Science, Then Fiction: A Q&A with Neve Maslakovic Question:
Most science fiction writers don't have a background in real science, but you graduated with your Ph.D. from Stanford's renowned STAR Lab. How did your scientific work influence your fictional writing? Did working in science inspire you to write?
Neve Maslakovic: When I first tried my hand at writing fiction, I found that the process is a close cousin of scientific research--you come up with an idea, sit down at your desk (or in your lab), work at it, spend time thinking, backtrack, try a different approach... neither one happens neatly and both are very creative endeavors. Science is guided by observation and deduction, of course, while in writing Regarding Ducks and Universes my aim was to make the novel a fun read and a bit thought-provoking at the same time. Ultimately, though, you're just tinkering with ideas until you hit upon something that works and feels right. I don't feel I've moved wholly away from science; on the contrary--scientists and academic settings inhabit my stories.
Question: You were born in communist Yugoslavia and have lived all over the world. How did your travels impact the creation of Universe A and Universe B in Regarding Ducks and Universes?
Neve Maslakovic: I love to travel, both in person and virtually, by reading about real places or by writing about imagined ones. Sometimes a place that's only a little different than what we're used to can be more disconcerting than a place that's hugely different. To that end, I wanted Universe A and Universe B to be "next-door" kind of universes to ours and to each other; the laws of physics are the same and people don't have five arms, but in Universe B ordinary things like paper books and Ferris wheels seem out of place to A-dweller Felix Sayers, who's come from a more technologically and environmentally oriented society. So he's a little baffled by San Francisco B, especially as it seems that someone is trying to kill him.
Question: What made you decide to set Regarding Ducks and Universes in San Francisco?
Neve Maslakovic: I think writers, even ones of speculative fiction, always end up writing about their lives and the places they've been, even if only in some extended sense. I was in California for 12 years, and, like all the places I've lived, it's become a part of me. And San Francisco, in particular, is such a unique and interesting city, a city of innovation, a literary city. A perfect setting for basement-lab experiments with universes and for an encounter with a paper book for the first time.
Question: What can we expect to see next from you? More science fiction? Or maybe something travel-related?
Neve Maslakovic: As a matter of fact, the novel I'm currently working on is going to be both science fiction and travel-related. I don't want to say too much at this early stage, but let's just say that this time there are no ducks, but there is an Australian didgeridoo. And Fibonacci numbers. And cheese, lots of cheese. And time travel.
Felix Sayers has lived his entire life believing he was born six months after a brilliant scientist bifurcated the universe, creating Universe A, where Felix resides, and Universe B. When Felix's great-aunt leaves him a picture of himself as a baby, dated before the bifurcation of the universe, Felix realizes he has an alter living in Universe B. Afraid that the alter might already have written the mystery novel Felix has been contemplating penning, Felix decides to make a trip to Universe B. Though it's against regulations to contact his alter, Felix hires a private detective to investigate Felix B. But Felix soon finds himself under scrutiny when he's approached by a graduate student named Bean who suspects that Felix's own action as a baby may have caused the split between the universes. The smallest moment may matter, a character tells Felix when explaining the possibility of an infinite number of universes branching off from tiny, seemingly insignificant actions and decisions. Weaving together physics, philosophy, and wry humor, Maslakovic's inventive debut is a delight. --Kristine Huntley