Allen Steele, author of “The Other Side of Jordan”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

“The Other Side of Jordan” is a stand-alone story set in the universe of my Coyote series. This is the first time, though, that I’ve written a short story that shares the background of its associated novels, SPINDRIFT and GALAXY BLUES. Because of that, writing this story gave me a chance to explore the galaxy a little more, and also advance the narrative arc that I began with those two novels.

What’s was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

One of the things that I’ve decided that I want to avoid in these novels is having human-alien relations that are predicated upon warfare. I like and respect military SF well enough, but there has to be another way of dealing with extraterrestrials that doesn’t involve coming at them with both guns blazing. Trade would probably the most likely alternative, but there’s also cultural contact … and very possibly, both at the same time.

I also wanted to tell a love story, as corny as that may sound. The oldest story in the world is “boy meets girl, boy wins girl, boy loses girl,” but it’s durability can be attested to by everything from “Romeo and Juliet” to “Titanic.” So that became the framework for “The Other Side of Jordan”: a simple tale of love lost and found, played out upon a galactic scale.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

In a way, “The Other Side of Jordan” is a novel reduced to short-story length. I suppose I could have stretched it out to 100,000 words or so, but I decided instead to give myself the challenge of telling it in less than 6,000 words. After having written three novels in a row, it was rather liberating, in an odd way, to have to be so concise, especially when I was dealing with events on such a grand scale.

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

If you’ve ever broken up with someone in a bad way, and later found yourself regretting the things you said on the way out the door … yes, it’s personal. And that’s all I’m willing to say about that.

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

Besides the astronomical research involved — that is, figuring out which nearby stars are likely to have habitable zones capable of supporting alien civilizations — there was also designing Hex itself.I don’t want to give away too much, but this is my answer to the classic Dyson sphere, and I may come back here again before too long.

What is the appeal of this type of fiction–stories that take place in interstellar societies? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

Scale obviously has something to do with the lasting appeal of interstellar SF. When you have an entire galaxy to play with, you don’t have to confine yourself to a single city, let alone a single world … which is why it was probably inevitable that the Coyote series would leave 47 Ursae Majoris and branch outward. And the recent discovery of real-life exoplanets, along with a growing awareness that interstellar space is much stranger than previously imagined, means that SF writers now has the ability to tell stories set in a cosmos that is much closer to what actually exists. Who needs Vulcan when you’ve got HD 73256?

What are some of your favorite examples of interstellar SF, and what makes them your favorites?

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, of course, is the all-time classic, but I’ve also enjoyed Gregory Benford’s Galactic Center series, Larry Niven’s Known Space, and Iain Banks’ Culture novels. And since I read a lot of old SF, every now and then I find a story from the 30’s and 40’s that impresses me — the latest example being “Proxima Centauri” by Murray Leinster, published in “Astounding” in 1934. Anyone who thinks the original first-contact horror story was the movie “Alien” should read that one.

Any new work of yours just out or forthcoming you’d like to mention, or anything else you’d like to add?

Since I’ve mentioned the Coyote series, I should add that its next volume, COYOTE HORIZON, will be published in March. It’s the first volume of a duology, to be followed by COYOTE DESTINY, which I’m currently in the midst of writing. And I also have a new short story collection, THE LAST SCIENCE FICTION WRITER, which should be out Real Soon.

To learn more about Allen, visit his website.