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This interview follows an earlier one with Jeff VanderMeer.
I awoke lying on a stretcher in the center of a room with a vaulted ceiling that shone a thin and uniform light. At the heart of it there was a strange and yet so familiar mark. In a simplistic analysis, it was a spaceship with a sun and planets within it.
There were no lamps or light sources defined. The light seemed to emanate from the reflective surface of the ceiling and walls as a part of them. I was confused for a moment, trying to remember what I was doing there and how I had ended up there. Then I remembered Jeff VanderMeer and fighting the Soulhunters - I remembered then, where I had last seen that logo. I remembered the glare of a discharge of energy, which knocked Jeff out and then hit me.
I tried to get up and then the first surprise came. My wrists were bound by chains, as well as my legs. I had been taken prisoner.
I intended to scream – there was no alternative after all – when an indistinguishable door opened up in one of the walls, letting in a man who threw me curious looks. He approached, rubbing his hands with a smile on his face.
“Well, well, our guest is awake.”
When I looked closer, a second surprise came. It was Mark R. Kelly.
“Why am I bound? What place is this?”
“One thing at a time. Bound? Who says you’re bound?”
Then I fastened the straps loose. I found myself free and I sat up as fast as I could, rubbing my wrists which had blue markings.
“We didn’t want you to fall and get hurt. Tying you was a simple and efficient solution.”
“How long have I been here?”
“A couple of days. We’ve been keeping you under medical care. The impact of the ray caused a heart stop we were luckily able to revert. There were some light burnings on the extremities of your body as well. You look pretty good now. You should have seen yourself when you arrived.”
“Heart stop…” I moaned in perplexity. “What about Jeff? What happened to him?”
“The other man in the exoskeleton? Don’t know. We tried to find him, but he vanished.”
I was relieved to find out that Jeff was probably alive. Despite all the dangers there were no casualties among interviewees yet. I stood up with some difficulty, my legs were weak. I held on to the bed to maintain balance and then had my third surprise: My quantic watch was gone.
“My watch!” I cried. “Where’s my watch?”
“Curious toy that one of yours. You must agree it would be difficult to attach you to life sustaining devices with such… such… a fascinating watch as that on your wrist.”
“Where is it?”
“Haven’t got the slightest idea. Someone must have put it away, or thrown it away. Does that make any difference?”
The world then span around me, making me feel much dizzier than a dozen of days sedated ever could. My head ached, I felt sick and wanted desperately to scream, or cry, or kick somebody’s ass. The watch was the only thing that could get me back to my own reality, even if it was not working.
“I need it. I want it back.”
“I’ll see what I can do. By now, there’s someone who wants to talk to you. If you can walk, I’d like you to follow me.”
I saw myself then obliged to follow. I tried to keep up with his quick steps as well as I could, hobbling most of the time. Luckily, I was still wearing the outfit Jeff had given me. They either hadn’t taken it from me, or had put it back. It’d be horrible to be walking around butt naked in a hospital vest.
We went out and down a narrow corridor. We entered different rooms, I saw other people, most of them didn’t pay any attention at us at all. The fourth surprise came when we arrived in a wide open area. The blue sky above, green plateaus, a playground, stairs coming and going, arborized trails. There was also a park surrounded with huge amounts of steel, skyscrapers, as if a gigantic yacht navigating hundreds of meters above the ground.
We were, I almost immediately understood, on an enormous flying city. I was astonished admiring the incredible beauty, not only of the outdoors, but also of the architecture. Astonished and dazzled.
“Speechless, huh?” Mark asked, with clear pride.
“Fantastic,” I mumbled, it was almost impossible to say anything.
He touched me on the arm to grab my attention. He showed me a great statue placed in the heart of a plateau. There was a man sculpted in white marble, looking at the sky.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“The man, aerospace engineer, who conceived this wonderful flying city, who projected it: Poul Anderson.”
I then looked at Mark, frowning.
“Poul Anderson? The writer? Is this Skyholm?”
“Writer? Where did you get that idea from?”
I was about to argue when I was bumped. A group of men wearing overalls and holding toolboxes went through us. One of then turned to us and for a moment I was sure he was Luis Filipe Silva. It was a surprise that made me cry in astonishment.
“What happened?” Mark asked.”
“I thought I had recognized someone in that group.”
“It’s just a maintenace group, you couldn’t possibly have recognized anyone there… or have you?” Mark’s question revealed a slight sign of alarm.
“I think I was mistaken. I’m still a little dizzy.”
My answer seemed to calm him down. We started walking again, down a long corridor with treadmills. It was pleasant to stop walking and let technology lead me. I took the moment of tranquility and silence to ask the first question.
