David Farland is the author of the best-selling Runelords series, which began withThe Sum of All Men; the eighth and latest volume, Chaosbound, came out in 2010. Farland, whose real name is Dave Wolverton, has also written several novels using his real name as his byline, such as On My Way to Paradise, and a number of Star Wars novels such as The Courtship of Princess Leia and The Rising Force. His short fiction has appeared in Peter S. Beagle’s Immortal Unicorn, David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Intergalactic Medicine Show, War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, and in John Joseph Adams’s anthology The Way of the Wizard. He is a Writers of the Future winner and a finalist for the Nebula Award and Philip K. Dick Award.
What’s was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?
Very often I will read stories about promising medical experiments, such as those used to boost intelligence, and then never hear a word again. It makes me wonder–are the drug companies holding out on us?
Often, I’m sure, the answer is “Yes.” For example, one drug that is highly advertised on television is used to treat neuralgia for diabetics. It’s a pain reliever. Yet vitamin B6 cure neuralgia in most people. So why don’t the doctors tell us about it? The answer is obvious: we buy more pills when we’re sick.
Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?
I had so many ways that I could go with it, I couldn’t really get a handle at first. It was sort of a “talking heads” story, like the ones that I loved from Asimov when I was young. It wasn’t until I realized that my protagonist was a real villain that it took off.
Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?
For me, this is more of a “global” story. Since we’re talking about world domination, I wanted to choose a real problem, give a real path toward domination, and play with that.
What kind of research did you have to do for the story?
I was a pre-med student in college thirty years ago, and I’ve kept up with biomedical science ever since. A lot of my stories deal with topics such as genetic engineering, cyborging, pharmaceuticals, and so on. For this one, I didn’t have to do much research, except when it came to date-rape drugs.
What is the appeal of mad scientist fiction? Why do writers–or you yourself–write about it? What do you think readers like about it?
Oh, gosh, if you look at the genesis of it, it began in the 1940s after the US dropped the atomic bomb. Suddenly there were lots of “mad scientist” stories, although we had seen them before. One of the best examples of course was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I think everyone is fascinated by the way that one single idea can shape the world, whether it be an idea for good, or for evil.
What are some of your favorite examples of mad scientists in fiction (or perhaps in fact!), and what makes them your favorites?
Oh, gosh, my favorite is Doc Brown in Back to the Future. I loved Christopher Lloyd’s over-the-top performance.
As for real scientists, I once wrote a book on the development of nuclear weaponry. I loved Oppenheimer’s quote when the first bomb went off: “I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” Setting off that first bomb took a lot of nerve, when you consider that some of the scientists believed that once the atmosphere got heated above 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit the whole atmosphere would explode! Got to be mad to do that!