Excerpts from the interviews:
“One of the problems we have now is that too much SF is written for a genre-based audience. The writers in the last 20 years have largely come from a culture of workshops and small magazines, so they're frequently writing for themselves, and there's less SF being written for a broader audience. Years ago I felt there was something wrong with my own fiction. I couldn't figure out what, but wanted to solve it, so I reread the classics of the field, both the stuff I had read as a kid and the things I neglected the first time around. I reread Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon, Bradbury, Clarke, Kuttner, Blish, and everybody else you could name. One of the things I noticed about stuff that has lasted in print is that you don't have to be a science fiction fan to understand it. You could come into it cold, without having read any SF before, and understand what's going on. Whereas a lot of SF being published today, including some award-winners, you can't understand unless you've have read a whole lot of SF before. Not enough is being written for a general audience, and we're cutting ourselves off, denying the opportunity to reach that broader audience that not just Heinlein but Frank Herbert and Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle and others were hitting regularly during the '70s and the '80s. Unfortunately, when you bring this up the response from hardcore SF fans is, 'Oh well, you mean dumbing it down.' It's not dumbing it down! Just keep in mind that you have an audience that has not read everything from Aldiss to Zelazny and may not necessarily know what you're talking about when you start using buzzwords. 'Of course you're going to know what I mean by the Singularity....' The Singularity has become a very high-profile concept, in the science fiction field. The average person doesn't know what the hell you're talking about!”
“When you're writing a SF story, you set up limitations and then have to overcome them. I think that's the most interesting thing about the process. One of the wisest things any SF writer ever said is Gregory Benford's observation that 'Science fiction is best done when it's like tennis played with the net up.' That provided part of my operating philosophy. I try to play with the net as high as I can, because I don't consider them limitations so much as opportunities. If you know that you can't do this, this, and this, you have to work around the constraints, and then some new doors open up. The tension is what makes it interesting. When you've killed off a major character on page 100 and on page 200 you find a reason you shouldn't have killed him, you have to work around that! The first two books of the Coyote Trilogy were serialized as stories in Asimov's, so there was no way of going back and undoing changes. In the third story of the original sequence I killed off two major characters, and then about two stories later I realized maybe that was a mistake. Too late! Story's already published.
“Another wise thing a science fiction writer said was Theodore Sturgeon's 'Ask the next question.' If you set up a situation in a story that poses a question, then you answer that -- and by answering that, it poses yet another question. Do it right, and you've got limitless potential, riffing off of one idea after the other.
“I think the Coyote series is my strongest work to date. It's the closest thing to a masterpiece that I have yet done, in the original sense of the word 'masterpiece,' that is a work you produce to show that you have mastered your craft. I hope I write better work after this, but it took me nine books to figure out how to write a really good novel! My next book, Spindrift, is set in the Coyote universe but is not a direct sequel. You see the setup at the end of Coyote Frontier, with the First Contact situation. In Spindrift we go into a different part of space and see what's going on there. The events occur between those of Rising and Frontier, so it's sort of like 'Meanwhile, elsewhere in the galaxy....' The next novel after that will lift off from the events of Spindrift and go into yet another part of the galaxy.”
“One of the things that puzzles me about SF is that all too often we have futures in which science fiction doesn't exist -- in other words, in the future there will be no SF. You have people walking around in the mid-21st century dealing with robots, and nobody ever says, 'You know, Asimov wrote something about this with the Three Laws of Robotics, didn't he?' It's almost as if SF writers put up blinds to their own past, to the past of the culture that we've created ourselves. But SF has had this enormous impact upon not only western culture but global culture over the last hundred years. It's inescapable, it's all around us now.”
“This last year I attended a conference in England that was cosponsored by an agency of the US Department of Defense and the British Defense Ministry. It was a five-day think tank attended by representatives from seven countries (in Europe, the US, and the Middle East). We had people there from the scientific, military, and intelligence communities... one morning I had breakfast with a brigadier general from the Polish Army... and the featured speakers who were brought in for this thing were all science fiction writers -- myself, Vernor Vinge, Orson Scott Card, Wil McCarthy, and Jerry Pournelle -- and we talked about the same type of things that we write about in science fiction stories.
“A couple of people were fairly skeptical about this. One guy from Homeland Security, every time the SF writers spoke he'd roll his eyes, smirk, and shake his head, until he realized nobody was paying attention to him. And there was a rather stuffy British scientist who kept wanting to go back to his idea of a futuristic threat: what if Iran got the bomb? But for most of those five days, we talked about science fiction ideas, and these people paid very close attention to what we were saying.
“I think sometimes the science fiction field underestimates its own importance. We tell ourselves we're writing fiction for geeks or that it's just escapism, and we forget that one way or another, we have a very deep influence on what's going on in the real world, either directly or indirectly. This is one of the things I find fascinating about being an SF writer. You write these stories and then down the line you find out -- ye gods and little fishes! -- somebody's taken you seriously.”
“One of the attractions of SF is that it casts a funhouse mirror upon which we reflect what's going on in our times. It's not just fairytales, not just fantasy; you're actually looking at a writer's perspective on what's going on in the here and now, but in a sort of fantastical sense. In that way it becomes more pertinent than mainstream fiction. Mainstream fiction's concerns lapse very quickly. A novel written about the oil crises in the 1970s is going to be terribly dated right now, but you can reread Dune and see where 'spice' reflects oil and it still remains pertinent. Some years ago there was an issue of Analog where they presented some short stories that had been written in Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and you could see that the writers were speaking about the things that were going on in that time, cloaking it within SF. If you understand the code, then you know what they're really talking about.”