In September 2010, Will McIntosh won the Hugo Award, the science fiction writer's equivalent of an Academy Award, for his short story "Bridesicle." Now his first novel, "Soft Apocalypse," has been released by Night Shade Books.
After a dream 10 years ago in which he fell off the earth and made his way to another planet, McIntosh, a sci-fi fan from childhood, started writing his own stories. By his count, his first stories, including "Faller," were rejected 88 times over three years before one was published. About 50 have since appeared in print and in online magazines. The most acclaimed, debuting in magazines such as Asimov's Science Fiction, have been translated into Russian, Finnish, French, Chinese, Romanian. ... Thanks to the Hugo and a simultaneous nomination for that other stellar sci-fi award, the Nebula, he now has a movie agent and is starting to work with a writing partner on a screenplay.
Yet Georgia Southern University students know him as Dr. McIntosh, the psychology professor. After growing up in the New York suburbs, he made his way to the University of Georgia 25 years ago as a Ph.D. candidate. He landed on his first professorial job at GSU and is still there after 21 years.
Three years ago, he married a GSU public health professor, Dr. Alison Scott, and they soon became parents. McIntosh's students are far more likely to hear about the psychological milestones of 2-year-old twins Hannah and Miles than any mention of his sci-fi works.
Here, in interview form, is the sort of thing he doesn't talk about in class.
Statesboro Herald: Central to "Bridesicle" is the idea of the hitcher, the personality of a dead grandparent, parent, or friend who lives on in someone's brain through a technological innovation. Is that pure sci-fi speculation, or does it have a psychological meaning?
McIntosh: "I think it's a mix. It's definitely kind of a sci-fi addition that helped the story. The story really couldn't work without it. But it's also in there because there's a psychological jolt. ..."
S.H.: Is there maybe also the idea that we carry the people who raised us around in our heads?
McIntosh: "That inner voice. Freud talked about the superego as basically the voice of our parents, and it starts on the outside and we hopefully internalize it. ..."
S.H.: How much psychological content is there in your science fiction writing, and do you put it there intentionally?
McIntosh: "Definitely not intentionally. I mean, I've always just tried to write a good story that people will enjoy reading. The nice thing about science fiction is most science fiction readers are tolerant if not eager for scientific information in their stories. ... I can tap into psychology when it is relevant to the story and sprinkle it in, and readers tend to enjoy the story more rather than less, as long as it's not, you know, [what] writers call an info dump that bogs the story down."
S.H.: What can you tell us about "Soft Apocalypse" without spoiling it?
McIntosh: "It's set in Savannah with a brief scene in Statesboro and a final chapter in Athens. It's about the slow collapse of civilization. I tried to make it more realistic. You know, there are no zombies after the apocalypse or anything like that. ... Actually, the guy who gave me the blurb for the cover said it well: It's not a post-apocalyptic novel about steely eyed survivalists.
"Four of the characters in the novel are real people I know, and with some of them I even kept the names because they said that was fine, and I basically took people I thought were interesting characters and dropped them into this story. ... The idea is, how would they react if civilization started to collapse: if things got terribly violent, if food became scarce, if the unemployment rate shot up to 40, then 50, then 90 percent and soldiers started coming in. ...
"One of the things that's central about the novel is the main character is looking for love. ... He's single and he's basically dating, but now, dating, you worry about you don't have a toothbrush and toothpaste, or you lost your front tooth."
[Not to mention that a wildly invasive species of bamboo and various other bioengineered terrors are on the loose.]
S.H.: How have the Hugo award and Nebula nomination opened doors for you?
McIntosh: "I was shopping the novel to agents, and it's hard to get an agent to even read your novel. ... Then I got the Hugo nomination and landed an agent, and then after I won the Hugo, within weeks got a contract with the book. ... And they brought it out last week."
S.H.: And you have prospects for motion pictures?
[James Kicklighter, a former GSU film student who is now a filmmaker, has created a short film of McIntosh's story, "Followed," which was previously published in a zombie anthology, although he says it isn't exactly a zombie story. A trailer is out and the film slated for release soon.]
McIntosh: "He filmed it in Macon, and I actually went out and watched a day of filming, and he had professional actors. ... It wasn't, like, him and his buddies. One of the actresses was in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button;" another was an Australian guy who's been on "CSI Australia"."
[Meanwhile, the screenplay that McIntosh and a writing partner will develop for his film agent is a separate project, "a sci-fi thriller."]
S.H.: Were you a sci-fi fan as a kid?
McIntosh: "I think my earliest memory of knowing how drawn I was, was being 4 years old, my grandfather taking me to a store in New York City, and they had a little black and white TV in the store and "King Kong" was on, and I remember looking at that and thinking, 'What is that?' and 'We need to get home so I can watch this!' From my earliest childhood it was always monsters and robots."
S.H.: And you have always read science fiction?
McIntosh: "I have very distinct memories of being like 14 and reading this huge volume that Isaac Asimov edited called 'The Hugo Winners.' I love looking back to that and thinking, imagine if that kid knew that one day he'd be a Hugo winner."