BIOLOG: Benjamin C. Kinney
by Richard A. Lovett
Benjamin C. Kinney is a neuroscientist whose science fiction often explores the relationship between existence and cognition, particularly with alien minds or artificial intelligences. Not that you’ll find his academic research under the name Kinney. That’s a pen name, chosen so Google knows the difference between fact and fiction. “I want people who are looking for my science to find science and people who are looking for my fiction to find fiction,” he says.
He’s also married to a woman who spent a year on Mars, but we’ll get to that later.
Like many Analog writers, his love of science fiction started young. One memory is from when his mother would give him and his brother haircuts. The only way to get them to sit still long enough was to have them watch Star Wars—though if there was a big lightsaber fight, she’d have to pause and wait for the action to calm down.
It was a fascination that quickly made him want to be part of the process of producing it. “My first dream was that when I grew up I wanted to be a science fiction writer,” he says. But at the time, he didn’t know how to implement that dream, and instead got interested in psychology and from that, neuroscience. “[It’s] really just a fascination with the big questions of life and what is a mind,” he says. “How do these little biological units [brain cells] create a person?”
This led to a Ph.D. and research that might help people recover from strokes, but he never forgot his early love of science fiction. A decade or so out of grad school he again started thinking about it, talking about it to friends who wrote, and starting to practice. It took a few years, but his first appearance in Analog was in Jan/Feb 2021. This issue’s story is his third, and he has more to come.
Prior to that, he’d been in Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Fireside Fiction, among others. He is also assistant editor of the science fiction podcast magazine Escape Pod. It’s a position that has allowed him to see “many hundreds” of stories a year, some good, some not so good—a process that is not only fun, but forces him to think about why some work and some don’t. “Learning how to really think and talk about short fiction is a really wonderful skill set,” he says. “Being a slush reader is something I recommend for early career writers.”
Through it all, his work continues to draw from his academic background. “As a neuroscientist, whatever I am writing about I am bringing that perspective about how minds work. These things are part of how I see the world, and they’re going to show up in everything I write.”
Meanwhile, did his wife really go to Mars? Obviously not, but she did go to the longest-ever NASA-funded Mars simulation mission, high on a mountainside in Hawaii. “It’s all red rocks and no people,” Kinney says.
It’s one thing, he adds, to write about science fiction. It’s another thing entirely to live it. Kinney and his wife might be the ultimate in science-fiction power couples. “I like to think that people think I’m cool—the neuroscientist, the science fiction writer,” he says. “Well, you haven’t seen my wife.”