Marion chats with David Walton about science and faith

David Walton took some time out of his writing and promotion schedule to chat with me about Supersymmetry, Superposition, science and faith, and the novels he enjoys reading. One random commenter with a US address will win a copy of Superposition.

Marion Deeds: Supersymmetry felt like it completed the story that you started in Superposition, and you’ve said you hadn’t originally planned a sequel. Do you envision more stories is this world, though?

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

David Walton

David Walton: I’m not planning any more stories in this world, but you never know – as you said, I didn’t plan a sequel when I wrote Superposition! At the moment, however, I’m working on a new near-future SF thriller, this one provisionally called The Genius Plague. The story is about a pandemic that, if it doesn’t kill you, grants remarkable powers of intelligence, communication, and memory. It follows two brothers, one convinced the infection represents the next stage of human evolution, and the other committed to destroying it. Who is right? Is it a symbiotic organism beneficial to humanity at large? Or are we becoming the pawns of a subtly dominating and utterly alien species?

That’s the working concept, anyway. It’s early days, so I reserve the right to change it along the way. :)

Oh, it sounds interesting! In both of the quantum books, there is definitely a theme concerning the application of physics versus pure research. In the first book Kelley leaves the Super-Collider because he hates the back-stabbing that goes on to get funding. In Supersymmetry, monumental discoveries are being weaponized (a fact that helps the quantum entity). What are your thoughts on the world of physics, practically speaking? Do you worry that it’s a field where our technical ability will outstrip our common sense? And do you have any predictions about where the research is going?

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsI don’t think it’s any science in particular that makes us lose our common sense. Humans can take any technological advance and find ways to weaponized it or use it unethically. Atomic energy gave us nuclear weapons. The germ theory of disease gave us biological warfare. Even the development of wrought iron and cast iron gave us better swords and muskets and cannonballs. Science is the discovery of knowledge, and knowledge is good. Understanding how the world works, what makes it tick, where it came from and where it’s going — those things are always valuable. How human beings choose to use their knowledge is what is so often dangerous.

The world of quantum physics is an exciting one because it’s a field where there is still a frontier to be explored, where there are dozens of unanswered questions and possibilities we don’t begin to imagine. I’m not a quantum physicist, and so any ideas I might have about where the research is headed wouldn’t carry much weight. From the perspective of a science fiction writer, however, it’s a field that gives us great freedom to dream, and as in Supersymmetry, our dreams can encompass quite a bit.

On John Scalzi’s blog Whatever you talked about the genesis for the sequel being the idea of Alex and Sandra. Alex and Sandra are not, practically speaking, identical twins, but you depicted some behaviors that are common to twins. Did you do research, or was most of that intuitive?

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsA little of both, I guess. I do have seven children, so the various aspects of how siblings and birth order can affect your view of yourself aren’t foreign to me. I’ve never been a twin, however, and I don’t have twins, so I don’t have any direct experience. I did read some accounts of the experience of people who are twins, particularly their experience as adults rather than children. Probably the best insights in the book come from that reading, though there was a lot of it that came simply from imagining what it would be like to be Sandra or Alex.

Imagining what it would be like to be someone you’re not is a lot of what a novelist does. In fact, it’s a lot of what a reader does, too, and it’s one of the chief values of reading fiction, in my opinion. It gives us the opportunity to inhabit the minds and experiences of people who are different from ourselves, and thus, hopefully, to understand other people better in the real world.

Bill Capossere interviewed you for our site about a year and a half ago, and he asked a question about faith versus science. I want to come back to that from a slightly different angle. Supersymmetry has a physicist character, Oronzi, who states with absolute certainty that the universe is a quantum computer. The line got a smile from me because Oronzi is very certain and often wrong throughout the book. Angel, who wears a cross and is devout, has a more playful and thoughtful approach to the intersection of science and spirituality. It seems like we live in a society that represents science and religion as antithetical, even dueling systems of belief, even though the Vatican has a top-drawer observatory, for instance. Give us your point of view on science and faith, please. Do you see an inherent conflict? If so, where?

I don’t see an inherent conflict between science and faith. Science is the study of the universe through experiment and logical reasoning. As a way to discover truth about the material world around us, the scientific method is a complete success. Faith, on the other hand, refers to beliefs about what is outside of the material world. It’s concerned with those questions science can’t answer.

