In Conversation With: Claire McCague
Today I have the pleasure of sitting down with author Claire McCague. Can I offer you anything to drink before we begin?
Green Spot Montebello, which I discovered in an Irish Writer’s Whiskey platter in Garavan’s Bar in Galway. It was flagged as Samuel Beckett’s favorite, and is dangerously smooth. Galway was a brief stop during a drive with friends ahead of the Dublin Worldcon (the clutch needed a rest).
You are in luck. As a sci-fi writer I can get that faster than you can sa—Ahh, here you go.
Your last name. Pronounced McKay?
McCague has the “g” sound (like Rogue) — one alternate spelled-like-it sounds version of the name is McKaig.
So, you are a busy person. Scientist—mad?
Mad? Just because I used to ignite a small, screaming speck of atmosphere with a femtosecond laser to entertain groups of children visiting the lab…that’s no reason to judge. The large vats of piranha solution were purely for scientific purposes. Also, it is simply a fact that certain precise instruments require sapphire ball bearings, thank you very much.
You are also a musician as well. I read that you play the saxophone, recorder, and the triangle. I’m glad you added that last one. Such an underrated instrument, although some might say it isn’t—an instrument, that is.
I own more instruments than I care to count. Seriously, a count would be a bad idea, and complicated by the small percussive items (count each triangle separately, sure …but shakers?). There are only five saxophones (and one xaphoon) in the collection. I just picked up a chalumeau while in Edinburgh. The mid-pandemic purchase of a cornetto was a mistake. It’s black and 16th century cool, but the finger spread required to play it far exceeds what my hands can achieve.
For our readers out there:
The xaphoon (/zæˈfuːn/ zaf-OON) is a Hawaiian bamboo “pocket sax” that uses a tenor sax reed. The chalumeau (English: /ˈʃæləmoʊ/; French: [ʃa. ly.mo]; plural chalumeaux) is a late baroque single-reed woodwind instrument that is the predecessor to the modern-day clarinet.
A cornetto (Italian “little horn”) is a frozen dessert featured in the famous Cornetto Film Trilogy… Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End.
Oops, wrong one …
The cornett, cornetto, or zink is an early wind instrument, popular from 1500 to 1650. It’s a predecessor to the trumpet and has a small “acorn” mouthpiece.
I have written a reel myself during the first months of the pandemic. I called it “The Lockdown Hoedown/Quarantine Reel”. I’d love for you to have a listen:
Thanks. I’ve dropped a waltz of mine here for you…
What made you want to write this science fiction novel?
A mortgage and an intense start-up save-the-planet tech job convinced me to take a break from playwrighting, mostly because directing and producing went hand-in-hand with playwrighting for me. Getting multiple shows onto stages each year was joyous but consuming. So, that triggered the shift to novel writing, and The Rosetta Man was the result. The Rosetta Mind is a continuation, but it’s also its own contained burst of thought. It’s science fiction, because it has to be, because with SF you can embed a unique microscale fusion reactor design into the text, and it’s just a fleck of colour in the whirl of bigger things.
Did you plan on it being a series?
I’m glad The Rosetta Man found a publisher and an audience. I’ve always visualized it as a complete circle (a circle that lives within arms length of my nose, and has a surprisingly specific size and a vertical orientation). The series wasn’t meticulously plotted or pre-planned, but The Rosetta Mind was always there … another, bigger ring launching from the start/end point of The Rosetta Man.
Are there any authors that influence your writing?
The protagonist in Zelazny’s Doorways in the Sand is a perpetual student, taking every university course available while avoiding the completion of any major (his inheritance will fund only his first undergraduate degree). I found that to be an intoxicating idea. I studied chemistry and archaeology with fine & performing arts on the side, and a willingness to seek out seminars on almost any topic (sea urchin responses to food abundance, xenotransplantation, Canadian nuclear power plant labor/safety culture, the industrialization of gun manufacturing, etc.). This has likely influenced my writing.
Let’s talk about alternative energy conversion. Pretty topical field to be in. Have you always been interested in that?
My start-up gig was on the fundamental science side of things, and focused on developing on plasmonic photovoltaics (nanostructured diode interfaces that freely capture broadband visible light as surface plasmons that then generate “hot” electrons). When it ended, I decided that it was a good idea to train a lot of folks to develop practical solutions to our pressing energy problems, where every year and every fraction of a percent counts. I found a home in an academic lab with a wide range of projects (fuel cells, battery chargers, thermal storage, sorption cooling, district energy networks).
With the way some technology advances, it seems that anything regarding clean energy moves much slower.
I would say that the moves are uneven (leaps & stalls) and not necessarily due to technological constraints. Also, improvements in efficiency can be exceeded by overall expansions in human activity (e.g. annual decreases in energy consumption per floor area in buildings are exceeded by increases in building floor space), so a lot of change can still result in a graph that is still moving in the wrong direction.
Are you ready for the lightning round?
I’ve only been struck by lightning once. I was safely (?) within a Sikorsky S-61 helicopter. It was an improbable but memorable event, and I believe it should exempt me from future improbable lightning rounds.
Well, no insulated cockpit here, and what are the odds of being struck twice?
That depends on whether you like to walk about in stormy weather with pockets full of cutlery.
I’ve been to a lot of big cities, but if I needed to pick favorite places to return to, they would all be small, coastal spots.
Last binged show?
Lucifer. Binged and binged again. And now: Sandman.
Drive, public transportation, bike, or walk?
All of the above, but my bike is a single-speed with a flat tire.
Can you name 3 CFL players who graduated from Simon Fraser University*?
What is your favorite theorem?
The Infinite Monkey Theorem
Would you go to space?
I have an official rejection letter from the Canadian Space Agency.
Well, that’s closer than I will ever be. Congratulations. By the way, while you were talking I listened to your waltz. Very lovely.
This has been a pleasure. Thanks for chatting!
*(Note to any non-Canadians: CFL – Canadian Football League, Simon Fraser University is in Burnaby, British Columbia. Don’t know where Burnaby is? Call it Vancouver. They won’t mind.)
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Leon Stevens is a multi-genre author, composer, guitarist, songwriter, and an artist, with a Bachelor of Music and Education. He published his first book of poetry, Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and Pictures in January 2020, followed by a book of original classical guitar compositions, Journeys, and a short story collection of science fiction/post-apocalyptic tales called The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories. His newest publications are the novella trilogy, The View from Here, which is a continuation of one of his short stories, and a new collection of poetry titled, A Wonder of Words.
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