Ballacourage Books

 Both FACT and Fiction!

An Interview with Timothy J. Gawne

Creater of 'Old Guy'

(with Tom Halle - from 'Send up another Flare.' Reprinted with permission)


TH: This your first work of fiction.  There have been a number of sentient cybertank type books written before. What made you want to try your hand at this Genre?

TG:   Good question.  I don't really see this as wanting to write a
'sentient cybertank' novel, but writing about artificial intelligence
in general.  With few exceptions so much sci-fi writing about robots
strikes me as rubbish.  I think that it could be a great folly to try
and create a mind fundamentally greater than our own, and to control
it with inbuilt laws or directives or such.  If the mind was greater
than ours we could never really understand it, there could be no
assurance that it might not find a way to turn on us.  Far better to
make it just like us, except much faster, able to access more data and
be in many places at once.  Then it would work with us for the same
reasons that people work for us.

There have been any number of novels about sentient
spaceships/tanks/buildings/planets etc., I chose a tank simply because
I think that this is where human-style intelligence might be most
valuable.  I mean, even today spaceships are far stupider than even
our current primitive autonomous driving cars.  Also a sentient
building might have trouble supporting a human psyche: no obvious
single mobile core for the psyche to fixate on.  So I went with giant
robot tanks.

TH: Did you plan on doing this as a series from the start?

TG: No. I tried a story for fun. People liked it. I wrote the book. People liked it, so I wrote more. People liked it so it may continue. It was not planned to be a 'series' and the tag line "Another Thrilling Old Guy/Cybertank Adventure" is something tongue in cheek made up by my editor.

TH: You have solid background in science. Can you touch upon that and how it affects your writing?

TG: That is a difficult question.  The problem is that my background in
science is what I have, and I am sure that it affects my writing, but
I really can't tell you how, because I have no idea how I would write
without it.

But I think that where it has affected me is that I react against
stupid things.  So much science fiction should really be labeled
fantasy; it has no grounding in reality things are just made up.
That's fine, but not what I want to do.  I want my science fiction to
at least live in the realm of the possible, and not just in terms of
base physical law, but how technology really works.

For example, so much science fiction involves super-powered robots or
powered armor or such not.  Nobody would build these things.  There
would be too many joints, they would be too complex.  If someone built
a humanoid robot, it would be so that it could interact with human
beings or immerse itself in a play where the roles were held by
humans.  It would make as much sense to make a humanoid robot
super-strong or have inbuilt weapons as it would to provide armor and
weapons to a teapot.  If you want a weapon, you make a weapon: a
simple shape with armor and weapons and sensors, ideally networked
into an integrated combat network.  This fixation with super-powered
robots is just a juvenile fantasy of humans wanting to imagine
themselves as super-powerful, it has nothing to do with how robots
will really be made or used.

TH: You have an electrical engineering degree from MIT, worked on programming computers, then went on to a Phd in physiology, which puts you in a unique place positioned between computers and biology.  Do you think this gives you a different kind of insight into cybernetic systems than most people?

TG: Certainly this gives me a different approach than most (not all)
science fiction writers.  My background spans both hard engineering
and physiology/neuroscience, and I am used to building unique
instruments and writing programs and getting things to work.  So when
I write I am always asking myself, 'How would I do that?  Why would I
do that?  What would be the downsides, and are there better
approaches?'  I never thought of it this way, but I suppose you could
say that my writing is in a limited way a sort of engineering design

TH: Do you map out the entire story before you start writing, or use one of the writing programs that helps you keep notes on characters, or what is going to happen when?

TG: Not at all.  Perhaps I should, but for now I just daydream, and then
start writing in the little bits of time when I am too tired to do
real work and not so tired that I can't do anything.  As things
progress the characters take on a life of their own.  I often end up
erasing entire sections because I realize that the characters would
never do that.  Currently there is a character that I had intended to
be a cartoon bit-piece villain, but as I worked on it I got
sympathetic and, while he's still not a saint, he is coming across as
better than I intended.  He may show up later on, if circumstances
permit.  Sometimes a minor character will grow and steal the show,
sometimes a character that I had intended to play a leading role ends
up as more minor.  It's like the story has a life of its own, and I
really can't plan it at all.

For example, in Space Battleship Scharnhorst, originally the character
of Fanboy started out as a one-off gag suggested by my brilliant
editor and publisher Jonathan Gawne, but as I started writing he just
grew on me and ended up getting more depth and played a bigger part in
the story.

Is this a good way to write?  I have no idea.  But letting the
characters loose to do whatever they want is certainly a fun way to

TH: Some have felt you break too many rules of grammar. How do you respond to that?

TG: That is how Old Guy (and friends) talk. They, like many people, do not always speak in complete sentences. Sometimes they start with the word "and." I could have written it to get an "A" in a high school English class, but I claim artistic license. 

TH: Is there any truth to the rumor that you have sold the film rights to Hollywood, and that Bruce Willis will be the voice of Old Guy? 

TG: (laughs)   No.  Or should I say "no comment." Although someone has said it might make a great graphic novel. If it happens, it happens.  

Main Page

 Contact Us