This week’s Geek Speaks…Fiction! is a little different. Our author, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, isn’t talking about what inspired him to write a fictional work. Instead, he’s talking about how a fellow science fiction author, Robert Silverberg, inspired him and what made him geek out enough to collect their conversations and interviews over the years into a book called Traveler of Worlds, which is now eligible to be nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Related Work.
I discovered the work of Robert Silverberg with his book Nightwings, a beautiful collection of three interconnected novellas, in 1996, when I was seventeen.
2016 saw the publication of my book Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, a collection of extended interviews in which I ask him about all manner of topics, including his love of art and food and travel, and, of course, his long and prolific writing career.
How did I get from that teen reader instantly fascinated by the literary world he’d discovered to the shaper of Traveler of Worlds?
Those two decades represent quite an odyssey, let me tell you. The journey has included moving from Germany to Spain, and then from Spain to California, and then several more moves within California (with another one in the works as we speak). It has included graduating from high school and going on to earn a university science degree and making lifelong friends in the process. It has included love and domestic partnership, and travels to interesting places, and the transition from aspirational writer to budding professional.
One common element to many of these experiences was a deep desire to experience the new. When I was thirteen and fourteen, and I started getting into science fiction in a serious way, I loved figuring out the “rules” of the extrapolated worlds any given story would take me to, the particularities of their invented cultures and philosophies. I believe this enjoyment derived in part from having lived in different countries as a child and having had, therefore, to perform similar mental manipulations in the real world. Science fiction, in turn, fed back into the ongoing sense of discovery and possibility, in the anticipation of yet more changes.
Studying physics was related to this. A science fiction novel could reveal to me the richly conceived details and textured specifics of other beings in other spaces and times. Physics could, through the language of mathematics, tell me a different kind of story, one whose elegant generalizations of observed causal phenomena illuminated the properties of space and time themselves. Both were about deciphering experiences, from the intimate to the intellectual.
All of this was preparation for Traveler of Worlds.
Just like Bob’s appetite for new experiences continues to take him, in his eighth decade, to foreign lands, and compels him to try foods he’s never eaten and discover new writers and artists, so my curiosity moved me to read many of his books—fiction and non-fiction—and made me want to discover the quirks of his personality and the driving engine of his creativity. Many of the characters in Bob’s stories are outsiders struggling to fit in or discover their own paths, and, as a bright kid moving around a lot, this predicament resonated strongly. While traveling is not necessary to enjoy Bob’s work, because he’s a technically superb storyteller, I believe it enhances his tales, providing added perspective and helping one appreciate just how richly colored and how vividly realized his imaginary worlds are.
Travel played another role, too, in the preparation of this book. Rebecca—my girlfriend—and I live in Southern California, and Bob and his wife Karen live in the Bay Area, about four hundred miles north. The eight conversations that make up the text of Traveler of Worlds took place over the course of four weekends, and those weekends saw Rebecca and I take road trips to get up to Bob and Karen’s home. Journeying physically on each of these occasions provided a nice parallel to the metaphorical trip I was about to undertake into my interviewee’s mind. The changing landscape helped stimulate the right mindset of contemplation, reassessment, interrogation. And of course—from a practical perspective—these road trips gave me the opportunity to jot down additional interview questions and bounce ideas off Rebecca.
Though the majority of words in Traveler of Worlds are Bob’s, as it should be, it is inevitably a very personal book for me too. Readers may infer something about my own person by the things I choose to discuss and how I decide to go about it. I wanted to create a book that I myself would find satisfying and enjoyable, but I didn’t want it to be self-indulgent or precious. And walking that line—
Well, that too turned out to be a form of travel.
About Alvaro Zinos-Amaro:
Alvaro is co-author, with Robert Silverberg, of When The Blue Shift Comes and Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg.
Alvaro’s more than thirty stories have appeared in magazines like Analog, Nature, Lightspeed, Galaxy’s Edge, Lackington’s, Farrago’s Wainscot, and Neon, as well as anthologies such as The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty, The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Tales, The 2015 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide, Cyber World, This Way to the End Times, Humanity 2.0, An Alphabet of Embers, and The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016. Alvaro’s essays, reviews, and interviews have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The First Line, Asimov’s, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Foundation, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and Intergalactic Medicine Show. He also edits the roundtable blog for Locus.