Locus Online

Interview Thread
<< prev | next >>


Table of Contents

John Varley

Eileen Gunn
Locus Bestsellers
New & Notable Books

October Issue Thread
<< prev | next >>

Mailing Date:
30 September 2004




Change Address Form
Order Back Issues
E-mail Locus
Contact Information

Indexes to the Magazine:
Book Reviews


Eileen Gunn: Exploring the Edge October 2004

Eileen Gunn grew up south of Boston, earned a BA in History from Emmanuel College, and worked as an advertising copywriter before moving to California to pursue fiction writing. In 1976 she attended Clarion, then supported herself by working in advertising. She was the 150th employee at Microsoft, where she worked as director of advertising and sales promotion in the mid-'80s. In 1988 she joined the board of directors for the Clarion West Writers Workshop, and in 2001 began editing online magazine The Infinite Matrix.

Gunn's first story, "What Are Friends For?", appeared in 1978. Never a prolific author, Gunn produced only a handful of stories over the next decades, but those include two Hugo nominees, "Stable Strategies for Middle Management" (1989; also included in The Norton Book of Science Fiction) and "Computer Friendly" (1990). Most of her fiction from the past 25 years has been collected in Stable Strategies and Others (2004), which includes several new stories.

Gunn lives in Seattle with editor John Berry, her partner of 25 years. She is currently working on a biography of Avram Davidson.
Photo by Leslie Howle

Eileen Gunn

The Infinite Matrix

Excerpts from the interview:

“I discovered science fiction when I was around 12 -- the golden age. I babysat for several families of avid science fiction readers who had all these wonderful books -- Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, John Wyndham, Fredric Brown.... I can still remember reading The Puppet Masters while babysitting on New Year's Eve -- I put my charge to bed, then stayed up until 4 AM, all alone in a strange house alive with creaking floorboards and rattling furnace ducts, that classic Puppet-Masters itch between my shoulder-blades.

“Many adolescent SF readers, when they discover fandom, get the feeling that they've found their true people. I got that from the hip underground, what came to be called the counter-culture. I started reading The Village Voice when I was 15. That and the folk music scene was my way out of the prison of the normal.”


“Microsoft was an exciting place to work then, but my career was writing fiction. When I started at Microsoft, I mentioned to Bill Gibson that I'd gotten a job and probably wouldn't be able to write for a while. He said, 'Quit the job -- we're going to take over science fiction.' I said, 'I'll quit after I get my teeth fixed.' That was in 1982. In 1985, when I was visibly wearying of work at Microsoft, I ran into Gibson at a Norwescon. He didn't say hi or anything -- just kept staring ostentatiously at my mouth. 'What's the matter?' I asked. 'I think you have enough teeth,' he said. I quit a few months later.”


“When it comes to significant events in my life that have affected what I write about, certainly the most significant event of my adolescence was the death of my younger sister. Kathleen died of nephritis in 1961, when she was 11, and my family simply did not know how to deal with it. It was an event that cast a shadow over my parents' lives, and over the lives of my brother and myself, and even over the life of my other younger sister, who was only two at the time.

“A lot of my fiction is about death, in one way or another. Not to say that I write particularly grim fiction: I think most of my fiction is pretty funny. I'm not alone in that, in science fiction. Leslie What, who is a dear friend of mine -- we survived Clarion together -- also writes sharply funny fiction that deals with death and loss, and of course Connie Willis is an enormously witty writer who writes very movingly about death. I don't know if I write about life and love, but I know I write about death.”


“Science fiction says there are reasons why things happen and you can understand those reasons. This belief is very optimistic, of course, and not necessarily accurate. Stories impose order on a universe that doesn't necessarily have any order.”


“Unlike some writers, I'm not 'happiest when I'm writing.' I've tried not writing, but I wasn't happy when I wasn't writing, either. There's no difference, so I might as well write. Eventually, by slugging along, I've gotten enough stories to fill a book, Stable Strategies and Others.

“My best-known story, 'Stable Strategies for Middle Management' (1989) came along at the right time, at the height of the tech boom. Yes, it's my Microsoft story, but it's also my DEC story. The story doesn't do justice to the complexity of working at Microsoft. I worked with a lot of good, smart people at Microsoft, and at the same time it was a really hard place to work. Everybody was eating one another's tails, like goldfish in a tiny tank.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the October 2004 issue of Locus Magazine.

You may purchase this issue for $7.95 by sending a check to Locus, PO Box 13305, Oakland CA 94661; or via credit card submitted by mail, e-mail, or phone at (510) 339-9198. (Or, Subscribe.)


© 2004 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.