After reading Fourth World, some folks have asked me how much of it is autobiographical. “Are you kidding?” I reply. “It’s science fiction!”
But on reflection, there is plenty of autobiography in it; it’s hard to resist pulling some characters in from my own life, for better or worse. The competitive colleague, the snooty wine taster, the abrasive professor- all these are reducible to caricature, but I try to refrain from that extreme. There are personal heroes and, I’ll admit, family members represented as well. Besides the characters, real life is also reflected in my fictional world of 2196: Big Pharma, colonialism, authoritarian governments, genomic manipulations and their ethical quandaries, and of course upcoming missions to Mars. Painting these current concerns and aspects of my real world- things that I think about- into science fiction is, in a sense, autobiographical. Science fiction is often lumped together with fantasy, but they lie on a very wide spectrum. At one end, pure fantasy would have less autobiographical content, I suppose; my writing, lying at the opposite end of that spectrum, is based more on my own experience.
Consider the flip side of the coin. I was at a reading of Moonglow (a very enjoyable read; get the book!) at Diesel Books in Oakland recently, and Michael Chabon addressed the question of the interface between novel and memoir. Moonglow is written in the form of a memoir, but it is actually a novel, as stated on the cover. Even “facts” passed down from one generation to the next within the plot of the novel turn out to be distorted or just plain made up by the characters. But the author admits that much in the book is historically true, or true to memory. Then he adds the caveat that all memories, to some degree, are fiction.
I agree: Some of my memories may even be science fiction.