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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.
If Tom Wolfe created the New Journalism, mixing literary techniques with the traditional, dispassionate way of reporting, Tibor Moricz will go into history as the creator of the short story interview. To me it was very fun to answer the questions and imagine what kind of scenario the infamous quantum wristwatch would take us. It is nice innovation in the stagnate sea of web interviews and I look forward for the next guests in new, crazy worlds.
Jorge Luis Calife
In the few months that I’ve been aware of From Bar to Bar and its interviews of authors and critics of SF from across the globe, I have found myself looking forward to seeing what next adventure sets up the interview that follows. It stands out in a crowded field with its nice mixture of humor, craziness, and interesting questions and it certainly has been one of the earlier pro-Squirrelist venues out there!
From Bar to Bar is a fascinating and novel idea for the cyberspace interview: don’t change a word of the material the interviewee provided, but set your imagination free and change everything else! It’s an effect of lighting, decor and staging, provided (as, essentially, in all virtual worlds) by the word alone. Any writer (or any arts professional) who volunteers can be certain of gaining new insight into their own work, and seeing themselves in a new light, in the glittering refractions of the Bar to Bar hall of mirrors.
It’s really encouraging to see the interviewed authors saying good things about From Bar to Bar, even though they have all faced great danger. Nothing like a little adrenaline to make life more exciting 🙂
We were surrounded by woods. Leafy trees, shrubs, grass. There were lots of butterflies. The blue sky was filtered by the high branches, letting interspersed rays of light in. And squirrels, lots of them. Climbing and coming down from trees, running around, twining in our legs. We were smiling. It was a lovely sight. The air smelled flowers. We saw wildlife, like deer and many birds, songbirds, watching us as we were watching them. No frights or unnecessary foolish fears.
I must stress I wasn’t expecting such a marvelous scene when I pushed the button on my quantic watch, ready for another interview. I knew of the worship Larry Nolen had for squirrels and even believed we would find them. I was only worried about how those rodents would present themselves. I was worried there would be zombie-like squirrels with long sharp teeth, hungry for brains.
I abandoned any expectations for peaceful, not risky interviews, quite some time ago.
We looked at each other in rapture. My interviewee was in a state of grace, almost living an epiphany. Squirrels are extremely lively little animals. He could never imagine lots of them climbing our legs, happily, as if we were equals.
And it was equal stupor that we saw one of them, as big as a grown cat risk himself a lot more. He went up Larry’s pants, held on to his shirt and roosted on his shoulders. The animal was smiling, with wide eyes and looked at us alternately. Then he opened his mouth and, to our surprise, he said:
“Don’t you think it’s time to wake up from this silly illusion and go back to reality?”
As in magic, we saw everything crumble and fall around us, in smaller and smaller parts, pixels falling apart until there was nothing but a room full of holographic projectors.
The squirrel on Larry’s shoulders was still there. He had an ironic expression. He waited until we were recovered from the shock and then came down, in a precise jump. He looked at us once again and signaled for us to follow him.
“Talking squirrels” I whispered, perplexed.
“Talking and technological squirrels,” Larry added with a scowl.
The squirrel ran towards a wall and disappeared through it right before our eyes. We moved forward and touched it. It was rigid, solid, metallic.
“What the hell…,” Larry started complaining.
Before he could finish, the squirrel came back with an angry face.
“I forgot you are as big as the tiny brains you have. It’s formless metal and we are small. If you used your mind a little more, you’d know you have to stoop down.”
I tried the wall with the tip of my toe wich, to my surprise, went through. Larry groped it, and found the exact height of the passage and in a fake smile, kneeled, crawling out of the room. I followed him.
We found ourselves in a corridor. Although the squirrels were small – but not as small as we could imagine – the places there were reasonably large.
“We were expecting you. We adapted some things,” said the rodent as if he could anticipate our concerns. “My name is Bel’n’tirk and this is the spaceship Derk’n’bork, category eight. Built to rescue and guide some chosen ones to a safe stoppage.”
Larry and I looked at each other in bewilderment.
“But where did this crazy watch bring us?”
“I haven’t got the slightest idea,” I answered while I saw the squirrel run down the corridor, leaving us behind.
“It’s an interview. Ask the first question.”
‘When you say – and rightfully so – that non-English audiences expect and possibly demand of their local authors that they follow more closely the unspoken standards of science fiction, would you then say that English science fiction – more able to subvert or challenge those same unspoken standards – has been evolving or has it just run its course to the end? In other terms, is it possible to be “evolving away” from itself?’ I put the paper I checked in search for the answers in my pocket back to where I had taken him from and increased my pace. We would soon lose track of Bel’n’tirk if we stayed there.
Other squirrels ran around the corridors. Many of them carrying notepads, communicators, pens and lots of stuff we couldn’t identify. They passed by us as if we weren’t even there.
