You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category.
That was exactly what I had in mind. Or almost. A street, a city, a crowd. Cars, traffic lights, road signs. But something was wrong, very wrong. I touched the quantic watch, surprised to be in a setting so similar to the one I had planned. No more forests or deserts. Not even monsters or aliens. Not this time. I wanted a city and I was in one. I wanted excitement, motion, urban chaos … It was all there.
But … The sky was gray. People were wearing gray clothes: trousers, shirts, dresses, raincoats. The faces were gray. Sad, insipid, fading expressions. They passed by, coming and going, all weak, bent down, with arched backs. The cars alternated colors from black to gray. They moved slowly, along with the flow. Traffic lights had three different colors: dark gray, light gray and lighter gray.
Then I took a better look at me. I dressed the same way. Gray pants and T-shirt. Gray tennis shoes. Gray socks. The skin, the skin! It was slightly gray. I opened my eyes, scared. I looked at the quantic watch. The bracelet was gray. The case was gray. The dials were gray.
So I became sad. So sad that I bent down my shoulders, lowered my gaze and walked weakly, until I stopped in front of the bar. A large and spacious trailer. All painted in gray, with the front lights off, and with large gray letters saying: Joe’s Bar.
I smiled sadly. I was pleased, but still reticent. I went in, looked for Braulio, but he wasn’t there yet. I took a seat by the window, sadly watching the streets.
A waiter with large dewlaps under the eyes approached. I ordered a beer, even though what I really wanted was hemlock. I never felt so down, depressed and tormented. He moved away, dragging his feet.
I put my forehead on the table. I felt small teardrops looming. But I refrained. Not without great effort. I sat like that until the waiter brought me the beer and I heard someone else come closer and sit in front of me. I raised my head just enough to recognize him.
“Hi,” he replied, gloomily. His expression was sad, too. He looked defeated.
“Glad to see you,” I said, without expressing a single drop of happiness.
“I am also happy for this interview,” not even the most believer of the believers would buy that. Sorrow was printed on his face in such a way that even the mask of death wouldn’t be so disturbing.
“This city is … so … so …”
“Yes, strange and contagious.”
“Was that in the plans?” Braulio seemed perplexed.
“Of course not. Would it be normal if it was?” I lay my head on the table again. I let out a long and anguished sigh.
“This liquid is gray …”
“Beer, I believe. Haven’t tasted it yet. You should order one.”
“Thank you. I’d better not. I have no idea what strange effects alcohol could have in me in such a depressing environment.
“You are now a national reference in speculative fiction. Before the release of Backbone of Memory, what was your relation with the genre and the fandom?” I asked, lifting my face.
Braulio remained silent for a long while, looking at me with such sadness that I almost started crying uncontrollably. His face showed huge disappointment.
“I suppose that’s the first question?” he asked at last.
“Yes,” I said sobbing.
“I read SF since I was a kid, and many times I had the sensation that I was the only person who enjoyed those books. Years passed, and I got a small number of friends who shared my taste for the genre until, circa 1986, when I was already living in Rio, I got in touch with the CLFC, “Clube de Leitores de Ficção Científica” (SF Readers Club), through Roberto Nascimento, from São Paulo. Then I started writing SF seriously. But at that time I was a published author, after a career in jornalism and other writing jobs. I had already written some thousands of newspaper articles, many of them movie reviews. I had published some books of poetry, and a good number of mainstream and fantastic short stories, in magazines or literary journals. And I had already published, in chapbook form, one of my most successful books, The Stone of Midday or Artur and Isadora, what we call in Brazil’s Northeast “folheto de cordel”, a fantasy tale in verse, aimed at young readers.”
Braulio stopped briefly to rub his eyes, wiping off a soft moisture that was beginning to show. He swallowed a few times, frowned, took a deep breath and continued.
“The CLFC gave me something I always needed: people with whom I could talk endlessly about SF, exchange ideas, exchange books, point out authors and titles, get information. Had I not joined the CLFC and had I not began publishing my stories in its fanzine, Somnium, I would never have written the stories in A Espinha Dorsal da Memória (The Backbone of Memory), which I consider, together with Mundo Fantasmo (Ghost World), which is something of a companion volume to it, my best book.”
He stopped again, put one hand in the pocket looking for a handkerchief. Took out a cambric. Along came a piece of paper.
“On the other hand, I never had the intention of specializing in SF, I never wanted to be just an SF writer and nothing else. Even today I regret not having written mystery stories, because I’ve read mystery as much as SF. I have lots of ideas for mainstream books, poetry, theatre, horror stories… I don’t want to confine myself to a single type of literature, much as I like it.”
He wiped the teary eyes, blew his nose. He looked outside. The busy streets, shadows of people moving on the sidewalks. He clasped his hands so hard that his knuckles turned white. He raised his head a little bit trying to show himself in control, but soon fell, overcome by exhaustion.
“There’s a heated discussion about realistic literature and genre literature, about how one can inspire the other. What do you think of it?”
Braulio put the handkerchief on the table and took the piece of paper that had come along with it He cleared his throat twice, unfolded the piece of paper, read it, and closed it again.
“I see literature as a multiform field. Just like music. I listen to samba, forró, blues, classical music, jazz… by God, can there be music in this miserable land?!! I won’t say that I enjoy any style or any artist – I am fairly picky – but I like listening to things very different from each other. I like the infinite ways of combining notes, tunes, harmonies, voices, rhythms, lyrics… This gives me pleasure, being capable of feeling the greatness of Miles Davis and of Adoniran Barbosa, the greatness of Tom Waits and of Chopin. All of them different, all brilliant.”
“Funeral songs, maybe” I answered to his concern.
“These people are alive … But they are also dead. Soon we will be dead if we linger here.
“Same thing with literature,” he went on. “Graciliano Ramos is as great as Harlan Ellison, who is as great as Borges, who’s as great as Clarice Lispector or Conan Doyle. Realism and SF are not opposites, just as jazz and Beatles aren’t. To think that one precludes the other is a mistake. They complement each other. I know readers who live literature as if it were a kind of political world, where, if you are a militant for A, you have to look at B and C as adversaries. I’m not like this. My vision of literature is as a group of aesthetic experiences, not as an arena of political or market struggles.”
I surrendered to the glass. I took a shy sip, feeling the gray liquid.
“Beer, indeed”, I stammered embarrassed.
Braulio studied the glass as if it was a rare specimen. Then, he once again unfolded the piece of paper he was holding. He watched it a little longer.
“I wonder if there’s poetry in this helpless land,” he said, looking around visibly depressed.
“Do you think we still have much to learn from Anglo-Saxon authors, or is Brazil walking on its own legs now?
“We have to learn with everyone. Our problem in Brazil is that we only drink from Anglo-Saxon sources. I’ve read very little French SF. I don’t remember reading any SF from Italy or Spain. I’ve read only a dozen books of Russian SF. I have no idea about SF in the Netherlands, in Germany, in the Czech Republic, in India… OK, someone may say that those countries have not produced outstanding, memorable SF. But, then again, the same can be said about ourselves!”
“Child, never forget that this too is true:
So that justice in our cosmos may be preserved,
The angels that watch over our nations each has an opposite,
A left hand whose works the strong right hands don’t know.”
I listened to the verse at the end of his answer. I was amazed at him. Braulio read the first stanza and fell silent. His face was enclosed in a concrete mortar. But you could see a small glimmer of light escaping his misty eyes.
“And, even so – he went on, trying to overcome the dismay that hung upon him, — now and then a great SF writer is found among those not-Anglo-Saxonic literatures, such as Stanislaw Lem in Poland, the Strugatski brothers in Russia, and recently Zoran Zivkovic in Croatia. Maybe, if we paid more attention to those writers, we could be closer to discovering the road to a Brazilian SF, because we would begin to see a number of elements that are foreign to British-American SF, elements that may be seen as contributed by those nations.”
“If a nation’s angel is proud, then the other is shy
Brilliant if the nation’s angel is dull
Full of pity if the angel shows none
Laughing if it always weeps, weeping if it cannot weep.”
The waiter looked at us. So did two other customers. They looked worried. I was shocked when I realized the glass of beer had a golden hue. My lips curled into a painful and scared smile.
“Anyway, the creation of a Brazilian way can only occur, necessarily, in the moment of writing, not in the reading. Today I have read a great deal of SF, much more than I had in 1988 when I wrote The Backbone of Memory, but even so I don’t think that I am better equipped now. To give you a more direct answer: we have something to learn from any other country, but we can only teach them something, as well, if Brazilian SF and Brazilian mainstream become communicating vessels.”
“But so that order may also be preserved
(Which has always concerned the great ones more)
The nation’s angel is the greater, older and more terrible,
And from his sight the lesses always hides.
Lost, pale and bare, he shivers and sings
And there is no reproach so stinging as his smile.”
The waiter took both hands to his head. His eyes were terrified. One of the customers jumped off the stool he was sitting on and headed for the street, as if he was fleeing. The colors were spreading slowly from the glass of beer, tinting the table. We looked at each other in bewilderment. But in our eyes the truth was revealed. Carried away by a kind of madness, Braulio raised both hands up high, and laughed. He resumed poetizing.
“Bone-tired the race that raised the Towers, forgotten are their lores;
Long gone the gods who shed the tears that lap these crystal shores.
Slow beats the time-worn heart of Mars beneath this icy sky;
The thin air whispers voicelessly that all who live must die…”
Verses were poured out. The colors were spreading out more and more. The waiter gestured, indicating to us that such kind of expression was forbidden, trying at all costs to contain Braulio’s poetic rage, but no one apparently had the power to accomplish that.
That’s when we heard what sounded like a rhythmic beat, that soon became chaotic. We looked outside and saw the city falling into a kind of insane frenzy. People ran from side to side, writhing in despair. The traffic plunged into a chaos of crashes, honking and rattle. The waiter dropped everything and ran to the street. Braulio calmed down, puzzled and frightened. We looked at the outside through the window, surrounded by bright colors. Tables, chairs, counter. Refrigerators, cash register, stoves. All full of colors. The front lights flashed, advertising Joe’s Bar to the entire city.