“Locus Online is an award-winning website, very much a presence in and of itself. How much do you see it as support for the magazine versus how much as its own entity? And as its own entity, are there plans to make its personality even more distinct from the magazine?”
Mark looked at me a little perplexed and then smiled.
“Oh… the interview. I forgot we would have this little distraction before the actual fun.”
I didn’t get what he meant by that I also didn’t have time to ask.
“Locus Online has always positioned itself as both the online presence of Locus Magazine, to attract potential readers (and subscribers), and as an online counterpart of Locus Magazine, doing the same kinds of things that Locus Magazine does but in ways the web makes easy that aren’t so easy doing in a month print publication. As a presence of the magazine, the website posts samples from each issue, information about subscribing, and so on. As a counterpart, for one example, I post listings of new books, but while Locus Magazine necessarily compiles these monthly, I do them weekly — the intent being to keep readers advised of what’s new in a more timely fashion than the monthly issues allow.
“An intermediate function is to extend the magazine by accumulating content in ways that would never be practical in print — i.e., cumulative indexes of reviews, of interviews, and so on.
“Finally, the website has to a lesser or greater degree extended the scope of Locus Magazine; from the very beginning, Charles Brown granted me the license to do pretty much whatever I wanted to do with the website, as long as I maintained that subscription page. Thus, I’ve run film reviews over the years, and for a while ran graphic novels reviews, both areas the magazine has never covered at all.
“I wouldn’t say there are plans to make the site ‘more distinct’ from the magazine. We do have plans — by we, I mean the various magazine and website editors and contributors — to extend the Locus domain. Thus, for example, we’ve revived the Roundtable on the website, with Karen Burnham taking the lead on bringing in contributors and channeling content. There will also be more in the near future about the Locus Foundation, as an entity distinct from the magazine, designed to — well, you’ll hear more about that forthwith. So it’s not that there’s a magazine and website; it’s more like there is a gradually expanding Locus Constellation, with various venues performing differing functions depending on their domains.”
“Magazine, website, foundation and now, right now…” I started to conclude.
“Corporation. And the most important and most powerful of this side of the galaxy.”
“Impressive evolution!” I said.
“Isn’t it?” He asked, amused by my surprise. “We conquered literature, countries, the planet, the galaxy…. or at least we are still fighting for that.”
We left the treadmill and moved down alleys in between buildings, around a populous commercial center.
“Now that io9 and Tor.com (as examples) have become constant suppliers of news and articles on SF&F, ranging from fiction to fact, news to looks on the past, books to movies and online media, how do you see the future of Locus online? Are there plans on expanding the current offer, opening up a community, or will it focus on leveraging its strengths?” I asked
“These questions of such long ago confuse me a lot.”
“Answer them as if we were in 2011.”
“And what exactly do you think I’ve been trying to do since the first question?
Mark then stopped to think. He clicked his lips, grabbed a banana from a nearby basket and after a moment, pointed it at me.
“Beyond expanding in the ways described and hinted at in the previous answer, there aren’t any plans to expand Locus Online, not in the sense of, say, adding a forum to the site, or expanding any further into media coverage. So the short answer is we intend to leverage our strengths: Locus has always been, and intends to remain, the authoritative source for news about the science fiction publishing industry, for bibliographic information about what’s been published in the field, and for authoritative reviews of the books and short fiction that are worth reviewing (which is to say, not trying to review everything, a la Publishers Weekly). I would also say that, there are so many websites running forums, for example, that there threatens to be an over-saturation of such venues, which is why we intend to continue to play on our strengths, rather than try to spread ourselves too thin.”
He put the banana down and relaxed.
“How did I go?” he asked.
“Great,” I said. “I have a last one.”
“How is the notion that the short story is the SF idea testing-ground faring in these times of dying magazines and book-market uncertainties? Will the shift from paper magazines to the internet be total?”
“Right… a trip to the past. A nice game it is,” Mark said biting the banana.
“First let me stipulate that I don’t keep up on current short fiction as much as I did during the decades that I compiled annual lists for Locus Magazine and then wrote short fiction reviews for 14 years, from 1988 to 2001. Still, I do think that short fiction is still a ‘testing-ground’ for writers who have any kind of ambition and breadth. What’s changed is that writers who can churn out formula urban fantasy trilogies can be very successful, these days, without writing short fiction, and still attract wide readerships — but not readerships who are interested in the breadth and diversity of what genuine speculative fiction has to offer. As for paper vs internet — that’s almost become an academic issue. It’s sad to see the venerable print magazines teeter on uncertainty, but there are so many internet-zines now that anyone who wants to write short fiction — which has never been a money-making operation anyway — can find venues for publication if they want. In the long run, it doesn’t matter whether the paper magazines give way to internet ‘zines; there will always be venues for short fiction, and always devoted readers of same, and ambitious writers will use those outlets (which have never been all that well paying) for their expression and growth.”
