When Roxanne Bonaventure is eleven years old, a dying woman gives her a gift that changes her life utterly, making her a singular creature, with no analogue or equivalent. With the strange device called the "Sofia," she is granted the ability to travel anywhere in space and time, not only through times that were and will be, but also through the worlds that could have been and might someday be. From that day forward, no place or time can contain her, no danger can assail her, no mystery can elude her. From the deepest secrets of the past to the furthest flung visions of the future, Roxanne's life knows no boundaries except those she can imagine. But such power comes at a price: the life she might have led is forever lost to her, twisting away among the infinite threads of the Myriad. Roxanne finds herself isolated, unable to make lasting, meaningful relationships with friends, family, or strangers.
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“What would you do if you could not only instantaneously travel to any time or place on Earth but could also visit an infinite number of divergent worlds? That's the crux of Chris Roberson's debut novel ... a surprisingly poignant story about one woman's wild ride through time and space in search of her place in the universe. And although time travel has been a staple for writers (and readers!) for more than 100 years, Roberson's ingenious take on the subject is like a blast of invigorating freshness into a room full of stagnant air.”
1. Roxanne Bonaventure is an especially memorable character. We follow her from her adolescence into adulthood and old age, and at each stage, her character is very convincingly realized. How is it writing one character across so many years, and how is it writing for a female protagonist? Do you have a model in your mind for her personality, perhaps someone famous, or someone you've known personally?
It has been suggested that I write female protagonists fairly well - and particularly teenaged ones - because I am, at heart, a thirteen year old girl. While I'm not prepared to confirm that, there does seem to be some element of truth to it. I grew up with two younger sisters, and have been surrounded by women friends ever since, and I think there are bits of all of them in Roxanne's character. That said, I don't think that I intentionally modeled her personality after any one person in particular. Several readers have suggested that her personality and appearance is reminiscent of my wife Allison, and while that wasn't intentional, it's hardly without the realm of possibility that she was an influence.
2. Although Here, There & Everywhere is a whimsical time travel adventure, you've gone to great lengths to get the physics right? Why is that, and why is it important to get the science right in science fiction?
I suspect the answer is that there is something deeply wrong with me. There are several factors that bleed into this. Primarily, I have an absolute mania for research. In this regard, I am borderline-OCD (if not well over the border), and only in channeling it to constructive ends am I able to lead anything resembling a normal life. However, it isn't simply important to me to get the science in science fiction right, but as much as possible to get everything in my fiction right. A few years ago I decided to write a Napoleonic-era nautical adventure, which was all well and good, with the notable exception that I knew virtually nothing about the era, much less about all things nautical. To do the story justice, I had to teach myself how a sailing vessel of the era worked, about the geography and cultures of the South Pacific, about the protocols of the British navy and shipboard life, and even a smattering of a few Polynesian dialects. All for a 200 page story that existed largely to get Polynesian zombies on the stage in the third act.
When I decided to write a time travel novel, I found myself in a similar predicament. I started with the central image of a woman cut off from everything, able to travel anywhere in time and space but unable to make any real connections. The prologue, "Day Tripper," was the first chapter written, which sprang pretty much fully formed from my head. Even so, I read three or four biographies of the Beatles, and watched all however-many-hours of The Beatles Anthology documentary series, to research the subject. I'd already decided where this alternate worldline would diverge, and how, and in the end the only thing added to the plot as a result of those weeks of Beatles research was throwaway line about the Beatles touring in Asia, about which I'd not previously known.
Next, though, I felt that I had to provide some sort of rigorously plausible rationale for how Roxanne was able to travel in time and space. What I know of science is only what I've gleaned from reading popularizations over the years, my liberal arts degree not exactly giving me a rock solid basis in science. Even so, I'd already worked out the basics of her time traveling method, using the Many Worlds Theorem as my basis, but I didn't know the practical mechanics of how the travel was accomplished. We've all read hundreds of stories and seen countless movies and TV shows, wherein time travelers get into their "time capsule" or walk through a "time door" and magically end up in another place and time. But in such stories the time travel is, for all intents and purposes, simply magical. And as well-crafted and entertaining as I find many of those stories, as someone with only a layman's understanding of theoretical physics, I always felt that the time travel in stories of that kind was a cheat. They seem almost as bad as writing a story about people traveling to the stars, and saying that their spacecraft is propelled through space by magic beans.