We also saw stilts. Lots of them. On top of them, startling figures. They were clowns. Dozens of them. Hundreds. Maybe thousands. They came from all sides, from all places. The stilts were so tall they bent with every step. Their painted faces showed no mask of joy, but evil faces. Expressions of deep hatred and angry looks. Their baggy clothes with bright colors contrasting the city didn’t deceive us. They were no messengers of happiness. They advanced as guardians of sadness, soldiers of terror.
I kept pressing the button on the watch, but I knew there was on question left. And I had to ask it. We ran out of the bar. It was like bumping into a bamboo grove. We saw people pierced by stilts, abandoned crying children. Mothers were ignoring the pain of their children, taking refuge in corners, cowering terrified. We saw desperate men, begging for mercy as they were hit, injured, killed by spears that emerged like a tidal wave.
“I’ve been noticing a disdain for what was written in our past – often quite recent past actually – with people ignoring the work of authors who were our predecessors.Do you agree that the ‘past’ is past and what is worth is ‘the now and tomorrow’?”
My question almost got lost in the whirl. Braulio waved the piece of paper in the air with an insane expression, teasing the clowns that were hitting the wooden legs on the floor, gnashing their teeth and muttering scary sounds around us. We ran behind a gray truck, nudging a small crowd that had squeezed there.
“We live in an age that could be called The Omnipresence of the Present. The present moment is suffocating our capacity to think about the Past or the Future, because there is a frightening amount of information about the present hour, the present day, the present week…”
He was answering as we were being expelled from our hiding spot. We are not wanted there. They feared us, hated us.
“Social networks, like Facebook or Twitter, show how much this process has spread itself. It is possible to spend a whole hour just reading about what happened in the world in the last hour. When all your life is organized in such a way that this becomes the most important thing, how can one be interested in reading a book ten years old, or 20, or 50, or 100 years old?”
We were at last kicked out of the hiding place, which wasn’t that good after all. We ran down the street, dodging the chaos and avoiding the stilts that were trying to surround us, closing in on us
“Up-to-date information is mistaken for important information – Braulio screamed, trying to make himself heard among the noise – or, even worse, it is becoming the official definition of what is important. People are getting used to think that good information is information about the present. So, we are losing the diachronic vision (the possibility of seeing things along a temporal axis, in a before-and-after which extends itself along years or centuries) and we abandon this for a merely synchronic vision, the possibility of becoming aware of the here-and-now in an unprecedented way. According to the circumstances, “the Present” can be seen as a period of minutes or of months, but it makes no difference. People feel that if it is not in “the Present”, it’s not relevant.”
We skirted a mountain of rubble formed by overturned vehicles and injured people lying on the floor, groaning and dying. We turned left onto a street and ran into a plethora of clubs who came towards us in a wave. We were, after all, surrounded.
Braulio once again shook the little piece of paper and shouted threats before he returned to the poetry he certainly knew by heart.
“I’m Paul Bunyan and I’ll pull out this forest of staffs from the city, giving it joy again.”
“I heard a voice of warning,
a message from on high,
‘Go put your house in order,
for thou shalt surely die.
Tell all your friends a long farewell
and get your business right—
The little black train is rollin in
to call for you tonight…”
Surrounded. Entwined. Slowly crushed.
“Turning left, turning right, grasping at eyes
Lovely as a god’s. The blood flutters into the pool…
Behold! Behold the black, ungrained flesh,
The jaw’s jeweled hinge that we can barely glimpse…”
The voice was fainting, stifled by the bars.
“… And unmoor’d souls may drift on stranger tides
than those men know of, and be overthrown
by winds that would not even stir a hair…”
Then a whirlwind of irresistible force lifted the clowns with their stilts. It raised people, cars, garbage cans, signs, newspapers, children and dogs. It raised the city, tearing it from its foundations. The whole world was upside down. It raised us, throwing us into the air, twirling. But not by the threat of a giant ax sweeping the tangle of sticks. Not by the apparition – which did not happen – of a furious blue ox.
Poetry was working a miracle.
The colors first exploded in a sudden flash, tinting sky and earth with bizarre tones. They were soon stable, blending in such a way that all the nuances that had been formed were covering things up, giving them the colors they should have.
Braulio was still waving the paper, laughing out loud. He clung to the the stilts, teasing the clowns whose frowns had melted into dreadful and misunderstanding looks.
Scared of how things were going and aware that everything that has raised to the air will soon return to the ground, I pressed the button.
Child, never forget That this is true too:
So that justice in our cosmos May be preserved,
That the angels watch over our nations each has an opposite,
The left hand works the Whose strong right hands do not know.
If a nation’s angel is proud, then the other is shy
Brilliant if the nation’s angel is dull
Full of pity if the angel shows none
Laughing if it always weeps, weeping if it can not weep.
But May Also so that order be preserved
(Which has the great ones always Concerned more)
The angel is the nation’s great, older and more terrible,
And from his sight always read the hides.
Lost, pale and bare, he shivers and sings
And so there is the stinging reproach to his smile.
(Attributed to poet Innokenti Falin, in The Translator, John Crowley, 2002)
Bone-tired the race That raised the Towers, Their lores are forgotten;
Long gone the gods who shed the tears That lap These crystal shores.
Slow beats the time-worn heart of Mars beneath this icy sky;
The thin air voicelessly That whispers all who live must die …
(Attributed to poet “Noisy” Rhysling, in “The Green Hills of Earth”, Robert Heinlein, 1947)
I heard the voice of warning,
a message from on high,
“Go put your house in order,
for thou shalt surely die.
Tell all your friends a long farewell
and get your business right-
The little black train is rollin ‘in
to call for you tonight …
(Attributed to poet John the Balladeer, in Who Fears the Devil?, Manly Wade Wellman, 1963)
Turning left, turning right, grasping at eyes
Lovely as a god’s. The blood flutters into the pool …
Behold! Behold the black, ungrained flesh,
The jaw’s jeweled hinge That We Can barely glimpse …
(Attributed to poet Louis Sacchetti, in Concentration Camp, Thomas M. Disch, 1968)
… And May unmoor’d souls drift on stranger tides
Those than men know of, and be overthrown
by winds That would not even stir a hair …
(Attributed to William Ashbless poet, in On Stranger Tides, Tim Powers, 1987)
The interview with Alastair Reynolds went utterly out of control. No one expected he would launch Tibor Moricz out to an uncharted place of the galaxy.
We are currently looking for him, but we don’t have much hope (actually, we are afraid the oxygen supply in his escape pod won’t keep him alive until we find him.) We will soon post an interview made in 2010 with Braulio Tavares, a very respected Brazilian fantastic literature writer.
We’ll keep trying to locate the captain of From Bar to Bar. In the meantime, we’ll also try to find the one with a quantic watch similar to Tibor Moricz’s so that we can put an end to all the trouble he’s been causing.
This interview follows an earlier one with Liza Groen Trombi and Mark R. Kelly.
There’s nothing more depressing than seeing your universes being expanded, one after the other, and being alternated between them without a chance to rest. The experience with Liza and Mark had been scary enough, and there was nothing I wanted more than a few days off. Falling on a pile of wooden boxes and seeing them break under my weight was unpleasant. Well, at least it was better than a high-altitude free fall with no chance of survival.
When my balance was restored, I paid more attention to the scene around me. I realized in surprise that some men were pointing guns at me. All of them looked shocked, alternating glances between me and the ceiling, wondering where I had come from.
I tried to get up but two of them stepped forward, pushed me with their feet and forced me to lie down, resigned. The last thing I wanted was to get shot. My head was spinning and I didn’t know where I was or with whom I was going to meet.
The quantic watch on my wrist was nothing more than an accessory.
Two individuals with shoulder epaulets arrived, probably officers. They pulled me up and searched me. Apparently satisfied – since I carried no weapons – they released me, allowing me to breathe easier.
“Who are you?” Asked the man whose epaulettes exhibited a fluorescent blue color.
I gulped and took a quick look at the place. It was a gigantic hangar. The arched ceiling climbed at least three hundred feet up and the closest wall wasn’t less than a thousand feet away. The whole place seemed to be taken up by forklifts, metal and wooden boxes of various sizes, and people: a lot of people working.
For a while I lost myself trying to remember who I really was.
“Tibor Moricz,” I said after a moment.
“Where do you come from?” The second question was quick as a shot. They looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and caution.
“From SkyHolm,” I answered without hesitation.
They looked at each other, startled. Two men positioned themselves next to me and, holding my arms, led me through corridors that were sometimes narrow, sometimes wide. I had a good view of the place: the blocks full of boxes, the large objects that didn’t fit in a box and were covered by wide blankets.I also saw sad men, heads down, defeated expressions, working hard.
We went through an automatic door and left the hangar. I was soon left alone in a room with a table and four chairs. I was still picking a chair to sit on when the door opened again and another officer, one with red phosphorescent epaulettes, entered the room.
“SkyHolm, you said …” began the man, as he pulled up a chair and sat down. I did the same.
“Yes,” I answered.
“As far as we know, SkyHolm was destroyed two hundred years ago by a group of saboteurs. There are records of a certain Tibor Moricz, as well as a Roberto de Sousa Causo, a Christopher Kastensmidt and a Luis Filipe Silva among those men. You claim to be Tibor Moricz, right?”
I stared at him in obvious astonishment. Two hundred years, he said? Two hundred years have gone by? I was livid when I realized it had been that long since I last peed.
“Yes, I am Tibor Moricz. But I ain’t no saboteur. I’m just an interviewer.”
“SkyHolm was one of the enemies of the Matsushita conglomerate, which is still the conglomerate that protects us. Power usually moves from hand to hand easily but Matsushita has lingered at the top since then, without bowing to political tensions.”
Those were comforting words. Despite being considered a potential saboteur, I was not an enemy.
“How did you end up here?” The man asked as he thumbed through some seemingly old reports.
I was about to explain everything about the quantic watch, the several parallel realities, the alternate universes, about travelling through all of them searching for the interviewees, and about the From Bar to Bar website, when he interrupted me.
“Oh, yes. Parallel realities, alternate universes, a quantic watch. Curious. A very sui generis way of travelling, isn’t it? It explains why you aren’t old,” he dropped the reports, closed them and looked at me, “or dead. The boss will want to meet you.”