Mark threw the peel in a litter bin, ignored the store owner who claimed for the payment of the fruit and we were back to walking.
“That banana was synthetically processed. There are no more bananas in the planet, nor monkeys. Nor anything else.’
“Because of Locus Corporation?”
“Because of our opponents who can’t pacifically accept our military and intellectual supremacy.”
We stopped by an elevator. Steel doors. A LCD monitor displayed eighty-four floors.
“To the top and beyond,” said Mark
“To the top and beyond,” I repeated, getting into the compartment with him.
The elevator shot up like a rocket, making me feel smashed against the floor. Sickness and dizziness almost knocked me out. When we climbed out, I let out a long sight of relief.
“Where are we going?”
“See the president.”
We crossed a wide hall with an arched ceiling that exhibited Locus logo in an incredibly huge size. There were paintings decorating the side walls, and multicolored windows filtered the external light creating a curious but beautiful light display and a delicate pattern on the granite floor. I was amazed with the scene. A large corridor, on the other side of the hall, was kept by two horrible gargoyles which projected their tippy tongues towards those who approached. We went past them and stopped before a gate where a very strong guard welcomed us.
He caused no trouble to let us in.
We got to a room surrounded with extremely high shelves, that were many meters high and that alternate with each other, creating long corridors where one could easily get lost. The shelves contained books, all kinds, hard covers, pocket books, paperbacks, photocopied, old, new… endless examples and it would take half of my life to mention them all. I followed Mark’s steps, overwhelmed. We went past these corridors and entered another room, this one also full of books, covering the walls in such a way that, occupying niches, could be taken for research. At the end of the room, there was a wooden table and sitting behind it, Liza Groen Trombi.
She stared at me with a vivid expression of curiosity.
I felt suddenly intimidated by her presence. She had an aura of power which was difficult to ignore.
“So you’re the owner of this little toy?”
She raised my quantic watch which was on the table, showing it to me. I felt a deep commotion and wanted to jump on her and take the watch from her hands, but I held my horses.
“It is mine.”
“I’ve seen one of these.”
That comment almost made me jump. How come? As far as I knew, this watch was unique, made especially for me.
“Very unlikely,” I replied. “There’s no other like this.”
“Oh yes. Not like this. The one I saw is much more advanced. High tech.’
“And who’s the owner of this other watch?”
“Someone who considers himself a God. An American God. Unfortunately we’ll have to kill you both. The use of this toy affects the thin balance between alternate realities. We don’t want to even imagine a reality where Locus Corporation isn’t supreme. And both of you have been running experiments that interfere not only with the trips themselves but also with the dimensional membrane.”
“Kill us? Kill me? What the crap is that?” My voice altered, I felt my legs tremble.
“Of course, I’m giving you three questions. That’s why you came here, isn’t it? So don’t be long. We haven’t got time to waste.”
“Locus does interviews, news, reviews, awards, and interacts with the
speculative fiction community around the world. It seems like a dream job
for a lot of fans. For you, what’s the best part of being a Locus editor
“It’s hard to pick just one thing. Getting to read advance copies, meet authors, travel to conventions and conferences. and be part of the SF community: those are all great things, but also things that many people do, either for the love of it or as part of their jobs. On a
day to day basis, though, getting to work every day with intelligent people who love SF, to put together a magazine all about genre fiction is my dream job.”
The answer was short. Much shorter than I had expected. Two more questions and I would have my neck cut out. Or I’d be thrown in space, or pulverized, or strangled, or… I was anguished just to imagine the end they had in mind for me.
“Come, come. Don’t be shy. Ask the second question.”
Mark poked me in the ribs, trying to rush me up. When I looked at him, I realized he had a gun. A gun full of lights and saliences that shot death.
“Locus has always privileged being all-inclusive in their reviews of the genre, trying to focus on aspects that are positive or need-improvements rather than an all-out trashing of books and authors (even if, in the end, it didn’t shy away from displaying a healthy lean towards solid science fiction & fantasy instead of stuff as vampirades and zombienesques). However, faced with a growing online, pro & non-pro, competition, from blogs and other review sources, is this still the best strategy for long-term survival? Won’t (or shouldn’t) readers look for opinions and arguments primarily on magazines, since they can get basic data on Wikipedia and twitter?”
I asked the question with an eye on the quantic watch, which Liza passed from hand to hand to her will. I needed it back, even being threatened with a gun, even under the imminent risk of dying.
