Geoff Ryman on Wikipedia

Geoff Ryman is a Canadian citizen living in the UK. He divides his time between writing and teaching at the Centre for New Writing, University of Manchester. His books and stories have won 14 awards. He is the author of The Warrior Who Carried Life (1986), The Child Garden (1989), Was (1992), Unconquered Countries : Four Novellas (1994), the hypertext novel 253 (print edition: 1998), Air (2005) and The King's Last Son (2006, 2008 (US)).

Short Story Collections

When It Changed
(Comma Press, 2009)

reviewed by Stefani Nellen

Interview with Geoff Ryman, editor of
When It Changed

The Short Review: How long did it take you to get together all the stories in the anthology?

GR: Off the top of my head, about two years. We had to recruit the scientists and the authors. The authors then looked at the scientists' interests and then picked a subject that appealed. The scientists are researchers and academics, very busy people, so it some times took a while for them to respond. We had some teething troubles. In all we had six authors drop out or move on. In one case it was because the writer and the scientist got on so well they developed what turned into a novel! So it was thanks, Geoff, sorry, but it's a novel now. We also had scientists drop out, which meant I to go ring up new ones and try to recruit all over again.

I got a lot of help from people within the University of Manchester and the research labs, often people like Teresa Anderson, Dr Tim O'Brien (who also collaborated on two stories) and Tony Buckley all of whom had responsibility for outreach of science. I also had to encourage, cajole, edit, etc the scientific afterwords that followed each story. Comma Books were very helpful in getting the final three authors in place.

TSR: Where did the idea for the anthology come from?

GR: Well, I'd got the Mundane movement going, which was an agreement to write stories that left out old, tired, and often unscientific tropes in order to get fresh ideas based on science. That worked well... we got the Mundane special issue of Interzone for example. But I'd wanted to turn the whole thing around and say, here's a great piece of research going on in the real world, write a story about that. I know Comma Press approached me to do an anthology. But I can't for the life of me now remember if it was Ra or me who came up with the final idea. I do know the University of Manchester and the Manchester area Beacon responded enthusiastically. Comma Press meant I could go to writers and say in effect: I'm not just fishing for a story, I'm commissioning this, you have the sale.  

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

GR: The stories weren't chosen, the writers were and they worked with a scientist whose work interested them from a list of scientists who wanted to take  part. The writers who agreed soonest got first crack at the scientists.  One of the later entries came with one of his own. He'd found that someone at the University of Manchester was printing human skin! Just the kind of idea we were looking for. Sadly, he then dropped out.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

GR: Short story: I'll go with Edgar Allan Poe... a short piece of fiction that can be read at a single sitting and that works on more than one level for a unified effect. Otherwise I distinguish between plot... a credible chain of cause and effect... and story, which is how you choose to tell it.

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you put together this anthology?

GR: Sometimes. It kept shifting. In the end, I was imagining science fiction fans with an interest in the genre, or people with an interest in both science and fiction. I guess I'd sum it up as New Scientist readers... of which there are a number. Turned out I got that bit right, New Scientist gave it a rave review. My own story, YOU which was about archaelogists on Mars... I guess I had in mind archaelogists I knew.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read this book, anything at all? 

GR: Do you now want to read more science fiction.  Do you now want to write more fiction like this.

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

GR: I want to say, I'll let you know when it happens! Actually, it's lovely knowing people buy or read your stuff but you need to keep perspective.  It's not John Grisham or X-factor. Those are the cultural events that have real impact. In the case of Avatar, Battlestar Galactica, etc, I see myself and a lot of my friends' work as sitting alongside that, the media or commercial material, somewhat in contradiction to all that stuff. It's trying to do something different than just make massive sales. Try pitching that to a publisher.

TSR: What are you working on now?

GR: Two different novels, one very serious, the other a short light, very unscientific fantasy.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

GR: 60th Anniversary issue F&SF, the last Gardner Dozois book, the Nebula collection.
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