Mike Resnick (2008)

This interview comes from Death Ray 16, out in late 2008. It originally fronted a reprint of Resnick’s story “Robots Don’t Cry” (that’s why it refers to it).

Welcome to Death Ray’s very first piece of short fiction, though we’re sure it won’t be the last. This month, we’re proud to present a 2004 Hugo nominated short from Mike Resnick, the most highly awarded writer of SF short fiction ever to grace the face of our fair planet Earth. Typical of this writer, ‘Robots Don’t Cry’ might be a story with a mechanical protagonist, but it has a big human heart.

Mike Resnick Fact File

Born: 5 March 1942

Where is he to be found? The United States.

What does he do? According to Locus, whose stock in trade it is to keep track of such things, Mike has won more awards for his short fiction than any writer living or dead, and is fourth on their list of all-time award winners. His haul includes five Hugos. He writes mostly short form fiction, though novels, spin-off fiction and more are all grist to the mill for this immensely industrious SF and fantasy writer. Unlike the work of some SF authors, Resnick’s tales are people-oriented, a bit like Ray Bradbury, you could say. He’s also possessed of a ready sense of humour, which he often employs even in the most serious of his works.

Mike Resnick is one of the most prolific writers  working in the genre today. “Most writers hate writing and love having written. Me, I love writing,” he tells us. The list of his short stories alone stretches into the hundreds. He sold his first story in 1959 while he was still a teenager, and his first book in 1962.  This led into a first career as a writer of adult novels where he learnt his craft, before he began to create serious amounts of SF in the 1980s. He’s also a prolific writer of articles, has edited numerous anthologies, seven newspapers and two men’s magazines. Today, he is co-editor on Jim Baen’s Science Fiction Universe, one of the many SF e-zines in the US that cater for the short story market.

Besides his many and varied short stories, Resnick is the creator of the Birthright universe, his take on the rise and fall of mankind’s stellar empire to come, which now comprises dozens of shorts and novels. He dabbles in the magical on occasion, his second John Justin Mallory novel, Stalking the Vampire, having just been released by Pyr in the US. This urban fantasy series shows Resnick at his most playful – Mallory is a down at heel private eye with a heart of gold in a parallel New York where elves and unicorns rub shoulders with ordinary folks. Though there have been many blendings of gumshoe fiction and fantasy, the Mallory stories are among the most successful. But not all Resnick’s tales are light-hearted, and he has won some renown for his SF stories based in or on Africa and the after-effects of its colonisation.

As well as in writing, Resnick has enjoyed great success as a breeder of dogs, and for 17 years owned and ran the second largest boarding kennels in the states with his wife Carol. Carol is also an author and often collaborates with her husband. Ink, not blood runs in the family veins, it seems – their daughter Laura is a writer too.

Resnick is a powerhouse, turning out up to 20 pages of finished work a day, and he shows no signs of stopping. “I realize that I’m a lot closer to the end than the beginning,” he says “and I still have hundreds of stories to tell.”

Death Ray: Why did you choose to give us ‘Robots Don’t Cry’?

Mike Resnick: I have a number of reasons. First, I think it’s pretty typical of my work: I do a lot of first person stories, they don’t have much science in them, and you’ll never find a robot programmed with the Three Laws or anything like them in any of my stories. Second, it’s a pretty decent story or it wouldn’t have received a nomination. Third, it seems to appeal to a broad range of people interested in something other than the printed page: it has been a 40 minute live-action movie, it has been a 35-minute computer animation movie, and I just sold audio translation rights to a Polish radio station.

DR: You started writing novels when short fiction was in vogue, and now write short fiction when massive novels seem to be the standard! What do you like about short fiction?

MR: I wrote something like eight short stories from 1975 to 1985. Then, sometime in the mid-1980s, I discovered I much preferred writing short fiction. I still have to write from two to four novels a year to pay my bills, but it’s the short stories that I truly love. As I said, I’ve got a lot of stories to tell, and they get told a lot quicker at short story length.

DR: As co-editor on Jim Baen’s Universe with Eric Flint, what do you think the “state of the nation” is now in short fiction?

MR: I think electronic publication is the future and the salvation of the short story. I can’t tell you which e-publications will live and which won’t, but I can tell you that the three or four of the highest-paying short fiction markets today are all e-zines, and that as quickly as one folds you can look for three or four to take its place.

DR: You have a deep love and, it seems, understanding of Africa.

MR: There’s not as much to like about it today as when I was going there years ago, thanks to Robert Mugabe and like-minded tyrants. But it’s a fascinating continent, with societies as alien to our own as you’re likely to encounter on this Earth. Also, I believe that if we can reach the stars there is no doubt that we’re going to colonise them – and Africa offers 51 separate and distinct examples of the deleterious effects of colonisation not only on the colonised but on the colonisers as well. And you know what they say about those who can’t learn from history.

DR: You love dogs. How do you fit your  breeding and showing around your writing?

MR: We bred and exhibited collies from 1968 through 1982, and had 23 champions during that time. We named ‘em all after science fiction stories and characters. Some of our biggest winners were Gully Foyle, The Gray Lensman, Nightwings, Something Wicked, and Silverlock. I suppose my interest in collies stemmed from the stories of Albert Payson Terhune, though I outgrew him by the time I was ten and was attending dog shows and reading books on collie genetics before I was in high school. The collies took an inordinate amount of time, and so did the writing, and I finally had to choose between them.

DR: How does it feel to be the most awarded SF short story writer in the history of the genre?

MR: Endlessly surprising and endlessly humbling. I went to my first Worldcon in 1963, at the age of 21. There were giants at the Hugo ceremony. Isaac Asimov was handing them out, and people like Phil Dick and Jack Vance were winning them, and I thought if I led a good life and wrote at the peak of my abilities maybe in 30 or 40 years someone might let me touch one, just for a few seconds. I have been living a dream for 45 years, and I spend an inordinate amount of time helping newcomers as means of paying forward and thanking the field for all it has done for me.


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