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Interview: John Birmingham, Author of “Without Warning”, on Reading, Writing and Bridging Genres

John Birmingham is a British Born Australian Author. He is best known for his Axis of Time trilogy, and his new series, starting with Without Warning. Paul Weimer sat down to talk to John about his work and career.

PW: Who is John Birmingham?

JB: Some people are convinced he’s a delightful old children’s book illustrator, but that guy is actually a skinjob, a human analogue droid sent here to work his way into the hearts of children over two or three generations. Nobody ever thinks of the children.

Me, I’m just a guy who used to wrote for porn mags and got lucky mashing together other people’s ideas. Mostly Tom Clancy’s and Harry Turtledove’s.

PW: You started off writing a memoir and then turned to fiction. What was the mental process of switching from writing He Died With A Felafel In His Hand to books like the Axis of Time novels like?

JB: Not as hard as you’d imagine. Both of them are what I think of as Malteser Fiction. Sweet and crunchy and addictively moreish but probably not very good for you. The bigger cognitive leap for me was going from straight non fiction to balls out crazy genre fiction. I thought it’d be easy, because the magazine writing I did was all narrative long form, but I was a f*cking idiot to think that just because a few techniques might be common to both, it’d be an easy transition. It wasn’t. I made a heap of embarrassing mistakes.

PW: Your books straddle the borders between what many consider mainstream thrillers and more straightforwardly science fiction. Do you consider your books to be science fiction?

JB: SF-flavoured I guess. I like a nice improbable Maguffin to get a story rolling, but after that it’s the human conflict that interests me most. It’s great fun to imagine WW2 all f*cked up with 21C tech, of course, but even more fun to imagine the 1940s imagination all f*cked up with 21C perception.

PW: The premise of Without Warning reminds me of novels such as Robert Charles Wilson’s Darwinia. What inspired the big idea behind Without Warning?

JB: I’m smiling here, because it’s an odd story. WW grew out of an argument I had with a monster raving loony from some far left fringe political splinter group way back in 1989. We were both at a Tiananmen Square demo, after the massacre, which he blamed on George Bush Sr. I disagreed and things got a little heated. He ended up screaming, yes, screaming at me, that America was to blame for everything and we’d all be a lot better off if we woke up one morning and they were just gone. I thought, what a tosser. But what a great idea for a book! It stayed with me for years.

I’m not sharing my royalties, but.

PW: What do you read, fiction and non-fiction, for pleasure?

JB: I’m a huge Peter F. Hamilton fan, and I’m not just reading his latest, but have set it as the text for the next meeting of the bookclub I host once a month at my blog,

I’ve also recently completed a long listen to the audio book of Anthony Beevor’s The Second World War. Hugely impressive work, and beautifully told by Sean Barrett.

Finally, I must confess to having introduced my kids to comic books this Christmas, which gave me a reason to put Buffy, Season 8 on my ipad.

PW: Outside of the writing life, what do you like to do in your down time?

JB: Right now I’m nursing a torn hamstring from an over ambitious martial arts training sesh. Jujitsu. Mostly, I like to injure myself doing that.

If I can get to the beach I love to take my old body board out on the waves, but that’s a rare indulgence these days. My sit down time is now largely devoted to gaming. The launch of GTA 5 in a few months will be the highlight of my year.

About Paul Weimer (366 Articles)
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to SF Signal, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, SFF Audio, Twitter, and many other places on the Internet!
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