Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: As a publisher, editor, molecular biologist, and author, you may, perhaps be the most impressive multi-hyphenate that I have had the fortune to interview! First and foremost, how would you describe your path towards exploring the worlds of science, literature, and beyond?
Athena Andreadis: For my entire life, I’ve been in love with the fiery engines in the sky that made life possible, and my seesawing between two very different cultures has enabled me to see non-obvious patterns. I consider science and speculative fiction mirror twins—certainly far closer kin than, say, science and business: both rely on informed imagination and honed craft skills, both work with what-if paradigms, and many people have become scientists because they read science fiction (SF). I was one of them. The first book I can clearly recall reading was Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. And the concept of scientists as sleepless astrogators who keep vigil at the watchposts of humanity’s starship, shaping the dark unknown ahead, has been the driving force for just about all my activities.
One thread has run through all my interests and endeavors: What will humanity encounter on earth or beyond it…and what will we become as a species? This question informed my decision of what research to conduct: exploration of brain function, because our brains define who we are individually and collectively, including intrinsic limitations that mislead us into casting parochials as universals—from what parameters we consider compatible with life to culture-specific divisions of labor. And this question has also guided my own fiction and the works I elicit from others.
BD: Your work in molecular biology not only included scientific research and discovery, but it also expanded towards creative endeavors. What can you share about your decision to write To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek, and what can you tell us about the inspiration for the book? Likewise, what can you tell us about your blog, Astrogator’s Logs?
AA: I decided to write To Seek Out New Life before I had tenure (to the horror of my colleagues, who considered it too risky), because I wanted to write a book that used a very popular frame to stealthily discuss real science, to make it accessible while giving free rein to my taste for vivid images. (Scientific publications use deliberately flattened language, though for valid reasons.) I wrote an essay about this decision, The Double Helix, that went on to win a National Education award. I decided to write the book despite all the warning klaxons, because I didn’t want to want to wait until retirement to do so, when I might have too little buckle left to swash, or when Star Trek as we know it could have become obsolete (which it has—the reboot is really Fast-n-Furious in Spaaaace).
But there was another subterranean river feeding my wish to write this book. Most traditional “hard” (a.k.a. sciency) SF privileges “manly” disciplines of engineering and physics (broadly defined). But the fundamental question that drives astrobiology and SF—although I don’t belittle the celestial and planetary wonders we’ve seen from probes and landers—is life. Is there life out there and, if yes, what is it like? And, conversely, can we live in arks, in domes, in places where we didn’t co-evolve with our surroundings? Can we retrofit ourselves to draw breath under alien skies? And so in To Seek Out New Life, I covered biology from molecules to societies and everything in between, a welcome antidote to the dry diction of formal scientific discourse.
In my Astrogator’s Logs blog, I continue these explorations: science, space exploration, literature, film, SF, language, myth, culture, politics …from the viewpoint(s) of someone who falls among too many stools to avoid or count: a zero-gen immigrant, a dark woman with an accent in all the languages she speaks, a bookworm in love with space exploration, a scientist aware of the pitfalls and consequences of the vocation…a feral walker between worlds who belongs to none.
BD: Were there any previous creators or works that impacted your approach to writing To Seek Out New Life?
AA: There were at least two “The X of Star Trek” titles before mine, the better known one by Lawrence Krauss about physics, but I had wanted to do this long before they appeared. My real inspirations were popular science books that combined erudition with eloquence: Hawking, Blaffer Hrdy, Damasio, and Manning. It also intrigued and amused me to take this quintessentially mid-century US construct and explore it as a non-Anglo woman who nevertheless loved its optimistic and science-friendly outlook, which stands in stark contrast to most SF shows that tend decidedly to angsty dystopia.
BD: In addition to your own writing, you are the owner and editor of Candlemark & Gleam, a phenomenal independent publisher with a myriad of fantastic titles in your catalog. What can you tell us about the genesis of the publishing company, and what do you feel has come to define a “Candlemark book?”
AA: Candlemark & Gleam was founded in 2011 by Kate Sullivan, a dynamo of intelligence and energy. In late 2012, I envisioned my first antho, The Other Half of the Sky, and looked around for publishers. A mutual friend recommended Kate, who was the only one to offer me reasonable terms. She also had a stellar reputation in terms of both how she treated colleagues and the quality of her press output. We partnered on the antho (which garnered an avalanche of accolades and is still selling briskly), and I was so impressed with the flair, care, and professionalism she lavished on her titles that three years later I asked her to host my second antho, To Shape the Dark. Kate told me she’d love to but she was planning to close the press because the venture was draining. To which I replied, “Don’t close it—give it to me!” The rest, as they say, is history. Running a small press is very similar to running a research lab, another kinship point between the two disciplines.
A “Candlemark book” has two lodestars: originality of imagination and quality of craft. My aim is to elicit and nurture fully accessible work that can stand as literature outside the genre, and that also transcends the too-common blinders of time and place that date and limit vision. A “Candlemark book” is a Gesamtkunstwerk: a seamless whole from text to cover to divider ornaments.
BD: Given your unique perspective in being both a publisher and a writer, what advice would you offer to creators who are interested in sharing their story through prose or other mediums?
AA: Between the tsunami of free content and the ability to self-publish, today’s writing is a buyer’s market. Small presses get lost in this noise, but small presses are also the critical catalysts and forges where new voices find their place, hone their craft…and get poached risk-free by bigger presses when they become successful. Small presses offer hands-on total care that used to be the norm in larger establishments where it’s now largely extinct, with “acquisition managers” replacing editors.
I’d encourage writers to check out reputable small presses, because even the best story needs polishing. Inevitably, there are flight-by-night operators in this territory, as well as people who are so rigid and controlling that they are poor collaborators, but reputations are easy to research. I’d urge them to avoid fashions-du-jour, especially if they have unique visions to offer. Nothing dates a work faster than pseudo-edgy veneers. I’d underline they must follow publisher guidelines. I won’t automatically reject a submission that doesn’t quite do so, but I believe I’m in the minority.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
AA: I just launched Finders by legendary Melissa Scott, the first of a projected trilogy. Its focal points are two stories of hers that I elicited for the anthos I envisioned and curated: “Finders” in The Other Half of the Sky and “Firstborn, Lastborn” in To Shape the Dark. This marked Melissa’s return to original science fiction after a hiatus of two decades, and the book is making quite a splash (as it should).
The next title in the pipeline is a cinematic work by Robin Shortt, the author of the wildly original sui-generis Wellside. Titled The Marten and the Scorpion, it features pickpockets, assassins, and martial arts secret societies in medieval Samarkand—intrigue and derring-do galore! Besides upcoming Candlemark titles, which will undoubtedly include the next installment of Justin Robinson’s addictive monsterverse, I’m organizing two larger-scale projects: “Legends of the Inland Seas” (late 2019), an anthology to reclaim myths that are considered déclassé common property because of long, casual, shallow handling; and “Strangers in Strange Lands” (April 2019), a storybundle that carries the thread that runs incessantly through my thoughts, as I described at the start of the interview: what we humans may encounter…and what we may become ourselves as a species in various futures.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Candlemark & Gleam, To Seek Out New Life, and your other work?
AA: Not surprisingly, there are websites for all these activities!
Candlemark & Gleam
Other Andreadis Endeavors
To Seek Out New Life http://www.toseekoutnewlife.com/
Fiction & Essays http://www.starshipreckless.com/
*Cover (above) for Finders by Melissa Scott