Show Notes for Ep. 9 "An Interview with Paolo Bacigalupi"

Mary Anne interviews Paolo Bacigalupi about how to write fiction with a message, especially one as urgent as the ecological fate of our world and how it can impact humanity.

Recorded 2019 / Published 20 May 2021


  • 0:00: Introduction of Paolo Bacigalupi and the difficulty of writing message fiction.
  • 0:55: Bacigalupi’s “values fiction.” Authors feeling muzzled by editors when the message doesn’t get across correctly. The hard, commercial truth about writing.
  • 2:53: Market expectations for tone versus individual expectations.
  • 3:48: The values and behaviors of writers. The contesting perspective of editors and making a believable pitch. The “clever monkey” solution.
  • 5:59: Mohanraj recounts first meeting Bacigalupi. The flexibility being commercially successful allows.
  • 7:13: Bacigalupi speaks about some of the themes he touched on in Ship Breaker and his intended audience of teenagers. Making choices in writing that don’t compromise your values while still making money. What an author offers to the audience besides their values.
  • 8:36: Mohanraj provides an example of a formerly reluctant reader she knows.
  • 8:52: Giving the gift of story while talking about big concepts. Using a dystopian setting as a tool.
  • 10:39: To offer a solution or not. Cory Doctorow’s work as an example of times the message can inhibit the element of fiction.
  • 11:26: Presenting problems and solutions as background objects within the story. Finding ways to make message-relevant things interesting to the audience.
  • 12:49: Solarpunk. The “what if” in writing.
  • 13:36: Pitfalls in writing message fiction. Mohanraj references her own work, which deals a lot with race and national politics. “The chosen one” narrative.
  • 14:56: What Bacigalupi thinks about when considering different approaches. Depicting values in characters without reducing them to just values. Characters as real, complex people interacting with one another in a real, complex world. Challenging these characters in a way that’s tied to their beliefs. Arguing all sides in values fiction.
  • 17:52: Teaching “arguing all sides” in lit classes. Strawman arguments. The rarity of climate change novels and how people struggle to take works in the genre seriously.
  • 19:43: The credibility issue in science fiction and using a mainstream publisher. Being legitimized when writing ecological science fiction. Making technical concepts and ideas into stories. Creating realistic tensions. Letting the conversation about values take place organically, not by strong-arming a lecture through the characters but by letting them exist in the setting they’ve been placed in.
  • 23:00: Wrap up. Recommendations by Bacigalupi on other writers doing interesting things with eco-fiction.
  • 24:03: Kim Stanley Robinson.
  • 24:36: Why Bacigalupi doesn’t enjoy dystopian settings or eco-fiction himself.
  • 25:22: Structuring ideas. How Bacigalupi did this in The Water Knife. Purpose in characters. Building the world and filling it with details that speak to your values and bigger concepts. Creating a setting in which the readers are unable to think of anything else other than the message.

Authors and Works Mentioned

Alphabetically by author surname, or by title of work in cases where authorship isn’t simple.