Jessica Amanda Salmonson is the author of six fantasy novels, fourteen short story collections, poetry, nonfiction and essays, in addition to a keeping busy schedule as an editor. Salmonson also runs Violet Books, which specializes in antiquarian supernatural, fantasy and mysterious literatures, vintage westerns, swashbucklers and juveniles. Kristen Brennan conducted the following interview with Salmonson in the Summer of 2004 for Jitterbug Fantasia web magazine.|
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Seattle; lived in a traveling carnival during tothood then most of the rest of my life right here in the Pacific Northwest other than a brief stint in California.
Wow, a traveling carnival? What was that like?
My mom was a sword-swallower and step-dad a fire eater (though he preferred the term "fire manipulator"). I was a toddler so I remember mostly only pleasing shadows of that itinerant life, of being used in the Guillotine Act, and being dropped from a gallows, and riding carnival rides at will like most kids used swing sets. But at school age I was orphaned and life got darker. Anyone who read the introduction to my ghost story collection The Deep Museum already know that story, which is unsuitable for the web.
What was your childhood like? Were you very bookish? Did you have many friends who were into the same books you enjoyed?
There are science fiction nerds everywhere so during school age I always had a few chums who liked some of the same things I did. Plus I have always loved horror cinema, and there were always at least one or two other odd children for whom Frankenstein and King Kong were cinematic heros.
What was the first book that ever swept you away?
I was a precocious reader and it's pretty hard to remember what all I read at age
seven, but one of my earliest favorite books was an anthology called More
Macabre edited by Don Wollheim, another was a book about strange weather
phenomenon like ball lightning or the Rain of Frogs. One of the first novels to
get me all awestruck was by Otis Adelbert Kline, set in
the jungles of Venus. I carried it with me everywhere and pondered every
chapter like it was talmudic studies. But I also liked the usual kidstuff about
abused horses, heroic dogs, cute kittens and rabbits, or frogs that talked and
Did you study literature in school?
more than anyone else is forced to.
How did you evolve into a bookseller and author? Do you identify primarily with one role
or the other?
made a living exclusively off writing for about 15 years or so, but it was
always a financial worry. I also collected antiquarian books for my personal
library, so I became more and more acquainted with that business, eventually
issuing catalogs of rare books. That's always led to financial worry too.
Violet Books was open to the public when it began, but today
operates mostly through catalogs and over the Internet, and you see clients by
appointment only. When and why did
this change? How has your idea of
running a bookshop evolved since you began?
didn't like being tied down to a shop. I wanted the liberty to go book scouting
or doing research in library archives. Running a shop seven days a week was a
Do you watch television?
Do you go to the movies?
What non-book stories do you love best?
watch DVDs primarily, including some stuff on DVD off television. If I were to
name some favorite films, the list might lead off with The Saragasso Manuscript from Poland (a swashbuckling vampire tale based on Count Potacki's great work), Macario from Mexico (based a supernatural story by B. Traven), Seven Samurai,
The Exterminating Angel, and Children of the Paradise. But I like even bad
movies and watch rather too much horror cinema.
Tomoe Gozen: Real-Life Female Samurai
Your first novel was Tomoe Gozen: The Disfavored Hero. Tomoe Gozen's adventures take place in
Naipon, a slightly mythologized version of Japan. Are female samurai historically accurate, or an element of
writing the three Tomoe Gozen novels I was continuously researching ancient and
medieval Japan. I compiled a personal collection of some 2,000 books about
Japanese mythology, society, culture, art, costume, geography, flora and fauna,
military history and government, besides spending endless hours at the
University of Washington East Asia Library. So the books are thickly layered
with stuff that has a lot to do with authentic history, but the books
themselves are set in an alternate world where events from different centuries
collide. It can't be read as history without getting deeply frustrated, even
though Tomoe Gozen was an historical woman and much that she really did is sprinkled
amidst much that I made up.
How did you create the character? Isn't Tomoe the Japanese word for the Chinese Taijitu, or yin-yang symbol? Is that idea related to the hero who carries two swords, which represent two souls? Would it be accurate to consider the hero bisexual, and if so does that tie in to the "two souls" idea?
