Did you have a teacher who particularly inspired you?
I went to college in Charleston, South Carolina, to study physics, and in my first English class, I had professor Dr. Dennis Goldsberry, and he changed my life. He was a very difficult teacher, and he told everyone on the first day, “If you’re here to get an A, you should go ahead and leave. You’re not going to get an A on any paper unless I put your paper down and I walk to my window and shed a tear.” And he was dead serious. He was so rough. And I was enamored immediately. I was like, “I want to impress this guy.” I took every class that he taught. And eventually, he said, “You’re not a physics major. You’re an English major.” And I switched my major.
I’m interested in your other life as a sailor, relying on tradition, even ancient systems of navigation. One of the things that’s so enthralling in Silo is what technologies you include, some we have and some more advanced, and what technologies you don’t allow your characters to have.
I named my boat Wayfinder because I have a lot of respect for the Polynesian explorers who settled all the Pacific islands with very primitive technology, but very advanced wisdom and technique. The idea that they floated downstream and they settled islands because they got lost is so ridiculous. They were expert navigators and expert sailors. And this was just proven recently by researchers who sailed around the world on a traditionally built craft using just the wayfinding techniques. So, I have a lot of respect for human curiosity. Our brains are super impressive. And if you go back in time, you can see what people could do with just a lot of free time and their thoughts. And so, we’re like, “How could they have built the pyramids? How could they have sailed around the Pacific?” And they were just like us. They just weren’t as distracted by social media so they were able to do pretty amazing things, like using the stars, the temperature of the water, that tells you about currents and where you are, the wave direction, whether or not you see birds, in which direction they’re traveling, cloud formation. Clouds form over landmasses. So, it’s amazing what you can do. If you don’t know these things, there’s all this noise. But if you understand them, it’s actually signal.
How did you decide what kind of technology the people in the story would have? They have things we recognize, some that’s more advanced than what we have now, but much of what we do have does not exist in their world.
It’s a cool mix, right? There are things that are beyond us and things that are primitive. You don’t really learn the reason for those decisions until very late in the book series, so it’ll be a while, we’ll have to get some more seasons of TV to explain that. But whatever went wrong outside on earth, the people who went through that want it to not happen again, and so the technologies that they blame for that are technologies that they try to hide from the people who are left. And it’s an attempt to maybe help humanity, but hopefully not help them too much, because you don’t want them to just end up where the last people ended up.