“The boss? Who’s the Boss?” I was worried, since the last boss who wanted to meet me also wanted to kill me.
It was a stupid joke, I know. And completely out of place. The officer looked at me like as if I was an imbecile and shrugged. He got up and motioned me to follow him. I followed him for several corridors, we walked up steep, narrow stairs; we passed through rooms full of people and trash. That place seemed like a huge deposit. After what seemed a long time crossing that maze, we reached a small room, which was dusty and full of papers. Behind a desk as messy as the room around itwas the big boss. Apparently a simple man, hidden behind round glasses, with a tired look on his face. I sat before him while the officer with the red epaulettes left without a word. The man before me removed his glasses.
“Resting glasses. One gets tired easily here. I also have great eye drops to moisten your eyes. Lots of dust, cobwebs and dirt. I’ve thought of ventilating the place, but it would be unrecognizable. When I want luxury, I go to one of the Martian colonies. Women, drinks and fun. It’s everything a wealthy man needs.”
I listened to him in silence. He studied me for a moment, looked at my outfit – a gift from Jeff VanderMeer – and put the glasses back on.
“That outfit is very outdated. You know who I am, don’t you?” He changed the course of the conversation.
“Al,” I answered.
“Al … Who?”
I made a huge effort. I closed my eyes and concentrated. I knew the answer was within me. I was there for an interview … Who was I going to interview? Who?
“Alastair Reynolds,” I said all of a sudden. His name popped into my mind as if someone had just placed it there.
“And now, do you know where you are?”
“In a room,” I swear that was the only thing I was able say. I couldn’t think of any other answer.
Big Al moved away from his desk a little and pressed a button on the wall. It was amazing. What was initially a narrow and dirty room began to widen. Its walls, apparently retractable, began to move away, the roof to expand, and translucent panels were opened, revealing outer space. The desk plunged into the ground, replaced by a command panel. The taciturn man who was talking to me became a sort of space hero in an amazing outfit, weapons hanging from his shoulders and a dangerous look that worried me.
“Hey, isn’t that National Kid’s uniform you are wearing?” I asked perplexed.
“You don’t know what a little power is capable of,” he said. His eyes gleamed with satisfaction. The mask on his face, the cape on his back, a fancy belt, the costume displaying a red giant “N”… An indecently appealing old-fashioned display.
Big Al opened his arms as if he was about to fly across the room and then sat down. He looked like a boy.
I thought I’d better take a look outside. The panel allowed an exuberant view of what looked like a giant canyon surrounding us. There were still launchers, rockets, spaceships of different shapes, oblong, circular, flat … Some of them were so big they rivaled the nearby hills. Some of the distant hills seemed to smoke.
“What is this place?” I asked, appalled.
“Io. We are at the south pole of the Jupiter’s moon, hidden in a mountain range.”
“We’re a huge deposit. There is nothing that has been manufactured on this side of the galaxy that we don’t have at least a few copies. The market is intense and we have customers spread all over the Milky Way. If we are here it’s because our activities are not welcomed by some conglomerates. You know… Some of the artifacts we possess have neither been bought nor found.”
“Are you pirates?”
“’Merchants’ is a better word. But whenever we want something really bad, we get it. No matter how.”
“Smugglers,” I figured.
“Nothing against this activity, right?” Big Al asked me that question while two armed men entered the room and stood beside me, hands on the butts of their guns.
I felt intimidated by their presence.
“We know that everywhere you’ve been, there was trouble. People died, facilities were destroyed … Your presence is not exactly a good omen. Therefore, if any weird things happen during our conversation, these men have orders to shoot.”
“At me?” I asked scared.
“No! At me, you fool!
Just as his name popped into my mind as the one to be interviewed this time, the questions popped up as easily.
“One of the most important characteristics of your work, especially in the Revelation Space universe, is your loyalty to the laws of physics (e.g., keeping interstellar travel within the limit of the speed of light). Your readers usually relate that to your background as a scientist. In your opinion, does the fact that you worked for such a long time as a scientist make you a better SF writer? Why?”
“Not in the slightest, although I do think that it’s made me slightly more marketable, from a promotional standpoint. Obviously I enjoy SF that plays with scientific ideas in an imaginative and original fashion, but you absolutely don’t need a scientific background to be able to do that. You just need to be interested in science, which I think is a completely different thing, and an option for anyone.
That said, I suppose that I’ve seen the scientific process at work from the inside, so to speak, and I know the way scientists think and interact. But that kind of thing has only ever formed a small strand to my fiction, I think.”
I listened to his answer, watching him move his head as he spoke, the extension on the helmet swinging.
“The Revelation Space books mention the Dawn War, an important event that took place early in the history of the Galaxy. Do you have any plans for a novel or trilogy specifically about the Dawn War? Such a trilogy would make the “galactic history” complete, wouldn’t it?”
Big Al frowned and rubbed his eyes under the mask before answering.
“I wouldn’t be interested in writing it, since there wouldn’t be humans involved. The point, in a sense, is that it’s something I can be purposefully vague and mysterious about, because it happened millions and billions of years ago. Having to nail down the facts about it would be totally against the spirit of inventing it in the first place. Anyway, I’m not really interested in completeness,on any level. I’m definitely not the go-to guy for that!”
I was getting ready for the third question when a quake shook the base. Some rocks rolled down the mountain slopes. Big Al and his men were alarmed. One of them drew his pistol and pointed it at my head. I held my breath. Once the quake stopped, they calmed down.
“Did you use to get any kind of feedback from your fellow scientists? Do scientists who work in important institutions like CERN respect SF as literature? Are they interested in SF at all?”
“Does this tremor have anything to do with you? Does it?” Big Al asked.
“I know nothing about earthquakes. I know nothing about any kind of quakes.”
“You’d better be telling the truth. I’d hate to be forced to take drastic measures.”
Big Al frowned again and cleared his throat.
“Don’t know about CERN as I’ve never been there. It’s one of those odd factoids that seems to have taken on a life of its own, even though I never worked for or at CERN! I’ve also read that I used to work in Norway, which was news to me. My experience with scientists and SF has been pretty positive, though. Most of my colleagues were supportive of my writing, even to the point of structuring my workload so that I didn’t have to do a lot of midweek business trips. I’ve encountered the occasional negative reaction to SF, but not to me or my work specifically. On the plus side, being an SF writer has opened some amazing doors, getting me a chance to meet space shuttle crews and so on. That’s been amazingly rewarding, especially when career astronauts tell me they read my stuff. But it’s also getting opportunities to hang out at bioscience conferences, stuff I’d never get to do as a working astronomer.”
I looked at my quantic watch and its immobility exasperated me. The hands were stopped, the quantum revolutions which indicated present time, estimated time and no-time were inoperative since the interview with Ekaterina Sedia. Being at the will of luck and some unknown mechanism that threw me from one place to another was terrifying.
The ground shook again. This time with more intensity, followed by a thunder. I heard the walls crack. The guns were drawn and pointed at me. Big Al rose from his chair and looked outside just in time to see a huge shadow starting to cover the hemisphere.
“What is it?” What is it?” He shouted.
Fearing for the worst, I shrunk down in my chair. In a clumsy attempt to save my life, I risked an argument.
“The interview doesn’t end until I ask you all the questions. There are forces far greater than the ones we know that will prevent interviewee and interviewer to either split or harm each other!”
Big Al looked at me angrily. Then he looked outside again. An internal communication system cracked with a hoarse voice: someone who seemed to have just woken up.
“A combat cruiser from the Mittal-Arcelor conglomerate hangs over our heads. Eight-hundred and forty-five cannons pointed in our direction.”
I couldn’t help thinking that the Venusian Incas were attacking us.
“How many left?” He asked me.
“Ask the next one.”
“Let me ask you a hard and imaginative question. It is quite possible that you think some of the most famous universes in SF are poorly built. If you could change one of them, at your choice, which one would it be and what would you change in it?”
“That’s an excellent question. Most TV and film universes contain so many contradictions and daft premises that it’s almost impossible to know where to begin fixing them. I’d probably get rid of all humanoid aliens, for a start – I just don’t believe in them. That takes care of the Star Trek universe, and while we’re at it I don’t believe in the transporters either – at least not as they’re portrayed. Maybe as a means of ship to ship transportation, or for beaming down to a receiving station, but not for just beaming down anywhere, even to a previously unexplored planet. In terms of fictional SF, I’d take all the psi-power stuff out of Larry Niven’s Known Space, as it’s clearly bollocks. But, to be fair, it was very much in vogue at the time the books and stories were written. And, doubtless, I’ve written my share of stuff that will seem similarly bollocks in forty years. If I’m lucky… Ask the next one!”
I felt that my time was up, but I needed to ask the last question. The men next to me were still pointing the guns at me, sharing their attention between me and the warship that hung over our heads.
“Is it necessary that SF take itself so seriously? Or are approaches like Douglas Adams’s welcome?”
At that time, Mel Brooks’ image came to my mind. Big Al, dressed in that bizarre National Kid’s costume reminded me of him and his hilarious movies. I feared he would understand the question as a joke about him.
I wasn’t wrong.
“Kill him,” he told the soldiers.
I didn’t even have time to breathe. I shoved back the chair, taking advantage of its wheels. The shots were simultaneous and missed me. Leaning on the arms of the chair, I threw both my feet up, precisely hitting each of the men’s chins. They groaned, buckled and fell onto Big Al’s desk, who by this time was heading to the exit door, looking for shelter.
I could not let him escape, after all he still owed me one answer.
I chased the silver caped man through the halls. The tremors occurred again and this time, were followed by explosions. It didn’t seem that the Venusian Incas intended to leave survivors. I even reached him twice, but the cape slipped through my fingers. I asked him to answer me the last question, but, to my amazement, he laughed and shouted “Awika” while running ahead of me.
“He’s gone mad”, I thought, worried.
I believed to have lost him when suddenly, at the end of a corridor, he stopped and, as I approached him, grabbed me and pulled us both into on a pneumatic tube. With the flip of a trigger he launched us into a vertiginous tunnel that snaked through unknown places. At the end, we were dumped in a small and somewhat uncomfortable control room. Before I could recover, I saw Big Al already standing and pointing a scary gun at me: four barrels of at least three inches each. A laser sight scratched the tip of my chin.
