An Interview with Pat Cadigan

A portrait of Pat Cadigan by Andrew Lawrie...

Pat Cadigan is the author of dozens of short stories and novels including MINDPLAYERS (1987), SYNNERS (1991), FOOLS (1992), and two BATTLE ANGEL ALITA novels. Her novelisation of William Gibson’s unproduced screenplay for ALIEN³ is available from Titan Books now.

I interviewed Pat Cadigan by email in August 2021.

William Gibson wrote ALIEN³ around a year after MIRRORSHADES came out. And you dedicate this ALIEN³ novelisation to the writers (all male, apart from you) of that collection. What does MIRRORSHADES mean to you?

MIRRORSHADES was a revelation to me. At the time, I had a new baby, I was still working full-time at Hallmark, and I had to fit my writing in on nights and weekends. I was busy. I wasn’t in the heart of the action with Bill Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Lew Shiner, John Shirley, and Rudy Rucker, although I knew all of them, and my then-husband Arnie Fenner and I had published short fiction by Lew Shiner and Marc Laidlaw in Shayol. But I was off in Kansas City, writing about things that I was interested in and then out of the blue, I got a package of back issues of CHEAP TRUTH from a guy named Vince Omniaveritas. Now, I knew this was Bruce Sterling because Lew Shiner had sent me a list of writers and pseudonyms, but Vince didn’t mention who he really was so I didn’t say anything either. But I felt honoured to be included among writers I really admired. Then Bruce asked me for a story for an anthology he was editing. He wanted ‘Pretty Boy Crossover’ but I suggested he take ‘Rock On’ instead, and he did.

I had no idea I’d be the only woman. I think if James Tiptree, Jr./Alice Sheldon had still been alive, she could have been included. At the time, I couldn’t think of any other women writers who were writing the kind of thing I was, though as I say, I was pretty busy so I could be wrong. And it was a different time—a different planet, really.

I dedicated the book to the MIRRORSHADES writers because it just seemed right. I wanted to acknowledge the group, and to honour writers I’m still honoured to be among.

Back then, not everyone thought I belonged in MIRRORSHADES. I hope they got over it. 😉

I hope so, too. Is there a place for a MIRRORSHADES 2 or a MIRRORSHADES REDUX?

We live in a cyberpunk world now, so doing another MIRRORSHADES anthology in the same spirit as the first is really impossible.

In your introduction to John Brunner’s THE SHOCKWAVE RIDER, you talk about ’playing chicken with the future’, a wonderful phrase. Could you expand a little on what that phrase means for you, and on how you view the future differently in 2021 to the way you viewed it in 1986?

When you write near-future sf, you’re hoping you get more right than you get wrong. When I was writing MINDPLAYERS, I had to change something in galleys that I had portrayed as not possible—i.e., signalling someone in REM sleep to let them know they’re dreaming. In between the time I submitted the book and when it went into galleys, sleep-researchers figured out how to do that. So I had to make the correction—it would have been an embarrassing error!

But sometimes, it’s the other way around. Bill Gibson has talked about how in the future, people who read NEUROMANCER will note the glaring absence of cell phones. But at the time he wrote Neuromancer, cell phones were counter-intuitive. We’d already had cordless phones and people had discovered that their conversations could be picked up on short-wave radio—which included police radios. I hadn’t thought we’d get around that problem any time soon but we did. To paraphrase J. B. S. Haldane, the future is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s strange than we can imagine—at least, sometimes.

Do you think the internet, and maybe technology generally, is viewed as being a panacea when better solutions can perhaps be found elsewhere?

…this was what cyberpunk was saying in the beginning: the future isn’t going to be bright and shiny just because the technology will be more advanced.

Pat Cadigan

In order to solve our problems, we have to work with the tools available—and no tool has ever been a panacea. I think most people know this. In fact, this was what cyberpunk was saying in the beginning: the future isn’t going to be bright and shiny just because the technology will be more advanced. Way, way back, many people were sure television was going to replace movies in theatres—that didn’t happen. For a good part of my life, television had three or four channels to choose from—now we have five hundred channels and, as Bruce Springsteen pointed out, there’s still nothing on.

But then we all had to go into quarantine, and the internet made it possible for people to make contact with each other and go on enjoying each other’s company, face to face in real-time. Many people were allowed to do their jobs from home, which saved their incomes, kept food on their tables and a roof over their heads. The latter may well revolutionise the workplace—we don’t yet know how things will shake out. And we’re not done with the pandemic yet—or it’s not done with us.

A frame from James Cameron’s ALIENS (20th Century Fox, 1986)

There is a scene in William Gibson’s original script where Bishop is about to destroy some samples of xenomorph tissue but hesitates. In the original script, there’s no extra commentary. Any reasons Bishop might have for holding back are implicit. In your version, Bishop discovers something quite unusual in the samples and this is what makes it impossible for him to destroy the samples because of his behavioural inhibitors, and this is a fabulous way to expand on Gibson’s script and flesh out Bishop’s character. How much fun was it to write all that, and how much time did you spend within the wide mythos of the franchise while you wrote this book?

