Saturday Series Author Interview – Ben Bova, American Science Fiction Writer

Where do I start with this one?  Ben Bova is a living legend in the field of science fiction.  To date, he has written over fiction and non-fiction 110 books, with many of them considered classics.  Ben has been involved in science fiction for forty years, after starting as an editor at Analos Science Fiction.

His Grand Tour series is incredible in scope, as it details the human coloinsation of the solar system.  The series started in 1985 and has been a tour-de-force ever since (apologies for the pun).  In fact, Ben has just completed yet another Grand Tour book entitled New Earth, which should be out soon.

If you like your science fiction and have not read Ben Bova, then I only have one question for you.  Why not?

Over to you, Ben.


What genre would you like to write a book in (that you haven’t yet)?


Where do your ideas come from? Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to as a whole construct?

Ideas are everywhere. Every person you meet is a walking novel, if only you get to know him or her well enough. Reports of scientific research are a wellspring of story ideas. For my “Grand Tour” series, I asked myself who would lead the human race’s expansion beyond planet Earth, and why? This led me to imagine what the world would be like if greenhouse warming really strikes catastrophically. The series of novels arose from those two speculations.

I don’t have a standard formula for plots, and certainly stories don’t spring to mind as whole constructs. Usually, I develop a pair of characters who have a conflict, and their background setting. This is a process that might take years. But once I know them and their setting well enough to begin writing, they essentially produce the plot for me.

When you start a new story, do you have a title for it? Does that trigger the story?

Generally, by the time I’m ready to start writing the story (see above) a title has suggested itself. The title may change, though, before the book is finished.

Do you see the future of fantasy and science fiction as bright? If so, which authors are driving it?

I tend to be an optimist. Since I started writing, I’ve seen science fiction and fantasy emerge from a literary ghetto to become a major force in book publishing and motion picture/TV entertainment.

I’m going to refrain from naming authors, because I would merely be telling you what my prejudices are, and I would undoubtedly miss authors who should be named and would feel justifiably hurt.

What themes are being overused?

The basic attitude is that the future will be much like the past, only with more intricate gadgets.

Are movies of books ruining the book?

Depends on the movie – and the book. Stanley Kubrick certainly didn’t ruin Arthur C. Clarke’s novel.

Do you see ebooks threatening traditional publishing?

In the sense that electronic books will replace most print book, yes. But this move is actually an expansion of the reading public, and an ultimate good for authors and publishers who are bright enough to take advantage of the change. See my 1989 novel, Cyberbooks.

Do you prefer to read established authors or debut authors? How do you choose which ones to read?

A established author has a track record; you know pretty much what you’re going to get. Reading a new author can be very pleasantly rewarding, although certainly not always. As to hoe I choose which books to read, I do it very much the same way that you do: through recommendations of friends, through books reviews and publicity.

What is it about fantasy that appeals to you?

Most of fantasy does not appeal to me. I prefer science fiction, where the author is bound by the known rules of science. The author is free to bend those rules or even break them – as long as no one can prove that what the author has done is flatly impossible.

Can I get an autographed book?

Yes, of course. Send me a self-addressed envelope with the proper return postage and I send you an autographed book.

Do you have a group of people that you show a new story to? How much impact can they have on the whole story?

Usually I send a finished book to my editor. His opinion is the one that counts. If I have doubts about the technical accuracy of a story, I will send it to someone I know who has expertise in that area. Otherwise, it goes straight to the editor.

Do you set yourself a word limit for each book?

No. The story itself determines the book’s length.

Do you have a target each day?

I like to produce a minimum of five pages each day. The following day I review those pages and then go on from there.

Do you write constantly or have breaks between books?

Constantly. By the time I finish a book, I already have enough notes to start the next one. I write six days a week, and sometimes seven.

Do you have characters running around your head? Do they dictate events and their histories to you?

I constantly have characters running around in my mind, and they are constantly telling me about themselves. Very often, in the middle of writing a story, the characters will refuse to do what I’ve planned for them and go their own way. That, I think, is when the story is at its best.

After so many books, how do you keep them unique?

It’s all about the characters. Each of them has an unique story to be told. And, since I often base my stories on other worlds, the backgrounds are usually distinctive. I have the entire universe to play in!

What is you biggest (self-imposed) time waster?

Authors don’t waste their time. Everything an author does contributes to the stories he or she write. I’ve tried explaining this to the Internal Revenue Service, and I’ve almost succeeded in making them understand.

Do you remember the first time you saw your book in a shop?

Yes. It was at a book signing for my very first published novel, The Star Conquerors, in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1959.

Do you read other people’s writing?

Of course, as long as it is published. There are unscrupulous people who have asked an author to read their unpublished work, then – perhaps years later – sue the author for plagiarism because the author touched on a subject that the unpublished writer believes came the story he’d sent. Even totally trivial such lawsuits take time and money to defend against, two quantities that authors have only in limited supply. Therefore, on advice of legal counsel, I will not read unpublished material.

Would you read mine?

While I’m sure you are not the unscrupulous sort, if I read your unpublished work I have no valid reason to refuse to read someone else’s unpublished work. Therefore the answer is, sadly, no.

You can find Ben wesite here:

Twitter:  @BenBova

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