Gordon Eklund first discovered written science fiction at the age of twelve courtesy of the Teenage Book Club when, inspired by his fondness for the Science Fiction Theater on TV and the monster movies regularly playing at the local picture show, he invested his thirty-five cents in a copy of the abridged paperbound edition of Groff Conklin’s anthology A Treasury of Science Fiction. The lead story in the book, “Desertion” by Clifford Simak, told the tale of a normal man sometime in the future physically transformed into a being capable of surviving the hostile high gravity of environment of the planet Jupiter. Being confronted by such a transforming vision did something to the boy’s mind. From that moment on he was never quite the same. He’d discovered the joyous thrill of the sense of wonder and for years afterward continued to seek it out by reading all the science fiction he could find. Eventually, he reached out in an attempt to find other people similarly inclined. He became an active participant in the microcosm of science fiction fandom. He attended club meetings and conventions devoted to science fiction and its fans. In time, now grown up, he turned to writing science fiction himself. His first published story in the magazine Fantastic “Dear Aunt Annie” was a finalist for the Science Fiction Writers Nebula Award. Another story “If the Stars Are Gods” written with his friend Gregory Benford won that award as the best novelette of its year. To date, Gordon has published some twenty novels of SF and fantasy, close to seventy pieces of shorter fiction. His most recent books are the novels Cosmic Fusion (“the last New Wave novel and one of the best”) and Wooden Starships, which draws on his days as a young SF fan. In addition, three collections of his shorter fiction have also recently appeared. He currently lives near Seattle Washington and remains an active writer and reader of SF to this day.
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?
Annoyed to be sure. I mean, really, why me and why this particular book? Would I read it again? I suppose I’d have to. A rare day in my life goes by without my reading something, even if it’s the back side of a cereal box or, even more desperately, the collected witty sayings s of Mike Pence. If the one book of mine happened to be an early one, I might be at least curious. How does it stand up today? But in truth I’ve never much enjoyed rereading my own work, even when it’s necessary like proofreading. It’s a painful experience. The flaws stand out neon bright while the virtues, if any, play hide-and-seek . In the end I know what I’d do. I’d toss the old book of mine aside and grab up a notebook, a sheet of blank paper, anything available, and I’d begin writing. A new book. From scratch. The same basic story and characters as the one I’d been struggling to read. Not a sequel but a new (updated) version of the original. And when I finished with that I wouldn’t reread it either. I’d start again. Anew. The same story, the same characters. On and on until my fingers finally give out and I have to go in search of a cereal box to read.
If you could time travel to any point in history which era would you pick and why?
No question here for me. Carry me back to the 1920s. Why then? Because for starters, most any point much earlier in time would be lacking too much in what I regard as the bare
necessities of decent living. Like indoor plumbing. Central heating. Electric lights. Paved streets. Comfortable attire. Public transit. Planes, trains, automobiles, streetcars. Radio, movies, phonograph records. Big league baseball . I’d like to arrive sometime back in 1921. (And I’d also want to be about that same age—somewhere in my early twenties. I mean, if I’m going to take a trip back through time I need to be in shape to enjoy it to the utmost.) The 1920’s were a fertile time to be alive. Especially for someone like—with my tastes. So much was going on in the arts. Modernist novels by Joyce, Proust, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, and Hammett. Poetry of all kinds flourished. Plus, there was a new Weird Tales to read every month with stories by Lovecraft, Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith. Starting in 1926 there was also Amazing Stories. Lots of Wells, Verne, and Poe at first but in a few years E. E. Smith’s Skylark of Space. Would soar through the galaxy. And the music. The new jazz, red hot and cool. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith and Bix Beiderbecke. The movies. Silent movies, yes, but as Charlie Chaplin himself observed, “We’d just begun to get it right when it all stopped.” I’d love the chance to see these films brand new with live musical accompaniment, the way they were meant to be seen. As for sports, it was a golden age. For baseball, for boxing, Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. What was there not like?
