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Interview: Author Matthew Buscemi Discusses Science Fiction

A man on a boat against a starry sky - Interview with author Matthew Buscemi

Author Matthew Buscemi Speaks from Beyond the Hedge, Past the Tollbooth, and Across the Universe

Author Matthew Buscemi, an Illinois-born speculative fiction author, founder of Fuzzy Hedgehog Press, and casual philosopher and linguist, recently published the latest of his six novels and novellas. The novella, Our Algorithm Who Art Perfection, can be downloaded for free from his website, along with 3 other novels and novellas. Buscemi splits his time between his job as a programmer and his writing career and lives with his husband in Seattle, Washington. 

schrodingers-city-coverI was recently scanning through my bookshelves when my eyes fell upon Schrödinger’s City, a mind-bending exploration of City, a realm that both is and is not anything and everything you believe it could be, told from 27 separate points of view. I’m always looking for something new to read, so with Schrödinger on my mind, I reached out to Matthew Buscemi, hoping he would have some new releases I could get my hands on. Luckily for me, Buscemi not only had a new novella but also some time for an interview. Giddy at the opportunity to catch a glimpse into Buscemi’s active and creative mind, we set up a time to chat and cracked into the interview.

How do you define science fiction?

I always like to ask writers how they define science fiction. If you’ve ever met one of those heretics who say Star Wars isn’t sci-fi, you’ll know what a heated subject it can be!

Buscemi: Well, the borders are fuzzy and hard to find. I’ve delved pretty hard into the academic side, but it didn’t help. If anything it makes it worse! More information and views just made it more nuanced and blurry. Dr. Darko Suvin, [an award-winning science fiction scholar] defined it as “anything that causes cognitive estrangement,” which is accomplished in novels like 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Brave New World, but leaves out science fiction genres like space operas and cyberpunk.

Though Suvin believes science fiction is limited to an alternate reality just different, but similar, enough to be within the realm of extreme possibility, thus forcing the reader to question how the world they inhabit could become (or may have once been) that way, Buscemi has broader qualifiers for what defines science fiction.

Buscemi: I like anything that’s sufficiently strange, with enough philosophical meat. Beyond that, the boundaries get so broad, it encompasses everything. Science fiction is traditionally heavy on concepts, characters, science, philosophy… it’s a very cognitive genre.


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What was your first favorite science fiction book growing up?

Buscemi: I remember loving The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster when I was ten years old. [For those who aren’t familiar, Buscemi described it as a “strange world where every psychological problem becomes real,” plagued by an endless war between the Kingdom of Reason and the Kingdom of Emotion.]

Laughing, Buscemi said of the world behind the tollbooth, “This is a world where the weird things that happen in my head actually make sense.” His two favorite science fiction novels as an adult are now Embassy Town by China Mieville, and The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin, but like any good 90’s kid, he admits to being raised more by television than books. Star Trek: The New Generation, Buscemi believes, is the true core of Star Trek: elements like the Inner Light and the alien race called Tamarians who speak only in metaphors.

Buscemi’s interest in language extends into the real world; he’s taught English in Japan and Thailand and studied linguistics in Hawaii before settling into the Pacific Northwest. A voracious reader, Buscemi surprisingly didn’t become a professional writer until 2013 but had been cultivating his first novel, Voyage Embarkation, since before high school.

Buscemi: It was the story I really knew I wanted to put into the world. I saved partial drafts from high school to 2012 when the eBook thing happened, and I worked hard on the story for a year before publishing it as an eBook in 2013. It all just kept going from there.

After finishing Voyage Embarkation, Buscemi’s next two novels also featured gay, male programmers as protagonists, leading a fellow writer to challenge him to break outside his box.

Give me a parallel universe and I can do that. I want to see where my imagination takes me.

As a gay, male programmer himself, Buscemi accepted the challenge and plotted out Schrödinger’s City, in which he would not only meet his friend’s challenge but greatly exceed it. The 27 different perspectives in Schrödinger’s City weren’t just tossed haphazardly on the page; Buscemi is what writers call a “plotter.”

Buscemi: I’m a big anti-pantser*, I sat down and planned out every single scene before I wrote it. I started off with the idea of the city to explore uncertainty, came up with a character and a thematic framework. After illustrating roughly the shape of the conundrum I wanted [the characters] to solve, I created a 3 act cadence and plotted the perspective shifts.