Pity my long-suffering wife who, after two weeks of nothing but the Beatles, had to endure over three months of the Chris-Teaches-Himself-Physics Show. I ended up doing the equivalent of at least two semesters of college physics, I think, before I was comfortable enough to start working out the mechanics of the Sophia and the other time travel methods in the story. I'm the kind of person who finds physics fascinating, anyway, so this was hardly a chore, and it was nice to have an excuse to spend a few hours every day curled up in the recliner with a physics book.
One of my goals in writing fiction is to convince the reader that I know what I'm talking about. Whether I'm writing about disaffected teenage girls, 18th century British naval officers, bicycle messengers, or jewel thieves, I want my characters and their actions and environments to come across so convincingly that an expert in whatever the story happens to be about can accept it. At WorldCon in 2004, I received one of the greatest compliments I've ever had when Carl Frederick, a quantum physicist and science fiction writer, assumed I was a theoretical physicist myself after hearing a question I asked at a panel discussion. Even though I won the Sidewise Award that same weekend, the thing I bragged about was that brief exchange.
The great thing about research, though, is that it stays with you, and often takes you in directions you hadn't anticipated. I now read new physics texts as a matter of course, even if I don't have a project for which I'm researching. And I find myself getting really emotionally invested in one theory or another. I suppose I root for different theories in the same way that regular people root for sports teams. I'm always a little sad that David Bohm's Implicate Order, a favorite of mine in college, appears to have been something of a nonstarter, and the fact that recent discoveries about the inflationary universe knock the pins out from under Frank Tipler's Omega Point came as a serious blow. However, I can't for the life of me tell you who just won the Super Bowl.
3. The title of the Here, There & Everywhere is drawn from a Beatles song, as are all the titles of all 15 chapters. Why the recurring Beatles motif?
As I said, the first chapter in Roxanne's story that suggested itself to me was "Day Tripper," the prologue. Having written that one first, when I went to outline the remaining chapters, I already had Beatles on the brain. The Sanford Blank chapter was about a disappearance, and so "Nowhere Man" was an obvious fit. The chapter about Roxanne at the end of the universe could only be called "Across the Universe." Because my mania for structure is rivaled only by my obsession with research, then, once I'd decided that three of the chapter titles would be Beatles song titles, it naturally followed that all of the chapters were required to do likewise.
This is more of my borderline-Rainman behavior. In another sequence of stories, my "Celestial Empire" alternate history stories, I found that after writing the first two stories I'd inadvertently opened them the same way, with the main character in each story standing somewhere, alone, looking at something in an introspective mood. When I went to write the third story, then, I had the view-point-character standing somewhere, looking at something, being introspective. Now I've written more than a half-dozen of the stories, and I find it becoming more and more difficult to find novel and interesting ways to write about someone standing, looking at something and being introspective (particularly when some of the stories have been set in zero gee, making "standing" somewhat difficult!).
4. In addition to moving from the distant past to the far future, the plot of the novel often takes the character into alternate history. You've won awards for your alternate history stories, so what is it that readers and writers find compelling about alternate histories?
Everyone loves the game of "what if?" I was first introduced to alternate histories, actually, through comic books, in the stories of DC Comics' "Multiverse" and the pages of Marvel Comics' own (fittingly-enough) "What If," and I always found the concept fascinating. I later came upon it in the fantasies of Michael Moorcock, and the alternate histories of Harry Turtledove. My own concept of the Myriad is really just a story-telling machine through which to write about alternate histories, the far future, alien cultures, whatever strikes my fancy.
I think that people can't help but ask "what would happen if" - And not just in terms of societies and cultures, but in very personal terms. At one point, around the age of 30, I found myself married to a beautiful, supportive woman, working at a job I liked, and writing stories about which I was really proud, and to which readers were beginning to respond. Like the narrator in the Talking Heads song, I asked myself, "Well, how did I get here?" I thought about it, and worked out the chain of events that had led to my current circumstances, and realized that everything in my life depended on a phone call I'd taken in the early morning hours of an August day back in 1997. The call itself was inconsequential, a call from a temp agency offering me a one-day job answering phones at a property management company. But as a result of answering that call, the course of my life changed. I realized, years later, that if I'd stayed in bed and let the answering machine get it as I'd originally intended, everything about my life would have been different. And more, I would have been different. I experienced a profound sense of vertigo, an existential unease that I couldn't shake for several days. How fragile a thing my life was, to depend on such a small moment.
Alternate histories, in there way, are dramatizations of just that sort of thing, I think. Both positively and negatively. We can look into worlds where things that went "right" in our history went "wrong," and see what sort of world we escaped. Or where things that went one way went another, and see what sort of world we missed out on. Even if the changes are value neutral, in and of themselves, the stories end up as valuations of one kind or another, measuring our history against these imagined worlds.