Well, to be perfectly honest, there was plenty not to like. Socially and politically, the 1920s America was hardly perfect. Jim Crow separatism ruled in the South and the North wasn’t a whole lot better. The Ku Klux Klan revived and came to dominate the politics of several states including Lincoln’s old home in Indiana. A small elite plutocracy held sway in financial world with policies that would by the end of the decade collapse the world economy and bring about a decade of financial misery that only ended with a world war that that killed fifty million people.
In the end, if given an option, I’d opt to staying right where and when I am right this moment. It could be better, sure, nut what couldn’t?
If aliens were to visit Earth, what do you think their first impression of humans would be?
First impressions, not very favorable. In fact, pretty goshdarn bad. How come? Well, just take a good look around and what do you see? A poisoned planet for starters. A hurricane here, a tornado there, a raging forest fire elsewhere. Throw in a tiny minority controlling most of world’s wealth while the masses struggle simply to get by one day at a time. (What else is new?) Maybe worst of all, we’re a species that still feasts upon flesh of its own fellow creatures. (I speak here with my guilt as a lifelong omnivore.) Any advanced spacefaring alien civilization would have long ago have abandoned such a barbaric practice.
So what’s our defense going to be? Robert Heinlein already did a pretty fair job of it in the trial scene at the end of Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. For myself I’d choose to take the aliens on a quick tour around the world, letting them experience the glory of our arts. I’d start with a Shakespeare festival. A little Hamlet, a little Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. I’d give them novels to read—start with Cervantes, Tolstoy and Dickens and go on from there–our poetry, paintings, and films. Above all, I’d give them our music to listen to. The truly universal artform. From Mozart and Brahams, through Mahler and Stravinsky, to Armstrong and Parker, Sinatra and Lady Day, John Coltrane and Jerry Garcia.
I’d finish the tour at a ballpark. Wrigley Field or Dodger Stadium on a warm summer afternoon with hot dogs and beer.
After that, I’d rest my case.
If you could have dinner with any fictional character from any science fiction book or movie, who would it be, what would you talk about, and what restaurant would you choose?
Since we’re limited to science fictional characters, I’d pick the master psycho-historian Hari Seldon from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series for my dining companion. Why Hari Seldon? Because I’ve got a question I want to put to him. It’s one that’s been more and more on mind as the years slip past. So tell me, Hari, what happens next? How does this story of ours turn out in the final end? Will be a comedy or tragedy? Plenty of people have tried their best to answer this question that before. However, none of them really know. They can only guess, and their track record so far isn’t especially good. Ah, but Hari Seldon, Thanks to his lifetime study of psycho-history, he can plot it decade by decade, century by century, era by era, giving me the whole rest of the story. I’m sure he’ll add a caution warning that psycho-history isn’t perfect. Invariably there will be anomalies. Black swan events. Creatures like the mutant Mule in Asimov’s stories will emerge. I nod along, agreeing. But, Hari, I say, even if it’s not perfect, let’s face it, I’ll never know the difference, will I?
In the meantime, while Seldon and I chat over burgers and beer in a sports bar called the Blue Wave near the beach with a dozen subtitled screens showing endless loops of recent sporting events, at the next booth over sit two other characters from science fiction books. Both novels by the great Alfred Bester: Ben Reich from The Demolished Man and Gully Foyle from The Stars, My Destination. I’ve always had a weakness for sociopathic characters. They simultaneously repel and fascinate. But they sure can be fun to watch as long as you don’t get too close. Ben Reich and Gully Foyle are science fiction’s two most sociopaths.
So while Hari Seldom and I talk discuss the future history of the human species, I also lean my head far enough over to catch the conversation from the other booth. What do two such people have to say to one another?
If you had to live on a spaceship with one fictional character for the rest of your life, who would it be and why?
