I was born in Germany into a family of visual artists; surrounded by books and with TV being either unavailable or actively discouraged. I read like it was going out of fashion by the time I was seven, grew up on Grimm’s and Anderson’s fairy tales, Karl May’s adventures, American crime fiction, and German pulp sci-fi, especially the perennial Perry Rhodan series. There was also my exposure to RaumPatrouille Orion, first ever real sci-fi TV series, pre-dating Star Trek by just a few months and considerably more adventurous in concept.
I also developed a very early preoccupation with mortality. Personal extinction, decided the pre-teen, is a very bad thing. Quite a few decades later, I still believe this to be true. Perry Rhodan no doubt had a lot to do with imprinting this on me. And Alan Harrington's The Immortalist sealed it sometime in 1974.
After studying astronomy and physics for over a year, one day I said ‘enough’ and walked out in the middle of a lecture, to apply for an immigration visa to Australia—just about as antipodean to my former life as I could go. I spent some years traveling around Australia and some of South and Central America, before, years later, resuming my studies in Australia, and later New Zealand—but this time leaning toward the life- and cognitive sciences; which is I suppose why I tend to connect physics with the wide interdisciplinary cognitive science domain. Along the way I collected a number of degrees, including a B.Sc. and am M.Sc in Physics and an M.Sc, in Cognitive science. Degrees are handy things to have, but they won’t necessarily make one rich. I know mine didn’t make ma a millionaire, but they certainly made me learn a lot of things that I wouldn’t otherwise have learned. I continue to have a continuous and lively interest in all aspects of science, with Physics, Biomedical and Cognitive Science ranking at the top.
Instead of sticking to the academic universe, I earned my living with programming for many years, usually in a biomedical/physiology context; then gave software development away in the late 1990s and converted myself into a technical writer, organizational process developer, graphic designer, editor and occasional video producer.
After years in the UK, US, Japan and New Zealand, my wife and I are camping out, for a while anyway, in inner-suburban Brisbane; so that we can be close to our daughters and grandchildren. Whatever happens next, who knows? Life has a habit of presenting one with unexpected challenges and opportunities.
Trying to earn a living writing is a mug's game, except for those who make it big, or at least 'upper-medium'. I wish I could do this full-time, but we have to live with the cards we've been dealt, and the stories I tell may just not resonate with the current Zeitgeist. Tough luck for me, I guess, but I'm not going to tell different stories just because they're going to get me more money. That's missing the point and sacrificing one's personal integrity. And I consider the latter to be without a price.
Writing ‘came’ to me in my very-late teens, but it was unformed and embryonic at best. In particular, I didn't know then what I know now: That it isn't about 'writing' per se, but about telling stories. The change of languages from German to English held things up a bit, as might be expected. So, serious and other-than-crappy writing didn’t manage to get a decent foothold in my life until some years later. There was also a young family—which changed life-priorities. My family comes first—always. Never mind about all that I-want-to-fulfill-myself-and-be-an-artist bullshit. You've got to have your priorities right, or what good are you?
So things got delayed yet a bit more. Now, more than a dozen novels, stories and screenplays, as well as a feature-length movie, later, with my two daughters grown up, I’m still telling stories. It's a good way to spend your life. In fact, I am addicted to it. Tried to give it up once, for a couple of years. Didn't work. Couldn't detox myself and was getting a bit stupid. That's just the way it is. You think smoking is addictive? Try story-telling. I was a smoker once, a long time ago, but managed to kick that habit; so I know what I'm talking about.
I don’t think I’m ‘inspired’, which is a nonsense concept anyway. But I’ve found that I don’t have to be. I basically write what I would like to read: stories populated with characters I’d like to love or hate; dealing with the basic parameters of the human equation: love, hate, generosity, greed, loyalty, betrayal, hope, fear, life, death, sex, peace, war, violence, forgiveness, retribution, curiosity, misunderstanding, reconciliation, ambition, surrender, cowardice, courage, and whatever else happens to come along. Among all that, good people who are trying to find their way through the minefields of their existence, attempting to eke a meaning from it; while not-so-good people, for reasons perfectly valid to themselves, do their best to put obstacles in the good folks’ way.
My main literary influence is Jack Vance. His Lyonesse trilogy is, to me at least, the most enchanting fantasy ever written. I re-read some of Jack's work at least once a year, just to remind me what good prose is like.
My novels usually have 'romance', and it's not always tame. Meaning they're not for kids. R16, most of them. That's because I agree with WB Yeats, who wrote that “Sex and death are the only things that can interest a serious mind.” I would add "love" and "choice", and let's not forget that death really just defines "life" itself. Something I've been trying to come to grips with that since I was a child.
While initially my genre of choice was science-fiction or something science-fictionesque, I have recently deviated into historical romance (The Privateer’s Homecoming, Antoine’s Revenge) and even into outright contemporary and occasionally quite racy romance novels (My Third Chance, How Come We Didn’t Know?, Snuff Game), plus one that qualifies as potentially extremely controversial as it challenges a very fundamental social taboo.
I believe that good, engaging stories, written or cinematographic, convey the truth about the human condition and its complexities better than any learned, ‘popular’, or ‘spiritual’ non-fiction treatise ever could. They do this by the simple expedient of ‘entertain’ and ‘show-and-don’t-tell’. And the less pretentious they are, the better they work. The less the ‘message’ shows, the more readily the audience will listen to it, though they may not even be aware that they are listening. This is the applied art of persuasion and planting the seeds of change into minds.