“The problem, as I see it, with defining rigidly any term is that as soon as one does so, the usage changes. Science fiction today, whether it be that written in the United States, Great Britain, or Brazil, for example, differs as a whole in certain trends, technological advancements, both real and imagined, and in how people and their societies are portrayed. If I were pressed to define it at all, I would say that science fiction is a fluid narrative form that is very responsive to the conditions of its authors’ times and locales, mutating as necessary to reflect better the changing social, cultural, and technological landscapes.”
As soon as he finished answering, the spaceship was shaken. We heard a high crack as if the metal of the structures was breaking apart. The floor trembled and we had to lean on the walls. The squirrels around us startled and started to run even faster.
Bel’n’tirk went through another passage. We kneeled and went into what seemed to be an elevator. And it was. The controls were near the ground. The squirrel pressed two buttons and we were thrown against the ceiling due to the speed the vehicle went down. Bel’n’tirk laughed at our situation and pointed to his feet where magnetic little boots, which were recently activated, kept him firm on the ground.
“What’s going on?” Larry asked in dismay.
“We are a rescuing ship. Some blame us of kidnapping, but that’s not the case. We save people who are being followed. But we only do that when the cause interests us. And your cause is very interesting.”
“And what cause is that?” I asked, somewhere between curious and frightened.
Bel’n’tirk was about to answer when the elevator suddenly stopped. We were thrown against the ground and hit our bottoms groaning in constraint. The doors didn’t open because they just wouldn’t. We had to walk through them. We crawled out, already annoyed by this silly need (Doors which open and close are extremely comfortable). We stood up, but not entirely. Low ceiling. We were forced to bend. We found ourselves in the flagship. At least twelve squirrels were working in multi-colored panels from which indistinguishable holographic images were being projected. In the middle of the walkway, a squirrel which was quite bigger than the others, almost the size of a dog, looked at us in undisguiseable curiosity.
“My name’s Jorj’h’korg. You can’t imagine the great satisfaction I have in meeting you. And this magnificent quantic watch, which technology fascinates us deeply.”
“Fascinates us?” I asked, already protecting my watch.
The captain squirrel moved lazily on his rear legs, dragging his enormous belly towards us. He stopped in front of us, analyzing us entirely, as if he was analyzing products he was about to buy.
“Literary critics… Ah, it amazes me…” He suddenly said, lifting his hands theatrically. Then, he pointed his finger towards me and said: “…and also a writer…. Hmmmm… a critic with a glass roof… fascinating. They want to kill you,” he added, finally, while turning around and moving away.
“Kill us?” Larry Nolen asked, perplexed.
“They hate critics, all of them,” groaned the captain. “They hate anyone who lists their failures. They want compliments, just that, even if they’re not worthy of them.”
Larry Nolen looked at me. I looked back.
“I really kick asses, with no pity or mercy,” I joked.
“But I don’t criticize anyone… I mean… I don’t do that… I just comment or summarize the works I approve… I never…”
“And how do you think the others take your silence?” asked Jorj’h’korg, turning quickly and making his belly shake dangerously and frighteningly from one side to the other.
Larry Nolen gulped.
“But relax,” the captain continued. “You’re in a level eight rescue ship. The famous Derk’n’bork. Safe, you can trust that. Our followers can hit us as many times as they want and they won’t cause us much damage.”
As if trying to deny his words, the ship was shaken once again. We heard a nearby crack. Sparks and smoke flew from one of the panels. An electrical discharge made one of the squirrels in the bridge let a sharp scream and squeak while he floundered. He fell, apparently dead, with smoke coming out from his mouth. The captain came closer to him, kicked him casually and smiled, as if nothing had happened.
“You are in the middle of an interview, aren’t you? The questions and answers interest me greatly. Please, continue.”
Fearing our time in that ship would be short, I decided to do what the captain was asking. I gagged while I asked the second question. Larry Nolen gagged to answer.
“Would there be any real benefit from translating foreign works into English on a regular basis? I mean, apart from the odd, interesting author, and assuming for the sake of the argument that editors and the market would not be barriers to the translation and publishing of these stories, would SF really benefit from a constant flow of non-English SF that is, in its core, inspired in US/UK SF models?”
“Most certainly it would benefit. Anytime there is a free and open exchange of ideas, particularly ideas that reflect different cultural and social values, the chances of innovations in the writing between say a US writer and an Argentine one, or a UK author and a Japanese one – these are going to increase exponentially. Look at the current explosion in manga. It is no longer a Japanese literary form nor something that Americans just casually adopted. It is fast becoming a global literary form, one that seems to be spawning more and more hybrid literary stories.”
Larry Nolen took a deep breath, held on Jorj’h’korg’s seat and continued.