“I’ll tear your head off,” he said while triggering commands on an electronic board.
“Where are we?” I asked, trying to buy time.
“Escape ship. It’ ll go about three hundred kilometers below the surface and then be launched by catapult out of the moon. Six seconds later the ship will reach hyperspace. A safe and unexpected escape.”
By the chatter of the ship, I suspected that we were already on our way.
“These three hundred kilometers… how long will it take?”
“Twenty-four seconds. Stand up!
He seemed to have changed his mind about killing me. I thought that the gun would rip my head off, but it would also open a huge hole in the hull. I got up slowly, analyzing all of my possibilities. They were very few, I must admit.
“Up against the wall!”
When I touched the wall, I was surprised. A pod much like those deployed in the huge cargo ship that was commanded by Charles Stross clasped me. Hermetically sealed, I barely had space for small movements.
“Killing you would be silly, I prefer to give you a lesson. You’ll have a long time before dying of suffocation, thinking about how dangerous and irresponsible you are.”
The ship jolted harder. Big Al caught himself as he could, leaving the weapon aside. He didn’t need it any longer. The next few seconds were tense. He was watching the clock, I was warning him that he hadn’t answered the last question.
“Hyperspace!” He said with a huge smile. “I’ll throw you off the ship. You will be lost in such a way that no quantic toy will be able to locate you. Hopefully you will reenter in a sun. Quick and painless death.”
“The final answer!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
“I’m a massive Hitch Hiker’s fan, but that’s probably all the funny SF I need in my life. Actually I don’t read a lot of comedic fiction in any genre. I’d rather watch some funny television, then curl up with a really miserable, depressing novel.”
Then he pressed a button and, before I fainted, I heard “Awika” once again.
The sequence to this exciting adventure is coming soon.
Daniel Borba, Delfin and Christopher Kastensmidh collaborated with this interview.
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.
This post has the purpose of congratulating Christopher Kastensmith, one of our collaborators, whose novelette ”The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara” (Realms of Fantasy) is a 2011 Nebula Awards finalist.
Congratulations, Christopher! You deserve all the best!
From Bar to Bar continues its amazing interviews, exposing four more subjects to terrible dangers. On the first interview, we will have Liza Groen Trombi and Mark R. Kelly, answering for the internationally famous Locus Magazine. Then, we will bring Alastair Reynolds to the universe of fictional interviews, forcing him to fight hard for his life. We will close this group of interviews with one of the most appreciated Brazilian authors: Braulio Tavares.
But beware! The list of scheduled interviews is not over yet.
We would like to thank the authors who have risked their lives so far and the great number of readers who have been visiting us.
From Bar to Bar, going where no one has gone before.
This interview follows an earlier one with Charles Stross.
I clung with one hand to the edge of the parapet, trying to lift myself up while Jeff pulled me.There was a clear sign of urgency in his eyes, which divided his attention between me and something else that was taking place several feet below us.
I heard an intense rattling, noises of something collapsing, metal popping, hums and distant sirens. In a final effort, I let myself fall on the roof, breathing hard. Jeff wore a kind of rubber suit or something. His whole body was covered, his head protected by a high tech helmet leaving only his face visible. He carried a kind of three-barrel rifle on his back, slightly diaphanous, as if it was made of a synthetic or mineral translucent material.
In addition to the fatigue that made my body hurt, a deep disturbance wrecked my nerves. For the third time I migrated straight for the next interview, without the needed rest.
I sighed and tried to stand up.
“Be careful when getting up. There are Soulhunters looking for me.They saw me getting into this building.”
I frowned. I licked my lips and got on my knees.
“Soulhunters …” I muttered, feeling a little dizzy. I touched the ground, looking for support.
“Those mechatronic hunters are hard to fool. You chose a remote location for the meeting. We should’ve chosen a less visible area.”
“We arranged this meeting?” I was amazed. “I don’t remember anything…”
“You sent me a message eighteen hours ago indicating these coordinates as the meeting point. I left my hiding place before dawn and walked through the city of rubbish to get here. If you didn’t do this, who did?”
I felt a bitter taste in my mouth. A feeling of being manipulated, moved by invisible strings, a plaything in the hands of a skilled puppeteer.
“I don’t know.”
Jeff shrugged. He helped me up and led me behind a wall full of holes. He pushed me against it and reached for a black chip the size of a matchbox inside his pocket. Self-adhesive, it was firmly stuck on my chest.
“I shouldn’t have come here without protection. What you did was madness,” he said, taking a gadget with a luminous screen and colored buttons from a side pocket. He pointed the gadget at me and a yellow-greenish light burst from it, fully involving me.
I was taken by a wave of intense heat. The chip on my chest emitted a bright glow and then the transformation began. To my utter astonishment, it stretched over me like a second skin, forming bumps and scales, covering me completely. Within seconds only my face was exposed. My head was protected by a helmet. Jeff and I matched, both covered by a black and opaque second skin.
“This is … Incredible!” I said after a moment of perplexity.
“We’d better get out of here. We are not safe.”
I glanced at the horizon. Black coils of smoke rose into the sky like huge columns. I closed my eyes for a few seconds. I thought about the rocky planet I’d been on, the space freighter and the words of Charles Stross …“The earth no longer exists, destroyed in a war between corporations.”
“A war has destroyed the Earth,” I muttered in awe.
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“This isn’t another alternative reality. I’m living the same reality from the last interview.” This was a rhetorical phrase. I was talking to myself. I was finding things out.
“And you caught me,” I cried. “Was I here before leaving the rocky planet? Why did I fall? How did we run into each other? How come you were able to reach out and save me?”
“I just came here, as agreed. I heard a scream. I saw you flailing in the air, about to fall. I rushed towards you and grabbed your arm. This is all I know.”
My eyes were lost. They saw everything and saw nothing. I tried desperately to create a bond between the final moments with Charles Stross and the initial moments with Jeff VanderMeer. There was a jump of parsecs in nano seconds. Too impossible to believe in the possibility. The quantic clock didn’t have that much power. Or did it?
Then I was rudely ripped from my thoughts.The building we were in shook harder. Cracks covered the floor, opening wide gaps in the concrete. The ledge where I had just been rescued shattered. Jeff took me by one arm and made me run toward one end of the building. I followed him to the edge of the parapet and stopped.The fall was over 100 feet high.
“Jump!” Jeff shouted, while the building seemed to fall apart under our feet.
“You’re crazy!” I shouted back in panic.
On the opposite side of the building, on the roof, there was a Soulhunter. It had just finished climbing the walls using prehensile highly adherent paws. It was an amazing device, a mech about four meters tall when in upright position.The body slightly resembled a humanoid shape. Articulated mechanical arms and legs, massive body with micro joints that allowed exact movements: forward, backwards, swivels up to 180 degrees. Metal cannulas were jumping here and there, from the arms and body. Pipes for firing missiles. At the end of the arms there were flamethrowers. The head was an isosceles trapezoid with two front tears that blazed a bluish light.
I identified the mechatronic hunter the moment I saw it. It was either some kind of implanted memory – things were happening so inexplicable that any possibility had to be considered – or special information that the suit transferred to me.The only thing I knew was that jumping was the only option. That’s what Jeff and I did.
The suit we wore made us either lighter or heavier, according to our needs. We landed without problems. Our feet touched the ground gently. Immediately, we began to run through the rubble, fleeing from our hunters.
Two minutes later we stopped and hid under a huge slab.There was a mountain of debris on it. We were not tired.
“350 Monsignor Dubois Street.East of town. In good speed, about twenty minutes away,” I said, leaning back on a wall.
“What’s that address?”Jeff asked me.
I felt terribly sick. I was disturbed again. What was the address? I knew what it was, but I didn’t know how I knew it.
“You’ll see when we get there,” I said in a whisper. I remembered the interview. I cleared my throat and asked him the first question.
“Is it difficult to concilate the fact of being a publisher, a writer and an editor of anthologies? In Brazil, many times, one of those activities would get you gradually excluded from the others by your own peers”
Jeff looked at me for a moment, confused. Then, he smiled.
“We may die, but the interview has to go on,” he said, nodding positively.
“That’s right,” I said.
“I am a shape-shifter by nature and it’s not unknown for me to become a giant bear named Mord. Exclusion by peers is the least of my worries—anyone who tries to peg someone as just one thing is actually limiting themselves. Concentrating on anything other than doing a diverse range of interesting project is a fool’s game and limiting. Sometimes I will be known as a giant bear, sometimes as a squid, sometimes as a meerkat, and sometimes as a mushroom. This too shall pass.”
I heard the answer without giving it much attention. My eyes and ears were alert to the perimeter. And there were Soulhunters approaching.
“Are you ready?” I asked, ready to run.
We left our hiding place under the slab and shot by bumpy tracks, skirting mounds, debris and mangled wreckage. We skipped obstacles, sliding slopes and climbing hills until we were intercepted by another Soulhunter. They spread across the ruined city in search for survivors and soldiers astray. They ruthlessly killed men, women and children.
A volley of bullets tore up the ground around us and made us jump sideways, rolling on the uneven ground. Jeff drew the weapon he was carrying and shot a single burst of light that hit the “chest” of the Soulhunter.He ripped a thick metal plate from it, leaving a handful of wires visible. He was about to shoot another, but had to dodge a gush of fire. The fiery mass burned the concrete turning it into lava. I heard Jeff yell scared and in pain.
I slipped through the wreckage, bypassing the mech, without seeing or knowing where Jeff was. A wall of fire separated me from his last position. I feared the worst. Taking advantage of the incredible agility and skill that the special outfit gave me, I jumped on the back of the mech, holding on to it as best as I could. One of my hands was stuck in the ocean of flashing wires that were exposed by the direct hit from Jeff.
I was still trying to pull them out while the mech was struggling, trying to get rid of me, when I heard Jeff yelling, asking me to protect myself.
So I did. I shrank on the back of the monster and felt it be shaken by a violent impact. A second shot opened a hole on its “chest”, almost crossing it (which might have been tragic for me). The beast shook and fell face down, abandoned, powerless, beaten, killed.