Gozen having been a real historical figure required no invention of name. Gozen
is an honorific given especially to women of achievement. The word Tomoe
doesn't indicate only a yinyang symbol because Tomoe's coat of arms had three
rather than two of the interlocking "fish;" the word more indicates
that comma-shaped curve, whether one, two, or more. It is also the name of a
cut done with a naginata halberd, which according to tradition was a cut first
devised by Tomoe Gozen.
my characterization of Tomoe can be interpreted as bisexual, but she's not very
greatly in touch with her sexuality, and when she has erotic feelings at all,
these are not toward men. Much that she does is motivated by duty, honor,
grief, guilt, or horror; she seems never to be influenced by her feelings of
love or desire, which is why carnage follows her everywhere, and those closest
to her don't ordinarily fare very well. In the final scene of the last book she
duels and kills a fellow woman warrior she liked a great deal, when there was
no cause for it beyond a desire to test each the other's sword. If Tomoe had
been more in touch with her feelings or at least capable of acting upon her feelings
in some manner other than the warrior road, that encounter would've ended more
in the manner of Elisabeth Lynn's The Woman Who Loved the Moon.
How much research did you do for the Tomoe Gozen trilogy? Were there any old stories of female
samurai to work from?
were many women like Tomoe historically. In fact all women of the samurai class
studied martial arts, and the naginata is to this day
considered a women's weapon. Today's All-Japan Naginata Association is a
women's martial arts society, the vast majority of its members women descended
through the samurai class even though officially that class is no longer
recognized. Historically all women of this class could fight. Most, however,
were home or castle defenders, and learned techniques of fighting in narrow
hallways with all lights extinguished. Fewer were like Tomoe who traveled with
the military camp, but she was even so a model of a recurring type of woman.
Would you enjoy seeing Tomoe Gozen or any of your other stories
turned into a film?
long ago Fox Television's vice-president asked if rights were available and
hinted of Lucy Lu as star. It was just an idea they'd been batting around at
Fox and in the long run nothing came of it. If anything of that sort ever does
amount to something, I will be doing cartwheels of joy.
Do you practice martial
arts? Do you own a sword or
I studied Iaido (居合道) for years but its been a while and I've forgotten just about as much as I ever learned. I still own swords and to an untrained eye can still fake my way through some impressive moves.
Haggard and the Lost Race Tradition
What is a "Lost Race" story? How did the Lost Race genre evolve from
During the Victorian Age of Exploration there were still many areas on the map that were unexplored, and authors imagined the survival of ancient Roman or Egyptian or Atlantean cultures in these unexplored regions. Even today authors occasionally come up with ways of dreaming there is a world of ancient peoples underneath Antarctica or in the hollow earth or bottom of the sea, but the theme does not resonate as broadly for today's reader as it did for Victorians when news of previously unseen parts of the world were monthly occurrences.
Violet Books features "Lost Race" novels in the style
of H. Rider Haggard, and literary ghost stories, exemplified by M. R.
James. Haggard published his most
influential work from around 1885-1905, James 1904-1925; is there a quality
about turn-of-the-century literature that attracts you particularly? Is it that so many of the tropes of
modern culture were first invented during that period? Was there an explosion of literary
invention following the
introduction of Forster Elementary Education Act of 1870? That is, once free
education made literacy widely available to the nonwealthy for the first time,
did that create a market for a new kind of novel?
fiction does seem generally to be better stuff. It takes far less basic talent
to get published nowadays. But there are also styles, such as High Decadence,
that were never commercially popular and which appeal to a sense of beauty and
strangeness which, apparently, the plebian masses have never liked. You won't
find more than a half-dozen moderns who can do that right, but there was a host
of such writers a century ago and two centuries ago, from Hoffmann to Poe to
the Wilde of Dorian Grey.
Would you agree that many of the
Republic Serials of the '30s and '40s are largely modeled on the work of H.
There are certainly a lot of them with Lost Race elements
and menacing beautiful jungle queens who are pale echoes of Haggard's
indomitable Ayesha. The "jungle" serials, including even those about
Tarzan, are in the shadow of Haggard's vast greatness, but not much of that
greatness really rubs off on the serials.
What separated H. Rider Haggard
from his competitors? What made
his work so special?
He was better at it. He wrote with a genuine sense of
Romance in the old sense the word, of Romanticism, and he wrote with a sense of
tragedy and beauty and intensity of life that makes him easier to take
seriously even with such extravagant plots. Most of his imitators saw only the
extravagance and copied that without capturing Haggard's sense of sadness and
beauty and mysteries deeper than can be fully grasped.