“Actually, I think it’s the opposite. There is plenty of opinion and argument online, and the net as a medium for dialogue has some distinct advantages over print. That said, the basic data on Wikipedia and twitter is fast, but not necessarily accurate, nor complete. We
work very hard to be definitive about our news, data, and listings; we bring together news, reviews, and commentary articles; and we compile the only forthcoming publishing schedule that I know of, as well as our monthly US and UK Books listings of titles in print.”
At this time, Liza interrupted her answer. The flying city trembled slightly, making the shelves shake. Some books were thrown to the floor. They looked at each other in a mute expression of perplexity.
“If the question is ‘does the SF community need an institution of record like Locus, or should the magazine shift to a more commercial philosophy’,” Lisa continued, “I’m pretty sure the readers of Locus would revolt if we even thought about moving that direction.”
When she finished, she signaled Mark and he left the room, leaving us there on our own. I saw the opportunity as unique and started thinking a strategy, when strategies were unnecessary. I just had to jump and grab what was mine. The problem was what to do next? In doubt, I extended the question.
“Shouldn’t a publication such as Locus be the spearhead of what separates good, avant-garde (speculative) fiction from what’s bad or simply commercial? “
The citadel was shaken once more and more books fell down. I believe I heard a distant explosion, a blast.
“I hope that we are. We hold to the philosophy of: if a book’s not worth reading, it’s not worth the running a review of it in Locus. We tell our reviewers if you are struggling to read the book, stop. That doesn’t mean we don’t run negative reviews, but as I recently told one reviewer, for them to have spent the time working on the review, and for the Locus reader to spend their time reading the review, there needs to be a compelling reason to read the title, even if the work is problematic. There have also been occasions where we’ve run cautionary reviews about books that are being over-hyped, and there are plenty of problematic books to review. But I don’t want to use review space in the magazine simply panning a book. There are enough good books out there, and I’d rather our readers come away with a list of must read books, rather than a list of must avoid ones.”
The answer was hurried. When she finished, Liza stood up, a gun appeared on her hand almost like a charm, brought from under the table, from somewhere hidden. I thought I had acted right not throwing myself against her. I could have been shot.
“Something is wrong. I think I’ll have to cut this interview short. Kill you and then investigate.”
“There is still one last question!” I claimed, before she could pull the trigger.
“Ask it then, but I can’t guarantee you’ll live to hear all the answer.”
“Charles Brown used to believe that SF was an international phenomenon and that “Locus” should reflect that through its international coverage. Do you plan to keep it, or to find new ways to reflect that on the internet age?”
“I would love to continue to do as much international coverage as we can. Science fiction thrives in exposure to different ideas and cultures, and it’s a natural fit that our readers want to find about genre publishing, scholarship, and fandom as it happens in other parts of the world.”
That’s all, I thought. The answer was over. A short answer, a very short answer. It’s the end.
Then there was a new explosion, this time much closer. It made all the structure of the city shake. Tons of books and shelves came down in a deafening cacophony. Liza lost her balance falling to the side over the chair. Then she slipped to the floor. Before that I had already moved towards her, taken the watch and pulled the gun, which fired a ray of light that made a hole in one of the walls, melting its metal, away. We rolled on the floor, each of us to a different side. She started to scream, calling Mark and the guards, but who entered the room to my absolute surprise were Luis Filipe Silva, Roberto de Sousa Causo and Christopher Kastensmidt. They were armed and were dragging Mark by the collar.
“We sabotaged the sustaining systems of Skyholm and destroyed the main reactor, we either leave now, or it will be never more,” Luis said.
I didn’t even want to know how they had gotten there or how they intended to leave. I jumped, joining them and we left running from there, avoiding the wreckage that started accumulating. The walls of the great library were open. There were some guards outside, who were feeling confused and were easily knocked out by Causo’s and Christopher’s precise shots. We crossed the great hall, saw windows explode, scattering multicolored fragments. We saw people fall, rolling on the ground as the flying city started to bend, falling in the air. We saw papers and several objects suddenly move, lifted in the air, moved by winds that blew violently.
They led me to the same park where Poul Anderson’s statue was. We stopped near it and then Luis Felipe Silva took a curious full-of-buttons gadget out of one of his pockets.
“Back home, at last!” He said smiling while turning one of the buttons.
What happened next is that they vanished in front of me, as a sudden ray of light. I saw myself all alone, abandoned in Skyholm, which was falling to the ground. The city turned and span, making everything and everyone fly out. I clinged to Poul Anderson’s feet, trying to get some security. But I was only able to avoid my fall for a little while.
I was thrown in the air with loads of objects and frightened people. I saw the sky and the ground, where rolls of smoke went up in the distance.