Fans of alternate history take them very, very seriously. Cataloging points of divergence, cultural influences, plausibility. Alternate history itself began as a tool of historians, and remains one even today, and the crossover between academic allohistorical studies and the uchronias of popular science fiction is still frequent and fruitful.
More than anything, though, as a writer, I tend to use alternate history as a way of looking at our own society from a fresh perspective. For example, I've recently written a short story set in a world dominated by Imperial China, in which poor white laborers from America are brought to China to build a space elevator. All of the specific details about what the white immigrants go through is drawn directly from accounts of Chinese immigrants during the days of the gold rush, and later during the building of the cross-continental railroads. But through the transposition of those details from our own history into an imagined world, the reader is able to approach the naked facts without any preconceived notion or cultural bias, and hopefully comes away with a greater understanding of what those events must have been like for the participants.
5. You're based out of Austin, Texas in an area with a high percentage of science fiction and fantasy writers. How do you think your location shapes your work?
I'm not sure that mine does, actually. Austin is certainly a literate, book-loving town, and that is useful to anyone involved in publishing at any level, but in terms of my own writing, I don't know that location is much of an influence. For years I felt like I was letting down the team, as it were, by not writing more about my own environment. I always admired writers who did regional stories, drawing upon their cultural heritage or their geographic setting to write about people and events that could only happen in the place from which they came. In my early days of learning to be a writer, I wanted to be one of those writers, and worked for years on developing a regional approach to my writing. I found it increasingly difficult as time went on, though, largely because I had grown up the child of pop culture in the suburbs. My experiences growing up in Texas weren't really measurably different than friends of mine who grew up in Oakland, or Chicago, or Birmingham, or wherever else. We all grew up watching the same TV shows and movies, playing with the same toys, reading the same books and comics, shopping at the same chain stores. Even when talking to friends from the UK, I find that the points of similarity often outweigh the points of difference. If anything, then, I think that popular culture has played a much more profound role in my development, as a reader and a writer, than anything to do with setting.
As to why there are so many writers in Austin, specifically, I suppose that it comes down to being a little oasis in the middle of Texas. People from all over the state, of particular opinions, beliefs, and attitudes, are drawn to Austin by an almost gravitational attraction, and its only natural that many people like me who grew up more interested in science fiction, fantasy, comics, and movies than in sports, cattle, and trucks would be more comfortable here, amongst their own.
6. Here, There & Everywhere has been compared to Keith Laumer's Worlds of the Imperium and John D. MacDonald's The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything. Were either of those sources inspirations in your writing, and if so, how? What other authors have influenced your work?
Laumer's book was an influence, certainly, though I'm sorry to say that I know MacDonald's only through the 1980 made-for-TV movie (which was an inspiration of itself, though). David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself comes to mind, as do the Changewar stories of Fritz Leiber. There are bits and pieces of every time travel story I've ever read in the book, either as influence, allusion, or homage, with rather overt references to things like Poul Anderson's Time Patrol, Doctor Who, and even The Legion of Super-Heroes.
7. The Bonaventure family reoccurs throughout your stories. Who are they, and can you tell us a little bit about their importance to your world? Are they like Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton genealogies or the von Becks and Beggs of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion novels?
More properly the Bonaventure-Carmody family, though only the Bonaventure branch has been getting work lately (though at least one Carmody, Jon Bonaventure, or "J.B.", makes an off-stage cameo in H,T&E), the various members of the family tree appear in virtually all of my books and stories. Like the Myriad, the Bonaventure clan is really just a good "machine" for telling stories, since I can use them in virtually any setting.
My little-seen novel Cybermany Incorporated was really the introduction to the Bonaventure-Carmody clan, but H,T&E will be the first opportunity most readers will get to meet them. In addition to Roxanne, the time traveling heroine of H,T&E, there is Hieronymous Bonaventure, a lieutenant in His Majesty's Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars; J.B. Carmody, polymath head of the Carmody Institute; Peter R. Bonaventure, nineteenth century explorer; and Jules Bonaventure, WWI flying ace and spy.
Farmer's Wold Newton family and Moorcock's von Beck stories were most definitely influences on the Bonaventure-Carmody family, as were the Diogenes Club stories of Kim Newman, and Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's Planetary comic series. My initial impulse was to create a structure in which I could make literary antecedents of my characters their literal forbearers; that is, rather than say merely that my character J.B. Carmody was a kind of modern-day pulp hero who owed a great deal to the heroic figures I grew up reading, I introduced his father Jack Carmody - the Cold War-era spy, dapper in a tuxedo, licensed to kill - his grandfather Rex "King" Carmody - 1930's genius crime-fighter and boxer, with a team of adventurer sidekicks, each an expert in his field, the Four Aces - and his great-uncle, Lord John Carmody - a British peer raised in the jungle by a pride of lions.
