Q&A With Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar can find inspiration in almost anything, from space junk to vending machines. Find out what Lavie is reading these days in today’s blog post, and read his latest story for Asimov’s, “Zoo Station,” in our [May/June issue, on sale now!]

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
Lavie Tidhar: I was really interested in space junk for a number of years, having met someone who was working on it in Hong Kong, and then discovering the work of Australian space archaeologist Alice Gorman. I eventually did a short story called “Junk Hounds” to explore some of that stuff, but it was still sort of itching at me. I think I was looking into what it would take to keep livestock in space, and these things sort of converged, and combined with my being into re-reading (or in some cases, discovering new) some of that low-key 1950s SF, which is quite downbeat, like Fredric Brown’s “The Last Train.” So those things all came together at the same time, and this was the result!

AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
LT: Weirdly, this one is stand-alone. Most of my SF stories take place in a shared universe—I guess we’re calling it the Central Station universe at this point, just because that book did quite well—but that world is brighter than the one in this story. I have a bunch of stand-alone SF stories (I’m thinking of something like “Blue and Blue and Blue and Pink” from Clarkesworld) but they’re relatively rare!

AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this story?
LT: I never assume anyone is going to publish anything I write, so all I ever do, and have done since the beginning, is write the stories that come to me and try to send them out. I don’t have some magic wand! So Asimov’s is one of the magazines I will always try, and hope, and sometimes, like with “Zoo Station”, I just get lucky!
Saying that, I do find SF is usually easier to place for me. It’s when I go wacky and wild that it becomes more of a challenge. The same for crime stories—they’re very hard to place, unless there’s a rare anthology open. But that’s the nature of it! I think it’s pretty amazing I still get to write and publish short stories!

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
LT: I obviously try to keep up with what’s going on, and there’s always inspiration hiding in plain sight. So reading an article about as unlikely a topic as vending machines—something I never paid any attention to in my life!—led to a story called “Sirena” (in The Dark magazine), all because it had a line in it about vending machines killing people every year. I mean, how! And of course with “Zoo Station”, questions of conservation, rewilding, space junk, all of this stuff is really important, not as fictional constructs but as urgent real world issues. So I try to keep up, but also, putting on my SF writer hat, try to take a much wider perspective, beyond the present. If that makes sense!

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
LT: What aren’t I working on . . . My other “hat”, which is more recent, is as a more mainstream writer, writing these sort of big novels, starting with last year’s Maror and continuing this year with the only-slightly-smaller Adama. My UK publishers, Head of Zeus, are incredibly supportive on that side, and I’m really enjoying suddenly being so . . . respectable. Ha! So I’m working on a third novel, which sort of goes from the 1850s to the present. No elves or aliens! as I like to say.
On the SF side, Tachyon in the US have been equally supportive, and I’m lucky to keep doing genre books, or weird mixes—I really love The Escapement, from 2021, and last year was Neom, a science fiction novel set in that wider world of Central Station. This year we’re doing The Circumference of the World, which is all about science fiction—it’s a weird, mixed-genre novel that circles around the idea that an L. Ron Hubbard-like, Golden Age of SF writer just happened to have—maybe—figured out the true secret of the nature of the universe. Or did he?
I also have The Best of World SF: Volume 3 coming out this year, which has been a joy to edit. The full series is now over half a million words of fiction!
And then, I just keep writing short stories, which is the only part I really love doing. So yes, busy!

I obviously try to keep up with what’s going on, and there’s always inspiration hiding in plain sight.

AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
LT: I’m not sure I would like any of them! But the post-scarcity utopia of Iain M. Bank’s Culture novels is certainly appealing . . .

AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
LT: I think it’s a bit like the historian who was once asked, if they had a time machine, what period of history they would like to visit—“none before the invention of antibiotics.” Medical science is something we take so much for granted in SF—autodocs and nanobots and effortless organ replacement and so on (I just did a story about growing replacement organs, a la the planet Shayol in Cordwainer Smith)—but so little in real life. I’d love to see some of that start to come in, just as it’s amazing to see how much of it is already here, from brain scanning to new approaches to vaccines.

AE: What are you reading right now?
LT: I just finished an epic re-read of all the Amber novels by Roger Zelazny. That was so much fun! I mostly read for research these days, so my shelves sort of go from circuses to the Thames to Israeli spies to the Romans, depending on what my present obsession might be—right now it’s an academic dictionary of Northern Mythology. For fun, I’ve started re-reading Barry B. Longyear’s classic Circus World, a mosaic novel first published in a series of short stories in Asimov’s! Such a brilliant book.

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
LT: Write the things only you can write.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
LT: My website it at https://lavietidhar.wordpress.com/
And I’m on Twitter https://twitter.com/lavietidhar And I sometimes post random stuff on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lavietidhar/

Lavie Tidhar is the author of the World Fantasy Award winning Osama and the Campbell Award winning Central Station, along with many other recent novels. His latest, Neom, began as a short story in Asimov’s. “Zoo Station,” he tells us, was inspired by reading about the challenges of raising livestock in space, which combined improbably with discovering Fredric Brown’s classic story “The Last Train.”

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