Edward M. Lerner worked in high tech and aerospace for thirty years, as everything from engineer to senior vice president, for much of that time writing science fiction as his hobby. Since 2004 he’s written full-time.
His novels range from near-future technothrillers, like Small Miracles and Energized, to traditional SF, like Dark Secret and his InterstellarNet series, to SFnal mysteries, like The Company Man, to (collaborating with Larry Niven) the space-opera epic Fleet of Worlds series. His 2015 novel, InterstellarNet: Enigma, won the inaugural Canopus Award “honoring excellence in interstellar writing,” while other of his fiction has been nominated for Locus, Prometheus, and Hugo awards. His most recent novel is the 2023 adventure On the Shoals of Space-Time.
Lerner’s short fiction has appeared in anthologies, collections, and many of the usual SF magazines and websites. He also writes about science and technology, notably including Trope-ing the Light Fantastic: The Science Behind the Fiction.
You can read much more about him at Edward M. Lerner: Perpetrator of Science Fiction and Technothrillers.
If you had to choose between being a time traveler or a space explorer, which would you pick and why?
I’d like to explore all of it. Except (dramatic sigh) you said I had to choose.
Happily, you didn’t limit how far I might go. That being so, I’d definitely pick exploring space. Two of the Big Questions are: is life unique to Earth? Are we, humans, alone? The farther I can roam across the universe, the more likely I am to find the answers. One can’t disprove a negative, but if after searching across vast regions of space I were to find nothing and no one, that absence itself would be sadly suggestive.
Then there’s the other possibility. If life is Out There? If someone is Out There? Wow. Just wow.
Still, only by traveling in time might I get answers to other nagging questions. Was Certs a candy mint? Or a breath mint? Might it even have been two mints in one? Perhaps I should get back to you on my choice.
If you were stranded on a deserted planet with only one book to read, but it turned out to be one of your own, how would you feel?
With that sort of rotten luck, odds are it’d be a middle book from a series. The individual novels in my three series (Fleet of Worlds [with Larry Niven], InterstellarNet, Marcus Judson) are self-contained … and yet. There is continuity across books. Each arc does collectively tell a bigger story than is suggested by any single book. So: I imagine I’d be left wanting more.
But what if the single book were one of my non-series standalones? I’d still be up the proverbial creek. Whenever I need to reread any of my own books—say, when it’s re-typeset for a new release—I second- and third-guess every conceivable detail. Word choices. Particular uses or non-uses of italics. Commas. (Yes, really.) Bottom line: whatever the book, I could occupy myself for endless hours, days, weeks … obsessively rewriting myself.
Chances are I’d be babbling by the time any rescue ship arrives.
If you could time travel to any point in history, which era would you choose, and why?
I’ve read enough time-travel and historical stories (not to mention having written a few) to know the zillion pitfalls of travel to the past. Also to know that the more interesting the destination the more dangerous being there is apt to be. Beyond the countless ways the past offers to die in conflicts and from rampant disease, I’d miss decent plumbing. Also, cronuts.
But future history is also a thing (at least to us SF authors). Ergo, I’d choose to skip ahead about seventy-five years. That’s far enough for substantial interesting progress to have been made and brief enough that the culture shock and language shifts ought to be manageable. Mainly to see if homo sapiens managed to live up to our self-congratulatory species name by doing the smart thing and saving our planet.
I’d hope to emerge into an era of gee-whiz, Jetsons-like gadgetry and widespread prosperity. There might even be—though the mind boggles at how such a thing could be possible—a snack better than cronuts.
If you had to choose between fighting 100 duck-sized robots or one robot-sized duck, which would you pick and why?
Just the one, please. I find that multitasking isn’t all it’s quacked up to be.
If you had to choose one of your own fictional worlds to live in, which one would it be, and why?
Except as an innocent, ignorant bystander, I’d avoid all of them!
Fiction, more than anything else, deals in conflict. My characters must dance to my authorial tune. Trust me, that’s a dangerous situation to be in. I wouldn’t care to be thrust into a Dark Ages clash of civilizations (Countdown to Armageddon) or contend with space-based WMDs (Energized) or take on justifiably vengeful AIs (Fools’ Experiments) or … well, you get the idea.
If I had to choose, I’d go with the star-spanning, STL-limited, multiple-species civilization of my InterstellarNet series. Because, IMO, it’s so damned interesting. Also, the STL constraints usually mean the (frequent, and often existential) threats at least come at a person slowly enough that there’s some opportunity to think and plan. If seldom enough time ….
(As I type, the three InterstellarNet novels are temporarily out of print and electrons. That will be remedied Real Soon—perhaps even by the time you read this. I’m proofreading the last of the three—battling the urge all the while to tweak comma placements and break open my Roget’s.)
If you could have dinner with any fictional character from any sci-fi book or movie, who would it be, what would you talk about, and what restaurant would you choose.
Marvin the paranoid and depressed robot from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. We’d dine (I would, anyway. Maybe Marvin could get some WD-40) at—where else?—the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I can’t help but wonder how he’d find a way to spin the end of the universe as a bad thing.
What Pre-1960s SF television show or movie would you like to see get a big-budget remake, and why?
Forbidden Planet (1956). It had a great story but—even back in the early Eighties, when I tried to interest my then-young children in watching it with me—cringe-worthy special effects. Just imagine what modern FX could do with “Monsters from the id.”
What have you been up to?
No good. Other than that, last year’s big project was a career-spanning collection, The Best of Edward M. Lerner.
More recently—just this September, in fact—I celebrated the release of the novel On the Shoals of Space-Time. Space opera? Check. Near-future expansion into the Solar System? Ditto. Intriguing aliens? Of course. With surprises along the way? I like to think so. (Bonus: Shoals being my twenty-fourth, I now get to speak—without rounding up—of “my dozens of books.”)
There’s info aplenty about all my writing on my authorial website, edwardmlerner.com.