Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Interview: Larry Niven and Steven Barnes

Curling Up by The Fire would like to welcome Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, co-authors of The Moon Maze Game, which just released August 16th, 2011.  Both prolific writers, Steven Barnes has written episodes for The Outer Limits, Stargate SG-1, and Baywatch while Larry Niven is well-known for his Ringworld series, a series for which he has won numerous awards.  The Locusts, another collaboration with Niven, was a Hugo Award nominee. Both of these authors are here today to discuss their current partnership in the science-fiction world as well as some future plans.  Here is a brief synopsis of The Moon Maze Game:

The Year: 2085. Humanity has spread throughout the solar system. A stable lunar colony is agitating for independence. Lunar tourism is on the rise...

Against this background, professional “Close Protection” specialist Scotty Griffin, fresh off a disastrous assignment, is offered the opportunity of a lifetime: to shepherd the teenaged heir to the Republic of Kikaya on a fabulous vacation. Ali Kikaya will participate in the first live action role playing game conducted on the Moon itself. Having left Luna--and a treasured marriage--years ago due to a near-tragic accident, Scotty leaps at the opportunity.

Live Action Role Playing attracts a very special sort of individual: brilliant, unpredictable, resourceful, and addicted to problem solving. By kidnapping a dozen gamers in the middle of the ultimate game, watched by more people than any other sporting event in history, they have thrown down an irresistible gauntlet: to “win” the first game that ever became “real.” Pursued by armed and murderous terrorists, forced to solve gaming puzzles to stay a jump ahead, forced to juggle multiple psychological realities as they do...this is the game for which they’ve prepared their entire lives, and they are going to play it for all it’s worth.

1) To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?  How did you become interested in writing science-fiction novels?

Larry: I’ve been writing since 1963.  Sold a story, 1964.  Never looked back.  Born with a trust fund, male WASP.  Currently 73 years old.

2) Can you tell us a little about your newest novel?    How much research was involved in the writing process?     

Larry: I research for fun, and the research generally generates the stories.  Not this time, but when we shaped a set of notes, the research was at hand or in my head.  Wells is easily accessible, but his “Little Wars” books aren’t.  Thanks to the publishers: one had already given me both books.

Steven: MOON MAZE GAME is the fourth novel in the Dream Park series, and tells the story of the first live-action role-playing game on the lunar surface.  We had to research lunar exploration, bases, and the economic structures underlying travel tourism, for starters.

3) What was your greatest challenge while writing this novel?

Larry: I did veto one of Steve’s procedures.  A character was supposed to die.  Steve listened, so we let him win a fight.  Otherwise: design and mapping the Beehive was a challenge. 

Steven: The fact that we'd already written three books in the series, and wanted to satisfy old fans without merely repeating ourselves.

4) You have written this novel in collaboration.  What do you feel is the most important thing to working with someone else? Why are there so few partnerships, especially successful partnerships, in your opinion, in the writing world?

Larry: Most important is mutual respect.  But some of our best writers can’t or shouldn’t collaborate. Their viewpoints are too individual.  Me, I’m just crazy enough. 

Steven: A collaboration has to produce something that neither writer could have produced on his own.

5) In this novel, we are introduced to some very interesting and intriguing characters.  Who was the most fun to write about?  Which character presented the biggest challenge?

Larry: I dunno.

Steven: I liked dealing with Scotty Griffin.  Like his dad years before, he begins with mild contempt for gamers, and grows to respect them.

6) What is one of the most interesting / startling things you have learned as a writer? 

Larry: You can create whole subcultures. Dream Park did.  So did Lucifer’s Hammer (with Jerry Pournelle.)  It can make a person egotistical. 

Steven: I never thought I'd "get used" to seeing my name in print.   But while that's no longer a thrill, the writing itself still is.

7) Have you always wanted to be a writer?  What advice would you give to those who are new to the writing scene, especially those who may have perhaps received a 'poor' review?  How do you stay motivated?         

Larry: Motivation is the trick.  I’m getting less inspiration these days; it’s one reason why I collaborate.  But I did always want to tell stories. 

Steven: Almost always.   The most important thing a writer can do is write every day, and read ten times as much as you write. I motivate myself by having clarity on all the reasons I want this life.

8) What are 3 things that are 'must haves' when you write? Do you have any writing rituals?        

Larry: No rituals.  I write down an idea or fragment thereof as soon as it’s there.  I spend several hours at my computer every day.  I keep communications open. 

Steven: I read one scene of Shakespeare aloud every morning.  Re-read the previous day's work and do light editing.  And have very clear goals for daily accomplishment.

9) Do you feel your writing has changed over the years, that there is more depth to your writing, something that comes with maturity perhaps?  

Larry: Definitely yes. But I miss the flood of ideas that came with youth. Maybe I’ve become too critical. 

Steven: I'd like to think so.

10) What genre are you the most comfortable with?  Is there something you have always wanted to write, but haven't yet had the time?       

Larry: I could believe that time was the problem, but really, it’s getting off the dime, getting started on text.  Sometimes a collaborator can do that for me.

Steven: Science fiction/adventure.

11) One of the things I've always enjoyed about your writing is the uniqueness of the settings, the worlds you create.  Where do you continue to get inspiration?  Are there any other worlds you would like to share with your readers as a treat of what is yet to come?             

Larry: Oh boy!  Everything seems to be happening at once in the astronomy field.  New planets everywhere, all very different from what we were expecting. Everyone’s talking about neutrinos that seem to have beaten lightspeed. That is where my inspiration comes from.  Look for a far future epic written with a Matthew Harrington, centered around a pair of white dwarf stars spiraling inward—recently discovered. 

Steven: I'm working on a world in which humans are an endangered species, a post-apocalyptic novel, "Devil's Wake" with my wife Tananarive Due.

12) I am really looking forward to those novels!!!  Which of your novels is your favourite?  Do you have another favourite novel?              

Larry: For different reasons—Ringworld, Lucifer’s Hammer, A Mote in God’s Eye, Dream Park, Rainbow Mars - Actually, they all look good to me. 

Steven: Probably "Lion's Blood."

13) Can you share with us any projects that you are currently working on or plans for the future? What can fans expect next from you?        

Larry: Steven and I are working on a couple of things.  One, with Jerry Pournelle, is nearly finished: The Legend of Black Ship Island.  One will be high fantasy, Conan style.

Steven: "Devil's Wake" is coming next year.  There are more, but I'm keeping my own council on that!

14) Favourite authors?

Larry: Heinlein, Vance, Clarke, Poul Anderson, Baxter...the Man-Kzin Wars writers…and a lot of new writers, but I don’t have their names memorized yet. 

Steven: Shakespeare, Dickens, John D. MacDonald.

15) What do you like to do when you are not writing? What is your ultimate luxury?   

Larry: Conventions and hiking and good restaurants.  And filk singing.

Steven: A day spent sleeping late, exercising, watching movies and hanging with my family.

16) Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?               

Larry: Sure.  Engage me in conversation.  I’m around.  LARRY NIVEN

Steven: I try not to take myself too seriously--after all, I'm only here for a very short time indeed.


  1. I like what you say about collaborative writing. One of my two projects on the go is a collaborative novel written with a partner.

  2. My husband and I have talked about collaborating on a novel and we've got some great ideas, it's just finding the time to actually sit down and write it. We figure when we retire...