Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘Ideas creep in from all over the place, but for the Southern Reach there was a central dream that I had (which is the same way that almost all of my books have come about): I was dreaming of walking down a tunnel and seeing living words on the wall, and then eventually I realized I was going to see whatever was writing them… and I woke up. I remember distinctly that some part of my brain was saying, ‘If you see it, you’re never going to write the books.’ So I went back to sleep, and then in the morning I had pretty much the whole story in my head.

‘‘I had wanted to write about north Florida, and what came out of that desire through the dream is an idea about an expedition into an area that’s been cut off from the rest of civilization for 30 years, at the point of the first book, Annihilation. A secret government agency, the Southern Reach, has been sending expeditions into this ‘Area X’ to try to figure out what’s going on in there, but pretty much every expedition has come apart at the seams, and they haven’t found out what’s happening.

‘‘The setting of the Southern Reach trilogy is basically the 14-mile hiking trail that I do out at St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. Somebody I told the plot of Annihilation to said there were much stranger things going on at St. Marks than I knew, and my novel was not very proactive in that department at all! The expedition in my book gets charged by a wild boar: that actually happened to me out there. So did seeing dolphins in the freshwater canals. All these things make the setting of the series very personal to me, and meant that I didn’t really have to think much about it, so that allowed me to relax into the situation.

‘‘The fact that Annihilation is set in the real world makes a big difference. A reader who might not pick up a literary fantasy set in an imaginary world is more likely to pick up something about a strange expedition in our world. It’s still basically the real world (as becomes more clear in the second book), but I think the main thing is, from the genre looking out, it may not look like as much of a shift in what I write as it does from outside the genre looking in. If you’re writing imaginary-world fantasy on a more literary (or even experimental) side, you’re in this position where you have to get readers from both mainstream and genre, but you’re not drawing from the core of either.”

‘‘The trilogy is basically three complete, self-contained stories about three different characters. Obviously, Annihilation will leave people who want everything answered wanting to read Book Two, but there are also readers and reviewers who have been perfectly satisfied with it as a standalone novel. The second book, Authority, allowed me to delve a bit into the small-town South and places like that, without ever naming them, and get their flavor. I’ve been chuckling over a couple of (very positive) reviews of Authority where they say, ‘How the hell can I possibly explain this?’ I think, ‘Have you ever worked for a government agency?’ That bureaucratic element draws on personal experience, since I once had to go to every branch of a particular agency, and those are usually in the most remote areas you can think of. I had a crap-load of adventures throughout my day-job phase, and that stuff eventually came out in these novels. The third book, Acceptance, is divided equally between the Southern Reach and Area X, and has four different viewpoint characters. You find out more about the biologist, and I promise that readers will get answers – the ones they deserve and the ones they’re looking for.

‘‘The other thing that I keep coming up against in my fiction is how people react to something that is inexplicable. We’re living on an alien planet to begin with, because we don’t even know this

world that we are, in effect, colonizing, and subjecting to our will all the time. I really, truly believe that in order to survive as a species (and this is a very science-fictional theory), we need to be able to imagine the world without us in it. This isn’t to say I think the world should be without us in it, but that we have to get beyond the idea that everything is here either to serve us, or that we’re here to be a steward for it. That tends to be the major default position in books that are not really about nature but include nature. They can Disneyify everything to the point where it becomes dangerous, because that view of nature bleeds into their positions on various issues in the real world in ways that are detrimental to trying to find solutions.”

‘‘Although the books feature conspiracies, I’m not a conspiracy theorist at all. I actually think conspiracy theorists muddy the water regarding the true complexity of situations. Especially now, with social media and some news outlets starting to do joke stories, you don’t just have misinformation or biased points of view; you literally have ‘spam history’ out there! Individuals have to sort through everything and try to figure out what is closest to some kind of baseline reality or truth.”

‘‘The next book I’m doing is The Steampunk User’s Manual, with my coauthor Desirina Boskovich, out from Abrams in October. It’s kind of pushing the edge on retrofuturism – not really like The Steampunk Bible at all. It’s like a craft book that’s also for people who never wanted to do a goddamned craft in their lives, but would like to see how an impossible craft project can be done. You could build a giant steam-powered penguin after reading this book (if you had the resources); chances are, you won’t. Maybe it’s a little cynical to assume that many people just buy craft books to look at the pictures, but I thought, ‘Everyone is doing these craft books wrong. Some of it should be stuff no one could ever make.’

‘‘I am also working on a novel called The Book Murderer, which I’m having a lot of fun writing – though I don’t know if I will survive its publication, because (in altered form) it’s pretty much every horror story I’ve ever heard of or experienced in the publishing industry over the last 30 years. It’s about this guy who has the idea that he’s going to destroy every book in the world. He knows it’s impossible, but if he were to destroy just a certain number of books he’ll feel like he’s made his mark. He plays headgames with writers on the Internet, and he becomes an assistant to a writer on a book tour so he can learn what the enemy is up to.”