Alan Dean Foster is the bestselling author of several dozen novels, and is perhaps most famous for his Commonwealth series, which began in 1975 with the novel Midworld. His most recent novels include Quofum, Flinx Transcendent, The Human Blend, and Body, Inc. Foster’s short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and in magazines such as The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Jim Baen’s Universe, and in John Joseph Adams’s anthology Federations. A new collection, Exceptions to Reality, came out in 2008.
Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?
Not your typical mad scientist. Not in the typical locale, nor the typical prototype. Mysteries are where you find them, and very often they are neither where nor what you expect.
What’s was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?
The backroads of this country are full of hidden corners no one ever visits. People are so busy getting from place to place on the interstates that they miss the truly unusual, the unseen exceptional, and the talents of people who will never be on the evening news or YouTube. I wanted to highlight that. I also wanted to pay a bit of homage to Clifford Simak.
Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?
Combining the simple and everyday with the extraordinary and making both believable can be taxing. A writer can overlook one in favor of the other. I tried hard to keep a balance.
Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?
I’ve been down the kind of road described in the story and met exactly the type of people involved. Both are very pleasant and not often utilized in science-fiction (as opposed to, say, fantasy).
What kind of research did you have to do for the story?
It’s much easier to describe a place if you’ve been there. Don’t travel, and you’re reduced to picking cold images off the web or out of books.
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?
It’s the distaff side of superhero stories. It’s the reason readers find themselves drawn to powerful villains. It’s the thought that some characters have absolutely no restrictions on what they can do. They’re free of all societal constraints. It’s why Chuck Jones always said he was like Bugs Bunny but wanted to be Pepe LePew. It’s a kind of freedom from everything, including having to think sensibly. For most people, their lives are ruled by sensibility, and they feel smothered. Mad scientists are decidedly unsmothered.
What are some of your favorite examples of mad scientists in fiction (or perhaps in fact!), and what makes them your favorites?
Gene Wilder in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. He’s not just mad…he’s angry. And he insists he’s not mad. Saying so only makes him…madder. Hilarious. One could also say that Nicolai Tesla was a bit off…just enough to qualify. Today’s mad scientists are entirely too restrained. Maybe it’s the need to publish. Or the poor quality of tinfoil.