Brenda Cooper

Interview with Brian Burt, author of “In the Tears of God”

Here is my interview with fellow author Brian Burt, who also writes climate fiction. I enjoyed meeting Brian online and working with him to exchange interview.

I just finished Aquarius Rising. I really enjoyed the book, so I’ll start with thanking you for giving me a copy.  As I mentioned when we started this conversation a few months ago, I’m interested in other authors who write climate fiction.

For the sake of my readers, I’ll start with some context:  Aquarius Rising is an action/adventure novel set in a far future where the land has been ravaged by geo-engineering gone bad, and the sea is full of colonies of humans adapted to the sea with bioengineering that went well.  It’s a great set-up, and if I say anything else it could be a spoiler.  So on to the interview questions:

Brenda: Your world building is excellent.  I felt that you had created a post-apocalyptic world that made sense and you were consistent and clear as you described the world. It was also unique. Can you talk a little about the process you went through to create the world? What was the most fun, and why?

Brian Burt: I admit I had a blast fleshing out the details of this fictional world. I actually wrote a short story originally, “Neptune’s Children,” inspired by this vision of human-dolphin hybrids swimming through the ruins of drowned coastal cities, transforming them into reef communities. Honestly, the short story wasn’t very good. I couldn’t do justice to the vision in that abbreviated format. So the tale grew into a novel, then a trilogy. As someone from the Midwest, far from any ocean shoreline, I loved researching the marine ecosystems and creatures who might populate this world. I learned so much, and every discovery triggered more ideas. It’s trite, but we’ve explored the surface of the Moon in more detail than the ocean depths. That aura of mystery provides incredibly rich soil (or sand 😉 from which story ideas can sprout!

Brenda: Your story is set in the Pacific Northwest.  I liked that; it’s my home. Why did you choose to set the story there?

Brian Burt: I envy you, Brenda, for living in such a beautiful place! I’ve always lived in the Great Lakes region, but my brother and sister both lived in Portland, Oregon, at different times, so I took the opportunity to travel to the Pacific Northwest for visits. It took my breath away. You can rightly claim to offer some of the most gorgeous natural scenery in the country, I think. When I started work on Aquarius Rising, I could think of no better setting than the coasts of Oregon and Washington State: rugged coastline, towering mountains, lush forests, thunderous waterfalls. I couldn’t imagine a place that would more dramatically demonstrate the tragedy of climate change, of what we have to lose and what could be regained if we reverse our course.

Brenda: Aquarius Rising is your first published novel after a short-story career.  How much different did you find novels?  Why?

Brian Burt: Honestly, I found sitting in front of the keyboard for that first novel to be terrifying. With short fiction, you have almost instant gratification. You labor for a few weeks or a few months to craft and refine a story and you’re rewarded with a finished work. You send it off to a magazine or anthology and move on to the next. Starting a novel felt like launching an assault on Everest; the scope, the commitment, the potential disappointment of not finding a publishing home after investing all that time and effort were intimidating. Eventually, though, I settled into a rhythm and found that novel-writing has its distinct rewards. You’re less constrained, can develop ideas and characters more richly, can experience the joy of finding that the tale takes on a life of its own. You may even find yourself on a detour into uncharted territory you never envisioned at the outset.

Brenda: Looking it your blog posts on Goodreads, I see that you are an optimist.  I am too, although I have to admit that the last few years have been harder.  The more climate science I read, the more worried I become that we are close to tipping points. Going backwards on policy right now feels dangerous.  What do you do to maintain your own optimism?

Brian Burt: Wow, do I agree with you! Earth is a water planet; oceans cover more than 70% of its surface. About 40% of humans live within 60 miles of the coast and could be forced from their homes as sea levels rise in the wake of global warming. It’s been a major struggle to maintain optimism in the face of recent political events and the impact on environmental policy. At some point, I felt so distressed by the daily news that I decided it was time to hunt for the encouraging stories buried amidst the gloom and doom, to share those with others whom I figured might also need a boost. I started publishing blog posts with the hash tag #CauseForOptimism. It’s been a healthy exercise. It definitely lifts my own spirits, and I hope it does the same for others.

Brenda: What do you think is the most important thing that we can do as individuals to create a better future? 

Brian Burt: I’ve been tremendously encouraged by the recent peaceful public protests like the Climate March and the March for Science. I think this is the most vital step we can take as individuals: to speak up for scientific facts, to lobby government officials to take responsible action based on those facts, and to support the scientific organizations who analyze those facts to help us understand potential impacts. And of course we can all take local action on a smaller scale: striving for energy efficiency in our own homes and commutes, recycling, reusing, and being conscious of our own carbon footprint. Even small improvements in these areas, multiplied by millions of people, can add up to a big effect.

Brenda: Same question, but globally?  Climate change is a global problem. What one thing do you think might be the most important to do on a global scale?

Brian Burt: As a species, I really do worry that we’re at a pivotal point in our social evolution. First, I think we need to do everything we can to acknowledge that this problem affects every nation, every person, and requires unified action if we’re going to solve it, or at least mitigate the worst effects. That means honoring the Paris climate agreement, for starters. It means instituting meaningful economic regulations like a carbon tax or cap and trade to more accurately reflect the true cost of burning fossil fuels. And it means remembering how vital science is to improving our odds; we should be funneling investments into renewal energy and green technologies, treating the challenge of climate change like it’s the Apollo space program of this generation.

I think SF writers have a role to play in sharing the vision of a better future, and dramatizing the consequences of inaction. Science fiction has been doing this for a long time, through novels, short stories, and nonfiction, too. Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl published Our Angry Earth more than twenty-five years ago, with common-sense suggestions about how to avoid environmental disaster. It’s sad to realize that we’re still rehashing the same tired argument today in the U.S., still pretending that the problem doesn’t exist. I’m optimistic that my kids’ generation is savvy enough to avoid that trap, acknowledge the scientific reality, and save us from ourselves. I just wish they didn’t have to carry that burden.

Brenda: Tell me about your next book.  When is it coming out and where can people find it? 

Brian Burt: Book Three of the Aquarius Rising trilogy, The Price of Eden, has just been released by Double Dragon Publishing. That and the first two novels in the series (In the Tears of God, Blood Tide) can be found at all the major online booksellers, and paperback copies can be ordered through Amazon or Lulu.

Brenda: I understand that you have finished the trilogy.  Do you plan to write more in this world, or create another one?

Brian Burt: I always planned on Aquarius Rising being three volumes, and The Price of Eden really does finish the story line. I don’t think those characters want me to interfere in their lives any further. I do have another weird world of “alternative facts” bouncing around inside my skull that I hope to explore next; if all goes well, that may develop into another eco-fiction series. I can’t wait to see where it takes me!

Brian’s interview with me can be found on Goodreads. 

I recommend that you all go buy Aquarius Rising and start his series.