Sunday, July 1, 2012

Master of the Multiverse: An Interview with Paul Melko

Today's guest is Paul Melko, author of Walls of the Universe and its frighteningly good sequel, The Broken Universe.

What was the inspiration behind Walls of the Universe and its sequel,
Broken Universe?
The first version of Walls was a novel that covered the same period as the
first half of the current novel.  It didn't work - too flabby.  I let it sit
for a while and brought it back out a few years later. I trimmed it to
novella length, cutting the slow parts and that ended as the novella of the
same name, published in Asimov's.  It went on to win the Asimov's Readers
Poll for Best Novella.  It was also on the Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon
ballots. (It lost all 3 of those awards, by the way.)  I realized that there
was a lot more to John's story after the end of the novella, so when I was
searching for a second novel to write, I took it up.

At the end of Walls, I wanted to take the story even bigger. Instead of two
Johns, I wanted ten.  I wanted to see where these characters took the device
and what they did with it.  The Broken Universe ramps up the scale.  The
third and probably final book ramps it up again. Any army of Johns?  Yes,

I've always loved parallel universe and pocket universe books. Philip Jose
Farmer's World of Tiers series is a person favorite.
Any rejection horror stories with Walls of the Universe?
The first version of the novel wasn't good enough to get published. It was
rejected, but that was the state of my career back then. It was what it was.
But the crux was good enough to get into Asimov's right away. 

Were you always planning to do more books in the same world after
Walls of the Universe?
Yes, as I mentioned above, I wanted the scope of John's problems and domain
to ratchet up in each book.
If there was a movie based on Walls of the Universe/Broken Universe,
who would you cast as John, Casey, Henry, and Grace? 
Walls has been optioned by the same production team that did the Shrek
movies.  A script is being written, so I'm excited to see what comes of
that.  I of course have no input into casting.  But it was funny when the
movie rights were being shopped around, I kept getting updates from the film
agents about who was interested and who they thought might play a lead.
There was even talk of Hayden Christensen as John.  The list of producers
they sent the book to was amazing. I chortled as I read the names.
As to who I would like to see, I really have no strong opinion.  I think the
role would be a meaty one, since they would get to play both John and Prime
One of the things that impressed me about the two Universe books is
the logic behind transferring universes. How much planning did you do
before putting pen to paper?
I'm an engineer, so I attacked the problem as an engineer. What would the
constraints of a transfer device be?  What problems would it pose?  How
would it be controlled and regulated?  When it broke, what would happen?

I wanted a device that was powerful and yet flawed. 

Will we be seeing more books in the Universe series in the future?
There will be at least one more!
Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
No one book made me want to be a writer, but the Heinlein juveniles were
what I started reading, and they influenced my love of science and
engineering greatly.  In Have Spacesuit - Will Travel, Kip calculates the
speed of the spaceship to Pluto using a sliderule. It blew my mind that such
a thing was even possible, to use physics to find a solution. I loved that

Who would you say your biggest influences are?
Heinlein, Farmer, Zelazny, Harrison.  I read those 4 with fervor.  Heinlein
and Farmer by far are the two writers who I feel I am most emulating in my
own work.

Who's your favorite author? 
These days, I'm a big fan of Dan Simmons, Neal Stephanson, and William
Gibson.  They are doing great stuff at the moment.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months? House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds.  It's seldom that I get a sense of
wonder that sends chills down my back, but that book did it for me.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
When I give writers workshops, my key piece of advice to aspiring writers is
that they strive to enjoy the journey.  I see too many would-be writers
waiting for that first acceptance, that first interest from an agent, that
first nibble from a publisher, thinking that it will change everything. It
won't. A writer still has to spend the majority of his or her time writing,
and if you don't enjoy that solitary time in your basement or at the coffee
shop, then maybe writing isn't for you.  The milestones are always going to
be few and far between and if you're waiting for those, you'll be
disappointed.  If you don't feel the soulful joy of writing when you put pen
to paper, look elsewhere for fulfillment.

What's next for Paul Melko?
I'm working on two hard SF middle-grade readers.  I noticed that my oldest
two children (12 and 14) had no problem finding fantasy novels to read.
Hard science fiction wasn't that prevalent in the libraries and bookstores.
I know how influential the Heinlein juveniles were on me, so I wanted to put
out some middle-grade books that weren't vampires and dragons.

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