Influences and Changes in Modern Writing; An Interview with Dr. Robert Runté
Dr. Robert Runté is a decorated editor, reviewer, presenter, and author with work that spans both education and entertainment. He left his position as a professor of sociology at the University of Lethbridge to pursue freelance editing and writing full time. Dr. Runté has done a variety of work in a plethora of fields, from education to business, and has worked with many successful writers. He uses his unique abilities to provide authors with a clear and engaging voice, and to sculpt novels, theses and papers into successes. I had the privilege to interview Dr. Runté about the details of his work, and I was able to ask some questions that provide insight into his profession as well as the world of speculative fiction and fantasy.
Your focus and specialty seems to center around speculative fiction. What makes this subject intriguing to you, and what differentiates it from the other work that you do?
I discovered speculative fiction in Grade 6 and have been reading it voraciously ever since. I loved the sense of wonder, the thought experiments, the ability to critique current social issues through extrapolation, hyperbole, and satire. What distinguishes speculative fiction from other fiction is the ability to paint allegory, metaphor, and so on with a broader brush. A lot of Canadian speculative fiction is like that: delving into themes we either do not want to think about or that we have trouble getting our heads around. Science fiction and fantasy can often provide the metaphor, the analogy, that suddenly crystalizes the significance of contemporary issues and perhaps provide a bit of a moral compass.
You have edited over thirty books with Five Rivers Publishing alone. Have you seen a shift in genre, style or content in the time you have been editing? If so, what do these changes entail?
By definition that’s a very biased sample that really couldn’t be extrapolated much beyond reflecting my own preferences. But I’ve been active as a reviewer and critic for a lot longer, specializing in Canadian SF. I’ve written extensively on what I see as the differences between Canadian speculative fiction and the British and American varieties, but the major change I’ve witnessed in the last decade is the globalization of the marketplace where those differences have started to break down. The vast majority of self-published authors model themselves on American best sellers, so ironically, the motifs have become more restrictive rather than more divergent.
On the other hand, there has been a significant improvement in the diversity of both authors and characters: one can’t get away with depicting the future with an all-white, all-able, straight, male, cast any more. Disabled, black, gay, and female characters are much better represented, though there is still a lot that needs to be improved. The new generation of writers is much more diverse and that is reflected in how they project SF futures.
How does your PhD in Sociology influence your writing and editing?
Being a sociologist, I like world-building to focus more on the sociological implications of future technology rather than the fixation on future science itself that typified science fiction in the 1920s through to early 1960s. Today a lot of authors will look at this or that technology in development and then work through all the implications of that. The implications of climate change is pretty obvious to most people, but there is a lot going on in biology, genetics, materials science, power generation, artificial intelligence and so on that is only now starting to penetrate the public consciousness. Good SF not only presents the obvious functions of that technology, but the latent functions and dysfunctions that perhaps nobody’s really thought through.
As an editor, I get pretty picky about getting the world-building correct. American SF writers in particular have the bad habit of projecting medieval social structures onto interstellar societies, which is just ludicrous. Social relations emerge out of the technology that underlies the economy. I want to know how gender, social class, ethnicity, and so on, intersect in your world. Who has access to the technology, who benefits from it, who is displaced by it, and what new problems has it created that no one anticipated.
Hearing Dr. Runté’s opinions on the world of writing, reviewing, and editing, allowed me to gain insight into the “behind the scenes” of Canadian writing. Dr. Runté brought to light changes in fiction that many people unfamiliar with the field would likely gloss over. His detailed and thoughtful answers exhibit how literary changes mirror changes we see in the real world, and the effect that life experiences can have on reading and writing literature.