Welcome to a special Sunday edition of Barren Island Books, the author interview series that’s in no way related to a popular music-based radio programme. You know the rules by now: my guests are exiled to a remote island with only five books for company, selected from the categories I give them. It’s up to them to make sure they choose wisely, because they’re going to be stuck with those books for a long, long time …
My interviewee today is SL Huang, author of sci-fi novel Zero Sum Game: a book I kind of wish I’d written myself*, given that the heroine is a kick-ass mathematical genius. When not being banished to a desert island, SL can be found at www.slhuang.com.
SL, thanks for joining us. First of all, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself – just so we know who it is we’re sending into exile. Illogical fears, unusual birthmarks, whether you’d rather wrestle a bear or punch a shark, that kind of thing.
Well, I have a math degree from MIT, which I now use to write absurd science fiction books about a mathematical superheroine. Otherwise, I try to stuff my life full of as much weirdness and adventure as possible. I could tell you about it, but then I'd have to transform you into a mutant rainbow spider and take you with me into the netherworld.
So far I've been lit on fire four times, three of which were on purpose.
Who hasn't, right? So tell us about your own work. What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
Math! My books are full of math!
Wait, that's not tempting?
Um. Math and GUNS! Yeah! There are lots and lots of guns. I like guns, too.
Okay, seriously, I'm really just your run-of-the-mill math geek who thought, "wouldn't mathematics be the greatest superpower in the world? What COULDN'T you do with that?" And then I proceeded to cram that into a book, which turned out to be a sort of fast-paced urban superhero contemporary science fiction thriller ... thing.
I've been told it reads like an action movie. Since I'm a huge fan of action movies, I'll take that.
I can definitely see Zero Sum Game as a movie. They could come up with some really cool effects to show how Cas sees the world ... yeah, we should make this happen ... *temporarily gets lost in daydream*
Er, so now let’s move on to the books you’re going to take to the island with you. First up, it’s your favourite childhood book – perhaps the one that got you interested in reading in the first place, or the one you read over and over when you were young. Which will you choose, and why?
Way too many choices vying for this, but I'm going to have to go with A Wrinkle in Time. I first read it in elementary school and, in a move that probably should have gotten me smacked, proudly marched up to my second-grade teacher and explained to her what the fourth and fifth dimensions were.
(Yeah, I did a lot of things as a kid that should've gotten me smacked.)
Anyway, I reread A Wrinkle in Time like clockwork every two years for most of my childhood. I got more out of it every time.
Next, the book that made the greatest impact on your life. This could be one that inspired you to become a writer, or one that made you look at the world in a whole new way – maybe even one that resulted in real-life romance or adventure.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
That's SO cheating, isn't it? That's, like, a zillion books in one! And poems!
But I really can't overrate the impact Shakespeare's plays have had on my life. I've not only read and studied portions of the canon extensively, but my years in theatre bring even greater meaning to any of the roles I've performed. And every time I reread a play anew, I find more in it. I could spend a lifetime parsing his verse – and would enjoy it.
Yes, that is cheating, but I'll let you get away with it because, you know, it's Shakespeare.
For your third book – and you’re probably going to need this one, all alone on a remote island – I’d like you to choose your greatest comfort read. You know, the one you turn to when you’re sad or ill or just need a little pick-me-up.
V, by A.C. Crispin. I’m not sure why this aliens-invade-Earth scifi novelization turned into such comfort food for me, but it was a touchstone throughout my whole childhood and teenage years.
That probably says something about me. Me and alien reptiles.
Fourthly, it’s your unexpected treasure: a book you didn’t expect to like but did, maybe one outside your usual genre or that you picked up with low expectations but were pleasantly surprised …
This is a hard question to answer, because I've spent most of my life being such a dedicated reader that I've gone in expecting to like pretty much everything with print in it. And even though I usually tend toward SFF, I've devoured many other genres as well. Only recently, as an adult, have I gotten a little more discriminating.
I guess what best qualifies here is actually Harry Potter. I had one of those snobby, "If it's so popular, it must SUCK!" attitudes when I first heard about the zeitgeist. Then, after a relative sent the first three books as a well-meaning present, I picked up the first one just to see – and promptly gulped down all three and became nuts about the series.
Since I have to choose just one, my favorite is the third: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
That's my favourite too :-) And finally, I’d like you to choose your instant classic – the book you think most deserves to be read and reread by future generations. It’s up to you whether this book is already considered a classic or is something more obscure.
Bloodchild, by Octavia Butler.
Octavia Butler is one of those authors who ... I read her words, and I just stop breathing and feel like I'm having an out-of-body experience. Her writing is that good.
Bloodchild, a book of short stories, is the first book of hers I read, and it remains my favorite. She writes what I consider truly great science fiction: tales of what-if that worm into our subconscious and leave us asking questions about humanity long after we finish them.
Right. We’ll get those five books packaged up ready for your journey. Since we’re not completely heartless here at Barren Island Books, we’ll also let you take one song/piece of music, one film and one other item of your choice into exile with you …
One piece of music: "Concerto for Two Violins", by J.S. Bach. It has sentimental/emotional meaning for me as well as being one of the richest pieces of music I've ever enjoyed.
One film: The Princess Bride. (The book probably should've made it too, but didn't fit into any of the categories above!) Campy swashbuckling, epic adventure, absurd humor – I'm going to sit on my island and rewatch it again and again and again. And also reenact the sword fights. Because duh.
One other item: I suppose it's cheating if I say something as multi-purpose as a computer – but really, and this is going to sound like the stock writer's response, but it's true – the piece I want most is the word processor. (I guess a typewriter or a big fat blank book and writing utensils would work as a second choice!) I love writing, but more importantly, writing's the one solitary activity that I might actually be able to do for a lifetime on my island and keep myself sane. They'll find my skeleton hunched over a pile of manuscript pages in my cave.
In that case, it had better be a typewriter and an endless supply of paper to go with it! Now, before we whisk you away, you have one last decision to make: where you want your remote island to be located. You can choose anywhere you like for your exile, in this world or another.
I should probably say somewhere tropical with plenty of fruit trees, shouldn't I? That would be the smart choice.
But ... naaaaaaaaaaah.
I want somewhere rocky, with mountains and wind and rain – and snow –
Wait, you say it can be in another world? Another planet? Another dimension?
*brain explodes with possibility*
I think, then, I'd have to choose an island in a world invented by either Dr. Seuss or Lewis Carroll. Because you know what? It would never be boring.
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
* If you don't believe me, see number 5 of the 10, er, 11 random facts on my About page.