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Monday, May 5, 2014

Seeking answers to big questions: science fiction author Lacerant Plainer talks about his journey in science and writing.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of making a book cover for science fiction author Lacerant Plainer's latest Novella, Orange Rock. Lacerant is an active member of the G+ community, where he posts the coolest science stuff: fellow sci-fi writers will find his posts very inspiring, so check out his stream on G+!

Lacerant's work explores the future of human kind as evolution leads us to new technology and the longing to explore new worlds. At the same time, as we exploit the limited resources of our planet, could it possibly bring us to the brink of a self-inflicted extinction? In Lacerant's own words:
"I write about transhumanism, near as well as distant futures, and like to dream of the possibilities that face us. We are uniquely poised to take advantage, or face the consequences of our actions in the near term and this fascinates me."
I'm honored to have Lacerant Plainer as my guest here on CHIMERAS today to share his thoughts on science and writing. Welcome, Lacerant!

EEG: Can you tell us what your background is and where the love for science comes from?

LP: I have a science background (Chemistry and Physics) and pursued further studies in Chemical technology. But my love for science and science fiction goes back much further. I was always interested in the science of how things work.

I read a lot as a kid. We couldn't afford to buy books, so I used to visit a library near my home and sit there reading. To my surprise there was a world of possibilities of conjecture... in fact whole solar systems, galaxies and universes to discover. I read voraciously... right from an age of seven, I was reading Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert. It was fascinating. I couldn't stop.

I read all genres earlier, including Jennings, William, Enid Blyton etc. I moved rapidly onto books by Arthur Hailey, Alistair Mclean, Leon Uris etc.... But over time, Science fiction chose me. My first science fiction book was one by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I can't remember the title for the life of me. But science fiction captivated me since it was a vast canvas. It offered the dreamer in me a canvas to paint. I see the stories I write in my head. I actually feel the afternoon sun on my neck, the acrid smell of the desert. The sound of the sand rasping through the air as a vehicle moves through it....

Science was a natural choice for me. It was logical, was all around us, and it would be unthinkable for me to study anything else. But my real understanding only took place later, when I taught kids the fundamentals.

EEG: I know science inspires you, and I love what you wrote in your profile: "We are uniquely poised to take advantage, or face the consequences of our actions in the near term and this fascinates me." I feel the same dichotomy, as on the one hand I marvel at the powerful ideas human kind has produced over time, while on the other hand those same powerful ideas have led us to exploit the precious resources we depend on. When you think about the future (besides being inspired to write stories), do you think we will prevail or do you think we're doomed? And why?

LP: This is a tough question, but let me attempt to tackle it. In my view, the difference between the rich and poor and average person is much more pronounced than in the last 50 years. On the other hand, the world is more connected than ever in the history of humans. Science and technology is on the cusp of some path-breaking stuff... in almost every discipline. In fact, we are understanding that the different streams are intimately connected. If one follows the money which makes this possible in terms of research and science, one does see how power will ultimately be concentrated in the hands of a few (especially since governments are abdicating the position they held in science earlier). Whether the powerful will be benevolent or otherwise, will depend on a number of factors. The ability to transform ourselves (cybernetics, transhumanism, genetic manipulation) offers a way to direct evolution.

I was working on a book which addressed this, looking into the future required extrapolation... but if one was to make an educated guess, I would assume we would spawn a number of different 'types' of humans. Some may not be called human at all. The privileged class could well become immortal or long living. Everyone else would be modified to do their job better. This is actually my optimistic scenario. If one was to assume we don't take care of the planet's tendency for warming, it would be catastrophic. Maybe another species would arise.

EEG: Most of your stories are set in the future and/or worlds outside our solar system. If you were to travel outside our solar system, what things would you hope to see? What questions would you try to answer?

LP: (Laughing)... I would probably not get a chance to travel outside our solar system. Not in my lifetime. I am not an explorer anyway, and unless I had a exoskeleton, it would be well nigh impossible. The answers we are seeking are going to be answered by science, and travel will add to our capabilities as a species and making resources available to us. What I would like to know really are the big questions. What happened before the big bang. Are there parallel universes. Why does life organize itself the way it does. Why are we still not just cells.

Writing about space travel is only a setting. The journey to getting to such a stage is what fascinates me.

EEG: Tell us about your last work, Orange Rock: what was the inspiration? do you plan any sequel?

LP: Orange Rock was actually something I wrote some time back. I've written about 3 other books since, but for lack of a good editor, I've been stymied.

I was reading about entanglement and teleportation and the science behind it. But the real idea came from the fact that humans are extremely clannish. We huddle on rocks and defend it with our lives. Everyone else is an outsider and needs a Visa to come sit on our rock. Our outlook makes me despair sometimes. It's all so artificial. And people would die for it. It makes one wonder.

I've often been told Science Fiction writers are so pessimistic, but one has to just look at the way humans behave and the way we can subvert the best of intentions and ideas to understand that extrapolation will lead to a dystopian future. I try to get the best case scenarios within what I can see ahead, but it's not always easy.

EEG: I agree. It's not about being pessimistic, it's about analyzing the possible consequences of our current actions -- and they don't always lead to "happily-ever-after" scenarios. Thanks so much, Lacerant, for being with us today and for sharing your thoughts on not just science and writing, but also on the possible futures that may or may not await us.

You can read Lacerant's flash fiction and follow his work on his blog,


  1. You know, that is an excellent question. Why aren't we still cells? What happened that made that change? Are we really someone else's experiment? Now I see why people think some superior beings from other worlds had a hand in it all. Fascinating stuff. I'll have to check out Orange Rock.

    1. It's cool to think about all this stuff, it certainly inspires new stories :-)

      BTW, they found more evidence that there was water on Mars... so who knows, maybe the Mars Rover is looking at what the Earth will be like in a billion years...

  2. Nice interview. I highly recommend Lacerant's posts in Google+. They're a daily dose of wonder of science and technology. And one cannot help but wonder after a while 'where' he finds out about the things he posts about!

  3. Teleportation! You have my attention.
    Edgar Rice Burroughs - I'm guessing it was a Barsoom novel.
    And EE - I appreciate all comments - don't hold back!

    1. Thanks Alex! Yeah, Lacerant is pretty cool! ;-)
      Happy #IWSG day!

  4. His reading is vast and very deep in science fiction. I usually don't miss his posts on Google+. I have read only few science fiction books but ideas like teleportation, (or travelling with the speed of light), life outside our galaxy etc. I'm also curious to know the world before occurrence of big bang although, I personally not in a favor of big bang theory.
    Interesting interview, thanks to Lacerant Plainer and E.E. Giorgi!

    1. Thanks Jitendra, glad to hear you enjoyed the interview!


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