Unexpected Questions with Barry Longyear

Editor’s Note:  Mr. Longyear chose to respond by including the initial query and we have chosen to leave that aspect of his responses intact.

Please start with a short biography, which will give the readers an insight into your background and achievements. Written in the third person, please.

The first problem with doing a biography in third person is that I have no idea who that person is, what that person’s genre preferences, political leanings, or pronouns may be. In addition, what might that person assume about my pronoun preferences? The only reason an author uses third person is to distance him, her, or itself from the subject. Since I am the subject and doing the writing as well, resorting to third person is an artificial contrivance existing only for the purpose of enabling me to say laudatory things about myself without appearing as though I am the one who is offering all the praise, except that everybody knows who is writing the damn thing.

So, I was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1942. I was born into a home of intellectual brilliance, music, art, addiction, and violence such that in eighth grade I volunteered to go to Staunton Military Academy in Virginia. When I graduated, my half-brother decided we were to go south and go into the bank robbing business. I was not mentally equipped in those days to say “No” to my brother, so next morning I joined the U.S. Army where for the next three years I tested and repaired HAWK guided missiles on Okinawa and Key West, Florida. Upon my discharge, I went to Wayne State University in Detroit long enough to determine that college was a big waste of time and to wed the Mysterious Regina. After a number of odd jobs from running a microfilm company to editing an underground magazine, after moving to Maine I quit the printing business to try my hand at writing. My first sale was to Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and among the stories I sold IASFM that first year was “Enemy Mine,” which garnered me a Hugo, a Nebula, and contributed to winning the John W.  Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Many other short stories, then a heap of books including the seven-volume The War Whisperer, volume five of which, The Hook, won the 2021 Prometheus Award for Best Novel. During my early writing career my addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs eventually dropped me into rehab and recovery, much of this experience covered in the semi-biographical novel, Saint Mary Blue. Complete lists of books, short stories, and awards are available on my website: WEBMANSION

So, the bio is not so brief. I am almost eighty-two years old. You want a short bio, ask someone who is twenty-two and hasn’t done anything.

And now, answer the questions.

If you were to create a superhero that had a weakness for something totally unexpected, like pickles or bubble wrap, what would it be and why?

In my current work, The Candle Man, I have created, in effect, a super hero whose main weakness is his love and hopes for the Human Race. Why? Well, it’s pretty damned important to how the novel ends.

If you could have any magical power, but it came with a ridiculous side effect, what would the power be and what would the side effect be?

Immortality. Side effect: When I speak my voice would sound like Jar Jar Binks.

If you were transported into one of your books as a character, what kind of character would you be and what kind of adventures would you have?

I actually am a character in many of my stories, and the adventures I would have are available on Amazon for mere pennies per page. The kind of adventures in most of the stories, such as “Enemy Mine,” are adventures of self discovery.

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?

I would feel terrific. I am, after all, my favorite author. Which book? Hmmm. If it comes out the way I hope it does, I would pick what I am working on now, The Candle Man. If it does not turn out that way, I would pick one of the Joe Torio Mysteries, Rope, Paper, Scissors.

If you had to choose between being a mermaid or a dragon, which would you pick and why?

Hmmm. Devour beautiful young maidens or lure sailors to their deaths? I got to go with the dragon. Why? Are you kidding? Check out the job description: Devour beautiful young maidens.

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

Now. It took me a long time to get in touch with the here and now. I’d hate to lose it. Besides, now is when we need to fix all this crap so someone can enjoy them.

If you could swap lives with any character from one of your books for a day, who would it be and what would you do?

As I indicated above, I am the character in many of my stories. It could be Jacob Randecker, W.K. Davidge, Jeriba Shigan, Joe Torio, or any of dozens of others. What I would do is continue writing on The Candle Man, but without the migraines.

If you had to survive in a fantasy world with only the contents of your fridge, what would be your game plan?

Depends on the fantasy world and the availability of plug-in power. Also depends on how much notice I would get. Given enough notice, I’d fill the fridge with gold. If one is to do a fantasy world, best to do it as a king, or a dragon (see above).

