Exclusive Interview: “Rosebud” Author Paul Cornell
Given how going digital has all but destroyed music, I can’t say I’m terribly excited for the prospect of digitizing humans. But what sucks in real life is often quite cool in fiction. Hence my interest in writer Paul Cornell’s science fiction novella Rosebud (paperback, Kindle), in which the main characters are people who’ve been digitized. In the following email interview, Cornell discusses what inspired and influenced this sci-fi story.
Photo Credit: Lou Abercrombie
To start, what is Rosebud about, and when and where is it set?
It’s set a century or so in the future. It’s about a small mining spaceship, the crew of which are all digitized, some of them having been assigned to that by force. They encounter something odd, explore it, and discover something that turns everyone’s world inside-out.
Where did you get the idea for Rosebud?
I’m tending to write at the moment about my delight with what’s sneering called “identity politics,” the unfolding desire to explore the nature of one’s own self that’s been accelerated by the pandemic, by people demanding the right to be themselves, and to have the ability to strive to feel okay. It’s meant a lot to me personally. It’s quietly the biggest revolution in history. I always have felt the future is better than the past, on a personal basis, and that dystopias are just hurdles on the way to better things. This is one of those.
I think you may have just answered this, but how did you decide who the crew of the Rosebud would be, and why did you decide to not make them fleshy humans or all rich guys who made their money in newspapers?
Is that…anyone? I wanted to have a fun bunch of weirdos, including my own Mary Sue, who comes undone.
Rosebud also has a sentient swarm of insects. Was that inspired by Kif’s parents from Futurama?
I don’t remember that, and maybe haven’t seen it, so I don’t know.
It sounds like Rosebud is a science fiction story. Is that how you’d describe it?
It’s sci-fi, an attempt at the real stuff, at “if this goes on.”
It also sounds like it might have a bit of humor to it.
There is, but I’m hoping it’s entirely character-based, with only a little wryness on the authorial voice suggesting I’m in on it. The situation is actually quite grim in places, but put a handful of wildly divergent beings in close quarters and you’ll get absurd stuff.
So, who do you see as being the biggest influences on the humorous aspects of Rosebud?
That’s quite hard to work out. It’s right from the heart, so probably some of my oldest influences, stuff like Asterix The Gaul. And I guess the cast of weird misfits trying to fly together is very Muppet.
Aside from René Goscinny [the author of Asterix The Gaul] and the people who wrote The Muppet Show, what writers do you think had a big influence on Rosebud?
I think it’s an attempt to connect the British New Wave of the 1970s to current core sci-fi like Becky Chambers, Nnedi Okorafor, Tamsyn Muir. It’s like I’m running after their train, my arms in the air, carrying the cable from some old vehicle I want to dock with it.
How about non-literary influences; was Rosebud influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Besides Citizen Kane, of course.
There’s a lot of stuff about misfit crews on spaceships, but I don’t think Blake’s 7 would get on well with this lot. Except maybe there’s enough tinsel. I kind of think influences are for others to say. I mean, I’m in conversation with lots of stuff, I’ll talk to anyone, but I’m not sure I always know who that is I’m talking to.
Now, I know your work from having read such comics as Fantastic Four: True Story, Batman: Knight And Squire, and Black Widow: Deadly Origin. Why did you decide to write Rosebud as a prose novella as opposed to a graphic novel?
Because I try to be an amphibian, and I write prose too, and I’d lose the present tense point of view which adds something and the inner character voices and I’d like the reader to do the visuals for me, please, and I ran into the great Ellen Datlow at a party and she said to write something for her and I didn’t even know who was publishing it until she told me, and she doesn’t do comics. (That I’m aware of. She’d be great there too.)
Rosebud seems like it’s a stand-alone story. But then, so did the original Star Wars when I saw it in 1977….
It’s a stand-alone, for reasons that will become obvious. They all die at the end. No they don’t. Or do they?
Earlier I asked if Rosebud had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip things around and ask if you think Rosebud could work as a movie, show, or game?
I’m kind of happy with how it is right now. But of course if someone wants to make a movie of it, I’ll lie completely and say I always thought it would make a great screenplay and I know just how to write it.
And if that happens, who would you want them to cast as the main characters and the voice of the bugs?
No no no, that’s the readers’ job.
So, is there anything else you think someone interested in Rosebud should know before deciding to buy it or not?
It goes ha ha bang and changes gear a lot from comedy to serious stuff. It’s really kind of heartfelt and it has to end suddenly and does. And I don’t come out of it very well.
Finally, if someone enjoys Rosebud, which of your other novellas or novels would you suggest they read next?
I’m really fond of my Shadow Police novels, but that series hasn’t got an ending yet, so I’ll say, for radical hiding inside cozy, try the Witches Of Lychford books.
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