Alan Moore's comic book series
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen covers much of the same
literary ground as Violet Books.
Have you read the series?
What do you think of it? Is
it a good introduction to antique adventure literature for young people?
I liked that comic series and delighted to see so many of my
favorite authors' characters gathered together in the modern illustrated-novel
context. Moore even veers away from the Top Ten and embraces, now and then,
characters who are no longer well known but should be; I'm thinking of Quong
Lee from Thomas Burkes' Limehouse Nights.
I often hear from youngish readers who're still being weaned
on comic books and who want to find out more about Rohmer, Haggard, Thomas
Burke, H. G. Wells, Stoker, Verne, and other authors whose characters appear
throughout the comic book series. And because the books they find while
following up on this pictorial series turn out to be even better than the comic
books, the younger readers are rarely disappointed. So I would credit the
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with bringing many fresh young readers to
authors who had for a long time been popular largely among elderly readers. Too
bad the movie sucked though.
What constitutes a ghost story? Is it about the fear or the phantasm?
It's whatever an individual writer makes of it, a folk tale, a psychological tale, a symbolist tale, a horror tale.
How do the literary ghost stories you focus on differ from modern
needn't be any different, but all too often, the classic ghost story functions
through varying degrees of subtlety, while the modern horror writer relies on
degrees of shock which by now no longer has the capacity to shock anyone. But
there are practitioners of "quiet horror" who are close to the
classic variety, and there were Victorian chain-rattler writers who were just
trying to shock.
Why don't we see any really high-quality metaphysical charlatans
like the Cottingley Fairies these days?
Are we to be stuck with Crossing Over With Jonathan Edward?
quality? A bunch of photos of cut-out paper dolls stuck in the bushes was so
Unconvincing that it took a grieving, senile loon, living off the laurels of
his former greatness, to peddle that particularly unconvincing pack of
second-rate photos. Doyle was an embarrassment to himself and his friends at
comparison Jonathan Edwards is almost clever. But the real hornswoggles for
moderns who want to believe shit is candy and the supernatural trumps all the
physics of the known universe would include such things as breatharianism,
homeopathy, and other medical charlatonry; butt-probing aliens, faces on Mars,
and flying saucer legendry; and sundry fascist governmental systems inclusive
of compassionate conservatism.
How has the invention of psychology influenced fantastic fiction,
and in particular the ghost-story?
Have Freud and Jung changed the way we think of and deal with fear?
is a widespread belief that Victorian chain-rattlers gave way to Edwardian
psychological ghost stories thanks to Freud. In reality psychological ghost
stories had little or nothing to do with Freud and long predate distribution of
real leap forward for psychological realism in the ghost story was social
activism, not psychiatry. Wherever concern for the lower classes or ethnic
minorities or the position of women or dislike of racism was strongest,
storytellers became more realistic, including even those dealing with
How would you describe the
contribution of H.P. Lovecraft to Horror?
In what ways did he innovate?
Jorge Borges, who was a fan of Lovecraft, called him "a
subconscious parodist of Poe." I think that's exactly right. Poe wrote in
a refined Decadent style that informs HPL's less refined but equally Decadent
variants. At his best, HPL may not have been an innovator per se, but he was a
master horror writer. A couple of his stories are among the best ever written,
i.e., "The Rats in the Wall" and "The Music of Eric Zann" are
ideal horror tales. He has a place among the immortals, and the hordes of
devoted but talentless doofs writing "Cthulhu mythos" stories which
owe more to August Derleth than Lovecraft can never entirely drag HPL into the
Do you believe in ghosts?
try to be agnostic but it's difficult, because there really seems to be no
basis for actual ghosts beyond human fear of loss and death.
What is modern fantasy? Does the term even mean anything?
Probably it doesn't mean anything, but even if it does, defining genres ends up ruling out too much of the best examples. To great extent all fiction is fantasy.
Tolkien has become the godfather of modern fantasy, yet he's
downplayed on your site. Is this
because you're interested in work which predates Tolkien, or you feel he's
overrated? Does he simply not
catch your interest?
Tolkien is wildly overrated. Little furry-footed people marching through a dark wood
until they find a nice lodge with a big feast waiting. It's the Disney version
of adventure. If not for Golem the rest amounts to one big fat ill-plotted
mess. It became popular at a time when not much like it was in print, so there
was no competition. For genuinely amazing fantasy with depth and power, one
would rather read Geoffrey of Monmouth, or The Tain, or
the Mabinogian, or the Eddas, most of which were accessible mainly as scholarly editions at a time when Tolkien books were 35 cents each down at the dimestore.
