INTERVIEW: Tobias S. Buckell, Author of “Resistance”

In your own words, please briefly describe the plot of the story.

When the inhabitants of a space station using a live voting techno-democracy fail to pay close attention to what they’re doing and end up with a dictator in charge, they end up having to hire a mercenary to fix the results of their experiment.

Please talk about the genesis of the story, how you came to write it, where the idea came from, etc.

A lot of my more politically minded friends, of various political persuasions, are always frustrated with the fact that things don’t get done their way, or even quickly. I think a lot of Americans forget that many institutions in the US are designed to slow down, muddle, create compromise, and otherwise add checks to the mob mentality of democracy or the fast actions of a single individual. In an ideal situation everyone is frustrated and making compromises in a democracy: it shouldn’t be easy. But that isn’t to say that the appeal of a prime actor that gets things done in a way frustrated voters in a democracy don’t get isn’t seductive, I just wanted to point out that those people are called dictators.

Please tell me about–or rather introduce the readers to–the protagonist.

Our protagonist is a maintenance engineer aboard the space station this takes place on, who’s been recruited into the resistance faction that wants to take down the dictator.

Did the writing of this story present you with any significant challenges (i.e., was it particularly difficult to write, etc.)? If so, please tell me about that.

Since we were to write a story about the importance of voting (and therefore self-rule), I didn’t want to be preachy. I did my best to present the argument that the desire for a fast-acting dictator is a seduction all voters get a taste of.

Most authors say all their stories are personal. ┬áIf that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

This was a personal story because it’s darn close to being political for me, which is that I have gotten frustrated by listening to people in the states, where I am a permanent resident and therefore can’t vote for the president, indicate basically a desire for a strong person of their political persuasion (whatever that may be) who could basically cow the opposition and enact all the neat rules that those people think are right and could turn the country into a Utopia. I think it’s a dangerous belief. I remember teaching a class here in the mid-West to college students, a large majority of them opined that it was God that put the last president in office and should keep him there for as long as needed. I asked how that was different from the divine right of Kings in Europe and why bother with a democracy then? They had no answer for me.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

A bit too much life experience?

Anything else you’d like to add?

I was born in 1979, during a coup de etat in Grenada. I carry some of my first memories as being from 1983, during the invasion of Grenada to overthrow the government. In 1979 the revolution started with high hopes and big plans. But as time dragged on some consolidated power, and with their sweeping reforms, also fell into the spiral of quashing opposition to the point where it became draconian and people ended up lined up against walls and shot. As a result, I have an inbuilt distrust of sweeping reforms and powerful individuals in politics.

What is the appeal of dystopian fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers love it so much?

I think dystopia allows writers to hold up a mirror to our world and say “if this goes on…” That’s one of the classic reasons for writing it: to warn about trajectories within society. But I think the reason readers can enjoy even the grimmest dystopia is that it does, even when being a piece of social criticism, embed a certain amount of escapism in it. Both the sort of “things are still okay now” sort of comparisons that we can make as readers, and sometimes a sort of ‘if everything fell to pieces, what sort of crazy adventures would transpire’ type of narrative.

I personally enjoy the “what if” game of playing out a scenario and trying to dig a little deeper into it. If “such and such” continues, what happens next?

What are some of your favorite examples of dystopian fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

Stand on Zanzibar, Blade Runner (the movie), 1984, and a host of post-nuclear-apocalypse short stories from the 50s. I think the nuclear dystopian fiction interested me because I became an adolescent right as the Berlin Wall fell and people stopped worrying about this defining, over-the-horizon fear: that a nuclear exchange would render life on Earth dystopic. As a result, I wonder how much the constant stoking of these fears by this fiction worked to help us dodge it. I recall reading an article that former president of the US Reagan used to believe a nuclear war was doable until seeing the TV miniseries The Day After, and changed his mind about that whole stance. So, I guess, go Team Dystopia!