What inspired “Lighter Than Air”?
I don’t believe you can really pinpoint logical roots for a creative inspiration, but retroactively, I guess it was a matter of the conjunction of writing dream scenarios with a hard SF idea I had long pondered about vacuum dirigibles. I started with that and just let the dream unfold without really knowing where I was going step by step until I got there.
While reading it, it struck me that this is one of those stories that falls somewhere between fantasy and science fiction in some ways. While many of the scenes and the very nature of the story itself appears fantastic in nature, the setting (the Cloud Nine) seemed scientifically plausible. Would you classify “Lighter Than Air” as science fiction or fantasy? What exactly do genre distinctions mean to you, if anything?
I loathe genre distinctions, and yes, “Lighter Than Air” is a perfect example why. There isn’t anything in it that isn’t scientifically possible, and yet thematically and story-logic wise, it’s a kind of fantasy. And basically, the difference between “science fiction” and “fantasy” is that science fiction requires that the story take place in the realm of the “possible” and fantasy in the realm of the “impossible.” So deciding which a story is requires deciding what is possible and what is not, and that is a border zone which has mutated throughout human history, and probably always will.
I thought the Cloud Nine made for an extremely vivid setting for your story. What was the inspiration for this massive cruise liner?
Well I crossed the North Atlantic on the SS United States a long time ago, though it was not like sailing on the Cloud Nine exactly, which I suppose is my fantasy of what such a voyage could be if I had my druthers.
The technology used by the Cloud Nine appears to be based on vacuum cell technology (“vacuum cells that fill most of the hull. . . solar cell wings that power it are also vacuum cells”). Why vacuum cells?
Vacuum cells, assuming material science able to contain a vacuum without excessive weight of the container, are as lighter than air as you can get, lighter than dangerous hydrogen or anything else. In fact, I’ve had the idea that, given such light containment material, a vacuum dirigible could even serve as the first stage or launch platform for a spaceship.
This story is charged with sexuality. What, in your opinion, is it about being in the air that makes the passengers of this massive airship so amorous?
Well first of all, let’s get real, people, especially single lone travelers, take even sea cruises in search of erotic adventure, leading, perhaps, to genuine romance. And the psychic connection between flying and sex has been noted by Freud and before him too, and is a common sort of erotic dream. Surely you’ve noticed. . .?
What is next for Norman Spinrad? I understand from your website that you have something coming out from Tor books soon. Would you like to tell us a little bit about any upcoming novels?
Tor has just published He Walked Among Us, which I, and not only I, consider my magnum opus, and it was more or less greeted as such when it was first published in France. The basic McGuffin is a comedian who may be from a “Deathship Earth” future sent back in time to prevent it, to change it to a “Starship Earth” future, or who may be just nuts, or who may have been entirely taken over by his own schtick, or. . .
It’s a thematically very serious novel–the fate of the Earth, quantum cosmology, show biz, the true story of the culture of science fiction and show biz, down and dirty street reality, etc. But it’s a comic novel, couldn’t have worked any other way, and I had to make up something like 300 jokes–some good, some deliberately lousy, some deliberately mediocre–to make it work.
That’s the only book from Tor right now, but towards the end of April, Fantastic Books is bringing out four of my backlist novels in print on demand paper and ebook editions–A World Between (a gender war in the future, and which predicted the Internet or something like it long before Al Gore), Songs from the Stars (first contact with a galactic civilization), The Iron Dream (Adolf Hitler’s Hugo-winning novel Lord of the Swastika) and Russian Spring (now an alternate world novel in which, among other things, Perostroika worked, and the Soviet Union was transformed into a democracy rather than imploding).
In the works, finished with publication in France in May but not yet with an American publisher, Osama the Gun, a kind of “sympathy for the Islamic terrorist devil,” and Welcome To Your Dreamtime, due in France next Spring, no US publisher as yet, of which “Lighter Than Air” is a part.