I contend that you can both love and appreciate science as a means to gain knowledge in the material world, and yet maintain that there are important questions about meaning, purpose, morality, and the existence of a spiritual realm outside of the material world, that can’t be determined through hypothesis and experimentation. Of course, if you believe that the only things that exist are those that can be determined through science, then that belief is antithetical to religion. But science and a materialist philosophy aren’t the same thing.

I write this after spending the last five hours or so discussing this very question with a friend, who is intelligent, articulate, well-reasoned, and takes the opposite view as I do, so I know this a complex topic with a lot of philosophical ground to tread. I’ve discussed the issues to some degree on my blog as well (especially from the perspective of convincing other believers of the value of science), so feel free to check out those thoughts for a more in-depth introduction to my thoughts on the subject.

Thanks for that link. I enjoyed the post very much.

Much of your other work has been historical fiction. Did a specific desire shift you to near-future science fiction, or did you just like the idea of a new playground?

I never really wanted to be pigeon-holed into a particular subgenre, any more than I want to limit my reading to one kind of story. My short fiction has covered hard SF, soft SF, fairy tales, magic realism, post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk, slipstream, space opera, etc. So the switch was really just a desire for variety. At the moment, I’m enjoying a run of near-term hard SF, but there’s nothing to say I might not switch again.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsWho are you reading for recreation these days?

I’ve read all sorts of lovely books this year. THE EXPANSE series, by James S. A. Corey, are the books my friends and I are most recently reading and talking about. Great characters, great setting, non-stop action. The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey, was one of my favorite reads this year. Beautifully written, with layers of meaning, deep characters, thought-provoking situations, and one of the most surprising and yet perfect endings I’ve ever read. And, of course, everyone’s reading Andy Weir’s The Martian, but I’ll pile on. It’s the ultimate book for science and engineering geeks, and so compelling that even if you’re not, it’ll make you feel like you’re a science and engineering geek. The book I most recently started is The Affinities, by Robert Charles Wilson. I’ve only just started it, so I can’t recommend it, but I’m a great fan of Wilson’s other books, so I have high hopes.

I thought The Girl With all the Gifts was an amazing book.

We have a thing at FanLit now where we ask the authors if they’d care to share a favorite beverage, alcoholic or non-alcoholic. So far we’ve garnered drinks as diverse as a lychee martini and chili-spiced hot chocolate. Do you have a beverage you’d like to share?

Lapsang Souchong

lapsang souchong

I don’t drink alcohol (I never developed a taste for it), and most of what I enjoy is fairly humdrum. I have, however, recently found a new tea, thanks to a character in Corey’s EXPANSE series. Chrisjen Avasarala, unofficially one of the most powerful people in the universe, drinks lapsang souchong tea, and I gave it a try mostly because of her. It’s a smoked black tea, and it tastes kind of like drinking a wood fireplace. (Though another character in the Expanse says that it smells like hobo feet.) I’ve really been enjoying it, and it’s fun to drink a tea that was recommended to me by a fictional character.

I think that’s a great recommendation. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, and we look forward to more books from you! Now let’s hear from our readers. One commenter with a US address will get a copy of Superposition.


SHARE:  Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail  FOLLOW:  Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrsstumblr

MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

View all posts by

14 comments

  1. Great questions and answers! I, myself, enjoy a cup of lapsang souchong from time to time — it’s a lovely tea.

  2. Terrific interview, Marion! Walton sounds like a very interesting person.

  3. I am eager to read these books. I’ve got audio copies.

  4. Niki Learn /

    You never know, maybe someday will find God inhabiting dark matter or something, but only if we’re watching for him.

    • The people who say things like, “Well we’ve looked out into the universe and can’t see God, so there must not be one” are just thinking too small.

  5. I loved that he tried a tea based on a character in a book. I started making meat pies because they featured in so many books. Great interview!

    • There might be a good essay or column in recipes or food items we picked from books, Kayla.

      • April /

        I’ve seen whole cookbooks based on this! There was one blogger that made a dish a day/week/month (can’t remember which) inspired by the text of Outlander. Fun!

  6. April /

    I haven’t tried lapsong souchong but I love a good oolong.

  7. Ren Bedell /

    Great Interview and I love all the books he has enjoyed. Will definitely look into his books!

  8. Nikki Learn, if you live in the USA, you win a copy of Superposition!
    Please contact me (Marion) with your US address and I’ll have the book sent right away. Happy reading!

Review this book and/or Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *