Exclusive Interview: “Worlds Long Lost” Co-Editors Christopher Ruocchio & Sean C.W. Korsgaard
We’ve all heard the cliché: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” But in the following email interview with Christopher Ruocchio and Sean C.W. Korsgaard, co-editors of the sci-fi short story anthology Worlds Long Lost (paperback, Kindle), the former inadvertently admits you kind of can with this book, since it’s what inspired this collection.
Christopher Ruocchio, Sean C.W. Korsgaard
To start, what is the theme of Worlds Long Lost?
Christopher: Worlds Long Lost is an anthology of archaeology-themed science fiction stories. Whether that’s unearthing alien ruins on another world, or our own, or uncovering lost chapters of our own human history with ancient-alien-style themes, the book’s got a bit of everything.
Sean: It’s one of the most timeless themes in all of science fiction, right? Think of all the classics that pull from it: Golan Trevize searching for long lost, mythical Earth. Lovecraft’s dark gods and hostile intelligences lurking throughout the cosmos, whose existence drives men mad. Moon-Watcher, the only man-ape yet capable of standing upright, gaining a spark of intelligence from an alien monolith. Louis Wu and Speaker-To-Animals first setting foot upon the Ringworld. Alien architect Slartibartfast proudly telling Earthman Arthur Dent he’d won an award for designing Norway. Child soldier Ender Wiggin weeping in the ruins of the alien home world he’d exterminated.
So many classic genre moments pull from tales of ancient aliens or extraterrestrial ruins, and as you can find out from Worlds Long Lost, they still inspire some wild tales, that run the gamut from horror to hard science fiction.
Christopher: Whenever I put together one of these anthologies I like to build as broad an umbrella as possible with the theming, to allow for a wide variety of stories, and this one’s no exception…but they all come back to archaeology and ancient ruins in some form.
Who came up with the idea for Worlds Long Lost?
Sean: [points at Christopher]
Christopher: I did, but I had a little help. In going through old production files in the Baen offices, we found an old, unused piece of Bob Eggleton art. We had purchased a series of his sci-fi landscapes years and years ago for use as a cover, and one had never found a home. Baen publisher Toni Weisskopf asked me for anthology pitches that worked with the piece of art. The piece suggested the xenoarchaeology theme to me. I’ve always loved ancient alien stories (even though I militate quite strongly against the conspiracy theories). I’m a huge Stargate fan, for instance, and as a history buff myself the archaeologist’s trade (and the romantic version of it most people imagine) have always been especially attractive to me.
Worlds Long Lost, then, is one of those rare books where the cover art came first and actually determined the book itself, rather than the other way around.
So then Sean, what was it about the premise of Worlds Long Lost that not only made you want to work on it, but also made you think you’d be a good person to work on it?
Sean: Besides the chance to have my name on that beautiful cover you mean? [laughs]
Truth be told, I was, and still am, an aspiring author, and Christopher has been nothing but encouraging on that front. He’d offered me a few shots previously for spots in anthologies he’d edited — I had a short story submitted for Time Troopers that had to be cut for space — when I took a job at Baen. Also, with a hearty recommendation from Christopher, to which I owe the man a tremendous debt.
When Christopher approached me about joining him as co-editor in this anthology, I think it took just long enough to get the words out for me to accept.
Aside from having to fit the theme, what other parameters did the stories in Worlds Long Lost have to fit? Was there a maximum or minimum length, did the stories have to be new for this collection…?
Sean: Stories had to be entirely original, and strictly science fiction, but otherwise, the authors were given tremendous leeway in terms of style, tone, even structure.
And did they ever run with that leeway to do some wild things.
Aside from science fiction, though, what other genres or subgenres are there in Worlds Long Lost?
Sean: One of the most interesting things about this anthology is just how much range there is in terms of styles and subgenres crossed. Adam Oyebanji’s lead story, “The Wrong Shape To Fly,” is a perfect example of that Arthur C. Clarke-style tradition of big objects and big ideas, the kind of story you’d expect given the theme…and then a few stories later you have Brian Trent with a hard-hitting military sci-fi story [“Howlers In The Void”], Gray Rineheart and Erica Ciko delving into Lovecraft-ian horror [“The Building Will Continue” and “Never Ending, Ever Growing,” respectfully], Sean Patrick Hazlett with a conspiracy thriller [“They Only Dig At Night”], and David J. West with an adventure story that opens with a Robert E. Howard quote [“The Sleepers Of Tartarus”].
Worlds Long Lost really does have superb mixture of almost every possible subgenre given the subject matter.
Now, Christopher, you’ve edited or co-edited a number of anthologies, including Sword & Planet [which you can read more about here], Time Troopers with Hank Davis [which you can read more about here], and World Breakers with Tony Daniel [which you can read more about here]. Is there a previous anthology you worked on that you think had a particularly big influence on Worlds Long Lost?
