…to the Future! — 5 questions to R. Jean Mathieu
Updated: Dec 15, 2022
Can you imagine a future where we solve our environmental problems and get to live our best cyberpunk fantasies? R. Jean Mathieu can, and he does so in amazing solarpunk stories, captivating from beginning to end.
I’m honored to introduce R. Jean Mathieu, a fiction writer of all trades, a Quaker, and most importantly, the father of a beautiful baby daughter. Known to friends as Roscoe, R. Jean Mathieu has a long list of publications, including award-winning stories.
I have the pleasure of calling Mr. Mathieu by Roscoe. He was the one who introduced me to the solarpulp subgenre and inspired my story Under Aster’s Shadow, featured in a Brazilian anthology published last year. Also, I’m in love with his villain (Don’t judge me. I’m drawn by the dark side, and Doc Vikki is fascinating!).
His work-in-progress novel, Doña Ana Lucía Serrano …to the Future! is a captivating adventure where we follow Donã Ana Lucia as she matches wits, fists, and railguns against unscrupulous rivals and fanatical Futurist terrorists for the greatest of all relics of Earth — a Walkman with a bad mixtape stuck in it.
The Future's So Bright anthology features his newest publication, the short Scars of Satyagraha.
Without further ado, here are five questions for R. Jean Mathieu.
1. Tell us more about your work.
This is the part where I talk all about Doña Ana Lucía Serrano …to the Future!, my two-fisted solarpulp of space archaeology and the value of the future vs. the past…but honestly, after my vow earlier this month (Angels from the Id), I’ve got so much I’m working on, I have to trust in God alone to keep track of it all.
I’ve got a pacifist genderqueer story, Scars of Satyagraha, coming out in Future’s So Bright, a numbers station horror story I’ve sent off to Obsolescence, and two stories of solarpunk creatures in progress for Solarpunk Creatures. This is in addition to the lesbian historical romance I’m mooting for National Novel Writing Month…unless I am led to write something else.
2. Why do you love science fiction?
In all seriousness and without irony,* science fiction is the literature of ideas. If you open a textbook on bioethics, all the schools and stances have names like the Frankenstein scenario, the Gattaca scenario, or the Blade Runner scenario. Because Shelley, Dick, and the creators of Gattaca were all playing with these problems in fiction before the problems existed.
(*He has to make this disclaimer because there is no greater comedian than Mr. Mathieu in our writing group.)
In Polish, there is a whole subgenre of clerical SF about Catholic priests meeting aliens and grappling with the implications. And even ordinary problems are served by the ideas, the poetry of ideas, that SF can serve up. I had a call at work earlier this week where I described our software scheduling as “like a kerchief fluttering, with peaks and valleys always moving.” That’s from the stilltent scene in Dune, where Paul first glimpses the future properly.
This is part of what pissed me off so much about 2006, the Year the World Kept Ending. All the awards were swept by visions of apocalypse, destruction, death, or sterile, unimaginable Singularities. All the ideas for the future were wrapped up in death or transcendence.
And we were still years away from any kind of Star Trek, to boot! That’s what was such a breath of fresh air a decade later when Sunvault came out in English.** Suddenly, people were talking about humans and human ideas again.
(** You folks in Brazil anticipated this with the anthology Solar Punk back in 2012.)
3. What is your favorite sci-fi trope?
Tropes are harder. I think my favorite trope is ecological worldbuilding, starting with the local biome and building up to the kings, presidents, and captains. An old friend and I have our first question for each other’s new worldbuilding products: “well, yes, but where can a soul get a bite to eat at 2 AM, how does one get there, what is it made of, and how does one pay?”
I try to do this with Doña Ana Lucía Serrano, growing peppers and fish on spacecraft and lavishly describing the brontosaurus collar-steak Doc Vikki eats in the jungle-spa on top of the world.
4. How do being a parent and a person of faith influence your views on science fiction?
To Quakers, I call myself “a Friend with Taoist notions,” and to others, I usually say I’m a Taoist Quaker.
