Exclusive Interview: “Zen And The Art Of Starship Maintenance And Other Stories” Author Tobias S. Buckell
Two years after releasing his sixth collection of short stories, Shoggoths In Traffic And Other Stories, writer Tobias Buckell is back with his seventh, Zen And The Art Of Starship Maintenance And Other Stories (paperback, Kindle, audiobook). Which might seem quick to some people (and not quick enough to others). But as Buckell explains in the following email interview about Zen, “With hundreds of short stories I’ve published, I’m just trying to get them bundled so readers who want them in one place can get them that way.”
Photo credit: Marlon James
To start, is there a narrative theme that connects the stories in Zen And The Art Of Starship Maintenance And Other Stories?
The theme is that I wanted to gather up as much of my deep space, off world, big idea science fiction into a collection. Massive starships hugging the edge of lightspeed and coming down out of the plane of the ecliptic caused my deep love of sci-fi, so I wanted a collection that gathered all those types of stories together.
And did you have to write any new stories to flesh out this collection?
There are no new stories in the book, although due to the fact that many of the stories were written for my Patreon, they’ll be new to many people.
Along with your Patreon, some of the stories appeared in various anthologies and journals. “The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex” was in the anthology New Suns, while “A Jar Of Goodwill” was published by Clarksworld. Are those stories the same as they were in those journals and anthologies, or did you change anything about them?
There was a great copyedit, so certainly we found a few things to tweak that I may have missed in the prior versions of the stories, but pretty much they’re the same as they were published.
I don’t have any policy of freezing my stories in stone once they’re published. I think I don’t go back rewriting them because then I’d never get anything done. With hundreds of short stories I’ve published, I’m just trying to get them bundled so readers who want them in one place can get them that way.
Speaking of how many stories you’ve written, are there any writers who had a strong influence on any or all of the stories in Zen And The Art Of Starship Maintenance?
I always find it tricky to talk about influences overall. There are over a dozen stories, and each one is a melange of influences, not to mention the fact that I suspect writers often self-mythologize what we’re doing when writing. I’m never sure how true it is to say “XYZ influenced me” in any specific way because so much is under the surface and many things are forgotten. I’ll often pick up a book from my childhood that I would have sworn had no influence on me or that I’d forgotten all about and within a few chapters suddenly spot where I got my fascination with some aspect of the genre or writing.
The honest thing to do would be for me to write a list of 20 writers who influenced the project, but even then, I’m still not sure about it. Is creativity so reducible as to be “here are my influences?” I confess to not being sure why this is a question in interviews so often? Is it to identify a cognitive lineage, or genre lineage? So and so begat this author, so if you like X you should try their protege Z?
I’d say the biggest impact on these stories are more the hurricane of research and ideas that sparked the story ideas. The original “Zen And The Art Of…” short story came to me because of a lecture about pre-Independence slavery non-violent resistance in Grenada. But it sounds so scholarly and dry to say “I attended a lecture about an obscure topic that birthed my most reprinted story ever” when the story itself used that as a launching point. By the time I explain how the story came to be, people’s eyes start to glaze over.
Maybe I should be more mysterious about my fiction’s origins?
What about Robert M. Pirsig, who wrote Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance?
I read that book, as so many in college do, but I also think the bigger impact on the title and story was from Bradbury titling his book on writing Zen And The Art Of Writing because that was a book I poured over in my early days as a writer.
One interesting thing about Zen And The Art Of Starship Maintenance is that it doesn’t have a table of contents. Why?
Why not just experience it like a mix tape?
Hollywood loves making movies out of short stories. Are there any stories in Zen And The Art Of Starship Maintenance that you think could work really as a movie?
[Turns to the camera] Hey Hollywood, I think all these stories are fantastic.
There is an animation studio trying to do something with “Io, Robot,” but it’s early days.
Finally, in the interview we did for your previous short story collection, Shoggoths In Traffic, you said of it, “I would hope it’s a good sense of what I can do as a writer.” I assume you feel the same about Zen And The Art Of Starship Maintenance. So if someone enjoys Zen, which of your other books would you recommend people check out?
I think if you liked these, any of my books are up my alley, but I’d suggest checking out A Stranger In The Citadel, coming out in October from Tachyon Press.