Christopher L. Bennett sold his first original story to Analog in 1998, and two decades later, we still get first-look at his tales before they’re expanded and published in future collections and anthologies. We’re lucky once again to offer you his latest, “Conventional Powers,” in the current issue [on sale now].
Analog Editors: What is the story behind this piece?
Christopher L. Bennet: “Conventional Powers” [on sale now in our current issue] is a loose followup to my first original novel, Only Superhuman (Tor, 2012). In this world, once commercial asteroid mining took off in the 2030s, it drove rapid advancement in space travel and colonization. Space dwellers embraced genetic and bionic modification in order to survive the radiation and harsh conditions, eventually experimenting with more radical “mods” to augment human abilities. The growing community of asteroid belt dwellers known as Striders embraced transhumanism as part of its culture, looking to the superhero fiction of the past as a foundational mythology, for lack of real-world precedents. When the Belt won independence in the 2070s and descended into chaos and division, a time known as the Troubles, a number of mods and other skilled individuals chose to use their abilities as freelance peacekeepers and rescue workers. These “Troubleshooters” came to be seen as real-life superheroes, a role that they embraced fully, recognizing its value for earning the trust of the fragmented Strider community.
By 2108, the Troubleshooter Corps has kept a fragile peace for a quarter-century. The Troubleshooters have become celebrities and have inspired other mods throughout the Belt to follow in their footsteps. Emerald Blair, the Green Blaze, is one of the newest Troubleshooters, taking naturally to the celebrity side but still struggling to prove herself as a serious hero, six months after the events of Only Superhuman.
AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
CLB: The idea incubated gradually based on my own experience attending New York Comic-Con for its first several years. It was at NYCC that I first pitched Only Superhuman to Greg Cox, who acquired and edited it for Tor, and it was at the 2012 NYCC that the novel made its formal debut. So at some point, I got to wondering what a superhero convention would be like in Only Superhuman’s world of actual superheroes. I figured it woud be a hybrid of a comics/SF convention and an industry trade show. I wrote the first version of the story as a subplot in the sample chapters for a second novel, but when that novel failed to come to fruition, I reworked it as a standalone story.
AE: Tell us more about the universe this story is a part of.
CLB: “Conventional Powers” is my fourth published work of fiction about the Troubleshooters, following Only Superhuman and two prequel stories, “Aspiring to Be Angels” in my collection Among the Wild Cybers (eSpec Books, 2018) and “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” in the anthology Footprints in the Stars (eSpec Books, 2019). The Troubleshooter series, in turn, is part of a larger future history including nearly all the other stories in Among the Wild Cybers as well as my upcoming duology from eSpec, Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile.
“I’ve always preferred to write optimistic SF, positing a future that’s better than the present and an inclusive society that’s overcome today’s prejudices and inequalities (though sometimes developing new ones), while still acknowledging that even a better future has its own difficulties and obstacles.”
AE: What is your history with Analog?
CLB: I owe my career as a writer to Analog’s former editor Stanley Schmidt, who cultivated and guided me through his rejection letters until I finally raised my game enough to sell him my first published story, “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” in the November 1998 issue. Since then, the vast majority of my original short fiction has appeared in Analog; to this day, it’s the only magazine that’s bought more than one of my stories, and “Conventional Powers” brings my Analog tally to a full dozen. What’s more, my upcoming Arachne duology is a reworking and continuation of “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide.”
AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
CLB: Writers like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, and Kim Stanley Robinson have influenced my love of hard-SF worldbuilding. Star Trek has been a major influence since childhood; it introduced me to science and SF in the first place, and I’ve always tried to follow its lead in writing optimistic science fiction, though in a more plausible way than Star Trek has usually achieved. It was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine producer Robert Hewitt Wolfe, to whom I once unsuccessfully pitched story ideas for the show, who drove home to me the importance of writing from the perspective of character—making sure that every story, every scene, has personal meaning to some character, so that it will have meaning to the audience. The Star Trek and original novels of Diane Duane have influenced my own Star Trek and original work, in things like the portrayal of diverse multi-species communities and the use of an alternating present-and-flashback format of the sort I used in Only Superhuman and Star Trek: The Captain’s Oath.
AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
CLB: I do try to comment on social issues and problems in my work; it’s my way of trying to make what difference I can in the world. In the case of “Conventional Powers,” I saw an opportunity to comment satirically on the controversy several years back over the attempts to game the Hugo Awards with “slate” voting, and on the larger social trends underlying that effort. The satire would’ve been more timely if I’d written and sold it sooner, but I think the larger issues are still relevant.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
CLB: I’ve always preferred to write optimistic SF, positing a future that’s better than the present and an inclusive society that’s overcome today’s prejudices and inequalities (though sometimes developing new ones), while still acknowledging that even a better future has its own difficulties and obstacles. I like stories where both sides in a conflict are in the right and there are no easy answers, where the clash comes from differing priorities and worldviews.
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
CLB: Very poorly, I’m afraid. I tend to cycle through “up” phases when the words come easily and “down” phases when I struggle to come up with anything. Generally, when writing a novel on a deadline, as with my Star Trek work, I tend to fall way behind schedule until the last month or two and then force myself to catch up. A looming deadline does concentrate the mind, but it does make the process more stressful, so I wish I were better at staying focused in the early stages.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
CLB: I’m finishing up my newest Star Trek novel, The Higher Frontier, which will be released in March 2020 (how did it get to be 2020 already?). I’m also working on a new project in the Troubleshooter series, though it’s too early to say much about it. The eSpec Books Kickstarter campaign for Arachne’s Crime should get underway in the fall.
AE: What is something we should know about you that we haven’t thought to ask?
CLB: Crimes of the Hub, my second book collecting the stories of the Hub SF comedy series published in Analog, was released by Mystique Press in July. It’s currently available exclusively as an ebook, but a print edition is in the works. Like its predecessor Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy, Crimes of the Hub is revised and expanded with new material bridging the stories, so there’s something new to offer for readers familiar with the original Analog tales.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
CLB: Homepage: https://christopherlbennett.wordpress.com/; Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/ChristopherLBennettAuthor; Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B001IXMZYM.
Christopher L. Bennett is a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, with a B.S. in Physics and a B.A. in History from the University of Cincinnati. A fan of science and science fiction since age five, he has spent the past two decades selling original short fiction to magazines such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact (home of his “Hub” series of comedy adventures), BuzzyMag, and Galaxy’s Edge. Since 2003, he has been one of Pocket Books’ most prolific and popular authors of Star Trek tie-in fiction, including the Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations series, the Star Trek: Enterprise—Rise of the Federation series, and Star Trek: The Original Series—The Captain’s Oath. He has also written two Marvel Comics novels, X-Men: Watchers on the Walls and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder. His original novel Only Superhuman, perhaps the first hard science fiction superhero novel, was voted Library Journal‘s SF/Fantasy Debut of the Month for October 2012. His original short fiction is collected in Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman from eSpec Books, as well as two Hub collections from Mystique Press, Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy and Crimes of the Hub.