A friend introduced me to the I Ching and the Tao te Ching in my late teens, and I remain convinced that Laozi gives the clearest picture of the Divine. My notions, my religion, and their clashes with a lot of other ideas I find myself swimming in inspire my stories and always have.
My first published story, Gods of War, is about the contrast between a Buddhist monk and Western rescue workers. Another, Measuring the Marigolds, is about an atheist and a spiritualist needing to confront a great unknown wormhole to get back home. The purest is probably Preta, which says right there on the cover: Buddhist beatnik vampires of 1955 San Francisco. As it turns out, Buddhists and Catholics read the vampiric curse very differently and draw very different conclusions about what it means.
My new story coming out in Future’s So Bright…, Scars of Satyagraha, is the most Quaker story I’ve ever written, despite having no Friendly characters in it. A young woman, Sam, must choose between the Yankee militia-style “real man” and the nonviolent Hinduism of her father. Peace and nonviolence have been a concern of Friends for 350 years, and questions of gender since Public Universal Friend began to preach in the 1700s.
Lyra, my daughter, has made me determined to work more and experiment with how I write (or trust Spirit to write). I intend to “write my way out of the work-trap” as Jack London did because I want to be at home with her, homeschooling her.
Bradbury spoke of his “mulch pile” and how it took him six months after an experience to start writing stories about it (he specifically cited his stint in Ireland before writing the likes of The Great Conflagration Up at the Place). My own mulch pile takes about a year. But in a year, I’ll be writing some really ripping yarns about fatherhood and newborns!
5. Where do you find inspiration for your stories?
For me, it’s almost always a question of philosophy. Yes, even the solarpulp with the swordfights and improvised hang-gliders. In Doña Ana Lucía Serrano …to the Future! it’s the question of the archaeologist (Doña Ana Lucía) preserving the past vs. the Futurists (Ruixing-0)*** discarding it for what they hope is a better future.
(*** Read Ruixing-zero)
That’s an interesting question! And Doña Ana Lucía is not clear-cut in the right about it, either. The second book is going to be even more fun, the question of who owns the relics, who owns the past - the museum? The locals? An individual? It’ll be one long philosophical Mexican standoff of Doña Ana Lucía vs. Doc Vikki vs. Lawrence Shaw.
For shorts, I have a notebook I carry in my back pocket, where I jot down one sentence or bullet points of characters, situations, or ideas rubbing up against each other. I’ll build on these directly or use them to start a Bradbury list (a list of nouns that a prose-poem rises out of). I think of them as the little ditty or riff a musician will absently pluck out of the strings, something that evolves into a full piece with a little work.
And now, most of the time, I sit shit-scared, staring at the blank page until something writes itself. Sitting there in that frame of mind, kind of scared but ready when it starts is key for me. It’s something real, something coherent, more often than you’d think. And then it’s off to the races, and not even I know what happens next.
Novels or short stories? Which do you prefer to read? Which do you prefer to write?
If the writing is good and I like the voice, I prefer novels. I want to spend as much time as I can with that narrator, after all!
Otherwise, I prefer short stories. I can usually finish a short story even if I find the actual writing insufferable, and it’s almost always worth it to get to what made the author really excited to write today.
SF & F has a huge short fiction tradition (compared with, say, romance or even literary fiction), and everyone tends to overlook it for the novels. It’s why I have monthly (and more) reviews of short stories on Innerspace. Short fiction is room enough to play, to try out new ideas or new combinations that maybe wouldn’t carry a full novel with a heroic journey and everything.
In terms of writing, I prefer to write however long the story is. Telling Doña Ana Lucía in a short is damn near impossible — I’ve tried! But Scars of Satyagraha would have been bloated if I’d tried to make it much longer. Short stories are the place to experiment, and novels are the place to go deep.
So that’s it for today, folks!
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did. If you have any questions for R. Jean Mathieu, you can leave a comment down below.
Are you also tired of post-apocalyptic and dystopian visions of our future? Let us know!
See you next post,
Carla Ra is a scientist by day, sci-fi writer by night.
You can check out her anthology ARTIFICIAL REBELLION here.