William Ledbetter won a 2016 Nebula Award for “The Long Fall Up,” and has now written a sequel to that beloved novella called “The Short Path to Light,” available [in our March/April issue, on sale now!]. We spoke with him about the inspiration behind this new story and why patience is a virtue for up-and-coming writers.
Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
William Ledbetter: “The Short Path to Light” is a sequel to my novelette “The Long Fall Up” that won a 2016 Nebula Award. It takes place a month after the events in the first story with some of the same characters and is really a product of reader requests. I had several readers ask me about the fate of the AI character from the first story. With comments like “You have to save Huizhu?” and “What’s going to happen to Huizhu?” I realized there was more to this story and found that I really wanted to revisit these characters.
AE: Since this story is part of a larger universe, do you see future developments?
WL: This is the second part of what will hopefully be a three or four story arc about humanity and our AI partners breaking the shackles that prevent us from truly growing as a civilization.
AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
WL: Even though I am not a priest, I probably relate the most to the Reverend Gabby. Like Jager in the first story, Gabby starts out with preconceptions and a mostly intransigent set of beliefs, yet over time is willing to reconsider and change her worldview based on new information. Doing that is difficult and it’s a constant struggle for me, so I like to show characters overcoming cognitive dissonance and admitting when they were mistaken. Especially, when it is something that can negatively impact others.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing?
WL: One theme that pops up a lot in my writing is humanity merging with our technology. That is the focus of my Killday novel series and I have multiple short stories that explore aspects of the idea. That line of thinking crystalized for me after reading a long, rambling article in Wired magazine titled “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” where Bill Joy, founder of Sun Microsystems, discussed the plausibility of a technological singularity. It was about twenty years ago, so I don’t remember a lot of details, but it boiled down to three likely scenarios. We would be destroyed by our technology, we will retain control of it or we will merge with it. I thought the third one was the least discussed in SF, yet was the most interesting and most hopeful.
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
WL: I usually work on several things at once. If I stall on one project, it’s usually because I’m too close to it and need a break. So, I pour my effort into something else for several days or even weeks, and that almost always works for me.
This is the second part of what will hopefully be a three or four story arc about humanity and our AI partners breaking the shackles that prevent us from truly growing as a civilization.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
WL: I’m working on the third novel in my “Killday” series. The first two books, “Level Five” and “Level Six” are already out in audio format from Audible Originals but will be coming out in print and e-book formats from Interstellar Flight Press in August 2022 (Level Five) and maybe January 2023 (Level Six.) The third book, “Level Seven” will also be out in all formats in 2023.
AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
WL: I think it would be Greg Bear’s universe from “Darwin’s Radio.” I like the idea of humanity evolving more empathy and intercommunication. We do see that, each generation seems to be pushing toward something better, but in these books it happens in one or two generations and that appeals to my impatience as well.
AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
WL: Well, I’m a tech geek, so science fiction gadgets fascinate me. I want two of them to become real. First is matter transmitters, like those used in Star Trek and Niven’s books. I would love to be able to spend more time with friends who live hours away or in other countries (or eventually on other planets) by simply popping into their house or a bar or restaurant of choice. Second would be an upgrade that would enable me to remember everything I “want” to remember. Of course, our phones, with instant access to the internet and built in cameras are close, but I’ve lived a long time and have forgotten way too many amazing things over the years.
AE: What are you reading right now?
WL: In the last few years I’ve been reading a lot more non-fiction, perhaps out of some desire to get a better understanding of the world we live in. One such book that I’m reading right now is “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. It examines past cultures, how and why they collapsed, and if we can learn any lessons from them. I’m learning a lot so far. And I’m looking forward to reading some science fiction next with Derek Kunsken’s “Quantum War” which is the third book in his excellent Quantum Evolution series.
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
WL: Most of my advice to up-and-coming writers can be summed up in one word. Patience. Everything in this industry seems to take forever. Hearing back from publications or agents about submissions or queries, ever selling a piece to a top market, having your work actually come out in print once you sell it, editing a written novel, etc. It all takes a lot of time and effort. It can be maddeningly slow and a big source of discouragement for new writers. But I say it’s usually worth the wait. Most of all I encourage writers to be patient with themselves. Don’t rush your writing. Take the time to make it something special. Edit, revise, tweak, workshop and polish every piece you write. Delete huge chunks and rewrite. Don’t be afraid to make the difficult choices. And don’t be so hard on yourselves. Most successful writers were at one point in the same place you are right now.