Since moving to the Valley in 1979, Vermont-reared game developer and author Michael Stackpole has carved out quite a niche in the realms of fantasy and sci-fi, penning New York Times best-selling novels set in the Star Wars universe, popular BattleTech-based books, and most recently, books based on the game World of Warcraft. Despite his penchant for penning all things alien and fantastical, the frequent Phoenix Comicon panelist takes his real-life exotica with a grain of salt – since 1988, he’s also been on the board of the Phoenix Area Skeptic Society (formerly the Phoenix Skeptics), a group dedicated to promoting critical thinking and debunking conspiracies and myths. He can frequently be found signing stacks of his books at places like The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale.
What brought you to Arizona, and what keeps you here?
I came out after college to work for a little game company called Flying Buffalo Incorporated, which is still here in Scottsdale... Phoenix has a decent standard of living, but not crippling like L.A. You know, you can get anywhere by plane. We’re pretty much a big city... I grew up in New England, so the big selling point here is you can play golf all year round, and you do not have to shovel sunshine. And when they complain that it gets really, really hot in the summer here, it’s like, yeah, but it gets really, really cold there. Same thing – we just wear less clothes.
Is there anything in fiction that you tend to dislike or want to see more of?
The coolest thing about science fiction and fantasy is that people’s imaginations [just] run wild. You can come up with all sorts of cool stuff that literally no one has ever seen before and you have to be good enough to describe it and make it real for them. This is why, when I teach classes, one of the comments I make often is: “Pound for pound, science fiction and fantasy writers are better than any other genre authors because not only do we have to do everything they do, but we also have to build these worlds and make them work.”
At Phoenix Comicon this year, you were on a panel about dispelling doom and gloom and writing positive futures. For those who missed it, what is the bumper-sticker version?
The idea was that science fiction used to be a science of hope, used to be a [genre] that said, “Look, there are problems out there, and science and the application of engineering and those things can actually help us get further.” And, in a very practical sense, that is true. [We need to be] getting back to that science fiction that inspires people to solve problems... we need to encourage people to have these hopeful, forward-looking stories, as well as having stories that look at the realistic aspects of the world out there and allow us to get a handle on those.
Do you still like zombie stories? Killer robots?
I tend to be the kind of guy, for every werewolf ripping people apart, I assume there is some guy out there with an old hunting dog and with silver bullets, and that’s the kind of story I’d just as soon tell.
Why do you keep writing?
Because there’s always stories... You’ll be somewhere, you’re watching what’s going on, you know what’s going to happen, you know how it plays out, you’re recording a piece of dialogue, you’re doing all those sorts of things... Wanting to share them, wanting to play with that sort of stuff, that’s what keeps me going.
What are your thoughts on Star Wars character Jar Jar Binks?
Um. Interesting. I didn’t have a problem with Jar Jar, because I knew it was there for comic relief. [Director George Lucas] could bloody well do whatever he wanted to. So if he wanted to make films with his kids, that made his kids happy, hey, more power to him. Now, would I write Jar Jar in anything? Probably not. It would drive me insane. So no.
Can you do a wookiee impersonation?
No. I absolutely cannot. That’s like a bull walrus making some strange noise. My voice box is just not wired for that, sorry.