“The same holds true for SF. I just recently finished reading a short anthology of Singaporean SF, called Happiness at the End of the World. Although English, along with Mandarin Chinese, are the dominant languages in Singapore, the cultural values are very different and that has been an eye-opener, to say the least. Staying in this part of the world, look at the explosion in popularity of SF in China, Taiwan, and Japan. Although these markets have not yet produced many works that have been translated into English – although I should note that Haikasuru started up in 2009 and has produced several great translations of Japanese SF -, from what I have seen, these non-English markets are reimagining some of the core concepts of SF, including first contact – the Japanese seem to be at times even more xenophobic than Americans about this issue -, time travel – not much of a focus on paradoxes and altering the past in a negative fashion for the Japanese -, and technology – Americans seem to have more mixed feelings about technological advances, especially when it comes to modifying the human body, than do the Japanese or Chinese. SF readers exposed to this might in turn develop their own responses that are neither those of their prior generations’ SF nor that of the foreign nation whose SF they are reading. It is, in many respects, similar to the plethora of cooking styles and “fusion dishes” that have developed over the past few decades in response to the growing globalization in all facets of our lives.”
Jorj’h’korg, who seemed to be absorbed by my watch, wagged his hands smiling.
“Intelligent question, intelligent answer,” he turned to one of his comandeers then and told him to pass to warp eight.
“Warp eight?” Larry and I asked almost in unison.
‘Duh! While you were having fun at the holodeck, we were already doing warp seven. Evasive maneuvers and accelerated evasion. The Derk’n’bork can’t go beyond the eighth warp. The enemies are close, very close.
With a slight of hand, a pannel came down from the ceiling, unfolding in several faces, all of them forming a single monitor. Eight luminous spots that seem to dance fluttered.
“They are five million kilometers behind us. Their weapons can hit us with half the power. But they’re getting closer. And each meter closer, the power of their discharges increase considerably.”
“They told us this spaceship was the best in its category. (You’ve just said that,” I complained.
“Ah, hurtless little lies, although it’s good. But it’s not the fastest. We have comfort, the holodeck, an enviable provision warehouse and some naughty little squirrel girls, if you know what I mean,” he said with a blink.
“And how do you intend to save us this way?” I asked nervously.
The captain looked at my watch with a frank smile. He put his hands together and fiddled his fingers.
“We can leave this reality and head to another. A spectacular escape through the multiverses. Of course this would force this watch to leave this wrist, yours, and come to this one here, mine. But life is always the most precious thing, isn’t it?”
I thought about his words and soon came to the conclusion that it couldn’t be done. The property transfer would prevent us from coming back to our own reality. And there was no guarantee that the fat squirrel would give it back to me.
”How is fiction, not necessarily science fiction, made in latin countries as Brazil, Argentina and Mexico noticed in the big centers of fiction literature? Are there really language barriers? ” I suddenly asked Larry Nolen.
The captain of the ship soon transfered his attention to Larry, leaving my watch away for a moment. I was trying, obviously, to make time and accelerate the interview so that we could hit the road safely.
“There are barriers, of course, but celebrity seems to abolish most of them. Take for example Jorge Luis Borges. I have spent all of July writing daily posts about his books – reading most of them in Spanish rather than English translation – or comments he has made about other writers. It took fourteen years, from the appearance of his first story in English translation, in a mystery pulp magazine, in 1947 to a seemingly-sudden explosion of popularity in the US and elsewhere in 1961, on the heels of him sharing a major international fiction award with Samuel Beckett. Within seven years, Borges is crossing the United States on lecture tours that draw thousands, he is a visiting Professor at Harvard and several other prestigious universities, and his stories appear in premier publications like The New Yorker within months of being published in Argentina. Considering this was over forty years ago, it is a major accomplishment for a foreign writer.”
I glanced at Jorj’h’korg. He was hypnotized by the answer.
“But although the United States has had a long history of importing (and then “borrowing” ideas) fictions from Europe, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Latin American literature became popular in the US as it was throughout Mexico and South America in particular. There seemed to be this magical period, lasting through the mid-1980s before dipping until the rise of writers like Roberto Bolaño in the last half of the previous decade, where a flood of talented writers from all across Latin America were finding receptive audiences in the US: Juan Rulfo, Alejo Carpentier, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Amado, Mario Vargas Llosa – each of these authors were translated into English between 1960 and 1975 and Latin America became viewed as a hotbed of literature.”
While Larry answered, I started moving backwards, trying not to raise suspicions. The captain wanted my watch and I was seriously distrusting his intention of escaping from persecutors. I could bet it was all a hoax. Larry, who was alert, followed my every move.
“There are still several critics who point to Latin America even today as being a place to find great books. Time magazine selected Chilean writer Alberto Fuguet as one of its “50 Most Influential Latinos” back in 1999, for example. The Mexican Crack Manifesto group, the Southern Cone McOndoist group, and the infrarealismo of Bolaño have each led to major translation projects in the US. Although Fuguet, Edmuno Paz Soldán, Jorge Volpi, and Ignacio Padilla – just to name a few of the more prominent members of these groups – have yet to achieve the superstar levels of “El Boom,” they are visible and their works are generally well-received in American literary circles today.”
We moved closer to the entrance of the elevator. All the squirrels in the flagship were looking at us. Some had already stood up. The captain was approaching as well, half distrustful.