Do you enjoy any modern fantastic fiction as much as the
have to be a per-case assessment. There are modern writers like Patrick
McGrath, Thomas Ligotti, Danilo Kis, Stephen Millhauser, and such recently
deceased greats as Angela Carter, Jack Cady, or John Gardner, an endless host
of others, who are as good as anyone who ever wrote. Genre novels per se have
lost their appeal for me, and I gave up on whatever passes for the latest thing
because it almost always vastly worse than anything even moderately well done
from the past. I wouldn't call it merely turn of the century stuff however
since many of favorite writers are closer to mid-century, such as Bruno Schulz
or Flannery O'Connor, or long before turn-of-century such as Gogol or Poe or
Sarah Orne Jewett.
How do you respond to the charge that fantasy books are merely
word "merely" is the only stupid part of the assertion. Fiction, no
matter the variety, is excellent for escapist reading. People get out of books
only what they are equipped to bring to what they read. People who think in
terms of "merely" define their own limitations, not those of all
Is it a truism that the best writers of modern fantasy to be
those most well-grounded in epics, fairy tales and myth?
writer of depth will be well-grounded in something, whether necessarily fairy
tales is less certain. The type of commercial writer commonly seen today tends
not to be grounded in much, or they are only well-grounded in role-playing
games or Tarot or something even twittier. But now and then someone writes only
from their own eccentricity and ends up doing something pretty nice even though
they have no particular knowledge of what has gone before.
How would you describe the impact
of Spenser's Faerie Queene on modern fantasy?
It certainly impacts the work of Michael Moorcock. I'm not
otherwise certain it's any more significant than Mallory or Tennyson or Byron
or Browning or Yeats or a whole host of poets who loved fantasy and dark
heroism. It's all there in the mix for today's commercial genre, but not
overbearingly so. On the other hand, many of the newest of new fantasy authors
don't seem grounded in anything smarter than role playing games or elf comics.
Enthusiasts of Conan creator Robert E. Howard often claim two
innovations as setting Howard apart: (1) He borrowed the "lost race"
motif of H. Rider Haggard, but rather than presenting the decaying remnant of
some prehistoric civilization, Howard takes us back in history to the time when
the civilization was still flourishing.
And (2) Howard is often credited as the first author to popularly
combine the swashbuckling story with H.P. Lovecraft-style supernatural
horror. That is, axe-wielding
musclemen had been around for a long time, but Conan was the first to fight
unspeakably horrible, darkness-shrouded tentacle things from other
planets. Are these valid
claims? Which fictional characters
most strongly inspired Conan?
not heard those claims before. Herakles once battled a gigantic woman armed
with a sword, who was a dragon from the waist down, and had six snarling dog
torsos issuing from her midriff. Samson killed thousands armed only with the
jawbone of an ass, which outmatches Conan by a long shot. In a traditional
midrash after Cane slew Abel, the Earthmother would no longer sustain Cane, who
in consequence went into the underworld where he fought for or against various
fantastic races. In another midrash, Leviathan was depicted as of such cosmic
enormity that the Earth was as a single water-drop dangling from the tip of an
upper fin, which beast dwarfs Cthulhu. What Robert E. Howard wrote connected to
the oldest kind of storytelling. There is nothing new about any of it, except a
style suited to a market and the times.
If Robert E. Howard was offering
the same old stuff that had been around forever, to what do you attribute his
The question seems to imply that telling stories in a mythic
manner older than Sumer shouldn't be popular in the modern age. But why not?
These pure, naive storytelling methods are genuinely timeless and will never
cease to be entertaining.
James Branch Cabell's Jurgen; A Comedy of Justice was notorious in the 1920s for being the subject of an obscenity trial. Does the book stand on its own merits?
a good book, not the equal of Cabell's The Silver Stallion or Something About Eve. It of course was not even for the time particularly obscene, and is difficult nowadays to see why a couple nutcakes would've made such a to-do about it.
Are you a fan of A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay?
No. It struck me as a surreal hodgepodge by someone who had not a clue about plotting a tale. It does badly what William Hope Hodgson's Nightland does well. But many people whose opinions are perfectly reasonable think otherwise, so it's at least partially a matter of taste.
