James Alan Gardner, author of “The One with the Interstellar Group Consciousnesses”

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

An interstellar federation goes searching for a wife.

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

John said he was looking for stories about interstellar federations.  Conventionally, that would suggest writing about individuals within such a federation—cunning politicians, stalwart soldiers, and so on.  It occurred to me I should write about the federation itself: the federation considered as a group consciousness, acting independently of its constituent citizens. What goals would such an entity have? I kicked around a number of options, but the one that appealed to me most was writing a stereotypical romantic comedy…like The 40-Year-Old Virgin or an episode of Friends, but with interstellar federations.

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

The basic plot was simple. The details were hard. I had no idea if the story would work at all for readers, and balancing the macro-level (what the federation was doing) against the micro-level (what was actually going on among the people) taxed my brain. I wrote this more slowly than usual, but it went exactly where I expected.

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

Despite the main character occupying four hundred cubic parsecs, he’s really just a lonely guy looking for love. I can sympathize with that.

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

I had my thesaurus open to the “Association” section—I had to keep coming up with new names for interstellar federations. Apart from that, the nature of the story demanded no research at all. (Okay, that’s a bit embarrassing.)

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?

Who doesn’t love epics? Science fiction is one of the only genres that actually supports the large scale. I don’t disdain the small-scale mysteries of the human heart, but let’s admit that monumental events happen. Empires rise and fall; civilizations shift in new directions. It’s important to address such possibilities. Lois McMaster Bujold talks about science fiction and fantasy being genres of “agency,” where individuals have the power to change their worlds. The bigger the society, the more I enjoy turning the place on its head.

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

The Dragon Never Sleeps by Glen Cook—wonderfully weird but compelling, about a small fleet of battleships maintaining order in the galaxy.

The Inquestor books by Somtow Sucharitkul—over the top stuff with casually large-scale imagery (a sentient sun…a Dyson sphere around the center of the galaxy…destroying a star every time you want to go FTL…)

Hyperion by Dan Simmons (and its several sequels)—particularly notable in that the federation is a democracy, as opposed to the monarchies and theocracies that you usually see.

The Culture books by Iain M. Banks—big ideas, memorable imagery, and a lot of laughs.

To learn more about James, visit his website. Also, be sure to check out his story “The Ray-Gun: A Love Story,” which is currently a finalist for the Hugo and Nebula awards.