“So to return to the original question of whether or not the same types of barriers exist for Latin American writers: for most genres, once a writer is perceived to have enough talent, his or her works generally do well here in the US. But genre fiction, such as SF or fantasy, that is a tricky issue, since outside of Borges, whose fictions frequently touched, as he said explicitly in the introduction to El Aleph on the “fantastic,” there really hasn’t been a very visible Latin American writer whose works are explicitly genre in nature. Note that I’m leaving aside the question of how to define “magic realism” for now, as the semantics behind that term has created some heated debates,” Larry finished with a hem.
There was a kind of tacit understanding. As if Larry and I could understand each other telepathically. Of course the fat captain and his crew weren’t there trying to save our poor, mortal lives. The interest in the watch was so intense, it was impossible not to see it.
In an instant we threw ourselves into the elevator. We dived into it and couldn’t avoid hitting our heads against the metal wall on the other side, as the internal space was not that big. Larry pressed the buttons not really knowing what he was doing. The elevator flew up and then to the side, making us shake inside it as if we were in a mixer.
“Where are we going?” he asked confusedly.
“Like I know,” I answered foolishly. “This box will have to drop us somewhere, sometime.”
“They want the watch, right?”
“It got too obvious.”
“Damn squirrels. There is another question, isn’t there?”
“Ask away. I know that only once they are all answered can we leave the alternate reality we ended up in.”
I was about to ask the last question when the elevator suddenly stopped. Stay or leave? Cruel doubt. But we preferred to leave and that’s what we did. We were in a corridor. Some confused squirrels saw us while bells rang very loudly announcing our escape. We pushed some rodents aside and ran down the corridors, destination anywhere. We could hear the yelling behind us. Orders asking for our arrest. Ordering our execution. “But the watch cannot be damaged”, they said.
“Who are these squirrels?” I asked after a curve, trying to catch my breath.
“These are not regular squirrels,” Larry answered, stopping by my side, with his hands over his spleen. “These are not our squirrels. They can’t be.”
I stretched my neck on the corner near us to see where the God dammed rodents were. They came in a bunch, advancing resolutely and seemed to carry weapons in their hands.
“There is a room ahead,” Larry Nolen said.
“How do you know?” I asked, not seeing anything but a solid wall.
“There is a small, almost unperceivable luminosity that lines off the limit of the entrance. Can’t you see it? Pay attention.”
Then I saw it. He was right.
“It won’t work. They’re too close. We can’t run this distance without being hit by their shots.”
“Aha!” Larry said then taking a handful of nuts from his pockets. “Squirrels are squirrels anywhere in the world, be they scientifically and technologically advanced or not!”
“Where did those nuts come from?”
“Didn’t you tell me, some days before the interview, to prepare some? Here they are!”
He then threw them towards the squirrels which immediately went berserk, abandoning the hunt and fighting against each other for the food bouncing among them. We ran with what we had left of our breaths to the door ahead. Larry Nolen quickly bent and slid to the other side. I wasn’t that fast. I hit my head on the wall over the door and fell on my back, dazzled. Larry Nolen grabbed me by the feet and pulled me inside the holodeck. We were back to the beginning of it all.
I was still trying to regain conscience while he dragged a heavy fitment towards the door, placing it in such a way the squirrels couldn’t come in. He sighed relieved at the end of the operation and sat down, his back against the cupboard, cleaning the sweat away from his forehead.
“The last question,” he insisted while nudging my leg.
I groaned something, put my hand in the pocket and took the paper with the questions. I had forgotten the last. I was going to read, but noticing my effort and my clumsy look, Larry Nolen took the paper and read it himself aloud.
”The life of a summarizer is not always very easy, specially when the authors of the summarized books are more and more alive and connected. What is your criteria – including of evaluation – in order to keep faithful to the readers that chose to follow your critics and summaries ? Have you ever had problems with any summary or any specific writer ? How do you manage to read over 500 books a year ?’
He was about to answer when the fitment was shaken. We could hear yells from the other side. I sat against the furnishing as well, putting my weight and strength against it. I pulled my legs and crossed my arms around my knees. The quantic watch was right in front of my nose. Amisdt the screaming, we heard the captain speak.
”Friends, friends. That’s silly! Move away, take this obstacle from the way and let’s drink! Look, we’ve got Nictinian beer here!”
“Well, I try not to read more than three or four books that are similar in focus or genre classification. That way, I do not burn out on the reading. When selecting a book to review – which may be only ¼ or so of the books I read, I first decide if the book has anything interesting to say. If it does, then I proceed to consider its context – when was it written? For whom was it written? Are there things that I might not know about that time/culture?. Then I look at the mechanics of the story.”
A stronger shake frightened us. We heard a kind of sharp, insistent buzz. We looked at each other not understanding what they were doing. Suddenly, right before our eyes, between our faces which were facing each other, an intense blue ray emerged from inside the fitment and started to cut it upside down. We choked in shock. Larry, flustered, continued with the answer.
“What point-of-view is the narrative? How strong is the prose? Are there any discernable themes? What type of characterization is displayed and does that characterization fit the story? Is there a plot and if so, how easy did I comprehend it? Do things move at a steady pace, or does it seem that the author has lost control of his or her story? After that, I consider how everything fit together and if the author appeared to accomplish what he or she set out to do. Only then would I consider an essay on a book a review.”
