Eric S. Nylund Interview

Posted by : atcampbell | On : February 2, 2000

Eric S. Nylund Interview

Eric S. Nylund is the author of Pawn’s Dream, A Game of Universe, and Dry Water. He is a graduate of the prestigious Clarion program for SF writers, and he lives in Seattle. When he learned that our group was going to discuss his recent novel Signal to Noise, he graciously offered to answer our questions about the book.

Reading Group: Was Signal to Noise your original title? Some of us think “Noise to Signal” might have been more appropriate.

Eric S. Nylund: No, Signal to Noise was the original title. It refers to the signal to noise ratio in electronics, a measure of how strong a signal you are receiving or a measure of how much useful information to useless information you are receiving.

RG: Much of this book deals with cryptography. Is any of this from your personal background?

ESN: No, my background in physics and chemistry.

RG: A lot of your earlier work was marketed as fantasy, but Signal to Noise is marketed as SF. Did you consciously change genres, or did you just write the book you wanted to write and let the publisher worry about the marketing category?

ESN: I wrote what I wanted to write.

RG: What other authors have influenced your work? Some of us felt your writing style was reminiscent of Roger Zelazny and William Gibson.

ESN: Zelazny, yes. Gibson, no. Other authors that influence me are Harlan Ellison and Tim Powers.

RG: While Signal to Noise is written in third person, all the action is seen from the viewpoint of the protagonist Jack Potter. Why didn’t you just use first person?

ESN: Good question. Since the bubble technologies allow the reader to peer into the inner mind of the characters, I wanted the ability to take a step back and look inside their bubble-revealed personalities. In first person, we’d be looking inside the mind of Jack from his own point of view. It’s one thing to be in first person and have the character tell you what’s on his mind. I thought it would be overwhelming to be in first person and have the same character analyzing and interrupting what he and others were directing seeing and experiencing in his own mind.

RG: Much of the action in the book takes place on an island called Santa Sierra, but it wasn’t clear to us where it was located. Can you enlighten us?

ESN: Santa Sierra is a man-made island off the coast of what used to be California. It’s located approximately 20 miles west of where San Francisco used to be.

RG: Several of us were unclear about a plot point. On one page Jack Potter is stranded on the Moon with 10 hours of oxygen left, seemingly in a bad situation. We turn the page and Jack is watching TV two weeks later, with not much explanation about how he got out of the jam. What happened?

ESN: Jack jumped to the moon with the supplies he arranged to pick up from Mr. White — supplies that included oxygen recylers and other equipment to get his base running.

RG: Unusually for a novel written in the 90’s, as far as we could tell every single character in Signal to Noise smokes. Was this done to establish atmosphere for your spy thriller plot, or did you have another purpose?

ESN: A bit of exploration on my part. I wondered what would happen if the tobacco companies lost all their impending lawsuits? What if they no longer found their business profitable? Would they abandon it? Or adapt? The cigarettes in S2N are not the traditional paper and tobacco ones, rather they are sophisticated “drug delivery” systems — legal drugs to be sure, caffeine and amphetamines and others. They still get people hooked, they side have lethal side effects, but they are FDA approved.

RG: Late in the novel when a war develops between the USA and another country, Austin is one of two American cities that gets nuked. Why did you single out our city for this dubious distinction?

ESN: I see Austin as a technological and cultural center in the future. I think it made a good target.

RG: What can you tell us about the sequel, A Signal Shattered, that will get our appetites whetted to buy and read it?

ESN: I don’t want to reveal too much, but lets just say I really pull out all the stops on this one. Hard to do, you may be thinking, after I killed nearly the entire world population.