Interview with Steven Barnes
By Brenda Cooper, 2001
Steven Barnes is one of the most energetic people I have ever met. Put him in front of a group, and he can light the entire room so everyone walks out feeling just a bit more energized themselves.
Steven has written a number of science fiction books and also writes television screenplays. He collaborated with Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle on the award winning book “Legacy of Heorot.”
There are links to some of Steve’s published work at the end of the interview. May you emerge from this experience more energized than you started….
1. For at least the past 30 years, 2001 has been the mythical year of the future. What will be the next mythical year, 2001 now being directly upon us, and why do you choose the year you do?
I choose 2050, because the vast majority of people born before WW2 will be dead by that point. The world began to accelerate to incredibly after the introduction of the atomic bomb. I suspect that a major threshold will be crossed when only those who have lived in its shadow still survive.
2. For various reasons people today often seem to assume that human civilization has just a bit longer to run, typically not more than a 100 years or so. On the other hand there is evidence that many ancient people had faith in a much longer-term future for humanity (if not themselves personally). What accounts for this contrast, or if the observation is inaccurate, why do you say this? Do you imagine humanity in some recognizable form living on planet earth and elsewhere in 100 years? 1000 years? 1 million years?
Perhaps 1000 years in “recognizableâ€ form. But if you look at cosmetic surgery, body-piercing, tattooing and the other body-as-art technologies, one might sense that the human race has always yearned for a more plastic vessel. I think that modification of the human body to survive in varied environments and circumstances, as well as sheer fashion sense, might well end much of the “recognizabilityâ€ of humanity within a thousand years or so. I think we’ll be around for a very long time. We’re survivors. We might not beat the dinosaurs’ record, however.
3. Do you believe that physics has reached its zenith? That is, physicists believed in 1890 that there was little left to discover, except for black box radiation and a theory of ether. Similar positions are often echoed today regarding, for example, the speed of light. Has almost everything concerning physics been discovered? Where do you expect breakthroughs in understanding and application?
Oh my, no. I think we’re just beginning to map the extent of the current box we find ourselves in. Once the equivalent of a Unified Field Theory is evolved, we’ll probably stay at that level for, oh, say a generation or three. Then some very very bright young man or woman will knock everyone’s socks off with a completely new way of looking at the world, and we’ll be off to the races again.
4. If you could personally time travel to another place and time in the future, where and when would you go and why? Where and when in the past?
About five hundred years in the future—I’d like to see how our various social experiments will evolve: issues of race, gender, nationality. As far as the past, well…I would like to meet William Shakespeare.
5. What will be a surprising development in science and technology in the near term, say the next 25 years? What would surprise you socially?
Near term development: artificial wombs enabling men and women equal access to children. Surprising socially: dissolution of the Electoral College, and true democracy with web-based voting.
6. If you could resolve one of the great challenges we are faced with now (i.e. ecological damage, population growth), which problem would you solve and what would the outcome of the solution look like?
Population. All of our efforts to save this planet will come to nothing if we don’t reverse the population explosion. It has already slowed in industrialized nations, but we’re too close to a critical mass. The proper resolution to this could look like paradise: unlimited energy, functional immortality, true freedom of movement and thought. Of course, the opposite is possible as well. Population pressure, lack of room to be alone and determine our own actions, is responsible for much grief, violence, pollution, and repression.
7. Steve, you’ve spent a lot of time on self-growth and development. What is the one piece of that work that has made the biggest difference for you?
Deciding that all three basic aspects of my life: career, physical health/fitness, and intimate relationships were of equal importance. That one key decision has forced me to look more deeply into myself than anything else.
8. Who is the your favorite character, in any book by you or another author, and why?
Huckleberry Finn. I consider Twain’s book to be the Great American Novel. There is more hope, humor and honesty in that book than anywhere else I can think of. Huck is all heart, while his buddy Tom Sawyer is all head—all cleverness. Huck is conscience, and wonderment, and questions. Tom is all answers.
9. Who is your favorite living hero, and why?
Muhammad Ali. A man of courage, grace, and intelligence, who dared to proclaim his manhood at a point in American history when black men were crushed and murdered just for daring to demand their rights as citizens. A great spirit.
10. What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a young person just starting out?
Form clear goals, the accomplishment of which will define your existence as a family man, a business success, an ecstatic athlete. And put every ounce of honest effort into their accomplishment.
Lifewrite.com – Steven’s own home page. Free writing class. Products about writing. A newsgroup on self-development. Movie reviews. You get the idea….a content rich experience!