I left it, dumbfounded. I walked a few numb steps and then I saw Jeff overcoming the barrier of fire and coming towards me. His lips were opened in a wide smile. I looked at the Soulhunter again and identified a logo over a name. Manufacturing brand, certainly.
We look at each other, exhausted, and started running again.
“How has your experience with comic books been so far? How do you see the connection between science fiction in comics and in literature nowadays? And how does it feel being a judge to the “best of the year” most relevant award of the sequential art, the Eisner Awards?” I asked as we moved quickly by the desolate landscape.
“I grew up on Tintin, Asterix, and Indian comics versions of classics like the Ramayana, Jeff began, as he jumped over a partially torn sign of advertisement for Pepsi-Cola – Returning to comics and finding them better than the best movies sometimes has been wonderful, and I also have had fun doing comics scripts for things like my story The Situation (the story, not the comic, is actually being released in Brazil in March).”
We walked past a rusty old truck and and then suddenly halted, looking amazed at what lay before us. About two dozen Soulhunters marched, coming from all directions.
“It stretches me as a writer—any exposure to other forms of storytelling is good for you, and gives you more tools to use in your own work. I enjoyed being an Eisner judge—it made me read everything in comics for a year and made me appreciate the wide range of things being written,” he concluded as he looked for the best way to escape the siege.
“The street I’m looking for is close. Just two hundred meters … Past them. We need to get past them. Backing off is not an option.”
Then Jeff did something that surprised me. He pulled me close to him, held me by the arm and pressed a button on his suit. Soon we were in the center of a blue bubble. The Soulhunters seemed confused, unsure of where they should go.They stopped their march and hesitated while we were going through one by one, overtaking them with extreme caution.
He had triggered a bubble of invisibility, an additional item that was not available in my suit.
“I thought I would surprise you with this little accessory,” Jeff whispered in an almost inaudible voice.
So I’m not the only one with surprises today, I thought with satisfaction.
We passed the last barrier of mechatronic hunters with a feeling of victory. There were no more than eighty meters between us and the driveway to the address I was seeking. It was because of the certainty of impunity that we made our biggest mistake. We forgot all about caution and stepped on some loose stones, which rolled noisily and called attention of the last row of hunters. They turned towards us, saw the stones that were stilling rolling on the dusty ground and opened fire in all directions.
Our suits have an amazing capacity for protection, serving as a kind of bullet-proof vest to most of the existing missiles. At least for the time they would resist to the excessive stress caused by repeated impacts.The resulting embrittlement would make us exposed to any collision, even the most banal ones.
It was a hail of bullets that hit us from all sides. We were separated from each other. The bubble of invisibility was deactivated, revealing our positions. Even in great pain, we ran as fast as we could to the entry that was our goal. The hunters were right behind us, shooting repeatedly, hitting us many times.
We ran down the ramp of the garage harshly, zigzagging our way through the columns. The Soulhunters had some trouble getting in, but some of them, writhing and twisting, were able to do it. We stopped behind a column, took a deep breath trying to catch our breath.
“You implied in an interview that the Steampunk genre risked becoming stale due to the “copy of a copy” effect. In the past, when this trend began, in cyberpunk, it meant the genre was dying and in effect most authors stopped writing cyberpunk stories not long after (or eventually stopped calling their fiction “Cyberpunk”). Do you think that Steampunk is slowing turning into a corpse from the inside out, in the sense that’s being kept mostly alive by the force of the market – having become trendy – but in which no new literary ideas are happening?
Jeff leaned on his knees, ducked and heaved a deep sigh.He knew that the interview could not stop, no matter what.
“Everything once identified as a marketing term turns into a corpse, but there are two things to remember: sometimes a corpse provides good revenue and jobs for much stranger and more bizarre things, and all of the beetles and other creatures that feast on a corpse are fascinating in and of themselves…you have to understand, a dead body is not the worst thing in the world. Decay and decomposition and contamination are where the action is!”
“And the only thing we want right now is to turn into corpses, right?” I asked him.
“I don’t even wanna think of worms crawling on me,” Jeff chuckled. “What are you hiding here? Why did we come to this address?”
I looked back and saw one of the hunters trying to get rid of the columns that were on his way .Two others watched it quietly, just waiting for it to open space for everyone. I pointed out, then, a door on the wall ahead of us. Unfortunately, it was also visible to freaks who followed us.
“Let’s walk through it, go downstairs and then you’ll see.”
We went toward the door and tried to open it. It was locked. While we forced our way in, a volley of missiles turned the walls around us into crumbs, hitting us as well. I screamed in pain and bent forward as if I had been hit on my stomach instead of my back. Jeff pushed me aside, pointed the gun at the door and fired, causing it to disappear in a cloud of splinters and dust.
We ran inside and downstairs. We reached a wide chamber. On one of the walls, two niches had a huge surprise for us.
“State of the art exoskeletons. Virtually unbreakable protection against any known weapons. And it also shoots extremely destructive plasma pulses. That was my surprise,” I said with great satisfaction.
“Bubbles of invisibility and exoskeletons …I should’ve figured out it would happen this way.”
“If you do think that, can international literature (read: non-English) came to its aid? And will it ever be accepted by the English market (read: translated and published)?
I asked as I entered one of the exoskeletons. Jeff did the same.
We were quickly assimilated by the ingenious engineering of liquid metal. We were then cocooned within the powerful weapon of war. Besides our isolation, we could talk to each other, without any loss of contact.
We cocked our weapons, pointed to the ceiling and pulled the triggers almost simultaneously. A wide hole was opened where once there was a thick layer of concrete. The plasma turned the matter into smoke and ashes. We jumped out of the chamber, moving with lightning speed by the rugged environment of the garage. Two hunters stopped in front of us and were transformed into twisted metal in seconds.
We let out a scream of joy and great satisfaction.
“I don’t think it’s the function of international literature to rush to the aid of Steampunk. The job of “international” literature—a meaningless term considering you can find 10 to 20 traditions or more just in India alone—is to be true to itself and not to deform or change itself to fit an Anglo market. Its job is to be true to itself and to colonize the Anglos with its own unique brain bullets. That said, I think the current infusion of international and multicultural Steampunk is a very good thing that is keeping the corpse lively. Look! It’s leaping around right now! Almost as if it were resurrected!”
We went out into the light of day and came across dozens and dozens of Soulhunters. All of them were facing us. We unlocked our triggers, loaded the plasma cartridges and began shooting. We went forward without problems, liquefying them, dismantling them, causing them to explode into multiple pieces. We laughed out loud as we did that.
I forgot, in ecstasy, to press the button on the quantic watch (I didn’t even know whether or not it would work).
The destruction would’ve gone on forever if Jeff hadn’t been hit by something unknown. His exoskeleton was thrown several feet back, with one arm torn off. I looked up out of pure reflex and lost my breath.
A huge ship – a huge bubble or something – was floating hundreds of feet above our heads. Something big and frightening. Then a bright glow came from the ship, some kind of a ray. I was hit. Heat, pain and fear until I lost consciousness.
When I woke up, the first thing I saw on the vaulted ceiling of the room where I lay, was the strange logo I had seen on the Soulhunters.
The sequence to this exciting adventure is coming soon.
Luis Filipe Silva, Delfin and Christopher Kastensmidt collaborated with this interview
Blue flames and sparks exploded loudly. I shrank back, frightened and not understanding what was happening. I should be at home, resting after the interview with Ekaterina Sedia, but I found myself surrounded by smoke, fire, sirens and cries of alarm. I had no initiative to act, I was in amazement.
Then, someone grabbed my arm and forcefully pulled me out of the niche I was in. I was dragged for some feet at the same time a group of men were using the fire extinguishers, in an attempt to overcome the fire that was gaining strength. I looked at the man who was dragging me and recognized Charles Stross.
I was even more amazed than before. Our interview was not supposed to happen before a break of a few days. I stood up dividing my attention between him and my quantic watch, wondering what was going on. It was probably a discrepancy that had thrown me on another altered reality right after the last one.
I was still poking the watch when Charlie called my attention, in exasperation.
“Are we going to keep playing cuckoo as the ship disintegrates?”
I sure felt like a fish out of water. I didn’t know what was going on or how I ended up there.
“No, of course not,” I said without knowing exactly how to proceed.
Charlie did not let me think for a long time. Once again, he grabbed my arm and led me for a short hallway to a door that opened immediately at our approach. Outside, the bustle was also great. An intense stampede of men and women, all wearing gray overalls, looks of surprise, expressions of fear.
“What is going on?” I asked.
“Apparently we were pulled, with no kindness at all, from hyperspace.”
I followed him hastily, while seeing others passing by, at times bumping into us. We walked up and down stairs, through several corridors, and were, sometimes, shaken by what sounded like nearby explosions.
“Hyperspace?” I asked again, trying to understand.
Charlie looked at me like someone looking at a complete stranger.
“Inaugural trip, remember? Pegasus first-class freighter. Level 2 on the Reymond & Clever scale. Bound to the system of Bellatrix. Coming from the industrial conglomerate of Io, at service of Amgen & Toyota Corporation. What have you been drinking?
“We were pulled out,” he continued, “of our trip by a solar flare of great magnitude. PULLED-OUT! Do you get that?”
I stopped following him for a few seconds. There was, in the middle of the hallway, a wide opening, seemingly apparently glazed. As I approached and touched the membrane separating us from the outer space, I remembered I had already seen that technology before, during the Calife interview.
I approached my face to the energy field and I saw something huge and winding. It was the cargo ship we were in. It stretched a long way, being formed by metal blocks arranged like a huge Lego toy. In many places the joints exploded, blocks separated from each other, spinning, bumping, opening the walls and pouring cargo and people into space. I saw several intense fires. They soon disappeared in the vacuum to be replaced by others. The blasts continued.
A cry from Charlie brought me back to reality. I ran to catch up with him. The ground beneath our feet shook with increasing strength. I started hearing not too far away screams, and to my horror, saw the segment of the ship I had just been in split open, ejecting people who were running around, throwing them into space. Charlie grabbed me and threw me into a room, tightly closing the door behind us.
I was terrified.
“There is an interview, but I don’t know what to ask. I’m not ready for it. I was not supposed to be here,” I babbled confused.
