Gary Kloster knows that meatspace matters. In our conversation below, he discusses both the importance of finding an in-person support network and the complexity of being a biological organism engaged in interstellar invasion. Don’t miss his thought-provoking story, “Formless,” available in our current issue [on sale now].
Analog Editor: What is the story behind “Formless”?
GK: I was on a panel at Wiscon years ago that was discussing science issues not often mentioned in SF. One of the things I brought up was the “War of the Worlds” issue—the very real problem that popping out of a spaceship into a completely alien ecosystem would probably cause all sorts of havoc. It’s not just the possibility of croaking because you didn’t bother to get any shots before opening the airlock. What about allergens? Parasites? Environmental toxins? And then what about the invasive species that we might unleash on this poor biosphere? Humans are dripping with bacteria and mites and other tiny critters, any of which might wreak havoc on an alien world. And that doesn’t even take into account the nonbiological issues, such as differences in atmosphere composition, gravity, sunlight. . . . Basically it’s a real mess.
It occurred to me while talking about all that that it would be better to custom make bodies tuned to that environment from the materials already present—making sure to locally source your interstellar invasion, as it were.
AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
GK: Well, that idea of creating colonists from local materials was the spark. The rest of the story came slowly, over the years. Pairing the body creation technology with brain uploading. The AI seedships. The idea that an uploaded mind was vulnerable to being tinkered with, edited, and adjusted. Those all flowed pretty directly from that initial idea. The interesting parts of the story came when they combined with ideas about parenting, and how much of our thinking is guided by what we’d like to be true, rather than what is true.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing?
GK: There are three themes in this story that I’ve had in many others. AIs first of all, and how we’ll work, adjust, and integrate with them. This is probably the closest I’ve had to having an “evil” AI, and that . . . well that came from having the AI trying to imitate us a bit too much. Which makes me sound really cheerful, but I’m actually optimistic about people, which ties into my second theme of parents and children. Having kids . . . you have to be optimistic, you have to imagine that they can have a future too. Optimistic or maybe deluded. My third theme is the concept of brain uploading, which is a concept that is optimistic and horrifying in equal measures, which makes it great fodder for stories.
“Don’t be competitive, be supportive, and hang out with other supportive people. Don’t worry about making connections—just make friends. It makes the process so much nicer, and it’s probably one of the best things you can do.”
AE: What is your process?
GK: Well, there’s a lot of flailing. Ok, to put that in a way that sounds better, I tend to come up with an idea. Then I spend a lot of time trying to find another, completely unrelated idea to connect it with. Or ideas. That’s where the story usually comes from, that interaction between unrelated things.
AE: What inspired you to start writing?
GK: I’ve always loved to read, and that pushed me toward making up my own stories. First in my head, riffing on the stories I read over and over, and then making up new ones with the help of my friends when I discovered role playing games. But I didn’t really start writing until I was middle aged. My wife and I had just had our first child, and I was spending most of my time in a house in rural Minnesota, alone except for an infant. That’s both a lot of work and a lot of boredom wrapped up together, and I needed some kind of creative outlet to keep me from going crazy. So I started writing, and those first attempts . . . ended up being kind of okay? So I kept working at it, and it helped keep me sane through two kids. But it did end up putting me really behind in laundry.
AE: How did you break into writing?
GK: As I said, I was living in rural Minnesota when I started writing. I had no creative writing classes, no idea really what I was doing. But I had a (VERY SLOW) internet connection. So I read a lot of things that other people had put up about writing, and started hanging around in places like Baen’s Bar, where a lot of other newbie writers were trading critiques. A story I ran through there became my first sale, to the Writers of the Future contest. Then I sold something to Baen’s Universe. After that I finally managed to find a SFF writing class being offered in Minneapolis by author Lyda Morehouse, which taught me things about writing and introduced me to other writers and got me going to cons. From there, it’s been a slow, steady slog.
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
GK: Besides read a lot and write a lot? There are a lot of great resources online. That’s what got me started. They’ll give you the basics on how to get started. But don’t ignore meatspace. Go to cons, take classes, join a real life critique group. Don’t be competitive, be supportive, and hang out with other supportive people. Don’t worry about making connections—just make friends. It makes the process so much nicer, and it’s probably one of the best things you can do.
AE: Many of our Analog authors are interested in science. Do you have any scientific background, and does it impact your fiction?
GK: I have a degree in library science, and was a science reference librarian. That was a nice exposure not only to a lot of different areas of science, but to where different branches were going and how they were interacting. It also ended up being a good way to see how people interacted with science, from researchers to teachers, students to the public.
AE: What careers have you had and how do they affect your writing?
GK: Being a science reference librarian was obviously helpful. Not just for exposing me to a lot of research, but for teaching me how to research. And teaching me how to write fast, though that was maybe more my habit of procrastinating and doing papers at the last minute. Being a parent taught me a lot about how to manage my time, and how to be practical about writing—if I wanted it to get done, it had to happen when the baby was napping. And while being a martial artist was never really a career, it was something I dedicated a lot of time to off and on through the years, and it has taught me a lot about how to do an action scene. And a lot about how to take criticism. Being told a story needs work can hurt sometime, but it’s not as bad as missing a block and getting kicked in the head. Most of the time.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
GK: I have a webpage that lists my publications—garykloster.com, and I’m on Twitter as @garykloster, though I mostly go there to read others, be horrified by the world, and look at cute animal pics.
Gary Kloster is a writer, a stay-at-home father, a librarian, and a martial artist. Sometimes all on the same day, seldom all at the same time. His work has appeared in Analog, Apex, Clarkesworld, Escape Pod, and with many other magazines and anthologies.