When I thought I would finally meet death, I saw myself rolling and crashing a bunch of wooden boxes. I stopped, dazzled on the floor, all aching and scared. A group of men standing around me looked at me in surprise. Some of them pointing guns at me.
The sequence to this exciting adventure is coming soon.
Luis Filipe Silva, Christopher Kastensmith and Roberto de Sousa Causo collaborated with this interview.
I left home and took an anxious walk down the block. I was about to make my first international interview; It was a natural thing to bite my fingers, worried about something that could eventually go wrong.
I studied the watch I had on my wrist more than a couple of times. I looked for signs of discrepancies, but… It was nonsense and I knew it. The watch, since when it decided to influence directly on the results of the interviews, had shown itself perfect. There was nothing on the hands of the clock or on its outside gears, both small and bigger, that could give evidence of any malfunction. Well, I’m certainly not an expert on the matter. I don’t have enough knowledge to come up with technical reports.
I am talking about a quantum watch which is probably unique – despite my suspicion of the existence of two other ones, whose owners I still do not know – and was given to me by an extremely old watchmaker whose workshop is never in the same place, in time or space.
The quantum watch creates alternate or altered realities. It shouldn’t create more than a dynamic and surprising scenery. It shouldn’t affect directly on the physical and mental health of the interviewer or of the interviewee. It shouldn’t. But its mechanism created scathing realities, where figurants take leading roles and where life is always hanging by a thread.
It wasn’t that hot, but I was sweating nonetheless. My forefinger on the biggest button of the watch – one amongst other four -, unsure whether I should press it or not. The many national interviews had put me through the most bizarre, strange and highly dangerous situations. What could I expect from an international interview? Luckily, the same bizarre stuff. Maybe the same discrepancies. Maybe the same dangers, not bigger or smaller.
I took a deep breath, locked my teeth on such a strong bite that made my jaw hurt and, trembling in anxiety, pressed the button.
I found myself down on my knees, almost squatting, on cold and wet pavement. Dark night. I was enfolded in a dense mist of which vapors brought me back less noble scents – corporal fluids. The narrow bit of street I found myself in looked like an alley. Behind me, there was a high wall.
I could hear the distant sounds of the hitting of the wheels against the hard rock ground, the neighing of one or more horses, faint laughing, grumblings and singing.
I put myself in an upright position, rubbed my naked arms, realizing the cold and the lack of clothes I had come with. I got, suddenly, tense with the overexposition of the watch, which could be easily noticed by anyone. If there was something I really feared, it was to be robbed while in an alternate scenario, losing then, any possibility of returning to my own reality.
I risked on a cautious move forward. I couldn’t stand still indefinitely. I was there to interview Kim Newman and I had to find him.
I admit that walking on unknown territory, with my sight plainly hindered by the mist and full of fears is no easy task. It wasn’t a long alley; it didn’t take me more than 30 short and scared steps to get to a wider space. A street, maybe. A square probably.
I moved forward a little more and stopped, surprised by the clashing of wheels and the agitated breathing of horses in plain run. A coach, yes, there was a coach coming out of nowhere, in the darkness ahead. The coachman was shaking the reins and clearing the mist as he passed through.
It would have run over me if I hadn’t been suddenly snatched. Pulled backwards and thrown against a wall, with no gentleness at all. My neck was firmly gripped, a blade pressed against my jugular. Nervous fingers explored my teeth for any signs of salient canines.
I kept still for long and strenuous seconds. The man who had enthralled me brought his face nearer. Full moustache, glasses and long hair, which came down from his top-hat in cascade. He looked deep into my eyes with a tense expression. He loosened the grip of the blade a little and asked my name.
“Tibor,” I answered with a trembling voice.
It was enough for him to, finally, relax. He sheathed his blade inside the silver handle of an ingenious walking stick and, adjusting his hat, grabbed me in the arm and dragged me out of there.
“When I agreed with this interview, I wasn’t imagining I would be sent into a place like this,” he complained.
“You were aware of the risks,” I stated, while still being conducted.
“I thought you were swaggering. Writer’s talk. Fictious story, only in paper. I could never imagine that…”
“Everyone’s got the same reaction,” I continued, “Nobody believes it until they are inside a more than genuine adventure.”
“I wanna go back!”
“It’s not like that. The interview must be made. The questions must be answered.”
He stopped, staring at me, his face stiffened.
“Have you any Idea of where this crazy watch of yours has put us?”
“Some. Dense mist, paving-stone floor, running coaches… London?”
“Whitechapel. Sometime near the end of the 19th century.”
“Fascinating,” I said with a smile.
“You’ll have your fascination running down your neck in wide flows of blood if you don’t be careful. Or better, if I don’t take care of you. I know this territory very well.”
