David Brin is a scientist, tech speaker/consultant, and author. His new novel about our survival in the near future is ‘Existence’. A film by Kevin Costner was based on Brin’s book ‘The Postman’. Dr. Brin’s 16 novels, including NY Times Bestsellers and Hugo Award winners, have been translated into more than twenty languages. He appears frequently on shows such as Nova and The Universe and Life After People, speaking about science and future trends. His non-fiction book — ‘The Transparent Society’ won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association.
For what age audience do you write?
I write for all ages and genres, but that is perhaps misleading. I am best known for science fiction novels and nonfiction about the effects of change and on onrushing future. Dealing with the effects of change on people, that’s almost everything there is.
Tell us about your latest book.
‘Existence’ is a novel that attempts to span and explore some of the biggest questions, such as where humanity fits into the grand epic of life in the universe. Billions of planets may be ripe for life, even intelligence. So where is Everybody? Do civilizations make the same fatal mistakes, over and over? Might we be the first to cross the mine-field, evading every trap to learn the secret of Existence?
Astronaut Gerald Livingstone grabs a crystal lump of floating space debris. Is it an alien artifact, sent across the vast, interstellar gulf, bearing a message from far civilizations? “Join us!” What does the enticing invitation mean? To enroll in a great federation of free races? Only, what of rumors that this starry messenger may not be the first? Have other crystals fallen, across 9,000 years? Some offering welcome… and others… a warning?
In addition to being a writer, you have a science PhD. Does that help or constrain your scifi writing?
It both constrains and expands the range of possible ideas and adventures to explore.
Henry: Indeed, facts are so inconvenient at times. I loved the line in TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation when the omnipotent being Q suggests, “Well, then just change the gravitational constant.”
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
Discipline. Not only in avoiding distractions and focusing on my work. But also controlling my tendency to pour too many excited ideas into a novel or story. When I give in to that temptation, it can become a jumble. And my pre-readers (fifty of them) tell me! Editing down to a level where the ideas are still rich, but fade into the background of an exciting adventure? That’s the hardest thing, and it requires real work.
Henry: Discipline is the key to many aspect of life. “I can resist anything but temptation” – Oscar Wilde
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
That ego can be a good propellant fuel for creating characters and worlds… but it can also get in the way. Especially if it makes you avoid the criticism that serves as quality control.
Henry: Dr. Brin is a strong proponent of constructive criticism. “Criticism is the only known antidote to error. It is the chief method that a skilled person can use to become ‘even better’.” Note also his fifty pre-readers.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
Meeting some of my heroes — Kip Thorne, David Crosby, Stewart Brand, Freeman Dyson, Janis Ian and others… and having THEM ask for my autograph. Wow.
Henry: My young co-author sons were with me at an author event. They asked two established authors for autographs. After complying, the authors asked my boys for theirs. It was a very sweet and a special moment for me as a dad.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
What I can do is point you to an advice article that I’ve posted online, containing a distillation of wisdom and answers to questions I’ve been sent across 20 years. Many people have found it extremely helpful.
Henry: Indeed, it is excellent.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“We must watch the watchmen.”
Alan Kay famously proclaimed that “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
Alasdair Gray: “Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”
“By amending our mistakes, we get wisdom.
By defending our faults, we betray an unsound mind.”
-The Sutra of Hui Neng
“Criticism is the only known antidote to error.”
Henry: Did you just quote yourself? There is also the companion “A closed mind is an empty mind.”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
I nosh too much.
Henry: Me too, although I cannot blame my writing. Note to readers: “nosh” is Yiddish for snack.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
The power to get folks to calm down and consider the phrase that all scientists are taught: “I just might be wrong; so let’s test all our assumptions and see who’s right.”
Henry: So, clearly you have no political aspirations.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?’
Benjamin Franklin, for greatness and wisdom. Aldous Huxley for insight into human nature. James Joyce because I’d love to ask him what he smoked… and lots of other questions. Or just listen to him talk.
And Sappho, for her poetry. But also to watch Ben, Aldous and James compete to impress her.
Henry: Wow, you’re already on a first-name basis!
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Ann McCaffrey’s “Ship who sang.”
Henry: I hope you let her know that.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Henry: And we appreciate it. But you are too modest. Dr. Brin also does a lot of public speaking.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
Space available. He’s still running around somewhere.
Henry: Well played, sir. I suppose writing well offers a form of immortality.
Where can readers find your work?
At my website.
This article is also posted to the San Diego Children’s Book Examiner.