An Interview with Kevin J. Anderson on his trip to the UAE, sci-fi in the Middle East by Arafaat Ali Khan, and finding time to write
You visited the UAE recently, what did you think of sci-fi fans from this region as compared other parts of the world that you frequent?
The difficult availability of Arabic translations of major science fiction and fantasy novels has always made it problematic for Arabic speakers to read the most important works in the genre. I have written many books in the Dune universe with the son of the original author Frank Herbert; Dune is the single best-selling science fiction novel of all time, and has been made into two films… and yet I don’t believe it has been translated into Arabic. When I visited the UAE, I was surprised to find that many of the science fiction fans I spoke with were not familiar with it.
However, many English books are available for import, and those are widely read. I was very surprised and thrilled to have long and involved conversations with other fans who are so completely dedicated to the genre. We were glad to introduce some of my works to new readers, and most importantly to exchange ideas with people from a different culture, which sparked a lot of story possibilities!
The Dune series of books takes a lot of elements from what seems like the Arabic language and culture – the most famous I imagine would be (Paul) Muad’Dib. Do you research Middle Eastern/Arabic references when creating new names, places etc.?
Frank Herbert originally created Dune, and I know he studied Arabic language, culture, and religions extensively (although I don’t believe he traveled in the Middle East). He was very astute in extrapolating the culture and influence into the far future. For the further Dune books I’ve written with Brian Herbert, I’ve tried to do my research to pick up on the details and way of life; in addition to the UAE, I’ve been to Qatar, Morocco, Turkey, and Egypt. Now, remember, these stories take place tens of thousands of years in the future, across many planets, so the details can’t be exactly the same are they are in everyday modern life, but the flavor should be correct.
If you could give just one piece of advice to budding fiction writers in the region what would it be?
You have more opportunities now than ever before in the history of the genre. Thanks to the wide dissemination of fiction as ebooks, as serialized stories on websites, a writer’s location is no longer any sort of hindrance. Get involved with other writers worldwide on social networking sites, on discussion groups, and submit stories to publications, whether they are based in the US, the UK, or anywhere else. I think fantasy and SF readers are very interested in stories with Muslim/Arabic/Middle-Eastern influences.
What got you started and at what point did you think you could make a career from writing sci-fi and fantasy?
I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I was a child. I started writing stories when I was eight years old, and just kept writing them. Many people were practical and discouraged me, pointing out that it was extremely unlikely I could ever make a living as a writer. Our cliche is of unemployed, nearly starving writers struggling to get their novel published. But I never gave up. I took a full-time job as a writer of brochures, papers, posters, and articles for a research laboratory, which paid the bills, and I wrote stories and novels in my spare time. Eventually, I did get them published, and they began to earn me money, and within years I became a Real Writer.
What’s the most challenging part of the creative process?
This might sound strange, but the hardest part is finding the blocks of time. I write very large, epic novels with many storylines and countless details of alien or fantasy worlds. But when I’m trying to write, I have so many other obligations, interviews, appearances, phone calls, and the like that it’s nearly impossible to carve out the time and find hours just to concentrate on my big stories. Sometimes, that gets frustrating!
With fantasy in particular it must be difficult to create original characters and story lines-how do you do it and is it important to be ‘original’-i.e. who cares so long as it’s a good story!?
Millions of stories and novels have been published since the beginning of the science fiction genre. I don’t think you can find anything that hasn’t been done in some fashion before. But when I write a story or a novel, I do it in my own personal way, adding my touch to it. I think the most important thing is to tell a compelling story, with plot twists, engaging characters, interesting settings, and maybe something meaningful thematically. If the readers enjoy it, then I have succeeded.
Sci-fi and fantasy continues to grow as a percentage of book sales-what do you think the appeal is to fans?
I think we all like good stories with imaginative settings. When I was a kid, very few mainstream people ever admitted to reading sci-fi and fantasy, but then came the popularity of Lord of the Rings, and Dune, and Star Wars, and suddenly everybody enjoyed it. We love to be entertained by something different than our daily lives-and SF delivers the right stuff.
With the launch of Game of Thrones on HBO and a number of other fantasy series rumoured to be in production, do you expect a boost in new authors/titles?
I certainly hope so. Game of Thrones is about the best I can imagine for a long-standing fantasy series, and it opens many doors, proving that we can create an epic-length story with sustained quality, something much more than a single movie and not designed to be episodic ‘adventure of the week.’ (I only hope someone gets interested in my Saga of Seven Suns!)
It’s difficult to put a finger on what constitutes science fiction in the United Arab Emirates. Difficult because the UAE has always been such an eclectic mix of nationalities that the culture has always consisted of a mix of Arab, Asian and European influences.