He started guiding me again, this time less hastily. We were taking long steps down the pavement and, although I could not guess where he was taking me or how he could see anything through that mist, he did it with a surprising certainty and settling. We walked past some distracted passers-by. Some were drunk. Ladies with easy smiles and available looks – on the way, or back from one of the uncountable whorehouses in the city.
Kim grabbed me stronger when we heard a sharp and quickly suppressed scream. It seemed to have come from our backs; a couple of meters from where we had came from.
“Come,” He urged me, forcing me to walk faster.
We pressed on enough so that, in a little while, we were in a pub called The Ten Bells. We exchanged the outside mist for the dense and vicious air caused by the smoke of cigars and cigarettes. Kim took me to a more distant table, hidden in the shadows. We sat calmly and I saw a copper coin roll on the greasy top of the table. A man made it disappear in the pleats of his clothes and in return, he put two full pints of beers in front of us.
I observed the place. Happy and obviously “high” men and some girls behaving in a way that would certainly be condemned by the virtuousness of those times, were they in a less vicious place. They drank and exceeded themselves in the bantering, laughing and vulgarities. No one seemed to pay any attention to us, despite my absolutely uncommon clothing for the time.
“To me, everything seems fine,” I told Kim, taking my pint to my lips and drinking a small evaluative sip of the drink.
“Here, in this reality, nothing, ever, is fine. There is always something to be worried with. An inattentive man is quickly a dead man.”
I put my pint on the table. I found the beer quite weak.
“Kim, Anno Dracula is the first of a series of books. It was followed by The Bloody Red Baron, Dracula Cha Cha Cha and then Johnny Alucard. Asking an author if he considers the sequels to be as striking as the first book might seem silly, but there’s no one better than the author himself to evaluate his work. How do you see these continuations? Did you hitchhike in the success of the first book and took advantage of the wave or produced the follow-ups because you considered the scenery too rich to be shown in a single book?,” I asked.
Kim, who had only played with his pint until that moment, without tasting the drink, looked at me.
“My original conception for the book was vaguely to do a trilogy set between the 1880s and World War I, but – though I had the premise and essentially the world, I didn’t have anything like a plot in mind, or the characters. It was years later when the story fell into place. I wrote Anno Dracula with a sense that I’d probably do a WWI novel to follow up, and that led me eventually to Dracula Cha Cha Cha and other stories.”
He stopped for a moment, observing a couple having fun at a table on the other side of the room, fiddled with his moustache and then moved forward on the table towards me.
“Can you see that couple?,” he asked me with a whisper.
I moved my eyes to the side he was pointing with his chin.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Long Liz and George Lusk. You know who they are, I suppose.”
“Haven’t got the slightest idea.”
Kim shook his head, unconsoled.
“Have you ever read anything about Jack the Ripper?”
“I guess not enough to answer your question.”
“Long Liz, Elizabeth Stride, one of the victims. George Lusk is the president of the Whitechapel committee of vigilance.”
“You are not implying that… George Lusk is…”
“No, of course not! It only surprises me that they were so close. Now pay attention to the woman that is by the counter, leaning and talking to the barman. “
“That is Catherine Eddowes, another victim. Tell me, how similar to the one we know can this alternate reality be?”
“I can’t say,” I answered laconically.
Kim fiddled with his moustache one more time, his gaze lost between the two women and the man who had one of the most important jobs at the time those deaths were being investigated. He drank, finally, a sip of the drink and clicking his tongue, continued with the answer to the first question.
“Having some unnaturally long-lived characters means going back to the series doesn’t mean going back to the same time and place as the first book – which doesn’t quite fit with the Hollywood notion of a sequel, though it’s quite common in fantasy or science fiction. I like all the books, but I went to some trouble to make them each different in tone from the others, though there are elements which recur in all of them. In my work, I’ve often gone back to characters – doing multiple stories about them and even multiple versions of them – as if building a set of interlocking universes; a few writers I like did something similar – Mike Moorcock, PJ Farmer – and the urge to tie everything together into ‘one big meta-series’ – M John Harrison said that – is fairly irresistible.”
We drank, together, from our beers. The couple at the other table was still caressing each other and Kim looked at them insistently.
“In Brazil there is an intense discussion among authors, journalists and critics on the importance of realistic literature and genre literature as possible interchangeable genres. Many defend the idea that the formality of the academic literature, together with the wealthy plots of the genre literature would generate a more appreciable kind of reading. How do you see this matter? Is there any kind of similar discussion in England?,” was my next question.
