Q&A With Bruce Sterling

In this post, longtime Asimov’s contributor Bruce Sterling talks about his interest in the Italian renaissance as well as his thoughts on the importance of short form science fiction. Read his latest story “The Queen of Rhode Island,” co-written with Paul Di Filippo, in our [March/April issue, on sale now!]

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
Bruce Sterling:It’s a collaboration with my long-time pal, Paul Di Filippo.

AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly? 
BS: I’d have to admit that the story seemed to literally germinate out of a swamp. It kinda oozed into being, much like our other SF collaboration, “The Scab’s Progress.”

AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this story?
BS: Who else?  I can’t help but adore them!

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?
BS: I don’t want to boast about my extensive survival to date, but my “history with Asimov’s” is  extensive.  For decades on end, the mag has bravely published some of the weirdest stuff I ever wrote. Stories like “The Little Magic Shop” and “Sword of Damocles.” People who succeeded in reading those stories probably still remember them.

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
BS: I like science fiction. I tend to like other people’s science fiction quite a lot, such as Italian fantascienza and nineteenth-century French science fiction. The general history of science fiction inspires me. It’s great that it refuses to just give up and go away, and that it keeps sprouting up in new places, like crabgrass among cobblestones.

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
BS: I’m a tech journalist and I’m quite the eager trendspotter, but I like events that haven’t happened yet.

AE: What is your process?
BS: I tend to really pile stuff on. I like organic profusion, baroque extravaganza, too many moving parts. I tend to throw in the kitchen sink and then the sink’s full of take-out cartons from some country where they eat a lot of squid.

The general history of science fiction inspires me. It’s great that it refuses to just give up and go away, and that it keeps sprouting up in new places, like crabgrass among cobblestones

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
BS: Pretty simple; I only write fiction when I feel like it.

AE: How did you break into writing?
BS: I wrote a couple of novels first, but I want to seize this opportunity to say that writing and reading short stories in magazines is really important. In my career I did a lot of my best and most innovative thinking in short forms. A literature of ideas needs to keep things moving, it can’t live off trilogies and endless series all the time; that gets top-heavy. By contrast, one really good issue of one science fiction magazine has the potential to light up the whole genre.

AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
BS: I tend to travel really a lot, so I’m thinking that an omnibus SF Best of the Year Collection would be more my speed. I like to change scenes and topics.

AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
BS: Worldwide nuclear disarmament would be interesting.

AE: What are you reading right now?
BS: I’m doing some research about a minor figure in the Italian Renaissance. He was a diplomat, but he was best-known for writing an etiquette book about how decent people ought to behave. Of course he had his own life, which wasn’t much like his moralizing book. How people adapt to their cultural circumstances, that’s of a lot of interest to me.

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
BS: Everybody in the business will tell you how hard you have to work, but really, if you’re not entertained by it, nobody’s gonna be entertained by it.   Also, try and put the cork in the bottle—alcohol is the only thing common in the fiction-writing life that is truly dangerous.

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
BS: Science fiction has been my career, but I’ve been known to trifle with futurism, travel writing, popular science, true crime, art criticism and teaching design school. “Where do science fiction writers get all those weird ideas?” Well, you should scheme up some situations where you can go out and find some.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing? (IE: Social media handles, website URL . . .
BS: I’m on Twitter, Mastodon, Tumblr, Pinterest, I have a lot of writing on Medium . . . If you’re interested in technology art, I’m the art director for an Italian media art festival. It’s more a trendspotting blog than something meant to entertain, but there’s some genuinely unusual stuff in the “Share Festival Artmaker Blog.”


Bruce Sterling’s most recent book is Robot Artists and Black Swans, a collection of Italian fantascienza stories. He spends a lot of time wandering Europe and encountering artists and robots.

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