If you could choose any real-life celebrity to make a cameo appearance in one of your books, who would it be and why?

In The Candle Man I have dozens of real-life celebs making appearances. Much of the work is set in the American Civil War, so many of the characters are drawn from the historical record.

If you were to write a fantasy-themed cookbook, what kind of recipes would you include?

This really depends upon the fantasy and the rules of that universe. In general, the cookbook magic I would like to see is: Lose Weight through Gluttony. In it would be all of my favorite desserts, pastries, cakes, cobblers, cookies, and the spells one must cast enabling one to gobble up the lot and lose weight, transforming all those calories into six-pack abs.

If you could swap lives with any of the mythical creatures from your books for a day, which one would you choose and why?

Had to think about this one. I finally settled on God, from The Candle Man. Like my starring character in the work, Glendon Fayte, I would like to know if this particular character really exists, and if it does, why it does such a shitty job.

If you could have any fictional pet as a companion, what would it be and why?

Moby Dick. That would be one mind blowing home aquarium.

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?

With infinite universes I’d have the pick of Infinite Barrys. I’d probably just pick me in this universe. All the other universes would contain Barrys I would either pity or envy. The Barry who looks and sounds like Gregory Peck would be in the envy column and the one who looks like Nancy Pelosi would be a pitiful Barry indeed.

If you had to choose between fighting 100 duck-sized robots or one robot-sized duck, which would you pick and why?

With the proper weaponry, I’d go for the robot-sized duck, as long as I have an oven large enough to cook it.

If you were a character in a fantasy RPG, what character class and abilities would you have and how would you level up?

I am of a generation in which RPG means “Rocket Propelled Grenade.” I haven’t been much for fantasy role playing games. I’ve done some first person shooter games such as Wolfenstein, the Battlefield Series, Halo, etc. Any game, situation, or adventure in which I have a good chance of succeeding usually has my interest.

If you were to write a story featuring yourself as the main character, what kind of adventure would you embark on?

I would become a writer. That has the potential to encompass everything else.

If you were to write a love story between a human and an alien, what challenges would they face?

See: The Tomorrow Testament (book two of the Enemy Mine Trilogy available in The Enemy Papers).

If you were to write a parody of one of your own books, what would be the most ridiculous twist you could add to the plot?

I did that. Naked Came The Robot is actually a take off on Sea of Glass. In Sea of Glass half the Human Race is killed after much computer planning and manipulation. In Naked Came The Robot, the entire Human Race is killed off because of a misunderstanding, confusing the name Harry Newcome with “Hurry, nuke ‘em!”

If you were to write a book about a group of superheroes with completely useless powers, what would their powers be?

I wouldn’t bother writing such a book. I hear enough whining and complaining by the “heroes” here on Earth. —Jesus, you ask a lot of lame questions!

If you had to choose between being a time traveler or a space explorer, which would you pick and why?

Space explorer. Always wanted to explore space. Too many variables out of my control in time travel.

If you had to choose between having the ability to speak with animals or plants, which would you choose and why?

Speak with animals. Why? You ever try cuddling up with a pineapple?

If you had to describe your writing style using a fantasy-themed board game, which game would you choose and why?

I don’t have a Clue.

If you had to choose one of your own fictional worlds to live in, which one would it be, and why?

Freeland Tamaulipas from The Hook, Book 5 of The War Whisperer. Why? It is freedom, safety, prosperity, and sensibility.

If you could have any magical power, but the catch was that you had to perform a ridiculous dance every time you used it, what power would you choose and what would your dance look like?

My guess is that if you smoked less pot when writing these questions, they might even have something to do with me and what I write. The magic power I would choose is youth and my dance would look a lot like Alpine skiing.

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?

Already happened. It’s called “Enemy Mine.”

If you had to survive on a deserted planet with only three items from your own house, what would they be and how would you use them to survive?

(1) a gun, (2) a cartridge, (3) enough time to blow my brains out.