“Interview? What crap is that?
The room where we were had a number of cocoons that protruded from the walls. I watched them trying to guess their functions. I took a guess.
“Ejection bubbles. There are a few hundred in this gigantic floating city. But most of them are lost, destroyed by the disintegration of the ship.”
Then, Charles stopped and stared at me.
“You’re not kidding, right? I mean, you really don’t know what’s happening and where we are? You mentioned this interview and had a curious feeling that … Well, questions were asked, I remember them. I answered them, but not before refusing some. It seems to me this happened hundreds of years ago. As if that memory arose from the very bottom of my memory.”
“From Bar to Bar, dangerous interviews. Remember? I interviewed Ekaterina Sedia, and then it was your turn, but I should have had a break. This break never happened. I ended up here abruptly.”
“From Bar to Bar…” Charles muttered, while pushing me into a cocoon.
Magnetic straps clung to my body, holding me in place. An energy membrane, like the one I had seen at the wide openning, appeared and sealed me inside the cocoon. I gasped, feeling short of breath, a feeling more psychological than physical. I watched Charles get into another cocoon, I saw the membrane closing, isolating him. I saw the man poking a panel (which existed where I was) and then everything started shaking.
I thought the segment we were in was about to burst, but then our cocoons were sucked into a tube and soon after launched into outer space. We crossed some wreckage, almost hitting some of it. We got distant from the ship, enough for me to find out it was even bigger than I had originally thought. I was terrified by its incredible magnitude. It was humping, writhing like a snake. Rings were expelled, segments being removed, simultaneous explosions destroying a stunning work of human engineering.
So our cocoons spun in space, starting a sort of ignition, as if there were rockets on their tails. We were shot at breakneck speed, distancing from the vast Earth ship, bound for a destination which I totally ignored.
I was groggy when I awoke. I was sitting, with my back against a rock. Charles was near its cocoon, looking inside in search of something.
“Oh, you’re up. It was about time,” he said without turning to me.
“Where are we?”
“A small rocky planet a few million kilometers away from the Pegasus, or what’s left of it.”
“How did we get here?”
“This side of the galaxy is completely charted. I programmed the nearest destination and the life support systems of the cocoons did all the rest.”
“Do you think you would make it here with only 2 liters of oxygen available? It was a six-day trip! You were put to sleep and your metabolism was down to a minimum.
“Was the Pegasus run by a lobster?” I asked, still confused.
It was like a floodgate opened up inside my mind and all the questions that were necessary for the interview flowed freely.
“Do lobsters dream of wormhole travelling? And should we fear that they one day hold a book on how ‘to serve man’?”
Charles, who was hunched over his cocoon, rose. He had a small bag in one hand. On the other, he carried what looked like a pair of binoculars.
“Basic gadgets,” he said, noticing my curiosity, “these binoculars, pocket knife, can opener, first aid kit, dried food, mints.”
“Lobsters — right now — don’t dream, as far as we know; they’re crustaceans, large sea-dwelling insect-like creatures without much of a nervous system. I picked them for the first chunk of Accelerando after reading about an interesting lab experiment …”
Charles chose a flat stretch of land, put some gravel away and sat before me. He dropped the bag and the binoculars and leaned his chin on his free hands.
“For about the past four hundred years a debate has been raging between two factions, philosophically opposed: the proponents of mind/body dualism (the idea that our consciousness is separate from our physical existence, inhering in some sort of immaterial “soul”) and the materialists who think that consciousness is an emergent property of matter. Over the past sixty years, the current has been running towards the materialists. Two big developments in the sciences have helped them: the development of the theory of computation, which provides for the existence of a large class of computing structures that can emulate one another perfectly given enough storage and time, and the development of neurobiology, which has sketched in the mechanisms by which nerves work — showing that they are, in some sense, computational structures. Other scientific research has failed to support the dualist hypothesis; MRI scans of living brains leave precious little space for a soul to hide in.”
I remained quiet, listening to his speech. It was impossible to keep my curious eyes from wandering, lost in the alien topography, checking the surroundings out. There were rocks of various sizes, an almost Martian landscape. But I could see small intensely crimson blooms that grew at the feet of most of those rocks. They looked like open chunks of meat, strange flowers.
“Consequently,” he continued, “of late there’s been some consideration of the idea of mind uploading: if our minds are essentially patterns of activity supported by a neurocomputer, is it possible to transfer them intact (and with full continuity of consciousness) into a different substrate — possibly a faster and more powerful one?”
Charles paused while I felt a slight puff on my left ear. I looked to the side and jumped, startled. There was an open a crack on the rock, and tiny spores were expelled from it. I backed up two steps, staring the strange event in disbelief. Charles laughed at my amazement.
“What you see are not rocks. At least most of it. Botany here is exotic. Can’t you see the flowers flat on the floor next to those “rocks”? But they are all harmless. Unless you’re allergic to pollen.”
I gave a small laugh and I decided to stand.
“In the 1980s,” he kept talking, “CMU robotics professor Hans Moravec set out a thought experiment. His idea was this: you take a patient in an operating theatre and open up their skull under local anaesthesia, keeping them conscious. A marvellously precise robot surgeon then (a) identifies a single neurone on the surface of their neocortex, (b) maps out its connections to its neighbours, (c) develops a software model of its action potentials, (d) replaces its axon terminals and dendrites with electronic devices that couple the computer running the software model of the neurone to all the neurone’s neighbours, so that the computer takes over the job of emulating the neurone’s internal state and exchanging signals with its neighbours, then (e) removes the redundant neurone. Repeat a hundred billion times and at the end of the day you’ve got an empty cranium lined with electrodes innervating a body — and a mind that, despite having been continuously conscious, now exists entirely within the computer simulation. But we’re not going to get there by starting on humans, are we?”
I used his pause to take a closer look at the horizon, where there seemed to be some movement. Perhaps it was an optical illusion, perhaps not.
“Is it something that we should worry about?” I asked, pointing my finger to the north.
Charles stood up, approached the binocular to his eyes and uttered an exclamation.
“Not possible!”, he said in a tense voice. Then he pushed the binoculars towards me.
I looked at the horizon and saw what looked like a mass of humanity moving. They came on foot or carried by machinery which released clouds of steam. Men and women wearing strange, old clothes. Some of them seemed to be wearing bizarre armors. I saw two humanoid forms, certainly mechanical, moving heavily. Some of them also looked at us using binoculars. They pointed their fingers at us, excited. So Charles moved the binoculars that I had before my eyes, forcing me to point them higher up into the sky, high above the crowd. Two huge zeppelins pointed their noses at us.
“Steamers!” Charles exclaimed in utmost perplexity.
“Steamers? Here? Isn’t this a rocky planetoid, lost in limits of the universe?”
Charles looked at my watch as if blaming it for everything.
“I think we’d better get moving.”
“Why? They may be our salvation. We’re lost, aren’t we?”
“Move. If we stay, we’re going to be slaughtered.”
“A more likely candidate,” Charles returned to his speech with a much tenser voice, I must say, “for preliminary experiments in mind uploading is something like the Pacific Spiny Lobster, panulirus interruptus. This overgrown insect has a rather odd approach to eating; rather than biting its food into pieces, it swallows it whole, and chews it up using a toothy mill in its stomach. This mill is controlled by a clump of nerves called the stomatogastric ganglion — very big nerves, easy to experiment on, and very simple: the central pattern generator that drives the ganglion consists of just eleven (very big) neurons. The STG’s neural connections have been mapped out since the 1970s, and in the late 90s I stumbled across a paper in which some researchers had verified their map of the STG by, in effect, carrying out the Moravec thought experiment. And it worked. (On one neuron, admittedly, but it’s a start!)”
Then we heard a bang. We looked back and saw in the distance what looked like a small dark spot rising against the sky, and, in a parable, gradually increase in size. It came towards us.
“Run!” Charles shouted, pushing me.
We ran, dodging the smaller “rocks”, until we got near one that was large enough to hide us. We stopped for a split second and looked back. The projectile was approaching fast. A metal ball that fell about fifty yards from us rolled crashing into various obstacles (destroying some “plants” and provoking strong emanations of spores) and ended up no more than 10 yards from us. Small openings appeared on its surface and tens of small needles were released from them. Charles grabbed me, throwing both of us behind the stone. The darts were released and scattered in all directions, some punching several centimeters deep into the rock.
“They want to kill us!” I shouted scared.”And I was thinking they had come from Earth to save us.”
“Earth?” asked Charles. “Earth virtually no longer exists, it is plunged into a terrible war between the corporations that will no longer accept the political diplomacy as a means of dialogue.”
“But then, where do those Steamers come from?”
“From the insane fantasy by this quantic watch of yours. Me and my big mouth …”
“I don’t think my watch is working properly. I came here without a break, in an immediate quantum leap. Malfunction, probably.”
“Or someone is playing with you.”
“Someone with a watch just like yours. It makes sense, doesn’t it?
I frowned, trying to follow his reasoning. I soon discarded that possibility, it was absurd that someone else had a quantic watch just like mine.
“How long are we staying here?” I asked, concerned about the progress of the Steamers.
“I’ll take a quick look. The truth is that we don’t have much left to go. This is a desolate planet, there aren’t that many places that can provide us shelter.
Charles stood up and stuck his head out, spying on the enemy. He let out a scream of terror, took both hands to his face and staggered back in agony. Wrapping his head there was a … It looked like a … I would say it was a … Corselet full of lace and pleats?
“They are shooting at us with cliches!” he shouted loudly, angrily.
“Answer the questions. It is the only way to escape this mess.”
“Of course the question of what you might actually do with an uploaded lobster remains unanswered. But once you’ve got one, you could always hook it up to a bunch more neurons, teach it to talk, and ask it,” completed Charles, throwing the corselet to the ground. “Here is no longer safe, go ahead.”
I got up and I began to follow him. Ahead of us, there was a scenery with not many changes. We could hear screams and laughter not far away.
“If sentience isn’t a mandatory evolutionary goal (as implied by the German philosopher Thomas Metzinger and proposed by Peter Watts in Blindsight), and if intelligence can exist without the species being self-aware (as swarms, etc), could that imply that we’re in fact the Singurality (in each of our brains – matter turned into thought)?” I asked hastily.
