SFFWRTCHT: An Interview With Science Fiction Writing/Editing Legend Ben Bova

Dr. Ben Bova has written more than 120 futuristic novels and nonfiction books, and has been involved in science and high technology since the very beginnings of the space age. President Emeritus of the National Space Society and a past president of Science Fiction Writers of America, Dr. Bova received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation in 2005, “for fueling mankind’s imagination regarding the wonders of outer space.” His 2006 novel Titan received the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year. In 2008 he won the Robert A. Heinlein Award “for his outstanding body of work in the field of literature.”

A frequent commentator on radio and television and a widely-popular lecturer, he was an award-winning editor and an executive in the aerospace industry. He received the Science Fiction Achievement Award (the “Hugo”) for Best Professional Editor six times. In 2001 Dr. Bova was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He received the 1996 Isaac Asimov Memorial Award; was the 1974 recipient of the E.E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction; the 1983 Balrog Award winner for Professional Achievement; the 1985 Inkpot Award recipient for his outstanding achievements in science fiction. In 2000, he was Guest of Honor at the 58th World Science Fiction Convention, Chicon 2000. Dr. Bova is a multi-Hugo winner as Editor of both Analog and Omni, as well as for his many novels, which include Saturn, Mars,  The Sam Gunn stories/novels, The Kinsman Saga, The Asteroid series, and The Orion series, amongst others.  His latest novel, Orion and King Arthur, just released from Tor Books. He can be found online via Facebook or his website at http://www.benbova.net.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt talks to Ben about his career, his approach to craft and his exciting future projects for us.


SFFWRTCHT: Where’d your interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy come from?

Ben Bova:  From my first visit to a planetarium, when I was about 11 years old (around 1943). When they turned out the lights and turned on the stars I got turned on to astronomy, and then to rocketry and astronautics, and finally to the kinds of stories that dealt with our future in space: science fiction.

SFFWRTCHT: Who were some authors and what are some of the books which have influenced you?

B.B.: In science fiction, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Alfred Bester, Fritz Leiber. The Martian Chronicles, Citizen Of The Galaxy, Isaac’s short story “The Ugly Little Boy,” Leiber’s “A Bad Day for Sales.” So many others! Outside science fiction, Shakespeare, Hemingway, Hammett, Harold Lamb’s biographies, the metaphycial poets, Robert Frost. Len Deighton…et al.

SFFWRTCHT: Orion has been around almost thirty years now. Where’d the character and premise originate?

B.B.: I was curious about the fact that our ancestors and the Neanderthals coexisted briefly, and then the Neanderthals went extinct. I invented a time traveler, Orion, to tell me what happened. And Orion just kept on growing.

SFFWRTCHT: You’ve done six Orion books since the early 80s. Orion has gone to Troy, the dinosaur age, fought alongside Alexander the great, and fought in an interstellar war. Now, he fights to protect King Arthur. So this character is, in part, an opportunity to explore your fascination with history?

B.B.: Yes.

SFFWRTCHT: Orion is created by the gods and often disputes with the or takes sides in their internal conflicts. Yet he’s in love with Athena/Anya and they desperately want to be together. Why did you choose to use Egyptian naming for the gods?

B.B.: Aten is the only one with an Egyptian name. The others style themselves after the Greek pantheon. Their names are really clues to their characters.

SFFWRTCHT: In Orion & King Arthur, Orion rebels against Aten/Apollo, his creator,  and really the gods themselves. Yet his powers are growing to match theirs. Orion is a created being, but what is he? Human? Robot? Some combination of god and man? 

B.B.: The Creators are what the human race has evolved into. Orion is as fully human as you or I, although he is more capable than you or I, physically and mentally. He is what our descendents will become, eventually.

SFFWRTCHT: With the King Arthur story,legends and history mix in confusing ways. How did you decide which strain of the story to follow or did you mix and match as the story required?

B.B.: I tried to figure out what events in actual history might have given rise to the legend. I believe that legends have their basis in real events, but become romanticized and/or politicized over many generations.

SFFWRTCHT: In this book, Orion is sent back to kill Arthur but finds himself impressed with the man and liking him, so he refuses and instead protects Arthur, despite Anya, Aten, and even Hades urging him to comply. What is it about Arthur that you think remains so compelling after hundreds of years?

B.B.: The Orion saga has turned into the story of the relationship between humans and their gods. Far from being fallen angels, I believe human beings are apes learning to become gods.

SFFWRTCHT: What makes good alternate history? What are the keys to doing it well?

B.B.: First, you have to have a pretty good grasp on the real history of the era you’re writing about – which often means weeding through conflicting versions of the “actual” events. Second, you have to have the guts and the imagination to fill in the blanks and make the story internally consistent and believable. Finally, as in an form of fiction, you must create interesting characters. With believable characters your story becomes not only believable but emotionally satisfying to the reader.

SFFWRTCHT: Are there further Orion stories planned at this point?

B.B.: I have a few hazy ideas. Nothing concrete at this point. But then, I could have said that about any one of the Orion novels at some point in time.

SFFWRTCHT: This novel began as a series of short stories for Dragon magazine. Have you written other Orion shorts as well as the novels?

B.B.: No, although parts of the novels have been excerpted in magazines such as Analog.

SFFWRTCHT: You’re a bestselling author, Hugo winner as author and editor multiple times, have won the Heinlein and John W. Campbell awards, the Asimov, Balrog and EE Smith Memorial Awards, written for television and film, do you ever stop and think there’s nothing left to do? How do you keep it fresh after so much accomplishments in such a long  career?

B.B.: There are more story ideas than I’ll ever have time to write. At the start of each project, I always feel as if I’m just a beginner. There’s another whole world to explore!

SFFWRTCHT: A few craft questions: Are you a plotter or pantser?

B.B.: I don’t do detailed outlines. I start by drawing a pair of characters who have a conflict, then let them write the story for me. Seems to work okay for novels, although for short stories I have to plot the tale out pretty thoroughly – or else it grows into another novel.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing time like? Organized blocks, catch it when you can, specific word count goals?

B.B.: I write every morning, first thing in the morning. I try to do at least five pages of new draft every day. After that, my time’s taken up with business and personal chores.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you use music and/or special software like Scrivener? Or have any rituals?

B.B.: Once I start writing the world around me disappears, so music doesn’t penetrate my consciousness while I’m working. I enjoy music, from pop to classical. But not while I’m writing.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard?

B.B.: Work every day, at the same time each day.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever heard?

B.B.: Wait until the Muse strikes you.

SFFWRTCHT: Which do you enjoy more– writing or editing?

B.B.: Writing, although it’s a stretch to say I enjoy it. I’m driven to do it, but I enjoy much more the fruits of my labors than the labor itself.

SFFWRTCHT: Fair enough. I can relate. What’s next? What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

B.B.: I have a couple of technothrillers waiting to be written. And a few more novels in the Grand Tour series. At the moment I’m working on a novel titled Mars, Inc.: The Billionaires Club. It’s about how a handful of billionaires finance a human mission to Mars.

SFFWRTCHT: Thanks much for making time.

B.B.: You’re entirely welcome. Thanks for asking me.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.