“English literature has always seemed to privilege realism over fantasy, but realism is a genre too. We certainly have a wealth of great genre literature as well as everything else – it’s not an original observation to me – I think Peter Haining said it – but every great writer in English tends to have at least one ghost or horror story or science fiction satire in their bibliography. There’s a British predisposition to take crime fiction more seriously than, say, science fiction – but there are also many serious, worthy British science fiction writers, a few of whom – Ballard, for instance, even Wells – have cracked the pantheon of accepted greats.”
Kim went suddenly quiet and put his hand on the handle of the stick which was, until then, leaning on the table. His eyes followed the smiling couple who had stood up and was walking towards the door, ready to leave the pub.
“Well, look at that…,” said Kim, to soon after continue with his answer “…personally, I have an odd relationship with genre: as a critic (I write mostly about film) I have a habit of putting things in genre boxes and fixing labels to them; as a fiction writer, I like odd combinations of genre or works which try not to fit in boxes.”
Kim pushed his pint away a few inches. He pulled his stick closer to himself and lifted his face, while the couple disappeared through the door.
“Anno Dracula, for instance, is horror, science fiction, history, crime, fantasy, satire, romance and thriller, plus being in the sub-genres of vampire stories and Jack the Ripper conspiracy theory, with all that literary borrowing and shared world of Victorian famous fictional and real people stuff thrown in. There is no part of the bookshop the book couldn’t be filed in. And the follow-ups add war story, pulp adventure, soap opera, whodunit, Hollywood, superhero and porn, which about covers all the bases.”
“Time to stand up and leave this place”, he said next.
“And where are we going?”
“To follow an interesting couple.”
“Isn’t it dangerous?“
He looked at me, winked and stood up, leaning on his stick.
“We’re already in the rain, let’s get wet.”
We left our pints almost intact. The beer wasn’t good anyway. The haunters didn’t notice our leaving, as well as they had seemed not to notice our arrival. We left the irritating smoke to get back to the cold mist. Kim stopped for a moment, aware of the external sounds. He had a focused look, although I felt he had a more instinctive than objective attention. After a short while he pointed the stick to our left and went on that direction. I followed him, of course.
“The nights have been revealing themselves full of surprises by the end of this century. Loads of agitation. Excess of immigrants, difficulties, protests, racial conflicts. Anything can light the wick of discord. Murders happen frequently, but the ones ascribed to Jack, have gained notoriety.”
“Do you intend to save the lady from the sexual harassment of that George Lusk guy?,” I asked, ironically.
Kim didn’t answer, just kept breaking the mist, tirelessly, in a resolute walk. He stopped all of a sudden, as if his flair indicated him alternate ways. He turned his head slightly to the left. A dark trail followed down the night. He passed his stick from one hand to the other, holding it upright.
“Now carefully and silent,” he said, following the trail.
We walked down a narrow, muddy lane. We ended up on a rocky stairway, which was limy and slippery. We went down trying to make no noise. Easier task for me, wearing a pair of trainers, than to Kim who was wearing heavy boots. It was an illusion to think we were alone. There were people lying on the ground, some drunk, others showing sharp teeth, others ignoring us completely. We went through them without much trouble. The way opened up, leading to what seemed like a park, with reduced dimensions though. We heard stifled laughter and moans of desire.
More couples, other than the one we were looking for. It seemed like a roofless cabaret. We leant on a tree, from where we could only see silhouettes of those given to obscenities.
“Have you got any further questions?,” Kim asked, willing to keep with the interview, even in such a strange and dangerous situation.
“How do you analyze Stephenie Meyer’s literary approach where, in her books, vampires glow in the sunlight? Do you believe that the vampire myth should always obey certain traditional successful archetypes?”
Kim held to the handle of his stick and leant his head to the side, forcing his eyes as if he could, this way, pierce through the dense veil that was created by the mist.
“It’s time,” he said, leaping forward while he made a very sharp and narrow blade slip from the scabbard of the stick. The same that had been pressed against my throat soon after my arrival. I didn’t know what he had seen or what he meant to do, but I discovered myself forced to follow his advances. More out of fear of being left behind than of guts. We ran a few meters.
George Lusk was in the grips of Long Liz. Literally. The woman showed long and frightening teeth. Transformed looks. One of George’s hands still lied under her dress, holding to the object of his desire, but trembled so much that could lead her to an intense and involuntary orgasm. Kim howled, span in the air and, with a firm blow, cut her from top to bottom in her back, opening a dreadful cut on her.
The park was taken by screams, howls and groans. Long Liz fell on herself and was soon back up. She moved upon us, I panicked. A shot made her bow while she put her hands to her stomach. Kim, fast, took advantage of that moment to give her a second blow. The decapitated head put an end to the fight.