“These days I don’t believe the singularity is a terribly useful concept; it carries too much eschatological baggage. Consciousness is indisputably an interesting phenomenon, as Richard Dawkins demonstrated in “The Extended Phenotype” — it gives us the ability to develop via horizontal transfer of desirable traits between individuals, short-circuiting the slow incremental filtering process of classical evolution. But whether it’s a stable or desirable phenomenon — who knows? As a species we’re less than 200,000 years old and we’ve already triggered the sixth great mass extinction in 600 million years. We’re also in danger of running into a resource depletion crisis followed by a population crash. This isn’t a typical sign of a survival trait!”
We looked up and the zeppelins were over our heads. To our amazement, they dumped hundreds of colorful umbrellas, open, like little parachutes coming down, spinning. Other shots were made by the crowd that followed us. This time, there were bowler hats, top hats, pince-nez (one of them hit me on the forehead, causing a small cut). Charles hastened, fearing he might be hit by other cliches. He certainly wouldn’t survive another violence such as that.
“Therefore, if we’re living on a Post-singularity universe, won’t the Post-Human stage (longevity, etc) – if it comes about – become an obstacle, since one of the main evolution drives of thought comes from short individual lives and the constant supply of blank slates (fresh baby brains)?” I asked.
“You’re mistaking the current high rate of change for “progress”. Progress implies teleology and a goal — but evolution is not goal-oriented; it’s a random drunkard’s walk through the phase-space of adaptation, with a phase barrier to one side (extinction). Nor is there any guarantee that there are no limits to science, no boundaries to the amount of knowledge of the universe that we can accumulate and make use of.”
Umbrellas kept falling around us. It was noticeable that Charles was making an effort to disregard them. As well as the spats, walking sticks with silver knobs, monoculars, suspenders and fake mustaches.
So we were brutally forced to stop. There was a huge cliff before us. A scary precipice thousands of meters high. Beads of sweat dripped from our foreheads. We saw no way out, having to face the Steamers face to face, with no chance of success.
“Any more questions?”
Hard slams on the ground made us turn around. Three robots full of gears, nearly three meters high, stalled some fifteen yards from us. Machine-gun barrels were visible on their sides. The crowd was approaching.
“Will Freya Nakamichi-47, or some of her offspring, be back for more adventures?”
A burst on the floor next to us, made us go back a few steps, getting dangerously closer to the cliff. A cloud of dust rose.
“Yup! There’s a short story, Bit Rot, coming out in Jonathan Strahan’s anthology Engineering Infinity in January.
Then, I pressed the button.
Nothing happened. I pressed again. We look at each other anxiously. Again and again I hit the button, with no results. The interview didn’t end, the danger wasn’t over. I gulped, but had no time to express my concern. Another machine gun burst set us back even further. I missed the ground, I tried and did not find support. I let out a muffled cry of terror before I felt loose in the air, about to start a free fall . I saw Charles turning to me, I saw him stretching his arm, I saw his hand so close and yet so far.
When I thought it was over, I felt my arm being grabbed with strength, and my body stopped, still swinging, loose in the air. I took a deep breath, trying to scare the fear away, and looked at my savior. It scared the hell out of me. It wasn’t Charles Stross who was holding me firmly, it was Jeff VanderMeer instead. I wasn’t on an inhospitable planet any longer. It was like Earth, it was THE Earth, devastated by war.
Follow this incredible adventure in the next interview, with Jeff VanderMeer.
Luis Filipe Silva collaborated with this interview
“From Bar to Bar has been publishing some of the more creative author interviews you’re likely to find anywhere.”
“From Bar to Bar continues to run the oddest interviews I’ve ever read. This time around, it’s Mark Charan Newton, the author of Nights of Villjamur, who is the interviewee. One of these days I’m going to sit down and read this entire website from stem to stern, because these interviews are just amazing. I hope someday I get to meet Tibor Moricz, the interviewer; I think he’s got a great, weird and wonderful mind.”
Terry Weyna – Reading the leaves
“It was a lot of fun and I was pleasantly surprised at the final outcome! Definitely makes a chance to the usual interview format.”
Mark Charan Newton
I thanked the Gods when, after falling, I saw myself on top of a mountain of debris. As crushed stone, it fragmented even more with my fall, cushioning the impact of my body against the ground. I rolled sinking my hands, elbows and knees into the dust and the fragments of stone. I waited a while until I had a little more control over the situation and, free from a quick dizziness, looked around.
From the spot I was I could only see really high hills, ones higher than others, pinnacles stretching towards the sky. Hundreds or thousands of them, side by side, forming a bizarre scenery. I stood up, balanced on the unstable ground and risked a few steps to the edge of the top I was in. My feet sank almost till my ankles filling my sneakers with pebbles. I stretched my neck and felt a strong chill. The mount I was on was at least two hundred meters away from the ground.
I then retreated. I was imprisoned on a peak from where there wasn’t the slightest chance of escape, unless in free fall until I hit the ground. There were no alternatives, there were no choices. I could either stay there for eternity or risk a dangerous descent.
I then felt the ground shake. The whole peak shook as if an earthquake was taking place. I felt the ground beneath my feet agitate, a kind of opposite flow pushed me up. I swung from one side to the other, losing balance. Then a flush of fragments burst creating a moderate geyser. Pebbles were thrown out, God knows how, forming a dense cloud of dust.
I moved away from the center of the peak, from where splinters gushed. Astonished, I saw the process diminish bit by bit until there was nothing but a small wheeling on the ground. Then, after a while, the process changed and a vortex opened on the ground draining the limestone. A hole of about five feet in diameter. I approached curiously and looked inside.
I let a muffled cry of horror out and retreated frightened before falling near the edge of the peak. My heart beat fast, my eyes wide open, hands holding tight to the moving ground, looking for an absent support.
From the opening an ant emerged. Its antennae moved nervously and its claws pushed rests of litter. It put half of its body outside and stopped suddenly when it noticed my presence. It was at least eight or nine feet tall.
My breathing was suspended. I felt my pulse speed up to worrying levels. My jaw trembled and my muscles seemed to have turned into jam. They didn’t respond to any command. The yell only came out when I saw other termites, one on top of the others throwing themselves in my direction.
The ground under my body weakened and I fell off the mountain of debris.
At times feeling the side of the mount hit against my body, at times feeling myself suspended on air, but in vertiginous fall. I saw the ground approach inexorably and not for the first time, was sure I was going to die. Then I hit a high and started rolling amid fragments of stone that cushioned my fall. The speed lowered gradually. I reached the bottom of the mountain of debris puffy, scared and with multiple bruises and hematomas, but luckily, with no broken bones besides the painful felling of not having a single part of my body free from contusions.
I straightened myself on the ground looking for something to lean on. I tried to fix my dirty clothes which were wrinkled and torn at some spots. I looked around feeling really nervous, I still had the memory of the hallucinated ants coming to catch me very vivid in me. Then I raised my head and looked up. The mounts erupted towards the sky and I was pretty sure I could see distant antennas moving. The ants were angry, looking for the prey that had fallen.
I took a deep breath trying to control the emotions and started paying more attention to my surroundings. Among the bases of uncountable towers, there was a space of around twenty or thirty meters, reasonably wide corridors, sufficient for a small crowd to move. A muffled crack and fizz which precedence I ignored. The ground on the surface was pretty firm and solid, without the sandy consistence of the mounts.
I made a big effort to stand up feeling the contusions ache and my muscles throb. I risked a few steps, fearful, approached the feet searching for something different that could make me associate the place with anything that resembled civilization.
I dragged my feet down some corridors until I stopped near a tunnel. Wide enough for… for… I was still trying to organize my thoughts when I felt the ground shake slightly and the crack and fizz I heard before increase.
I stopped any lucubration and started retreating, worried. There was nowhere to run in that labyrinthine hank of corridors, then I went to a stone big enough to hide and put myself behind it.
I muffled another scream when I saw hundreds of ants gather at the entrance of the cave. A devastating wave of giant ants, wiggling their antennas, opening and closing their fangs – from where the crack and fizz came. They formed a wall in front of the entrance, just like sentinels on guard. Behind the first ones, dozens of others scattered, climbing the acclivities and spreading down the fringes. I had no choice and cowered before the inevitable.
I was soon seen and besieged. They were getting closer. My eyes filled with tears anticipating a dolorous death when a hiss made them retreat a few meters. Another hiss made them climb one on top of the others, moving back sufficiently to make me feel less threatened.
From the entrance of the cave the biggest of all emerged. An ant that was so big it took all the perimeter of the entrance. It was probably thirty meters long and six or seven meters high. And on its back… a woman.
It was a magnificent and terrorizing sight. On one hand I understood Ekaterina’s arrival as attenuation to the danger, on the other, the presence of all those enormous ants caused me such a big dread my legs refused to move. It seemed like they would attack and devour me at my slightest move.
Ekaterina gestured towards me asking me to approach. But how could I? Having all those ants in front of me staring at me and wiggling their antennas and fangs? I endeavored to walk. To my surprise, the ants withdrew to my passing, allowing me to move on. I walked a few meters, being edged by a living wall of ants, some were hands long, others almost three meters.
I was almost at the entrance of the tunnel when an intense hiss started to echo, coming from all sides. The ants agitated, as well as the big one which had Ekaterina on her back. I yelled in surprise and fear when I was raised by the legs and carried down the cave by one of the ants, together with all the others in an apparently chaotic move, however, not being hurt on the process.
“It’s much safer here inside,” said Ekaterina, when we were already sheltered in one of the huge ant farms, full of corridors that came and went, up and down, intersecting underground in such a way all the towers were interconnected.
“What is this place?” I asked still feeling worried.
“I thought it seemed obvious,” she said raising her eyebrows in perplexity.
“Yes, an ant farm. I know that. I want to know where we are, what place is this. What planet…”
“What reality to be exact. One of the many in the infinite existing universes. Entirely inhabited by insects.”
Ekaterina moved to one of the internal walls. They were pretty solid. A kind of organic glue solidified them. There was a housing and inside it, some clay jars. She took two of them and gave me one.
“Just like Robert A. Heilen’s story?” I asked, grabbing one of the jars.
