An Interview with Ben H. Winters: Politics and Genre


Golden State is a novel written by Ben H. Winters. Winters has other novels including The Last Policeman trilogy and Underground Airlines.

I recently had the opportunity to interview fiction author Ben H. Winters on a variety of subjects. This segment focuses on politics and genre in his novel Golden State.

Ben H. Winters is the author of Golden State. To check out more of his work, you can go to his website.

Ben H. Winters is known for his many novels, including Golden State, Underground Airlines, and The Last Policemen trilogy for which he won the Philip K. Dick Award. His novel Golden State is praised for its worldbuilding, described by Dark Matter author Blake Crouch as “a prescient, devastating commentary on humanity’s disintegrating attachment to reality and truth.”
Winters provides a refreshing perspective with a mix of genres set in a dystopian future. This keeps the reader engaged and on the edge of their seat.
Golden State is also deeply meaningful, examining the nuances of a society where truth rules supreme. In Golden State, to knowingly tell a lie is to commit a crime.

Politics in Golden State

Golden State’s future setting was based off modern politics. Winters wrote this book as a response to a political realm where false information can be easily spread.
“This book, much like Underground Airlines, the one that came before it, was inspired by distressing political realities,” said Winters. “Specifically, it was this idea of alternative facts, this feeling that we were slipping into a world where your perception of reality was shaped by your political allegiances.”
Winters wondered how society would try to solve this problem. And that is how Golden State was born.
“I started asking myself how do we fix this? How do we repair a world where people can’t even agree on what the world is? And my answer was the Golden State, a place where truth is the paramount objective of every good citizen, and every law officer,” said Winters.
This novel follows Lazlo Ratesic, a citizen of the Golden State and a veteran of the Speculative Service. The Speculative Service is an organization of men and women who can sense lies, and therefore are given the task of enforcing the truth.
“But of course, if the government is regulating what is true and untrue that creates its own problems, and I’m worried about that, too,” said Winters.
Winters started writing Golden State the day after President Trump’s inauguration. America is experiencing another political shift. Were Winters to write this book now instead of four years ago, he would not have changed a thing.
“The Trump presidency may be coming to an end, but all of these issues it has brought to the fore aren’t going anywhere—including the way that political opinions can bend our perception of the truth,” said Winters. “As I write this the country is afire with new conspiracy theories about the legitimacy of the election; and no matter how much it is pointed out that it was free and fair and legitimate, those who want it to be otherwise are insisting that it was otherwise.”

How Golden State Breaks the Mystery Mold

Golden State is principally a mystery novel. But it is its undertones of other genres, such as thriller and dystopian fiction, that make the book truly flavorful. Winters deftly uses each of these elements to create a cohesive and unique story.
It follows a case that looks simple at first glance but quickly turns complex. In the process of investigating this case, the characters make discoveries that have large implications about the Golden State itself.
“I love detective stories—I love police procedurals, and the rich satisfaction of any good mystery. So, for this one, it was just a matter of lacing those satisfactions into the high-concept world I had created. Once I had figured out what the Golden State is, this society where the preservation of truth is the ultimate goal, I had to figure out what police work would look and feel like in such a world,” said Winters.
Surprisingly, Winters did not plan to mix these genres. This mixture was instead something that naturally developed.
“The ‘mash-up’ element isn’t a conscious choice, exactly—I’m not like, oh, let’s cross X and Y—it’s more like, I want to write a satisfying detective story, and I want to set it in this odd world I’ve invented. Let’s see how that feels. I did something similar in Underground Airlines, which is a manhunt crime novel set in an alternate version of America; and even in The Last Policeman, where a young detective is solving a murder, but against the backdrop of impending apocalypse,” said Winters.

Winters’ Journey as an Author

Though Winters now caters to a completely different audience, in the past he wrote for theater and younger readers.
“I won’t say I’ve enjoyed all the writing I’ve done equally, but I’ve enjoyed it all in one way or another. I’ve more or less settled on the kind of writing I love best, these kinds of surprising, recontextualized crime stories, but on the other hand I’ve recently been thinking of a novel for young readers I want to try, that’s more of a straight sci-fi thing,” said Winters. “I guess if I’ve learned anything, it’s to trust myself to try things I want to try.”
Despite this change in subject, Winters current work is largely influenced by his past writing.
“I do think that from writing plays and musicals I learned a lot about writing dialog. Characters come to life through the way they interact. Don’t tell me what someone is like, show them in interaction with someone else, trying to get something, and then I can see what they’re like. Good playwrights don’t waste a word or a moment, they are always showing us things. I try to do the same on the page,” said Winters.

Golden State as a Whole

Any fans of science fiction, mystery, or thrillers will enjoy reading Golden State.

Thank you to the Miami Book Fair for organizing this interview. Ben H. Winters is one of many authors with an event on the Miami Book Fair’s website. To view any Miami Book Fair events, make a free account at this link.

“I love recasting traditional genre stories in new and unexpected settings: giving a new context to familiar kinds of tales,” said Winters.
Even those who don’t necessarily like these genres may find the book compelling because of its interpretation of modern-day ideas, unique blend of genre, and the point it makes about the current world.
“People see what they want to see, and until we figure out how to live all together in the same reality, we’re going to be in trouble,” said Winters.
Click here to purchase Golden State on Amazon.


Visit the Miami Book Fair’s website to see Ben H. Winters discuss Golden State on November 20. Make a free account with the Miami Book Fair to watch this discussion, or to view events from a variety of other authors.