I’d pick a character from my recent re-reading of the work of the late Joanna Russ: her character Alyx from the novel Picnic on Paradise and several additional short stories. Alyx, who at different times and in different stories is a fighter, a smuggler, a pirate,, a preacher, a pick-lock, a thief, a hired assassin. Lots there that could be helpful trapped together aboard a spaceship. It’s an added bonus that she happens to be a woman. These days I prefer their company. Some of my best friends all of that. Plus, Alyx is smart, clever, cagy, sly, canny, and flexible. She’s lived different lives in different times and different places. The way I figure, if there’s any way to get us off this stupid spaceship, Alyx is the one who could pull it off. take
If you had to choose one of your books to be turned into a cheesy made-for-TV movie, which one would it be and who would you want to play the lead roles?
The book of mine most apt to be easily adaptable to film would be one of my earlier ones, All Times Possible, the story of a parallel USA in which a socialist revolution takes place during the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930’s. China Mieville included it on his list of the fifty science fiction novels that every young socialist should read. (Hey, maybe they’ll want to watch the movie version too.)
So who should play the book’s protagonist, Tommy Bloome, the leader of the revolution? Some of the more obvious choices—florid actors like Ed Begley, Broderick Crawford, or Lee J. Cobb—are no longer with us. Robert Duvall would be great choice, but by now he’s a bit too old for the role, even with facial regeneration techniques. The best choice I can come up with who could not only play the part be might actually be available would be Michael Shannon. He’s got the style, the acting chops, the charisma, and physical presence to pull off the role.
Another question is who should direct. Again, some of the best candidates –possibilities—Sam Fuller, Elia Kazan, Martin Ritt!—have to be eliminated for reasons of mortality. John Carpenter might well do a bang up job, but he hasn’t made a movie in several years. Quentin Tarantino would be great, but I’m afraid a cheesy TV movie wouldn’t have appeal for him. Besides, he’s sworn his next film will be his last. Robert Rodriguez, Tarantino’s pal, is another possibility and one who might be available. Otherwise, I’d say find a recent film school graduate who’s familiar with the work of all the above auteurs and eager to go on a project like this. I hope we’ll all be watching when the time comes.
What Pre 1960s SF television show or movie would you like to see get a big-budget remake, and why?
In general I don’t have much truck with remakes. I don’t see the point. (Not there aren’t exceptions: look at what John Carpenter did with The Thing.)
But if we have to have one I’d suggest you might as well go all the back to the granddaddy of all science fiction movie epics, Fritz Lang’s gloriously mad Metropolis from 1927. (Especially now that it’s finally available in close to its original form.) It’s certainly the kind of big-budget sci-fi spectacular that later filmmakers like Kubrick, Spielberg, and Nolan tried to emulate, knowingly or not.
And it’s still highly relevant. Many of us still reside in great cities divided up the middle between the haves up above in the (metaphorical) sunlight and have-nots down below in dank depths of the cellar. And I’d love to see modern versions of characters like two Maria’s—one human and adorable, the other an evil robot—not to mention the maddest mad doctor of them all, the immortal Professor Rotwang.
If somebody and is willing to put up the money to do remake right—with a director like Chrisopher Nolan—I’d be the first in line to see it.
First runner-up: Forbidden Planet. Yes, a lot of it’s already been copied in Star Trek and beyond, but I’d love to see what modern special effects could do with the Monster from the Id
Much of Gordon Eklund’s work can be easily found on the shelves of any decent used bookstore and they could use the business. Apart from that, his early novels All Times Possible and Beyond the Resurrection are currently available from Wildside Press in paperback and e-book forms as are the more recent novels the epic Cosmic Fusion (“the last of the new wave novels and one of the best”) and Wooden Starships, which takes place in a 1963 parallel world of SF fandom. Three anthologies of his short fiction are also currently in print, and all of these books can be found for purchase on Amazon.com. For more information on his life and work, consult the online Science Fiction Encyclopedia or Wikipedia.