July 6, 2007

In My Own Words: Tobias S. Buckell

Tobias S. BuckellTobias S. Buckell is a Caribbean-born speculative fiction writer who grew up in Grenada, the British Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He has published stories in various magazines and anthologies. His first novel, Crystal Rain, came out from Tor Books in 2006. His second novel, Ragamuffin, is out now.

I loved science fiction as a kid. I read a lot of other stuff, but I always came back to the genre. When I'm deep in self reflection I come up with all sorts of reasons I got hooked, but mainly I loved thinking about the future. I loved thinking about our own world and its problems as if from a distance, and I loved getting strong doses of sense of wonder.

But the more I read, and the older I got, the more I realized that most science fiction came from a US or English set of assumptions about culture, language, technology, and just about everything. When I occasionally encountered the people and places I lived in as a kid (Grenada, the US and British Virgin Islands), they were more often than not portrayed as not much more than tourist destinations.

When I started writing my own science fiction in high school I often used common settings in SF, it seemed like that was what was expected. Even though I doodled spaceships with Caribbean town names, and thought up multi-racial characters with muddled identities like my own, it never occurred to me that anything science fictional with strong Caribbean flavor would be accepted. And since not many people around me shared my love of SF, I had no idea where I fit in any or all of this. I did see a few books (like Islands in The Net, by Bruce Sterling) that gave me flashes of hope. But I thought to myself that a whole science fiction book that remained in the Caribbean or was inspired by it is something that I really wanted to read in my lifetime.

The writing bug really solidified for me in college, and I was then living in Ohio after my stepdad moved my family there after Hurricane Marilyn in 95. I was missing the islands terribly, and there is nothing like leaving home to get a real appreciation of what you'd left. I started experimenting with adding the islands into the most solidly genre work I could write, and got encouragement from writers like Tim Powers, Mike Resnick, and others to do more as I attended science fiction workshops and started selling my short stories.

So I when I finally had gotten enough attention to start working on my first novel Crystal Rain, I took a bunch of my favorite and fun tropes from science fiction and chopped them up. Chopped them up like we always snag the Western stuff we see coming at us, chopped it up, reorganized it, and put it back out there for people. Why not have Caribbean descendants who get their own planet in the far, far future? Lost planet, lost technology, steampunk adventure, but with a cast of Caribbean characters.

And then for the second novel I wrote Caribbean Space Opera. It's like Star Wars where Lando Calrissian could blend into a crowd. Caribbean space merchants, plying the deep between stars, helping save human civilization.

I'm writing the novels that I would have loved to have seen on the shelf when I was a young, mixed Caribbean boy with a British mother and a Grenadian dad. Someone who loved all the forward looking genre that came from the West, but wanted to feel there was a place in the future for him. And I'm having the time of my life doing it.


No comments: