them out into the world. But I do wish that whoever is sending them to me would slow down a bit.”
Douglas Smith: “Not all ideas that show up are good ones, so a writer has to perform some sort of triage on the ideas sitting in their mental waiting room.”
Douglas Smith: “A single idea is often not enough. A story is stronger if it combines multiple, often seemingly disparate ideas.”
Douglas Smith: “We have an astoundingly talented array of speculative fiction writers, both established and emerging, all across the country, in all genres. At one time, I could give a list of recommended Canadian speculative fiction writers, but now I won’t even try because I know I’ll leave someone out and feel bad about it.”
Douglas Smith: “One of themes that recurs in my work, especially the Heroka shapeshifter stories, is that of the conflict between our civilization and the natural wilderness, as our resource-based industries, which feed our cities’ growing hunger for timber, water, power, minerals, and land, consumes more and more of the natural world and habitats of our wildlife. Our country has always been defined by its vast wilderness areas, and yet the huge majority of our population lives in only a few highly urbanized pockets of that vastness. So there’s this destructive dichotomy between us and the land we live in–we live off of the land but we don’t really live in it. But for those who do live there and for the wildlife species that live there, we’re destroying more of that wilderness every year to feed the hunger of the cities.”
Douglas Smith: “If there is a social issue that a writer wishes to explore and bring attention to, speculative fiction provides the freedom through its “distorted mirror” to let a writer bring whatever focus they desire to that issue. I really see no limits. Rather, I think that SF&F offer more options for doing so than within the restrictions of mainstream mimetic fiction.”
Douglas Smith: “Characters outside the norm, whether they be aliens in our universe, humans from our possible futures, or characters from an entirely different reality, alternate or fantasy, aid in bringing the distorted mirror into focus. These characters can look at our world, our societies, our problems with fresh eyes and fresh outlooks, and thereby show readers a different perspective.”
Douglas Smith: “The ancient myths were the way that humans tried to explain the unexplainable, and writers and artists are still trying to explain the universe and our place in it. Our myths simply change as we learn more. Science replaces a myth, but each answer we find simply leads to another area where we know nothing.”
Douglas Smith: “We are story tellers and will always be story tellers. It’s part of being human–it’s hard-wired in us.”
Douglas Smith: “We are becoming increasingly dependent on technology to make our complex urban civilizations run. But at what cost? SF contains multitudinous extrapolations of what our cities and city-dwellers might become. We’ve gone from the fanciful city of flying cars in early SF to darker and dystopic views.”
I hope that you enjoy the upcoming interview and voyage through the distorted mirror that SF provides with Douglas Smith as your tour guide. Join us this Saturday October 6th for a great discussion.