The fitment was cracking in two.
“Have I had problems with authors or others over my reviews? Not really. In part because I tend to review only those stories that made a strong impression on me, I don’t tend to have as many negative reviews (at least in comparison to those works that were so “meh” that I just couldn’t find the energy to say anything about them). I have had some email conversations with authors about stories, but oddly enough, it usually is not about their own works. So no, I’ve never really had any conflicts to speak of with authors. As for fans, only occasionally, but since I can be a bit acerbic with those who don’t provide intelligent counterpoints, I rarely have a problem with those as well.”
We put ourselves together, seeing the laser or whatever it was complete its precise cut. Soon the fitment would be cut in two.
“As for how I am able to read as many as 500 books in a year? Well, I did say on my blog a couple of months ago that I employ a team of specially-trained Serbian squirrels to do most of my reading, reviewing, as well as the cooking and any needed massages. But the more boring answer is that I’ve always been able to read multiple lines at once with full comprehension. I just process words like images and it seems I am able to process them about five to ten times faster than average. That’s about as close as I can come to explaining the reading speed. I should note that I rarely read more than three hours a day and that the majority of the books I read are under 350 pages. So no, no reading 2-3 Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, or Steven Erikson books a day for weeks on end from me!”
The fitment finally broke apart, even if it still had its parts together. The strength of dozens or hundreds of super strong squirrels against two tired humans… Well, the result couldn’t be different. We moved away from the rodents that were dragging the parts deftly and quickly.
Moments before I pressed the button on my watch, taking us back to our reality, I could still see the entrance of the rodents. Fierce squirrels, including that one we judged to be dead with the electrical discharge and the paunchy captain. No Nictinian beer in his hands.
It wouldn’t be this time the quantic watch would fall into enemies’ hands.
Delfim, Romeu Martins and Luis Filipe Silva collaborated with this interview
I left home and took an anxious walk down the block. I was about to make my first international interview; It was a natural thing to bite my fingers, worried about something that could eventually go wrong.
I studied the watch I had on my wrist more than a couple of times. I looked for signs of discrepancies, but… It was nonsense and I knew it. The watch, since when it decided to influence directly on the results of the interviews, had shown itself perfect. There was nothing on the hands of the clock or on its outside gears, both small and bigger, that could give evidence of any malfunction. Well, I’m certainly not an expert on the matter. I don’t have enough knowledge to come up with technical reports.
I am talking about a quantum watch which is probably unique – despite my suspicion of the existence of two other ones, whose owners I still do not know – and was given to me by an extremely old watchmaker whose workshop is never in the same place, in time or space.
The quantum watch creates alternate or altered realities. It shouldn’t create more than a dynamic and surprising scenery. It shouldn’t affect directly on the physical and mental health of the interviewer or of the interviewee. It shouldn’t. But its mechanism created scathing realities, where figurants take leading roles and where life is always hanging by a thread.
It wasn’t that hot, but I was sweating nonetheless. My forefinger on the biggest button of the watch – one amongst other four -, unsure whether I should press it or not. The many national interviews had put me through the most bizarre, strange and highly dangerous situations. What could I expect from an international interview? Luckily, the same bizarre stuff. Maybe the same discrepancies. Maybe the same dangers, not bigger or smaller.
I took a deep breath, locked my teeth on such a strong bite that made my jaw hurt and, trembling in anxiety, pressed the button.
I found myself down on my knees, almost squatting, on cold and wet pavement. Dark night. I was enfolded in a dense mist of which vapors brought me back less noble scents – corporal fluids. The narrow bit of street I found myself in looked like an alley. Behind me, there was a high wall.
I could hear the distant sounds of the hitting of the wheels against the hard rock ground, the neighing of one or more horses, faint laughing, grumblings and singing.
I put myself in an upright position, rubbed my naked arms, realizing the cold and the lack of clothes I had come with. I got, suddenly, tense with the overexposition of the watch, which could be easily noticed by anyone. If there was something I really feared, it was to be robbed while in an alternate scenario, losing then, any possibility of returning to my own reality.
I risked on a cautious move forward. I couldn’t stand still indefinitely. I was there to interview Kim Newman and I had to find him.
I admit that walking on unknown territory, with my sight plainly hindered by the mist and full of fears is no easy task. It wasn’t a long alley; it didn’t take me more than 30 short and scared steps to get to a wider space. A street, maybe. A square probably.
I moved forward a little more and stopped, surprised by the clashing of wheels and the agitated breathing of horses in plain run. A coach, yes, there was a coach coming out of nowhere, in the darkness ahead. The coachman was shaking the reins and clearing the mist as he passed through.
It would have run over me if I hadn’t been suddenly snatched. Pulled backwards and thrown against a wall, with no gentleness at all. My neck was firmly gripped, a blade pressed against my jugular. Nervous fingers explored my teeth for any signs of salient canines.
I kept still for long and strenuous seconds. The man who had enthralled me brought his face nearer. Full moustache, glasses and long hair, which came down from his top-hat in cascade. He looked deep into my eyes with a tense expression. He loosened the grip of the blade a little and asked my name.
“Tibor,” I answered with a trembling voice.
It was enough for him to, finally, relax. He sheathed his blade inside the silver handle of an ingenious walking stick and, adjusting his hat, grabbed me in the arm and dragged me out of there.
“When I agreed with this interview, I wasn’t imagining I would be sent into a place like this,” he complained.
“You were aware of the risks,” I stated, while still being conducted.
“I thought you were swaggering. Writer’s talk. Fictious story, only in paper. I could never imagine that…”
“Everyone’s got the same reaction,” I continued, “Nobody believes it until they are inside a more than genuine adventure.”
“I wanna go back!”
“It’s not like that. The interview must be made. The questions must be answered.”
He stopped, staring at me, his face stiffened.
“Have you any Idea of where this crazy watch of yours has put us?”
“Some. Dense mist, paving-stone floor, running coaches… London?”
“Whitechapel. Sometime near the end of the 19th century.”
“Fascinating,” I said with a smile.
“You’ll have your fascination running down your neck in wide flows of blood if you don’t be careful. Or better, if I don’t take care of you. I know this territory very well.”
He started guiding me again, this time less hastily. We were taking long steps down the pavement and, although I could not guess where he was taking me or how he could see anything through that mist, he did it with a surprising certainty and settling. We walked past some distracted passers-by. Some were drunk. Ladies with easy smiles and available looks – on the way, or back from one of the uncountable whorehouses in the city.
Kim grabbed me stronger when we heard a sharp and quickly suppressed scream. It seemed to have come from our backs; a couple of meters from where we had came from.
“Come,” He urged me, forcing me to walk faster.
We pressed on enough so that, in a little while, we were in a pub called The Ten Bells. We exchanged the outside mist for the dense and vicious air caused by the smoke of cigars and cigarettes. Kim took me to a more distant table, hidden in the shadows. We sat calmly and I saw a copper coin roll on the greasy top of the table. A man made it disappear in the pleats of his clothes and in return, he put two full pints of beers in front of us.
I observed the place. Happy and obviously “high” men and some girls behaving in a way that would certainly be condemned by the virtuousness of those times, were they in a less vicious place. They drank and exceeded themselves in the bantering, laughing and vulgarities. No one seemed to pay any attention to us, despite my absolutely uncommon clothing for the time.
“To me, everything seems fine,” I told Kim, taking my pint to my lips and drinking a small evaluative sip of the drink.
“Here, in this reality, nothing, ever, is fine. There is always something to be worried with. An inattentive man is quickly a dead man.”
I put my pint on the table. I found the beer quite weak.
“Kim, Anno Dracula is the first of a series of books. It was followed by The Bloody Red Baron, Dracula Cha Cha Cha and then Johnny Alucard. Asking an author if he considers the sequels to be as striking as the first book might seem silly, but there’s no one better than the author himself to evaluate his work. How do you see these continuations? Did you hitchhike in the success of the first book and took advantage of the wave or produced the follow-ups because you considered the scenery too rich to be shown in a single book?,” I asked.
Kim, who had only played with his pint until that moment, without tasting the drink, looked at me.
“My original conception for the book was vaguely to do a trilogy set between the 1880s and World War I, but – though I had the premise and essentially the world, I didn’t have anything like a plot in mind, or the characters. It was years later when the story fell into place. I wrote Anno Dracula with a sense that I’d probably do a WWI novel to follow up, and that led me eventually to Dracula Cha Cha Cha and other stories.”
He stopped for a moment, observing a couple having fun at a table on the other side of the room, fiddled with his moustache and then moved forward on the table towards me.
“Can you see that couple?,” he asked me with a whisper.
I moved my eyes to the side he was pointing with his chin.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Long Liz and George Lusk. You know who they are, I suppose.”
“Haven’t got the slightest idea.”
Kim shook his head, unconsoled.
“Have you ever read anything about Jack the Ripper?”
“I guess not enough to answer your question.”
“Long Liz, Elizabeth Stride, one of the victims. George Lusk is the president of the Whitechapel committee of vigilance.”
“You are not implying that… George Lusk is…”
“No, of course not! It only surprises me that they were so close. Now pay attention to the woman that is by the counter, leaning and talking to the barman. “
“That is Catherine Eddowes, another victim. Tell me, how similar to the one we know can this alternate reality be?”
“I can’t say,” I answered laconically.
Kim fiddled with his moustache one more time, his gaze lost between the two women and the man who had one of the most important jobs at the time those deaths were being investigated. He drank, finally, a sip of the drink and clicking his tongue, continued with the answer to the first question.
“Having some unnaturally long-lived characters means going back to the series doesn’t mean going back to the same time and place as the first book – which doesn’t quite fit with the Hollywood notion of a sequel, though it’s quite common in fantasy or science fiction. I like all the books, but I went to some trouble to make them each different in tone from the others, though there are elements which recur in all of them. In my work, I’ve often gone back to characters – doing multiple stories about them and even multiple versions of them – as if building a set of interlocking universes; a few writers I like did something similar – Mike Moorcock, PJ Farmer – and the urge to tie everything together into ‘one big meta-series’ – M John Harrison said that – is fairly irresistible.”
We drank, together, from our beers. The couple at the other table was still caressing each other and Kim looked at them insistently.
“In Brazil there is an intense discussion among authors, journalists and critics on the importance of realistic literature and genre literature as possible interchangeable genres. Many defend the idea that the formality of the academic literature, together with the wealthy plots of the genre literature would generate a more appreciable kind of reading. How do you see this matter? Is there any kind of similar discussion in England?,” was my next question.
“English literature has always seemed to privilege realism over fantasy, but realism is a genre too. We certainly have a wealth of great genre literature as well as everything else – it’s not an original observation to me – I think Peter Haining said it – but every great writer in English tends to have at least one ghost or horror story or science fiction satire in their bibliography. There’s a British predisposition to take crime fiction more seriously than, say, science fiction – but there are also many serious, worthy British science fiction writers, a few of whom – Ballard, for instance, even Wells – have cracked the pantheon of accepted greats.”
Kim went suddenly quiet and put his hand on the handle of the stick which was, until then, leaning on the table. His eyes followed the smiling couple who had stood up and was walking towards the door, ready to leave the pub.
“Well, look at that…,” said Kim, to soon after continue with his answer “…personally, I have an odd relationship with genre: as a critic (I write mostly about film) I have a habit of putting things in genre boxes and fixing labels to them; as a fiction writer, I like odd combinations of genre or works which try not to fit in boxes.”
Kim pushed his pint away a few inches. He pulled his stick closer to himself and lifted his face, while the couple disappeared through the door.
“Anno Dracula, for instance, is horror, science fiction, history, crime, fantasy, satire, romance and thriller, plus being in the sub-genres of vampire stories and Jack the Ripper conspiracy theory, with all that literary borrowing and shared world of Victorian famous fictional and real people stuff thrown in. There is no part of the bookshop the book couldn’t be filed in. And the follow-ups add war story, pulp adventure, soap opera, whodunit, Hollywood, superhero and porn, which about covers all the bases.”
“Time to stand up and leave this place”, he said next.
“And where are we going?”
“To follow an interesting couple.”
“Isn’t it dangerous?“
He looked at me, winked and stood up, leaning on his stick.
“We’re already in the rain, let’s get wet.”
We left our pints almost intact. The beer wasn’t good anyway. The haunters didn’t notice our leaving, as well as they had seemed not to notice our arrival. We left the irritating smoke to get back to the cold mist. Kim stopped for a moment, aware of the external sounds. He had a focused look, although I felt he had a more instinctive than objective attention. After a short while he pointed the stick to our left and went on that direction. I followed him, of course.
“The nights have been revealing themselves full of surprises by the end of this century. Loads of agitation. Excess of immigrants, difficulties, protests, racial conflicts. Anything can light the wick of discord. Murders happen frequently, but the ones ascribed to Jack, have gained notoriety.”
“Do you intend to save the lady from the sexual harassment of that George Lusk guy?,” I asked, ironically.
Kim didn’t answer, just kept breaking the mist, tirelessly, in a resolute walk. He stopped all of a sudden, as if his flair indicated him alternate ways. He turned his head slightly to the left. A dark trail followed down the night. He passed his stick from one hand to the other, holding it upright.
“Now carefully and silent,” he said, following the trail.
We walked down a narrow, muddy lane. We ended up on a rocky stairway, which was limy and slippery. We went down trying to make no noise. Easier task for me, wearing a pair of trainers, than to Kim who was wearing heavy boots. It was an illusion to think we were alone. There were people lying on the ground, some drunk, others showing sharp teeth, others ignoring us completely. We went through them without much trouble. The way opened up, leading to what seemed like a park, with reduced dimensions though. We heard stifled laughter and moans of desire.
More couples, other than the one we were looking for. It seemed like a roofless cabaret. We leant on a tree, from where we could only see silhouettes of those given to obscenities.
“Have you got any further questions?,” Kim asked, willing to keep with the interview, even in such a strange and dangerous situation.
“How do you analyze Stephenie Meyer’s literary approach where, in her books, vampires glow in the sunlight? Do you believe that the vampire myth should always obey certain traditional successful archetypes?”
Kim held to the handle of his stick and leant his head to the side, forcing his eyes as if he could, this way, pierce through the dense veil that was created by the mist.
“It’s time,” he said, leaping forward while he made a very sharp and narrow blade slip from the scabbard of the stick. The same that had been pressed against my throat soon after my arrival. I didn’t know what he had seen or what he meant to do, but I discovered myself forced to follow his advances. More out of fear of being left behind than of guts. We ran a few meters.
George Lusk was in the grips of Long Liz. Literally. The woman showed long and frightening teeth. Transformed looks. One of George’s hands still lied under her dress, holding to the object of his desire, but trembled so much that could lead her to an intense and involuntary orgasm. Kim howled, span in the air and, with a firm blow, cut her from top to bottom in her back, opening a dreadful cut on her.