From there, the Bonaventure-Carmody clan continued to grow, with new members added to suit the needs of any story I decided to tell. There are many more yet to be introduced, as well as friends, colleagues, enemies, and relations of all stripes. I am a great admirer of a certain kind of fictional world-building - which writers as diverse as Michael Moorcock, Jonathan Carroll, and Paco Ignacio Taibo III have all practiced - in which each new novel is just part of a larger story, and supporting characters from one book can crop up again as principal characters in another. With that in mind, I littered Here, There & Everywhere with the seeds of many books yet to be written, introducing characters and situations that will later be explored at greater length. Most notable, I suppose, are characters like Sanford Blank, who is featured just as an incidental character in one chapter of Roxanne's story, but who will be revealed in a forthcoming novel entitled End of the Century to be a much, much more complex character than has been suggested.
Though the stories and novels I write often take on wildly different tones, and stake out different bits of genre real estate, readers can rest assured that if they read something new of mine, that it will relate in some fashion to any story of mine they might previously have read, even if the linkages are not immediately obvious.
8. Do you see yourself writing another Roxanne Bonaventure novel in the future? With all of time and space as her playground, can readers look for her to show up in any of your other fiction?
Roxanne's excursions outside the pages of Here, There & Everywhere are a perfect example of the kind of linkages I mentioned earlier. In fact, Roxanne has already appeared in other stories, though so far no one has recognized her lurking in the background. In my story "Red Hands, Black Hands," part of my "Celestial Empire" sequence that appeared late last year in Asimov's Science Fiction, there is a brief reference to "Rahk-San, a woman of British extraction who spoke an antique form of Mandarin with stammering grace, but who could always be counted on for an amusing anecdote." Obviously, as a character who can travel anywhere in time and space, Roxanne tends to get around.
In addition to appearances in other books and stories, Roxanne's adventures are actually going to be continuing in another medium, as well. Sometime next year, if all goes according to schedule, the publishing company that I own, MonkeyBrain Books, will start publishing Day Tripper, a comic book series. Day Tripper will feature Roxanne in her mid-twenties, along with time-traveling companions Stu and Astrid, as they journey back and forth across the Myriad, in search of adventure, a good time, and the perfect pint of beer.
9. What can you tell us about your next book, Paragaea: A Planetary Romance?
Paragaea: A Planetary Romance is the story of the Akilina "Leena" Chirikov, who shortly after launching from Star Town in the Soviet Union, finds herself thrown into another dimension, a world of strange science and ancient mystery. There she meets another timelost person from Earth, Lieutenant Hieronymus Bonaventure of His Majesty's Royal Navy - who left home to fight the forces of Napoleon and never returned - and his companion, Balam - outlaw prince of the jaguar men. Bonaventure is interested only in adventure and amusement, while Balam only wants distraction until the day he can reclaim his throne. Having little better to do, they agree to help Chirikov find a way home. Along the way, they encounter ancient androids, cowboys riding pterodactyls, Atlantean wizard-kings, and lost cities of bird-men. The same old familiar story, I suppose.
In the tradition of the planetary romances of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett, Paragaea is in fact a "hard" science fiction adventure, grounded in the latest thinking in the fields of theoretical physics, artificial intelligence, genetics, and more. There is a rigorously rational explanation behind all of the unearthly elements, with most of the "magic" the protagonist encounters being the products of a long forgotten, transhuman, post-Singularity culture that has long since disappeared. Chirikov, a strictly rational Soviet Cosmonaut, interprets these as best she can, using the framework of early 1960s science. Being a dutiful Soviet, she wants only to return home to Earth, to inform her superiors about what she has discovered, but she soon finds herself developing ties to her companion Bonaventure that make her wonder whether she really wants to go home at all.
Essentially, Paragaea is an attempt to do the kind of science fantasy that I grew up loving - not just Burroughs' books like A Princess of Mars, but characters like Flash Gordon as well - but do so with a much literary sophistication as I can muster, and with a solid scientific foundation. It's hard science fiction masquerading as borderline fantasy. With the inclusion of Hieronymous Bonaventure, the central character of my little-seen novel Set the Seas on Fire, Paragaea serves as a sort-of-sequel to Here, There & Everywhere, and it's even possible that Roxanne herself is lurking in the background, somewhere.