It took me a few minutes to come up with that. It was the only reason I could imagine for Bishop’s behaviour at that point, because up until then, he’s been adamant about destroying the experiment.

I’ve seen all the Aliens films, of course, but the second film with the Marines was the one I used for research. I also had the ALIENS: COLONIAL MARINES TECHNICAL MANUAL (Titan Books, 2012), so I could visualise the body armour and weaponry. I ignored everything after ALIENS (which came out in 1986) because none of it existed when Bill wrote the script. I guess you could call this book an alternative Aliens timeline.

Your Dwayne Hicks feels very true to the Hicks in ALIENS, and also much more complex. I enjoyed the way the ghosts of his fallen comrades came back to visit him. Apone blowing cigar smoke at him was particularly fine. And by the end of the novel there is a sense that Hicks might be fighting this fight for a good while longer. And David Fincher’s ALIEN³ doesn’t even show Hicks breathing, as best as I can recall. What was it like writing for a character like Hicks? And did writing about Hicks and Bishop so long after the film change your understanding of the characters?

When I was writing Hicks, I drew on what I knew about Marines—or at least the US Marine Corps. Now, I’m not an expert on the US military in general but each branch of the armed forces has its own special characteristics. More than one person in a position to know has told me that there’s no such thing as an ex-Marine. There are also a lot of hints throughout the second movie about the Marines’ special bond—if you watch Vasquez (Jeannette Goldstein), you’ll see she has a special friendship with Drake (Mark Rolston) but she works just as closely with every other Marine.

Vasquez (Jeannette Goldstein) and Drake (Mark Rolston) in ALIENS

Bill and I had the same favourite characters—Ripley and Bishop

Pat Cadigan

When the Marines arrived on LV-426, Corporal Hicks was part of a squad. Within the first hour or two, most of them were wiped out and the CO was incapacitated, which forced Hicks to take command. And when they left the planet, Hicks was the last man standing—or he would have been, except he’d been so badly wounded, he was sedated. Survivor guilt much? I had to keep all that in mind, while paying close attention to Michael Biehn’s characterisation. Hicks is a complex man and a good Marine. From his point of view, the mission is still unfinished when he awakens in the hospital. And at the end, he understands from what Bishop tells him that the mission won’t be finished for quite a while.

I discovered that Bill and I had the same favourite characters—Ripley and Bishop. But for me, Hicks is a close third. I don’t feel like my understanding of any of the characters really changed—I just got to flesh them out.

When I first saw , I liked it because it was so tonally different from ALIENS, yet at the same time it felt like a real discontinuity. Ripley was portrayed very differently.

I really can’t speak to anything about the ALIEN³ movie. I didn’t care for it at all.

What did you think of Vincent Ward’s ALIEN³ and the idea of xenomorphs attacking monks in a field of wheat? If you were asked to write a novelisation of that, would you run with it, or is there not enough space in the franchise for that?

I don’t know anything about Vincent Ward’s ALIEN³. Is this yet another script? If anyone wants me to write a novelisation for it, I’ll gladly give them the name of my agent. (Hey, I’m just trying to make a living.)

Have there been conversations about taking the story into interactive media? And have you ever worked (or wanted to work) on video games or interactive fiction?

I’ve always been open to the idea—I used to play a lot of video games with my son when he was a kid but I haven’t had enough time to be current. Sometimes I get an inquiry from someone but so far, no solid offers. There may have been conversations about taking this particular title into interactive media but neither Bill nor I would be involved.

Your two ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL novels were set in a world which appeared first in one medium, manga, and then got adapted into another, film. How did you go about juggling imagery and ideas there? Was it a case of sticking quite close to the film, or did you go back to the books?

I wanted to show respect to Yukito Kishiro within the parameters of the screenplay, as well as fitting the prequel into the world established by the movie.

Pat Cadigan

Well, that’s a funny thing. I already knew the manga because my son Rob and I read them together when he was little. He loved manga and anime from the time he was in diapers. I’m not sure most people know that Yukito Kishiro set that part of Alita’s story in an area that corresponds to the Kansas City area in the US. This is why everyone goes to the Kansas Bar.

Anyway, the studio wanted the novelisation to be a real novel, not just a slavish point-for-point adaptation. I couldn’t change plot points or characters, of course, but that gave me a lot to work with. There are many things you have to add to a novelisation anyway, because one picture really is worth a thousand words. Something that can be conveyed onscreen in a few seconds with facial expressions and background music has to be described in words, but in a way that doesn’t hinder the narrative. You have to keep the story moving forward.