I love fairy tales. That's probably because I grew up with them: the real thing; pure Brothers Grimm, unadulterated by political correctness and cutesy sanitization. Maybe that's why I love Bill Willingham's comic series, Fables, which is like the Brothers Grimm's tales—and every other fable ever concocted, including and freely mixed in with others you wouldn't expect—on speed. I sense the presence of a kindred soul, who obviously loves these stories just as much as I do.
The focus of my stories is on people, because stories about anything else are basically boring. Everything else is just 'background'. Lurking inside my tales is usually a serious framework of ethical and everyday-life issues, questions, suggestions. In Keaen, its sequels in the Tethys series and the prequels, as well as Seladiënna, Continuity Slip and others, these include my views on history and human destiny and its manipulation by those who would aspire to do so, however beneficent their putative reasons; social versus personal obligations; weighing society’s taboos against personal feelings; coming of age, whether it be in one’s youth or later life; finding one’s destiny; finding meaning; struggling against ethical turpitude; having hope; and staying alive—for only then can there be hope. I'm also preoccupied with the ethical question as to whether the decisions we make in life should be considered as instances, or examples, of 'higher principles', or maybe 'ideals', in action; or whether 'principles' are, at best, over-simplified descriptors of the infinite variety of the possible. There were also novels that ultimately became ‘prequels’ to series that began with Keaen. Some of these, like Seladiënna, had creepily predictive elements to them. Seladiënna was about a parallel world where Earth climatically was pretty much like what you might expect coming our way in less than a hundred years. Or maybe even fifty years? Who knows? System Crash incorporated themes around a grotesquely pervasive internet-like network and those in control of it, plus some speculations about Artificial Intelligence and the nature of ‘personhood’ and consciousness.
As of recent I've become kind-of obsessed with what's known as the 'multiverse' and, again, artificial intelligence, especially of the 'intelligent, conscious robot'—or maybe 'Replicant'—kind. These two things may seem a bit far apart, but I think they're not, because they're connected by the question of the nature of consciousness, ‘personhood’ and 'agency'. I have always been deeply interested in questions of ontology, and especially as it is reflected in quantum physics, the 'measurement problem', and Relativity Theory's 4-dimensional spacetime, already extending and actually existing across all of space and time. Since I'm hardly ever going to publish scientific or philosophical papers about this, I instead incorporate my ideas about this in fiction—which has resulted in novels like Continuity Slip, Tomorrow's Yesterdays and Seeking Emily. Another, The World Walkers, is in the works.
Storytelling requires, above all, a high standard of personal integrity. I completely agree with Harlan Ellison's dictum about taking your work seriously, not yourself. If you don't tell stories because you really want—possibly need!—to, do the world a favor and find something else to do. It took me decades to figure out that it's not about 'art', but just the simple, yet glorious, craft of telling stories to entertain people—and through this help them live their lives, because they can weave them into their lives and thus become stronger and more capable of coping with its vicissitudes.
Next to soldiering and prostitution, story-telling is probably one of the oldest and most venerable professions extant. We owe it reverence and integrity; instead of using it to seek glory, adulation and wealth. If we, by some great streak of good fortune, happen to find these along the way, so much the better. But let us never forget why we started doing it in the first place. The moment we do, we will lose our way and our sense of purpose.
For a longer spiel on the whole storytelling-and-writing thing , see this free eBook. (It needs serious updating—when I have the time.)
I've been a photographer since my early teens, and the bug has never left me. My subjects over the years have ranged near and far—literally: from close-ups to astronomy pictures, from lifeless buildings to living people. Cameras also varied. My transition to digital waited until decent digital cameras, and especially DSLRs, were available.
Photography fascinates me—the kind I do anyway, which tends to be minimally 'arty'. It captures unique, never-to-occur-again instances in the history of the universe; which kind-of resonates with physicists like David Deutsch noting that:
“We do not experience time flowing, or passing. What we experience are differences between our present perceptions and our present memories of past perceptions. We interpret those differences, correctly, as evidence that the universe changes with time. We also interpret them, incorrectly, as evidence that our consciousness, or the present, or something, moves through time.”
People: My family (wife, daughters, grandchildren, son-in-law). Everybody else is an optional extra.
Movies (a list subject to being updated every now and then): Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2048, Arrival,The Duellists, The Illusionist, Avatar, The Princess Bride, Stardust, The Next Three Days, The Adjustment Bureau, Hereafter, Serenity, Silverlinings Playbook, Star Wars (Eps 4-6 and 7), the new Star Treks (the old ones, too, but they're rather dated), Once Upon a Time in the West (best spaghetti western ever), The Age of Adaline (best 'immortalist' romance ever!), About Time.
TV Series: Timeless, Longmire, Babylon 5, Firefly, and of course the incomparable Farscape. Plus others that resonate with my current obsession about human-like intelligence in non-human robots: Humans and Westworld.
Books (fiction): Jack Vance's 'Lyonesse' trilogy. Stephen Gould’s Jumper. Philip Wylie’s forgotten classic The Disappearance. Terry England’s Rewind. Edmund Cooper’s The Uncertain Midnight. Ben Bova’s Voyager series. Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love.
Books (non-fiction): Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching (my favorite translation is the one by Stephen Mitchell). David Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity. R.C. Solomon’s In Defense of Sentimentality. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.
Writers (fiction): Jack Vance. The rest are trailing behind at a distance.
Composers: Hans Zimmer, Jean Sibelius (especially when performed by any orchestra directed by Esa-Pekka Salonen), Ludwig van Beethoven.
Instrumentalists: The amazing Hilary Hahn and her violin.
Rock Group: Foo Fighters.
"We used to think that if we knew one, we knew two, because one and one are two.
We are finding that we must learn a great deal more about 'and'."
"Whatever you're meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible."