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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.
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.
When I began thinking about releasing the De Bar em Bar internationally, I knew I would face a great deal of obstacles. Specially contacting and getting positive answers from those I wanted to interview.
It is no easy task finding e-mails and contacting well known authors, specially when we are completely unknown. It always feels like we’re boring ones asking for favors.
But that was only in the beginning.
Now I get help from the interviewees themselves. They indicate writers they are friends with and make my work a lot easier.
So, Ekaterina Sedia, Charles Stross and Jeff VanderMeer will be here in the next series of interviewees.
I’d like to thank all those who have helped me with courage, incentive and words of encouragement and also all who helped and are still helping this blog become a reference in the genre.
Last, but not least, I’d like to thank all those who say From Bar to Bar is a silly thing, where interviewees only make fools out of themselves. For those, I’d like to send my best regards. 😀