Sax Rohmer became famous writing
mystery stories which played upon Western fear of China (the so-called
"Yellow Menace"), beginning with The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu in 1913. Why did his stories focus on the villain rather than the hero?
Had that been done often before?
There is not much about Fu Manchu as he appears in the books
that fits the Yellow Peril scenario. He has more in common with the literature
of criminal masterminds than with the literature of race hatred. It speaks to
the overwhelming personality of Fu Manchu that people actually think he's the
protagonist of the tales, when the hero and protagonist, unmemorably enough, is
Nayland is a stiff-upper-lip Brit and of some interest in
his own right, but he vanishes from memory compared to the Insidious Doctor. Fu
Manchu is a man of surprising honor and of course super-intelligence. Despite
that he uses his brilliance, more often than not, in criminal enterprises, every
reader roots for him, as he's the true hero of the tales. In actual Yellow
Peril tales, as in Pierton Dooner's "Last Days of the Republic,"
faceless hordes of Chinese invade California, justifying the Anti-Chinese Act
of 1882. The racism is
acute, the attempt to create hysterical fear against Asians is dead-serious,
and there are no great characters with Chinese faces with whom the reader would
Rohmer clearly thought of Fu Manchu as a heroic figure, and
in Shadow of Fu Manchu even makes him the arch-enemy of communism, and in Drums of Fu Manchu the enemy of fascism. These later titles aren't as exciting as earlier ones because Rohmer had gotten a bit jingoistic; but the seeds of this development in Fu Manchu's character were there from the start, and it is not surprising to discover that the Insidious Doctor is humanity's last hope of salvation.
Do Rohmer's stories posses
literary or lasting value? Was
Fu-Manchu an influence on Ming the Merciless, the arch-nemesis of Flash Gordon?
If Fu Manchu was an influence on Ming the Merciless, it
could only have been from filmic versions. Ming bares not even a slight
resemblance to Dr. Fu Manchu of the written tales. For starters, Fu Manchu was
clean-shaven and ageless, and did not sport what has become widely known as the
Fu Manchu mustache, which was never sported by Rohmer's character as Rohmer
described him. Nearly everything about Fu Manchu as portrayed in film is at
odds with the finer character of the books, and Ming may well have been a
filmic parody of a filmic parody.
And certainly the best of these stories have already proven
their lasting value, though "literary" in any academic sense may be
harder to prove.
Women and Fantastic Fiction
Most of the fiction you sell -
Lost Race, Swashbucklers, Fantasy - feature male heroes. Only the Ghost Story genre are women
heroes and writers broadly represented.
Do you have any theories as to why this might be? Is it simply the case that Victorian
and turn-of-the-century women had limited access to literary educations? Do women historically have less money
for books than men, or are the typically drawn more strongly to romance novels?
What you've asserted here isn't necessarily true. Almost any
idea based on "women didn't do that" will most of the time prove
false upon careful examination. Historicals or swashbucklers are frequently
told from the point of view of female protagonists and many of the greatest
writers are women, including Baroness Orczy, Naomi Mitchison, "Bryher," J. G. Sarasin, and Emily Lawless, and hordes of others before even counting a
modern crew that might begin with Mary Renault. Even among such excellent male
authors as John Edward Bloundelle-Burton or Jeffrey Farnol, the women in the stories are striking and strong figures, while the men are mere fops. This is
probably why women have always dominated especially Farnol's readership.
It is probably more true that the majority of Lost Race
novels have male heroes circumnavigating the globe and encountering societies
thought to be extinct. But even here one finds so many exceptions that if
someone demanded female protagonists at center stage, there'd be plenty to
select from. One that leaps to mind is Rosa Campbell Praed's Fugitive Anne
about a woman who discovers a lost race in the Australian outback. That one's a
fine tale; there are many others written by theosophists or early feminists
beating their drum too loud and placing their political or religious ideals in
an Atlantean or Amazonian setting, a mite too didactic to read well. Some that
leap to mind include Irene Clyde's Beatrice The Sixteenth, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland, Inez Irwin Gilmore's Angel Island, each positing hidden matriarchies of one sort or another.
