Q&A With David Cleden

David Cleden discusses his influences, the apocalypse, and how free range cars will affect our future. Check out “Where the Buffalo Cars Roam” in our [july/august issue, on sale now]  

Analog Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
David Cleden: I think it’s inevitable that driverless cars will become commonplace—although the technology needs a lot more development than some news stories would have you believe. I’ve always found the idea fascinating, particularly the psychological shift to get us to the point where everyone trusts the infallibility of the algorithms more than human drivers, who will likely seem unpredictable and inexpert by comparison. One day I was out hill-walking when a SUV came roaring down the dirt-track snaking down the hillside—the same one I was hiking. For some reason all its windows were heavily tinted and I couldn’t see any driver inside, or maybe it was just the way the overcast skies reflected off the glass. I’m sure it was just a farmer checking on their sheep up on the high pastures but for an instant it seemed to me as if there was no one driving. What if…, I wondered and most of the story sprang into existence.

AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
DC: I come from a family of make-do-and-menders so Joel’s ability to fix things—a skill obviously learned from his father—has echoes for me. My Dad had one of those giant toolboxes with hinged trays that opened out and endless little drawers for nuts and bolts and washers. It fascinated me. I’d often skulk in our garage after school and open it out to look at all the tools—being very careful to put everything back exactly as I found it so Dad never knew! I greatly admire the kind of basic engineering knowledge and ingenuity it would take to survive in a post-apocalyptic world with a reasonable standard of living although I’m not sure I could survive long.

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
DC: There are so many! I grew up reading the titans of the field (Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Disch and on through the alphabet). I came to Ursula K Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and Terry Pratchett a little later. I fell in love with Iain Banks’ work (both with and without the M middle initial which he added for his SF work) and I’ve long been inspired by Dan Simmons, Peter F Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds. There’s a daunting array of superb new writers establishing themselves (Sarah Pinsker, Rich Larson, and Marie Vibbert spring to mind) but really, the list could run for pages.
I always enjoy Analog regulars such as Michael Swanwick and Adam-Troy Castro and I’m a long-standing fan of Doug Beason’s work. A couple of years ago I was presented with a Writers of the Future Award at their gala ceremony. Imagine my excitement when I discovered my award was being presented by none other than Dr. Doug Beason! I was walking on air for weeks after!


One day I was out hill-walking when a SUV came roaring down the dirt-track snaking down the hillside—the same one I was hiking. For some reason all its windows were heavily tinted and I couldn’t see any driver inside, or maybe it was just the way the overcast skies reflected off the glass. I’m sure it was just a farmer checking on their sheep up on the high pastures but for an instant it seemed to me as if there was no one driving. What if…, I wondered and most of the story sprang into existence.


AE: What is your process?
DC: My writing process feels a little chaotic because it varies from day to day. Some days, I’ll write first draft material longhand in a notebook, revise and revise until the page approaches illegibility, then type it up and keep working on the laptop. Other days, I’ll write straight onto the laptop. I’ve gradually come to realise that my brain doesn’t appreciate too much routine. Switching between working longhand and typing helps keep things fresh and interesting. I try to write every day but one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is to take a break when I start feeling stale. Missing a day or two of writing builds up a kind of creative potential. I can come back to a project with twice the energy and be more productive than if I had tried to slog through.

AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
DC: I’d love to live in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion universe, mostly to experience the farcaster technology. Living in a house where every door is a farcaster portal, meaning every room is physically located on a different world—wouldn’t that be fantastic? The views! The change of perspective and climate! Although I guess the housing tax and residency rights might be problematical. 

AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
DC: I’d like to live long enough to witness the first incontrovertible evidence of other intelligent lifeforms existing elsewhere in the universe. Preferably the classic First Contact scenario, unlikely though I think that will be.
The aliens have to be out there—maybe impossibly far away but I reject the idea that the emergence of our civilisation is just some cosmic blip, never to be repeated. However, I suspect we live in a universe where the speed of light really is inviolate, which is going to be seriously limiting for First Contact exchanges. If we keep looking long enough and smart enough, I’m sure we will detect signals sooner or later. I mean, just look how far we’ve come in the last few years in being able to detect planets within other solar systems, something that would have seemed impossible a couple of decades ago. So I’d like that First Contact signal to arrive in my lifetime, please.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
DC: I try to keep my list of publications updated on my website (www.quantum-scribe.com), and I aim to say something vaguely intelligent on my blog now and then. You can find me on Twitter as @davidcleden.


David Cleden has wanted to write science fiction all his life and now he does. His fiction has won the James White, Aeon and Writers of the Future awards and has appeared in Interzone and Galaxy’s Edge amongst others. “Where the Buffalo Cars Roam” is his first story for Analog.

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