Unexpected Quesstions With Alec Nevala-Lee

Alec Nevala-Lee was a 2019 Hugo and Locus Awards finalist for the group biography Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction. His most recent book is Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller, which was selected as a New York Times Book Review editors’ choice and one of Esquire’s fifty best biographies of all time. He is author of three suspense novels from Penguin Books, including The Icon Thief, and his nonfiction has appeared in print and online in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Salon, and The Daily Beast. His short stories have been published in Analog, Lightspeed, and numerous anthologies, including The Year’s Best Science Fiction.
Define “Science Fiction” as Damon Knight did (“What we’re pointing to when we say ‘Science Fiction'”), but without using your finger.

As I recently said to my wife, “Fantasy is about things that could never happen. Science fiction is about things that could happen—plus time travel.”

If you could travel to any alternate universe where a different version of yourself exists, what do you think your other self would be like?

The worst version of myself would have become a college Young Republican. As for the best version—as long as I’m allowed to fantasize—maybe a marine biologist.

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?

If it were my Buckminster Fuller biography, I’d feel pretty good—I deliberately wrote it as the kind of book that I’d want on hand if I didn’t have any others. (It also comes with Fuller’s instructions, sort of, for building a geodesic dome, as well as an entire utopian society, which might be useful on a deserted planet.) But if it were one of my novels, I don’t know how I’d feel. It’s been a while since I’ve read them, so I’m not sure how great they are, and I’m a little afraid to find out.

If you could time travel to any point in history, which era would you choose, and why?

I’d go back to the early nineties, which was the last time that a reasonable person might believe that everything was going to be fine. The Cold War was over, the Internet existed in its best incarnation, and I’d still get to watch all of Darin Morgan’s episodes of The X-Files.

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?

This is kind of a cheat, but I’d like to see a movie of Frozen Hell, the uncut version of John W. Campbell’s novella “Who Goes There?”—also known as The Thing—that I found in his papers at Harvard. All it needs is practical effects, a period setting, and a hard R for gore. For the lead, there’s a guy named Wyatt Russell who seems perfect. (His father, Kurt, would probably agree.)

As for current projects, I’m working on a biography of the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis W. Alvarez, best known for the asteroid impact theory of dinosaur extinction, who also gets about a minute of screen time in Oppenheimer. It should come out from W.W. Norton sometime in 2025. Interested readers can check my blog at www.nevalalee.com for very occasional updates.

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