James Geddis

I’ll be honest, I was never much of a reader when I was younger. I think I wanted to be a scientist, but that was because TV and film made the job look a lot more adventurous than at a second glance—what with the killer robots and magic chemicals that turn you invisible. When I realised that books were just movies but on paper (and usually better written), well… something just clicked I guess. I’m now 23, with an MA in Creative Writing, and juggling between writing a Science Fantasy epic and a managing a literary magazine with Yasmin Inkersole. Go figure.

I currently spend my free time streaming Seinfeld on Netflix. The whole experience is like eating food that you don’t exactly like, but you enjoy the taste of it anyway.

What inspired you to write ‘Thunder Box’ (Issue 1)?

The idea to write ‘Thunder Box’ had been on my mind for a while. Time travel, as a concept, has always excited me in storytelling, because it lets characters experience things they otherwise never could—ideas and sensations that are inconceivable in their own time. It’s especially funny when these time periods clash with the present. In Back to the Future, everyone from 1955 mistakes Marty for a coastguard because he wears a down vest. In Russel Hoban’s post-apocalypse novel, Riddley Walker, USA comes to mean “Eusa”, a mythological folk hero responsible for ending the world. I’ve never seen Army of Darkness, but I’ll occasionally stumble upon this clip online where the hero bests a medieval knight in combat using a shotgun, making the village people cower at the might of his “boomstick”.

The whole concept is just hilarious to me! What’s familiar and commonplace for us becomes a strange puzzle to be solved, only the ones solving it have no idea how the pieces are meant to fit. But it’s in watching them try to figure it out, knowing how near or far they are from solving it, that we see magic in our own time. I guess it all stems from that adage from Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. ‘Thunder Box’ takes that idea and rolls with it.

What inspired you to write ‘Second Nature’ (Issue 2)?

This was a story I first started writing back when I was still an undergrad student, so I don’t entirely remember what inspired it. Back then I had only written about fifty words, but I liked the premise so much that I knew I would finish it some day.

Like for most stories I write, it takes a interesting concept or mental image to make me excited enough to pursue it. For ‘Second Nature’, it was the idea of an organic AI, a SKYNET that uses nature rather than machines. This raised some questions. Did humans build the AI this way, or did it assimilate nature all by itself? Would nature make it stronger, or weaker? Would its dependence on biomatter make it more sympathetic to living creatures? I guess the more questions I asked, the more the plot revealed itself.

The set pieces and themes are very “Book of Genesis”, though I think this was inevitable. If an AI were to gain mastery over life, it would essentially become Mother Nature, a living god that talks back to her followers. This idea was especially interesting to explore, and one that I don’t think we see explored enough in stories about humans clashing with AI (barring Harlan Elison’s classic tale, ‘I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream’). If AI were to surpass humanity, I think it’s important to wonder how they would treat us. Would they be benevolent gods, or vengeful ones? I suppose there’s no reason to assume they would be one more than the other, and I don’t think the AI in my story has any more of an idea that I do — much as she pretends otherwise.

Could you give us an insight into your writing process?

I’m definitely a morning writer. While I’m not the sort to jump straight out of bed and onto the keyboard, my drive to write definitely wanes the longer I put it off. And I do put it off. The procrastination is very real. Until very recently, my education and my writing were the same thing. Now, all I have to keep my motivated are my workshop friends, and the relief I imagine I’ll have when the story is finished. That, and the guilt of not getting it done!

What do you consider to be the most enjoyable or important aspect of science fiction or fantasy, and why?

As I’ve often said, it’s about the “potential” that these two genres bring to the table. The potential for escapism is a given. I don’t need to tell anyone how awesome it would be to fly on a dragon’s back or see humanity reach other worlds (we all know it would be). But what sci-fi and fantasy essentially does is help us to conceive other ways of thinking and feeling, which is a lesson that transcends fiction. To learn, to sympathise, to reconcile. To reach into the impossible and pull it into reality—this is how we grow as people. If I was going to be political, I would say that we need this “potential” now more than ever. But the truth is, it has always been essential to us, no matter what time we live in.