*A plotter is a writer who creates an exhaustive outline or storyboard of their novel or short story; a pantser is a writer who “flies by the seat of their pants” and makes it up as they go.

Buscemi’s main challenge when writing novels is creating different viewpoints, particularly those contrary to his own.

Buscemi: I want to be aware of [the characters] views and present worlds, I want to be fair to other viewpoints.

The hardest character for Buscemi to write was Grey from Schrödinger’s City, simply because how foreign his viewpoint felt.

Buscemi: It was challenging to find truth in his character, and not just make him into a heartless bully, or just dumb. It wouldn’t have been fair, and wouldn’t have done justice to humanity. It was a little fun, though, because I could let myself go and channel raw emotion free of social constraints.

interview-matthew-buscemi

Dice and a scorecard from Dungeons and Dragons. Photo by River Siren.

However, for those who have read Schrödinger’s City, it is easy to see Buscemi rose to the alternate viewpoint challenge. Since early childhood, Buscemi found himself pulled into the many fictional and fantasy worlds of his own design, or from Dungeons and Dragons or various Japanese video games. He admits being drawn to alternate realities but recently decided to take the leap to the biggest world-shift a writer can make, and create a planet (and alien race) of his own.

Upcoming Works: Buscemi was eager to share a fascinating world he’d constructed, and the story he built around that

Buscemi: I’m working on a novel, working title is ‘A Year in a Day,’ set on a strange planet with strange aliens since I haven’t really done a proper space “we’ve discovered this planet and here’s what we found” story. I imagined a planet where its rotation and orbit around the sun are the same length, so a year is a day. It’s full of fairly-humanoid life-forms, you know, anthropoidal. Only 1/6 of the planet is lit up by the sun at a time, something unknown is keeping the surface dark. The people there spend 30 days awake, and 11 months asleep [as their section of the planet rotates into darkness]. November 8th just happened, so, of course, I wanted to do something political. The aliens have just invented the internet, and it’s so great! Finally, they can communicate with people on the other side of the planet.

But, continues Buscemi, as information begins to spread and a human spaceship arrives to help figure out why the planet is sectionally trapped in darkness, it becomes apparent that everything the inhabitants believe, and everything the humans were told, is all complete lies and misinformation. The humans can never anticipate what culture or people is going to roll into the light.

More from Beyond the Hedge

Buscemi is now working on volume two of his speculative fiction anthology Beyond the Hedge, published by his own printing press. We recently reviewed the first volume, “The Light and the Dark,” and so I was interested to hear about his thoughts regarding it and volume two.

Personal favorite story in the collection? New One, by Albert Nothlit. Buscemi loved the “surreal, cerebral raw fear running through it.”

Buscemi: Fuzzy Hedgehog Press was born simply because iTunes requires a business license to publish eBooks. As for the second volume, I feel I am learning as I go. First, there’s a theme, and I want to pick stories that best embody the theme. The biggest improvement coming in volume two [“Chimeras and Phantasms”] is a wider pool to select from.

Last year, Fuzzy Hedgehog Press went to many different science fiction conventions, including OryCon and Westercon in Portland, Oregon, and Norwescon in Seatac, Washington, RadCon in Pasco, Washington, among others.

Author Matthew BuscemiWhat’s Next for Our Author Matthew Buscemi?

Currently, Buscemi is reading the Elements of Typography by Robert Ringham, which he picked up after a printer told him that his margins were “wrong.” Now, he’s educated about golden sections and medieval manuscript layout procedure (which is mathematically based on the golden ratio [which is the limit of the ratios of successive terms of the Fibonacci sequence]), and has studied The Form of the Book: Essays on the Morality of Good Design by Jan Tschichold. It doesn’t appear as though Buscemi has turned down a challenge yet.

“Let us begin by enumerating the things that are hideous, and therefore wrong.” Jan Tschichold

As for Buscemi’s latest novella, “Our Algorithm Who Art Perfection,” stay tuned! I’ll have a review up ASAP. Coders and programmers, this one’s for you! You can read it, and author Matthew Buscemi’s other works for free here on his website.

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