Charles Yu is the author of the critically-acclaimed novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, and he also helped write the first season of the hit HBO series Westworld. His latest project is the anthology The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017, which he co-edited with John Joseph Adams.
“This is something that I’ve always dreamed of doing,” Yu says in Episode 275 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I’ve always liked the Best American series, and to do it in the science fiction and fantasy space just seemed great.”
One thing that impressed him about the book is how many of the stories imagine technological advances that might actually happen. For example, Greg Van Eekhout’s story “On the Fringes of the Fractal” features the idea of “smart pants”—adjustable pants that automatically shift with the latest fashion trends.
“The government could use this book for ideas, for things that they should be developing,” Yu says. “Like someone somewhere at the Pentagon is like, ‘Oh yeah we need smart pants,’ so they’re just getting to work on it now.”
Yu also contributed an introduction to the book, which spins out a science fiction scenario involving parallel worlds and a fictional version of Yu himself. “Given the state of the country and the current administration,” he says, “it seems that we’re either in some kind of forking, branching path where we’ve gone down the wrong one and we need to figure out how to get ourselves out—which will probably involve aliens or some higher-dimensional beings—or we’re in a simulation.”
Yu is hopeful that if humanity is ever judged by super-advanced aliens, books like The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy will demonstrate that we have more potential as a species than it might seem.
“It’s really kind of a document about civilization as it is and as a bunch of really smart, creative people think it should or could be,” he says.
Listen to the complete interview with Charles Yu and John Joseph Adams in Episode 275 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Charles Yu on being a Westworld writer:
“I’ve written a lot of stories that play in that space of some kind of manufactured reality, so I liked the idea of a workplace where the output is to create a reality for paying customers. I also like to read stuff on my own about AI, and I tried to bring some of the philosophy and thinking about consciousness into the room, and hopefully it was useful. If nothing else, it often had the effect of derailing useful conversations that the TV writers were having. So that was probably my main contribution, was to bring everything to a screeching halt with my ridiculous, highfalutin ideas about consciousness. They were usually like, ‘Oh that’s great, but how do we show that on TV?’ And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, right.’”
John Joseph Adams on “The Venus Effect” by Joseph Allen Hill:
“This is one of my favorite things I’ve ever published. … But when it first came out, nobody paid any attention to it, and I was like, ‘No! Everyone’s missing the boat on this,’ and I was trying to flog it as much as I could, to make people realize that it was this really special thing. It didn’t get nominated for the Hugo, but after the Hugo winners were announced, they release the long list where you can see how many nominations something got, and I was pleased to see it actually did get a lot of nominations—about 50 nominations—so I was glad to see that at least. Then I started second-guessing myself—’Oh, I shouldn’t have published it in December, I should have saved it for early the next year.’ But that’s just part of the publishing game.”
Charles Yu on writing his short story “Fable”:
“I wrote that story, actually, using technology. I wrote it in the car, mostly using dictation—which is probably kind of dangerous, because dictation works fine, most of the time, but often I was finding that as I was writing it, it was sometimes turning out sentences that were gobbledygook, and so I would then have to try to remember what I actually said. So sometimes I would be editing on the road—I don’t know if I can be retroactively given a ticket for doing this—but sometimes I would be editing the story on my phone. I basically wrote the first draft while driving back and forth to work, which at that time was the writers’ room for Westworld, and it was a story that just came out one day, which was fun.”
John Joseph Adams on supporting good science fiction:
“The fact that they’re still using the Nielsen model to measure viewership, that makes me crazy. There’s got to be a better way at this point. So it just goes to show how much, as a fan, you really need to get out there and really, really support the things that you love as much as you can, because even if you just watch it every week or whatever, your viewer number might not even be counted. So that’s where the engagement comes into play. You’ve got to get out there and talk about it, or find out the ways that do get counted. … This same sort of thinking applies to books, it applies to magazines. I see people a lot of times talk about how, ‘I’m not going to read that series until it’s finished.’ Well that’s going to make sure the series is never finished, because a publisher won’t continue a book series if everybody just waits until seven books get published to buy it.”