Rhys Hughes, Paul Di Filippo.
Paul Di Filippo is a famous American science fiction writer. He was a two-time finalist for the Nebula Award and a finalist for the Philip K. Dick. Paul is the author of Wikiworld (you can read it in english, italian and portuguese).
Rhys is a welsh author. His fiction is both intellectual and hilarious with plenty of jokes, puns and satirical side-swipes to keep the reader constantly amused. You can read The Astral Disruptor in english and in italian.
Rhys: You are a strong advocate of the themed or linked short-story collection. I imagine that any collection of discrete stories that don't interact with each other and carry forward some overarching rationale feels like indolence or cheating to you. Would you care to elaborate on this?
Paul: This policy of mine--reluctantly discarded over the past few years, as I ran out of sufficiently large groupings of self-similar stories to reprint, and issued two shamelessly generalist collections--was part accidental artifact of the marketplace, and part intentional.
After my first book of linked pieces appeared --The Steampunk Trilogy-- I immediately moved to novel writing, following the known career path that privileges longer works. But I couldn't sell any of my efforts at that length, yet could place story collections, thanks to the indulgence of my editor John Oakes at Four Walls Eight Windows. Wanting these book to have the impact of a novel, and having an abundance of unreprinted stories, I started collating them by theme. I think it was a smart move, in retrospect, a way to stand out a bit in the crowd. And indeed, when it came time to make the shift to omnivorous collections, it did feel like a cheat!
Rhys: Just like Brian Aldiss, Philip José Farmer, Barrington Bayley and a handful of others, you have never been afraid of cramming your individual stories with multiple ideas and playing concepts off against each other. Most writers of speculative fiction still strictly adhere to the one-idea-per-story aesthetic. Why are you in the minority in this regard?
Paul: Ever since learning, decades ago, that the classic Beatles song "A Day in the Life" was the result of a mashup (long before that word had been coined) between separate songs by Lennon and McCartney, I have been a fan of jamming likely or unlikely concepts together to produce something stronger than would be obtained by lonely deployment of a single idea. It seems generous to both myself and the reader. And of course within each story there should be many telling speculative or fantastical details, even if not fully elaborated but just throwaway.
This stems from the cyberpunk ethos of "eyekicks," as formulated by Rudy Rucker. That term derives from the visual artists at the early Mad Magazine, people like Wally Wood or Will Elder or Harvey Kurtzman, who would fill each panel with tons of background silliness and commentary not directly related to the foreground action.
Generally, I think that life itself is very thick--just reading a daily newspaper (does anyone but me still do that?) will provide a model for the chaotic rich soup of existence, with many things happening simultaneously, that an SF author--insofar as she or he is seeking to write "naturalistically--should seek to replicate.
I think initial imprinting on John Brunner's masterpiece Stand on Zanzibar has been a factor in my writing as well.
Rhys: But it's not only concepts that you mash together, play off against each other. You also seek to combine or fuse various styles of storytelling: differing forms, syntax, tone. Are you trying to create a new prose molecule that has different properties to the prose elements that have hitherto served writers?
Paul: It is a mixed blessing and curse that I believe myself to possess no essential core style. Perhaps the humorous tone in my Plumage from Pegasus pieces is as close to a default voice as I own. Like the chameleonic Martian in the Bradbury story who reacted to the mixed telepathic demands of the crowd of desperate humans and who was subsequently torn apart by internal contradictions, I sometimes feel that my literary path might be smoother if I could pick one mode/voice and stick with it. However, I am unable to do so. I find that each project invokes its own narrative persona that I must obey.
And, Rhys, as you perceptively note, that distinct voice is not always only singular, but a gestalt of sensory and ideational and aesthetic impulses. It simply seems to me that we are all "large enough to contain multitudes," as one of my heroes, Walt Whitman, famously observed, and I just try to channel more of that onto the page perhaps than other writers.
Rhys: Despite the similarities between Brunner's 'maximalism' in such novels as Stand on Zanzibar and your own urge to describe every opposing force in any scenario at once, I find your own style more enigmatic than his. You share his clarity but in your work there's a sense of something going on that the reader is only marginally aware of, a controlled obliqueness behind the web of forces, no matter how chaotic that web is. It's the sort of thing Cordwainer Smith did so well. And you do it too. Care to comment?
