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, probably. 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 together.
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 idea.
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.