Christopher: I supposed if I had to pick one, it would be Sword & Planet, which was the first one where I had total control. Worlds Long Lost started as a solo project, but Sean here is my replacement in the Baen offices, and I thought bringing him on to show him the ropes on what will probably be my final Baen anthology (as an editor, that is) was a good idea.
Conversely, Sean, this is the first anthology you’ve worked on.
Sean: Not just my first ever anthology, my first actual work as an editor of fiction, period.
Congrats! Are there any anthologies that you’ve read which you feel influenced your work on Worlds Long Lost?
Sean: I’m lucky that I’m a pretty avid reader of short fiction genre mags like Analog and Asimov’s, as well as anthologies like Baen’s, even before I joined the company, so I have a lot of familiarity with the field.
So, is there anything in particular that you’ve learned from working with Christopher on Worlds Long Lost that you think will be helpful when you edit your next collection?
Sean: Damn near everything, if I’m being honest. Christopher has been an incredible mentor on this front, breaking down everything from how to write up the contracts to trying to balance the stories in terms of tone, heck, even how to arrange them in a particular order so an anthology keeps a certain tempo.
Along with being the first anthology you’ve edited, Worlds Long Lost also marks your first published work as an author. What is your story called and what is it about?
Sean: Indeed! “Black Box,” which will be a tie-in story for free on the Baen website, is my first ever sold work of fiction.
The story covers a war veteran who, while doing odd jobs in a space station in Lalande 21185, is called in by an old war buddy who has made the find of a lifetime: an intact alien vessel with the body of its pilot dead at the helm. And unlocking the wealth of secrets it holds will require him to cybernetically dive into the traumatic memories of a lost war of that long dead alien pilot, as well as grapple with his own.
Christopher, you also have a story in Worlds Long Lost. What is it called and what is it about?
Christopher: My story is called “Mother Of Monsters.” It’s set in my Sun Eater universe, and details the aftermath of an ill-fated excavation on a recently-annexed alien world. It’s about one man’s encounter with the skeleton of a not-quite-dead alien, hyper-dimensional space, and secret Imperial government programs. It’s honestly probably the hardest short story I’ve written to date. Short stories are a lot more tightly-wound a class of mechanism than a novel is, and it took a long time for me to figure out what it would take to make this one tick.
Where does “Mother Of Monsters” fit in with the Sun Eater novels?
Christopher: It’s set well before the actions of the first novel, Empire Of Silence, and can be read independently, but it digs into what has so far been an obscure and mysterious corner of the universe and its lore. It deals with a miner who ran afoul of an alien creature called a Monumental, a creature my readers might otherwise know as a Watcher.
Speaking of your Sun Eater books, you also have a new novel in that series out called Ashes Of Man. We did a full interview on that novel, but for people who hate clicking things, what is that book about?
Christopher: Ashes Of Man is the fifth novel in the mainline Sun Eater series, and picks up the morning after Kingdoms Of Death leaves off (the shortest gap between Sun Eater books to date). It deals with the aftermath of the rather cataclysmic ending to Kingdoms Of Death, and once more sees our hero, poor Hadrian Marlowe, swept into the center of the conflict between the human Empire and the Cielcin marauders bent on destroying it — and perhaps the cosmos itself.
Going back to Worlds Long Lost, Hollywood loves turning short stories into movies. Are there any stories in Lost that you each think could make for a good movie?
Sean: Is all of them an acceptable answer?
Christopher: Had I to pick one story here that I’d most like to see adapted for screen, it would probably be David J. West’s “The Sleepers Of Tartarus.” Not only does it most closely cleave to the kind of Stargate adventure template I was hoping to get from this anthology, it’s an old school, pulpy action-adventure romp of the kind Hollywood doesn’t really do these days. I recently rewatched the John Carter film, and more of that would be a welcome breath of fresh air in a never-ending cascade of cape films.
Sean: If you’re looking for something classically science fiction, like 2001 or Star Trek, “The Wrong Shape To Fly” by Adam Oyebanji or “Rocking The Cradle” by Patrick Chiles stories have you covered. Something for the horror fans, “Howlers In The Void” by Brian Trent or “Never Ending, Ever Growing” by Erica Ciko are some of the best skin-crawling horror I’ve seen on page or on screen this year. If you want an action movie, David West’s “The Sleepers Of Tartarus.”
One of the best things about the anthology is just as true for any would be filmmaker — there is something for everybody.
So, is there anything else you think people should know about Worlds Long Lost?
Sean: Just that I hope you read it cover to cover, because I promise there is a story or an author that will surprise you before you’re done.
Finally, Sean, if someone enjoys Worlds Long Lost, what sci-fi short story anthology would you recommend people check out? Oh, and no, you’re not allowed to pick one that Christopher edited.
Sean: Either Baen’s Weird World War IV [which you can read more about here] or the Robosoldiers anthology [which you can read more about here] from earlier this year. They’re absolutely top-notch collections of inventive military science fiction, and if you didn’t snag them earlier this year? Well, they make great gifts for the holidays.