The park was taken by screams, howls and groans. Long Liz fell on herself and was soon back up. She moved upon us, I panicked. A shot made her bow while she put her hands to her stomach. Kim, fast, took advantage of that moment to give her a second blow. The decapitated head put an end to the fight.
We started running, the three of us. My legs flew while my snorting breathing could barely keep my lungs full. We went around the park, through other dark paths, stepped on shit and urine, climbed sudden obstacles, always with the vivid impression of having someone on our backs, following us avidly. We stopped to rest on an apparently more bustling street. George Lusk was still carrying the gun he had used.
“Nice company that one you got yourself,” said Kim, with his breathing hastened.
“She seemed like an ordinary girl. Human, I mean. Things changed a lot around here since he, you know who, arrived.”
Kim looked at me, put his blade into the scabbard – which was his stick at the same time – and, straightening himself up, started to answer my third question.
“I think as long as they drink blood to survive, they’re vampires. In Anno Dracula, I posit lots of different bloodlines of vampire analogous to every single vampire ever imagined in previous folklore, literature and film – down to Wells’ Martians. Eventually, the series will catch up to the present and I’ll have to cope with ‘vampire romance’ – here’s an exclusive, if there’s a fifth book in the series, it will probably be called Vampire Romance – as in Meyer and True Blood. I read Twilight, but not the sequels, and I’ve seen the films: they are not what I’d do, or even what I’d choose to read, but unquestionably interesting, and connect with their audience in a really interesting way.”
“An interview, is it?,” asked George. “What a curious thing to be done during attacks and chasings.”
“And it is the craziest one I have ever participated in, be sure of that,” added Kim.
“What are your most immediate literary projects and what do you plan for a near future?,” I asked, finally, with a sigh. Happy to see the interview ending without more trouble than we had already faced.
“Just now, I’m working on a new edition of Nightmare Movies, a book about modern horror movies I wrote in the 1980s. In addition to the old text, I’m writing a whole new book covering what has happened since then. It’ll be out in the UK from Bloomsbury.”
A howl followed by a powerful groaning interrupted him. We exchanged frightened looks and were already moving away from the wall we were leaning on when we were violently attacked. Besides the contorted expression, we identified Miss Catherine Eddowes, who must have followed us since we left The Ten Bells.
She didn’t seem happy at all. She was actually taken by hatred. With an unerring blow she made George Lusk roll on the ground, his gun lost amidst the mist. Kim tried to unsheathe his blade, but his stick was taken from his hands. Not really certain of what to do, I kicked the woman in the back. She didn’t seem to feel anything. Kim held on to her, punching her a lot of times while trying to dodge from the mouth which tried to bite him at any cost. I heard George’s flustered steps, running away from the place at all haste. “Damned” I thought, disappointed.
“The answer!,” I yelled.
The fight was fierce and I found out that if I didn’t do anything effective, Kim would never be able to give it. I held the vampire on her back, my arm around her neck, choking her. With that, I managed to push her mouth a few inches away from Kim’s neck, which, luckily, hadn’t been bit yet.
“My next work of fiction will be Mysteries of the Diogenes Club, out from MonkeyBrain later this year – it’s one of three – so far – books which run in parallel with the Anno Dracula series…”
Kim pushed the woman away and we fell, both me and her, on the ground. Still clinging, tensely. Catherine fought, trying to escape. She was really strong and I wouldn’t manage to hold her for much longer. She turned her head in impossible angles, trying to bite my face.
“…and feature the main characters of those but in a history which more closely resembles our own.”
Kim’s stick was on the floor. He lifted it calmly, unsheathed the blade and, even showing intense tiredness, put it near the lady’s chest who stopped fighting immediately. She just looked at him, angry, and at the same time begging. Ignoring her supplication, he stuck the blade into her, cutting tissues and bones. He opened a hole in her chest and exposed her cold heart out. I dropped her at that same moment, fearing the blade might cut more than only her flesh.
I saw her ruckle. Tears came down from her now soft, sad eyed and seductive mouthed face. Kim bent down, put his hand inside her chest and pulled her heart out, throwing it away, on the street. I dry swallowed before the rudeness of his actions.
“There are a few ways of killing a vampire. This might be the most repugnant of all, I admit. But it grabs attention.”
“I am also,” he continued while cleaning his blade in his cape, “fiddling with the long-in-the-works Johnny Alucard, and planning a collection of stories in the Lovecraft/Cthulhu mythos vein. I guess that’s it. Is it over or would you like to go back to the pub to finish off our beers?”
“It is done. There are no further questions,” I answered, without being able to look away from the lady, dead and ripped on the pavement – I lost my thirst and any possible appetite.
“I guess, then, we can go back to our own realities. I have more to do. This adventure gave me new ideas. Show up in London one of these days,” and Kim opened up a broad smile.
I nodded, trying to smile without much success. I searched for my watch, which was luckily still on my wrist and, waving goodbye to Kim, who waved back, I pressed the button.