If you could have any sci-fi gadget in real life, what would it be and what practical uses would you have for it?

Universal translator. Practical uses are pretty obvious.

If aliens were to visit Earth, what do you think their first impression of humans would be?

“Notify the overlords! Holy crap! Do not invade Earth! Danger! We do not want to have anything to do with these nardflacks. I mean, they are fighting over vukking pronouns!

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?

Can’t limit it to sci-fi. I’d pick Abbe Faria from The Count of Monte Cristo and we’d eat in my cell. What we would talk about is everything he knows.

If you had to live on a spaceship with one fictional character for the rest of your life, who would it be and why?

HAL from 2001. If I take enough of those chip boards out I’ll be able to reprogram the computer to dive into the Sun.

If you had to choose between being a cyborg or a hologram, which would you pick and why?

Cyborg. They can still eat and enjoy chocolate.

What Pre-1960’s SF television show or movie would you like to see get a big- budget remake, and why?

The motion picture “Destination Moon.” You can never get enough Woody Woodpecker.

What ‘s the silliest misconception you‘ve had about something scientific, what was it, and how did you learn you had misapprehended?

That I was being told the truth about COVID 19, mask wearing, and the source of the disease. I listened to the news and to the scientists who studied the disease.

If you could have scripted Stanley Kubrick ‘s Moon landing hoax, how would it differ from the original?

I would have had Neil Armstrong not flub his “One small step . . .” quotation.

What off-beat location would you like to see host a convention, and why?

Any con is a good con anywhere. That is where the family meets.

If you could alter any one single natural law, what would it be and how would you change it?

The natural law is “Recovery from addiction is not for those who need it; It is for those who want it.” I would change it to be one hell of lot more inclusive. Tired going to funerals.

If you were secretly an alien visitor to the Earth, why are you here?

You have got to stop smoking that stuff, Kermit. I don’t know why I’m here. I vas just followink orders? Came to see Mount Rushmore? Looking for a change of pace? Had a real case of the ass and was looking for a few billion people to tangle with?

Define “Science Fiction” as Damon Knight did (“What we’re pointing to when we say ‘Science Fiction’”), but without using your finger.

“Science” is magic explained. “Science fiction” is the literature of explained magic.

How have you used the phrase “I’m a writer” to avoid an unpleasant situation? What was it?

Can’t think of any situations I ever got out of by saying “I’m a writer.” When someone chooses to grill me about someone else’s writing or the sf genre, however, I have told such persons, “I just write this shit; I don’t read it.”

Name the strangest/weirdest place you‘ve ever written.  What made it so odd?

Doctors’ waiting rooms and in hospitals as a patient. What do you think made it so odd?

What ‘s the new work about? Huh?

If you had the power to alter who wins the Battle of Gettysburg, and can time travel as well to check out the effects of your changes, what would you change? How would you change it? And What would be the consequences both intended and unintended.

About the last question, “Which trope of science fiction (phasers, transporters, time machines, much more) would you like to see put into our own reality? And how would you use it in a mundane way?”

I would like to see the advent of grownups, men and women of intelligence, knowledge, peace, honesty, and tolerance, advocating freedom under the law that forbids the initiation of physical force or fraud upon another. How would I use this in a mundane way? I’d look at the peace and safety around me, go and sit in my recliner with a cup of coffee and a Fudgesicle, and watch the game or a new show and trouble myself no longer about mob rule, timid law enforcement, ignorant politicians, haters of all stripes, terrorists, military dictators, disastrously misguided economists, and uncertain defenders of Human rights. I’ve been on the barricades for the past six decades attempting to shine a crack of sunlight onto a herd of sacred cows with my stories. It would be a real treat to turn it all over to the Sane Seven Billion and take a breath. But, turn on the news and listen for a moment to see how far away that respite is. The wheels came off long ago, the hubs and axels are torn away, and right now Earth is skidding down a very steep slope on the wagon’s belly that no one seems to know how to stop or steer. The Sane Seven Billion is not coming.

So, the writing continues.

Barry Longyear can be found on Facebook  and on his website

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