Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘Since the late ’60s and ’70s, science fiction has undergone almost total liberation. Of course, you have a negative-feedback thing where you don’t dare be too conservative about sexual matters. I’m very lucky, because my own zeitgeist was aligned in the right direction for this slow revolution. It was slow in science fiction. It wasn’t a sudden, ‘Oh my God, Philip José Farmer, and now we are all free to write anything we want!’ When Farmer published ‘The Lovers’, everybody said, ‘Phil, are you out of your mind?’ Phil Farmer sort of made a career of thumbing his nose at everybody’s sexual fears.

‘‘Most of Heinlein’s novels, all the way up to Stranger in a Strange Land, could be published as YA now, or sent back with the request, ‘Could you spice things up a little?’ And as for current YA…. If you are a regular publisher, not a science fiction publisher, I think you could come up with a list of things that used to spell ‘young-adult novel.’ I’ve looked at young-adult novels now, and they’re about anal rape, counterfeiting, doing hard time for murder, things like that. It really isn’t like putting on a frock and going to the dance anymore.

‘‘Looking at science fiction in the years from 1950 to 1965, the change was gradual. By the time we changed, mainstream literature was already there. The readership has changed, perhaps even more than the writers have. Even at the height of the pulp magazine era, there was good artistic science fiction being written. I haven’t read Stapledon’s Last and First Men in about 30 years, but I remember thinking it was quite advanced in that regard. But there was no real financial reward for it at the time.”

‘‘With Earthbound, I completed the Marsbound trilogy. The whole thing started out with a request to do a young-adult novella. The editor didn’t want my first idea, about a girl growing up on Mars. So what was I going to do with that? I went back and made her three or four years older, and I changed the plot to a love story, now that she was old enough to be romantically interested in the pilot of this spaceship bound to Mars.

‘‘I was writing the last chapter of Marsbound on the train headed up to Maine, and I was within ten pages of the end when I realized it needed a sequel. So I went up to Maine for my ten-day writing retreat, finished the novel, and started making notes for the sequel. But when I wrote up the proposal for the sequel, Starbound, I realized it had to be two more books. So I pitched it as a trilogy (publishers love trilogies). But I started out to do a young-adult novella.”

‘‘One of the big problems of science fiction is, ‘How did you get there from here?’ As close as ten, 15 years in the future, you don’t automatically have things changing without progress in some direction. Even if the ‘progress’ is catastrophic, there has to be an intervening past. You do have to think about that, if you’re the right kind of science fiction writer. In my SF from the past decades, when I tried for realism it was like a kind of controlled cynicism – about politics and religion and things like that. This century is pretty much the way I predicted it, in terms of negative aspects. None of what are now current events have proven me wrong.”

‘‘I am writing a new novel that’s not directly associated with anything I’ve done before. The protagonist is basically a guy who’s a lot like me, and I don’t have to think very hard about what he does: ‘What would I do? OK, I’ll type that down.’ He’s a writer (I’ve never written about a writer for any length) who is also a disabled veteran. I thought, ‘Well, why not? I’ll just go ahead and not be too cautious in that regard.’ And he lives in Iowa City, as we did. It’s a layered novel that’s horror, science fiction, and mainstream.’’