Paul: A most kind and generous assessment, Rhys! This multivalent, occult ambiance you detec t--and which I strive for with varying degrees of intentionality-- might be classically deemed "Pynchonesque." I first read Gravity's Rainbow circa 1975, as an undergrad just learning there was a realm of great literature beyond SF, and it blew my unformed mind. I sought to emulate the master most deliberately in my novel Ciphers, with mixed results. But I think a little bit of Thomas Ruggles ends up in everything I do. This might be why Rudy Rucker and I collaborate so effortlessly, as he is a big Pynchon admirer as well.
And of course, Sturgeon's famous prescription about imagining a scene and actions as thickly as possible, then transcribing only a fraction of relevant details, which will nevertheless magically evoke a scene of similar though not identical heft in the reader's mind, also comes into play somehow here.
Rhys: Capitalism is the default political setting of the modern individual human being? What about a future world inhabited solely by robots? What kind of political system would prevail there?
Paul: I have been fascinated by all-robot societies ever since I read Brian Aldiss's "Who Can Replace a Man?", around age twelve. But I have only written two free-standing stories in that vein. In the first, "Providence," robot society is organized around commerce in remnant vinyl LP records. Don't ask me to justify this now, but I think the reader will buy it for the duration of the story. More recently, I dared to work in the canon of one of my other heroes, Stanislaw Lem, by writing "The New Cyberiad," which takes his nearly omnipotent robot tinkerers on a new adventure involving time-travel, the construction of artificial planets, and the recreation of the extinct human race. Lem's robots are motivated by idle curiosity and less savory human emotions, but existing without need for commerce or work, they can indulge their whims in much more grandiose fashion than we can.
In my novel Fuzzy Dice I offer a brief glimpse of a robot hell, where robots have exterminated all organic life. The secret behind some of this portrait is a great little book called Legal Daisy Spacing, which portrays an insane brand of terraforming. Grab a copy whenever you see one!
Rhys: Like you I was also blown away by Thomas Pynchon when I was younger, and in fact my discovery of his first novel V changed my attitude to fiction forever. One of the many things about Pynchon that impressed me so much was his enormous erudition, the fact that his novels were stuffed with obscure historical facts concerning eccentric people, arcane conspiracy theories and odd incidents, the sort of material that often ends up as footnotes in academic texts but in his hands was perfectly integrated into the dynamic of the story itself. So in The Crying of Lot 49, for instance, we learn about the very first occasion when the USA and Russia came to blows, an event so shrouded in obscurity that I still don't know whether it's true or fictional. Before the days of the internet and casual search engine use, such details were astoundingly difficult to research, but now such information is easy to access. How much of the mystique of erudtion has been eroded by Google? And how does this relate to your own research for your own fiction?
Paul: Pynchon definitely set the gold standard prior to the internet for maximalist, insanely erudite fiction. In his introduction to his story collection Slow Learner he reaffirms that in the internet age such a task is still worth doing even if easier. I myself have now written several stories --Wikiworld, Murder In Geektopia-- which were essentially composed in three screen windows: the word processor, and two browser windows, one open to Google and one to Wikipedia. Lou Anders, editor for Murder In Geektopia, suggested, with a hint of irony, that the subsequent story could only be read in such a fashion!
But the ease of finding obscure information has really done nothing, I believe, to allow the average writer to emulate Pynchon. It's all in the vision, the selectivity, the ability to draw interesting connections. These talents are as rare as ever. I am reminded of the great Talking Heads song Thank You for Sending Me an Angel: "You can walk, you can talk just like me... but I'll walk circles around you!"
Rhys: C.S. Lewis once said that, "To tell how odd things struck odd people is to have an oddity too much". Most writers of 'imaginative literature' have followed this rule, but Brian Aldiss in his Trillion Year Spree wrote that the works of Samuel Delany consistently showed how that rule could be broken, with astounding results. Just like Delany, you also constantly break that rule. What are you views on this?
Paul: I have always violated this overly cautious Lewis proscription, and always shall. Estrangement is the heart and soul of SF, and the stranger the better! Beginning writers especially are way too cautious.
Rhys: Do you regard yourself as optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
Paul: I am innately optimistic in my personal life, and consequently also in my fiction. I think it's a legacy of growing up in the Sixties, which were somehow both apocalyptic and utopian. I don't really believe that we live in special times or conditions. (Isn't that a postulate of science too, that our corner of the spacetime continuum is typical, rather than special?) I take a Mr. Natural viewpoint: "'Twas ever thus!" The human condition is an eternal tragicomedy, and yet somehow the audience always exits the theater in reasonable shape, a little bloody yet unbowed, and returns for more!
(To Be Continued)