Conversation with “Frozen Sky” Author Jeff Carlson, Part II

Recently I conducted an interview with Jeff Carlson, author of The Frozen Sky. In the first part of the interview I asked Jeff about the writing process, communication, and alien personalities, but I saved the question I cared the most about (the motivation of applied researchers) to the second half. As an applied researcher — someone who who leverages scientific methods and findings to practical ends — the behavior of the European team, both which each other and others, on the frozen moon Europe was fascinating.

The interview trended into areas I’ve discussed on my blog before. So without further ado:

Q: What motivates the human characters in the novel? Does this reflect your view of human motivation in general?

A: Unfortunately, yes. It’s my humble opinion that many people are stupid, inconsiderate, unimaginative, delusional, self-centered, greedy, or cruel. Heck, a lot of the time they’re some combination of all of the above.

The great news is humanity is also peppered with heroes and geniuses and big-hearted people who are proactive and caring and good.

I tried to infuse The Frozen Sky with enough complexity that it’s not simply a scary book about freaky blind killer aliens. Too often we’re our own bad guys. Some readers have rightly said that casting the evil corporate henchmen as the villains isn’t a fresh concept, but, again, it is a real-world notion that many adults are inconsiderate and greedy. Money is their god. And in the immortal words of Ellen Ripley, “Christ, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.”

I’ve previously written that even scientists are driven by power, influence, and money. But my difference with Jeff — which I think lead to some dissonance while reading The Frozen Sky — is his relative optimism about humanity. If humans really were divded between “stupid inconsiderate, unimaginative, delusional, self-centered, greedy, or cruel” people on one hand, and “heroes and geniuses and big-hearted people who are proactive and caring and good” — we would be a lot better of: just get rid of the mean folks, and everyone will work hard and get along!

Rather, humans are stuck in a situation where we are most successful when we do something that we’re great at, we enjoy, and we make money at. There is every incentive in the world to take the perspective of your profession — if you’re really want to enjoy your work, it should be something you are good at, and something that is profitable to you. But this also means there is every incentive to be blind to the world, if sight would rob you of effectiveness, or joy, or the ability to make money.

Q: Would you want to visit Europa?

A: I’m there right now, my friend. The worlds beneath the ice were too big not to go back, and Von’s crew barely scratched the surface after meeting the sunfish clans. What about deeper into the ice? What about the ocean further down?

Currently I’m writing The Frozen Sky 2… 😉

Stay tuned, for my review of The Frozen Sky.