Birthday Interview with Sean Williams

We knew it was Fantastica's Sean William's birthday soon, so we threw him 10 questions to reflect upon his life and times.


Would you like to tell us how old you are turning?

According to the calendar, I’m turning 51 this year. In my head, I’m a mixture of 18 and 80, but I’m told this is normal. Maturity is apparently the state of being uncertain about everything.

At what age did you first start writing?

I was eight when I started writing - old enough to know that a story had a beginning, middle and end, but too young to know how easy it is to become addicted.

What is the most significant change you’ve witnessed in your lifetime?

The rise of the computer ties for me with the explosive growth of our own numbers across the planet. It’s hard not to foresee a collision of these titanic forces in our near future, but what form that’ll take is anyone’s guess. Some days I’m optimistic, others pessimistic. The reality will undoubtedly sit in the vast space available between those two extremes.

What has happened that you wished hadn’t happened?

Again, a tie: the rise of fascism and (somewhat selfishly) the decline of the West. No one country or way of life deserves primacy over the others, but I grew up in a culture dominated by the US and the UK, and it’s such a shame to see both eroding their hegemonies by embracing venality and fear.

What is one thing you’d like to exist but doesn’t?

Ah, that’s an easy one: the teleporter! I would love to go anywhere I want, anytime I like - assuming I don’t arrive scrambled, of course.

If you had a robot helper what would you name it?

Some people name their cars, but I’m not one of them, so I’m not sure I’d name a robot helper. Also, I suspect it would smack too much of slavery. But if I had to, and if it couldn’t name itself . . . maybe Jasperodus, after the protagonist of Barrington J Bailey’s wonderful novel, Soul of the Robot. He’s is one of the great characters from classic science fiction, a humanoid machine searching for proof that he is truly conscious. (Aren’t we all?)

What does the next year hold for you? 

Next year sees me returning to Adelaide (after a year living in Dublin) and the launch of a new book, my first set entirely in the real world. It contains no ghosts, aliens, superintelligent AIs or apocalypses - just a boy who loses the one thing he loves most. Impossible Music was years in the making and contains more of me than any novel since The Stone Mage & the Sea. I’m so excited that it will at last be making its way into the world.

Had we organised a present, hypothetically :), what should it have been?

Another easy one. When I was growing up, libraries were full of Gollancz yellow jackets - hardbacks of classic science fiction novels that I devoured by the armful. As an adult, I’ve started collecting them. They’re becoming quite rare now, but I’m less interested in the price than the look, so if you could find a tatty old library copy, I’d be very happy!

Which book would you spend your afternoon reading if you had the time today?

I’m going through a big Georgette Heyer run at the moment, so I’d probably tackle the next on my list, The Unknown Ajax. It’s a very tempting thought.

If you could travel back in time to meet your younger self, what would you do or say to them?

Where to start? Don’t smoke the second cigarette, because that’s the one that’ll hook you. Never keep chocolate in the house. Buy a standing desk. Be a better listener. Look up Amanda Nettelbeck: one day, she’s going to rock your world.