We started running, the three of us. My legs flew while my snorting breathing could barely keep my lungs full. We went around the park, through other dark paths, stepped on shit and urine, climbed sudden obstacles, always with the vivid impression of having someone on our backs, following us avidly. We stopped to rest on an apparently more bustling street. George Lusk was still carrying the gun he had used.
“Nice company that one you got yourself,” said Kim, with his breathing hastened.
“She seemed like an ordinary girl. Human, I mean. Things changed a lot around here since he, you know who, arrived.”
Kim looked at me, put his blade into the scabbard – which was his stick at the same time – and, straightening himself up, started to answer my third question.
“I think as long as they drink blood to survive, they’re vampires. In Anno Dracula, I posit lots of different bloodlines of vampire analogous to every single vampire ever imagined in previous folklore, literature and film – down to Wells’ Martians. Eventually, the series will catch up to the present and I’ll have to cope with ‘vampire romance’ – here’s an exclusive, if there’s a fifth book in the series, it will probably be called Vampire Romance – as in Meyer and True Blood. I read Twilight, but not the sequels, and I’ve seen the films: they are not what I’d do, or even what I’d choose to read, but unquestionably interesting, and connect with their audience in a really interesting way.”
“An interview, is it?,” asked George. “What a curious thing to be done during attacks and chasings.”
“And it is the craziest one I have ever participated in, be sure of that,” added Kim.
“What are your most immediate literary projects and what do you plan for a near future?,” I asked, finally, with a sigh. Happy to see the interview ending without more trouble than we had already faced.
“Just now, I’m working on a new edition of Nightmare Movies, a book about modern horror movies I wrote in the 1980s. In addition to the old text, I’m writing a whole new book covering what has happened since then. It’ll be out in the UK from Bloomsbury.”
A howl followed by a powerful groaning interrupted him. We exchanged frightened looks and were already moving away from the wall we were leaning on when we were violently attacked. Besides the contorted expression, we identified Miss Catherine Eddowes, who must have followed us since we left The Ten Bells.
She didn’t seem happy at all. She was actually taken by hatred. With an unerring blow she made George Lusk roll on the ground, his gun lost amidst the mist. Kim tried to unsheathe his blade, but his stick was taken from his hands. Not really certain of what to do, I kicked the woman in the back. She didn’t seem to feel anything. Kim held on to her, punching her a lot of times while trying to dodge from the mouth which tried to bite him at any cost. I heard George’s flustered steps, running away from the place at all haste. “Damned” I thought, disappointed.
“The answer!,” I yelled.
The fight was fierce and I found out that if I didn’t do anything effective, Kim would never be able to give it. I held the vampire on her back, my arm around her neck, choking her. With that, I managed to push her mouth a few inches away from Kim’s neck, which, luckily, hadn’t been bit yet.
“My next work of fiction will be Mysteries of the Diogenes Club, out from MonkeyBrain later this year – it’s one of three – so far – books which run in parallel with the Anno Dracula series…”
Kim pushed the woman away and we fell, both me and her, on the ground. Still clinging, tensely. Catherine fought, trying to escape. She was really strong and I wouldn’t manage to hold her for much longer. She turned her head in impossible angles, trying to bite my face.
“…and feature the main characters of those but in a history which more closely resembles our own.”
Kim’s stick was on the floor. He lifted it calmly, unsheathed the blade and, even showing intense tiredness, put it near the lady’s chest who stopped fighting immediately. She just looked at him, angry, and at the same time begging. Ignoring her supplication, he stuck the blade into her, cutting tissues and bones. He opened a hole in her chest and exposed her cold heart out. I dropped her at that same moment, fearing the blade might cut more than only her flesh.
I saw her ruckle. Tears came down from her now soft, sad eyed and seductive mouthed face. Kim bent down, put his hand inside her chest and pulled her heart out, throwing it away, on the street. I dry swallowed before the rudeness of his actions.
“There are a few ways of killing a vampire. This might be the most repugnant of all, I admit. But it grabs attention.”
“I am also,” he continued while cleaning his blade in his cape, “fiddling with the long-in-the-works Johnny Alucard, and planning a collection of stories in the Lovecraft/Cthulhu mythos vein. I guess that’s it. Is it over or would you like to go back to the pub to finish off our beers?”
“It is done. There are no further questions,” I answered, without being able to look away from the lady, dead and ripped on the pavement – I lost my thirst and any possible appetite.
“I guess, then, we can go back to our own realities. I have more to do. This adventure gave me new ideas. Show up in London one of these days,” and Kim opened up a broad smile.
I nodded, trying to smile without much success. I searched for my watch, which was luckily still on my wrist and, waving goodbye to Kim, who waved back, I pressed the button.