“That is fantasy. This is real. Although there is a war going on here as well.”
I was getting ready to ask the first question when the word “war” stroke me.
“Anything connected to the hiss heard outside?”
Ekaterina nodded. We were sitting on stones sculpt to look like armchairs, they were far from being comfortable, though.
“Ants here have a bigger intelligence degree than the dolphins on earth do. They’re not merely war machines who look for food and reconstruct indefinitely what has been destroyed. Although the ants in our reality have an established social structure, these, besides that, can understand abstract concepts and are able to learn. This jar in your hands and these armchairs were built by them, from sketches I drew on the sand. Fascinating, isn’t it?’
“And what is there inside the jar?”
“A kind of sweet and lightly brewed beverage. It is made by them, it is used mostly to feed the worms. You can drink it. It is safe, pleasant and extremely protein-rich.”
Despite the fact the experience did not appeal to me too that much, I took the jar to my mouth and took a sip. Enough to see Ekaterina was right. The drink was delicious.
“What about the war? Against whom do the ants fight?”
“Wasps. It is actually a war for food. The wasps, equally intelligent, feed on the worms. At times of bigger scarcity they even feed on the ants, preferably on the huge queens like the one you saw taking me on her back.”
“To feed on the worms they need…”
“To infiltrate the towers, destroying its walls. Then dig down more profound depths. Many of these towers, most of them actually, are formed by mountains of debris with no other use than cheating the wasps which loose precious time on it. But sometimes they find an active tower. The fight is fierce and terrible. The wasps have a kind of carapace on their bodies and legs that protects them from the fangs of the ants. Sometimes it takes tens, maybe hundreds of them to kill a single wasp. And one wasp to kill tens, sometimes hundreds of ants. The calculation might seem unfair, but on this planet there are billions of ants more than wasps. There is a kind of balance in the end.”
“In other venues, you’ve talked about the difference between explaining and infodumping, and provided one of the best guidelines for its use – the reader doesn’t like to be treated as a dim child. However, is this applicable to both SF and Fantasy? Or would you say that Fantasy – given its tradition of mythic realities deeply rooted in alternate history – provides writers with a broader, freer canvas to use it?” I asked the question after a hem, wishing to conduct the interview as fast as possible.
Ekaterina Sedia was surprised by the sudden change of subject and, aware of the fact that an interview had to take place, put the jar she had on her hands on a small rising on the armchair. Before she answered she gave an appraising look at the walls around us. We were in an isolate chamber. On the other side of the entrance there was a corridor where thousands of ants moved back and fro in constant toil. They didn’t seem to be on alert.
“It’s applicable to everything. Reader never needs to know as much as the writer thinks. Read Michael Cisco – he rarely infodumps – or worldbuilds in the traditional sense, and yet he writes amazing books. I also don’t think that there’s some sort of a real difference between fantasy and SF, so I don’t think we need to treat them differently.”
She seemed to finish, although I was still waiting for a continuation. I marveled at the short answer and made my silence a kind of stratagem to get her to continue, but Ekaterina remained quiet, staring at me. I hemmed clumsily, moved my feet and fixed my glasses that were sliding down my nose.
A sudden shake that made pebbles fall from the walls surprised me, but didn’t seem to scare Ekaterina.
“Are there any other questions? I fear we’ll have to hasten this interview,” she said standing up. The jar on the armchair swung and fell on the ground, spilling its content.
“Yes, there are three questions more,” I answered, standing as well.
“Ask them then,” she said, while walking towards one of the walls of the chamber. She searched for something I couldn’t make out what was and, in a quick gesture, seemed to make a lever come out of it. A secret door opened with a creek.
She called me and pointed towards what was on the outside. A helix stairway made of stone that seemed to lead to great depths.
“Escape route?” I asked worried.
“Yes,” she answered with a smile.
“Given your personal background, and the fact that none of the interviewers are US citizens, this question had to come by: what’s it like to write in a foreign language to a foreign audience? What literary choices do you feel you’re making along the writing process in order to get your point across? Would your stories be told in the same manner if you were writing them in Russian to a Russian audience? Would your plots differ?”
Ekaterina grabbed me by the arm and made me follow her down the stairway. Another trembling shook the place. The walls in that emergency exit cracked. The stairway opened up at some spots displaying ruptures which width was worrying.
“Wasp attack, right?”
“Yes. They’re getting to the level we were. The ants ran there to thousands, ready for combat.’
“Have we any chances?”
“All of them,” she stated, without the slightest doubt. “If it was that easy for us to be cornered and killed by them I would never allow this interview to happen here.”
“I never wrote in Russian to a Russian audience,” she started answering, “so I’ll have to treat this question as hypothetical. Yes, it would be very different – as it would always be when the writer and the audience share frames of reference. When I write for American audiences, I am aware that they might not recognize some things – and those I usually try to unobtrusively indicate…”
Another trembling, this one much stronger than the previous ones, made big pieces fall from the walls. The stairway cracked and broke in many places. We had to hold on not to fall. A sudden bright, a flash of light came from atop, from the top of the stairway we descended as fast as we could.
I saw a sudden shine of horror on Ekaterina’s face.
“Others – well, in the days of Wikipedia, everything can be looked up. I mean, I manage to read translated books about very different cultures without much trouble, so I assume if a reader misses something, they’ll look it up.” She answered, pushing me, forcing me to go down even faster.
Strange and frightening shrieks echoed down the narrow deep gorge we went down. Smithereens fell more and more. I started to understand why Ekaterina was being so short on her answers. We hadn’t time for long conversations. Our lives were at stake.
We finished the long descent in what seemed to be a small closed chamber. Ekaterina touched the wall and another door opened up in a shrill. We went through it, closing it behind us, and started to run. The corridor we were in was narrow, as if it had been built for people and not for giant ants. At the end of it, we got to a kind of hangar, although the term is not exactly appropriate.
There were hundreds of frantic ants, but they weren’t the ones that grabbed my attention. Maybe hundreds of flying termites were lining up, side by side, being fed, cleaned and apparently readied for flight. It was a surprising view.
“The colony is suffering a devastating attack. These are the queens that will leave carrying inside them millions of eggs that will guarantee life in other colonies.”
“And what are we doing here?”
“We’ll go with them, for our safety”
I was static observing the frenzy inside the hangar. Laborious ants worked hard to assure the future of the species. And I was there, inside an enormous ant farm, rounded by millions of them and other hundreds of wasps that dug, dug and dug in search for food.
Ekaterina grabbed me by the arm and practically dragged me.
“Do urban fantasy landscapes change from city to city? Could you set New York fantasy stories in Moscow, St Petersburg myths in Philadelphia? Or has the City become such an international template of living that urban fantasy stories can be equally read and understood by any audience in the world?”
I asked while being led. Ekaterina didn’t seem to pay attention to it. We approached a giant flying ant and were lifted by another ant that carried us within its claws with extreme easiness not causing us any harm. We held on to resistant bristles which came out from hair follicles on its back, waiting for the moment of the departure.
“Yes, landscapes change – of course they do. St Petersburg and New York are both built on a grid, but St Petersburg’s blocks are ten times as long as New York’s ones. Moscow and London are much more chaotic and labyrinthine, but the width of streets, the height of buildings, the proportion of privately owned buildings all differ – and all of those things affect a story. If there’s a doorman and a lock at the entryway of an apartment building, it’s a whole new set of obstacles versus a communally owned, unguarded buildings with homeless freely urinating in the stairwells. There’s universality about a city as a concept, sure, but the way in which they are navigated and spatially situated will dictate the sort of happenings that take place in them, and each will have some limitations idiosyncratically theirs.”
A wide corridor suddenly opened up many meters ahead of us. Just like a launching runway of formidable extension. I couldn’t see its extremity, but as a tiny spot of light. Ekaterina held better, bent forward, leaning her forehead on my back and then the flying termite rose on the air, swinging its diaphanous wings in a speed which was impossible to keep on with. The buzz of this flight was almost deafening.
We bolted forward, ants were almost colliding against each other, but not even their wings touched. I felt the air displacement pushing me back and understood why Ekaterina had bent forward.
I did the same. The luminous spot started gaining dimension and soon opened up to the outside world, many miles away from the place the attack was happening.
We were apparently safe. Then, I asked the last question.
“Tell us about your new book, The House of Discarded Dreams.”
“I think of it as an inverse Heart of Darkness – it’s about a daughter of two Zimbabwean immigrant parents discovering herself in the wilds of New Jersey. Less flippantly, it’s a book about the conflict between first and second-generation immigrants, of parents who suddenly have American children…”
Ekaterina then silenced and looked back. She strained letting a brief cry of daze out. I followed her look and was invaded by a wave of horror. A black impenetrable mantle grew before our sights, covering the horizon and approaching dangerously. There were millions of wasps in a coordinated flight, a hive of bloodcurdling proportions. I gulped, frozen with fear.
“The wobbling and gradual loss of cultural connections – she carried on with an urgent tone on her voice – and yet the persistent desire to preserve those connections. The hybrid Blank-American cultures spring from that desire to preserve, but since culture is never pure, in preservation something new is created. I was just trying to think of what is lost and what is gained in the process; and of course, there’s also marine biology and horseshoe crabs.”
The ant we were on swerved up, violently. The others chose diverse ways, going in different directions. Ekaterina grabbed on my arm, waking me up for the fact I had the watch. The watch was our salvation. I tried to push the button, but it was such a lethargic frightened move that we ended up being hit by one of the frightfully huge wasps before I could do it. It landed, grabbing the ant fiercely. It stuck its powerful sting in and then the bristles we were holding on to gave up, unclasping from the follicles.
We were thrown into the void, for a mortal death. I was frozen by fear, but saw Ekaterina in an assertive flight, coming towards me as if she was an experienced sky diver. She held me strong and searched for my wrist.
She pushed the button right before we hit the ground.
I then saw myself in a mess of explosions, red flames bursting from electrical panels, sparks, rattles and a lot of smoke. I seemed to be on a command bridge. Command bridge? But what the hell was going on?
Don’t miss the next interview with Charles Stross and the continuation of the thrilling adventure.
Luis Filipe Silva colaborated with this interview.