Did you have more freedom with IRON CITY? And which of the two novels did you enjoy writing the most?

IRON CITY is a prequel to the novelisation of the movie, so everything had to lead into that story. Originally, another writer was doing it and had to drop out, so I took it on. There was a partial outline already approved and I made a few changes for the sake of continuity, added some things, but made sure it conformed to the world established in the movie.

Back to ALIEN³, did you hear the Dirk Maggs adaptation or read the comics that came out a couple of years ago? Those were both based on William Gibson’s second draft, but your novel is based on the first draft. What did you think of those versions? And how did you go about going from Gibson’s script to finished prose? What were the steps?

I didn’t even know there was an audio adaptation until a few weeks ago. I got hold of a copy of the graphic novel and I could tell as soon as right away it was a different narrative. I skimmed some of it but I avoided looking any closer because I needed to concentrate on the pictures in my own head. There would never be any stills to give me an idea of what the setting would look like or how the characters would appear—not even any concept sketches. What I imagined had to be true to Bill’s script and I had to keep all of it consistent.

A selection of books by Pat Cadigan

In an interview a few years back you mentioned how Kim Stanley Robinson’s publisher told him they were worried that people might mistake him for a remarried and rebranded Kim Stanley, and that made me laugh. But it’s also troubling. Does the ‘Pat’ in your name? still lead to confusion, or are now notorious enough for it to not be an issue?

Bruce Sterling once said, ‘If Pat were a guy, she’d be as big as me and Gibson.’

Pat Cadigan

I don’t know if I’d call it ‘confusion’. I heard that when my first few novels came out, a lot of people thought Pat Cadigan was a guy in spite of the fact that the photo on the inside of the front cover wasn’t at all ambiguous. Bruce Sterling once said, ‘If Pat were a guy, she’d be as big as me and Gibson.’ Maybe—but of course, we’ll never know. 😉

In that same interview with LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE you mention how the publishers of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD didn’t want it included on the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist the year you were judging because they didn’t want it tainted by the genre. And that year, the year you were a judge, NOVA SWING won, a novel by M. John Harrison, a writer who was recently written about in the LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS (and it was a good piece, in lots of ways, as it attempted to engage intelligently with how that mainstream world engages with the world of science fiction). Also, NEW STATESMAN ran a really eye-opening conversation between Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro. It feels to me that things are changing, but how do you feel the relationship between literary fiction and genre fiction has changed since you had that conversation with Ursula K. Le Guin, Ellen Datlow, Nancy Kress, and Mary Robinette Kowal?

You know, this is another subject I don’t feel I can speak to these days. The year Cormac McCarthy’s publisher didn’t want THE ROAD included for consideration, some people insisted we should have included it anyway. But my feeling was, no one should have anything forced on them, even if it’s a possible award nomination, and unless we got a message from Mr. McCarthy saying that he did want to be included, I was going to respect the publisher’s wishes. Well, we didn’t get a message from Cormac McCarthy or anyone connected to him, and it wasn’t like there was a shortage of award-worthy books to read that year.

…the truth is, after people have done the required reading, after the symphony is over, after the museum closes and everyone goes home, they turn to popular culture to relax, to be entertained, because it’s a much bigger part of their lives.

Pat Cadigan

I will point out that the NEW STATESMAN had an eye-opening conversation between two male writers.

Me, I’m no longer concerned about what the so-called literary strain thinks about popular culture, which includes genre fiction. Literary fiction is good, and everyone should be acquainted with at least the classics. But the truth is, after people have done the required reading, after the symphony is over, after the museum closes and everyone goes home, they turn to popular culture to relax, to be entertained, because it’s a much bigger part of their lives. That’s where I want to be.

Where are people likely to see Pat Cadigan’s name next? Any tantalising teasers?

You never know, she said mysteriously. I’m working on three novels of my own—when I get tired of one I shift to another—and I’m doing some short fiction.

Are those three novels science fiction, or horror, or something else entirely, he asks inquisitively.

That would be telling. 😉

Okay, one of them is a hard-sf novel set a little over a hundred years after my novelette ‘The Girl-Thing Who Went Out For Sushi’ (it won the Hugo in 2013). Working title: SEE YOU WHEN YOU GET THERE.

Is there anything you’ve read or watched or listened to recently that you’d like to give a boost?

Roz Kaveney’s Rhapsody of Blood series has been absurdly overlooked and unsung and I’m completely baffled as to why.

The four books are: RITUALS, REFLECTIONS, RESURRECTIONS, and REALITIES, and they’re kind of a secret history of the world, but like nothing you’ve ever seen before. They’re witty, wild, outrageous, and utterly readable. Roz is so brilliant and entertaining—after I read one of her books, I feel like not only have I been entertained, but my IQ has gone up a few points.

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