And of course even such classics as Haggard's own She, Ayesha, and Wisdom's Daughter has a titular goddess-like female figure at the center of the tales, and more lost race novels than not imitated that
Victorian women writers and earlier generally had fairly
good educations, even though most often from tutelage in the home. The
perspective of history all too often remembers Nathaniel Hawthorn was a great
writer but forgets that Sarah Orne Jewett was his equal. Women wrote the
majority of the novels and tales and wrote, bought, even edited and published a
gigantic percentage of what appeared in magazines and books. The written word
was to an enormous degree women's work. Some scholars lament this fact of
history because it made Moby Dick a failure in the marketplace in its day because it failed to appeal to the primary audience which was female. It is
easy to lament that Melville lived from hand to mouth, but Fanny Fern was the
best selling author of the same decade. But I prefer to remember the finer
authors like Jewett and Stowe, whose domination is nothing to lament.
Writers and Writing
Do you like the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling?
reading big fat books full of words instead of pictures can't be a bad thing.
You've mentioned how unimpressed
you are with most vampire erotica. What do you think of Anne Rice, who
basically started the trend? Do
you consider her Lestat character a descendant of John Polidori's The Vampyre and thus probably a
descendant of Lord Byron (upon whom Polidori is believed to have based his
I think Anne Rice is okay, and I'm sure she was aware of
Polidori and the Romantic poets and much else, though I don't see that she took
all that much from them, good or bad. She has never equaled herself since
Interview because at that time she was not a powerhouse so could be
pushed around by an editor who demanded revisions and more revisions until it
was shaped up into a fine, restrained, quite remarkable character-driven short
novel. Now she can publish any old meandering overwritten thing she can
word-process into a doorstop, and it doesn't have to be any good, but she can
be entertaining even so, and I share her fondness for High Decadence. The
imitators she has inspired are of no consequence.
Most "great" novels
were written over the course of 5, 10 or more years. Have there been any great
novels written in a very short amount of time? Why does it take so long to
write a great book?
I've actually never seen an analysis of how long it took to
write each well known book, so I don't know whether there is any correlation
between doing great work and speed of writing. My suspicion is sometimes an
author spent his or her whole life tinkering with one crappy book published
only when they were dead, while many another author felt "on fire"
and wrote something as fast as they could think the events and it resulted in
something quite nicely done. I suspect Shakespeare knocked off some of his
stuff in a hurry between wenches or beautiful boys.
What do you think of Zelazny's Amber books?
They never captivated me as much as Moorcock and Leiber and many others, even though the first couple Amber books had poetic resonance. Compared to Tanith Lee's Night's Master and Death's Master or Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword the Amber books fade considerably.
Fantasy and Science Fiction fans endlessly debate who
"invented" fantasy, or sword-and-sorcery, or science fiction, or hard
science fiction... is it really possible to single out a single per as the
wellspring of any genre, or are things more chaotic and jumbled than that?
It's not an argument that ever interested me. Heroic fantasy is too obviously our oldest form of storytelling which has remained essentially unchanged since before Homer. Any claims of modern invention are silly, and I've never as yet heard any author laying claim to such.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell believed that modern storytellers are
fulfilling the shamanic role in society, and shaman are always created by a
traumatic event during childhood that ripped them from reality and sent them
into the inner depths of the self.
Do you agree? Do you find
that most influential authors of the fantastic are working out difficult
Campbell was not half as intelligent as he thought himself to be. His popularity
was based on his ability to muddle and mystify things that would otherwise be
quite clear. He appeals to shallow thinkers who would like to think deeply but need someone to do all the legwork for them, in a meandering overwritten but ultimately shallow manner. Typical of his intellectual capacity was this exchange that occurred in one of his classrooms:
Student, earnestly: But why is it always a Man? Isn't it possible for a woman
to go on that Divine Quest?
Campbell, frustrated and feeble: Christ I'm glad I'm retiring.
was the sum of his thinking on that topic. His thinking on all things was
largely retro and Victorian, having nothing to do with either the ancient world or the modern world. He'll remain popular for a while to come because he is essentially unchallenging.
How would you describe H.G. Well's contribution to fantastic
Most science fiction dates very rapidly because writers' ideas of the future are never even close. The fact that Wells is readable after a century says a great deal about his stylistic and conceptual merits that make him much more than a pioneer of science fiction. There were many pioneers and they're no longer read because their concepts of scientific advancement now look like jokes.
Given that fantastic fiction often uses the same tropes as myth
and religious scripture, what's the difference between them? A religious scriptures merely
difference is usually only that modern practitioners are more shallow. Often a fantasy
world is created by a modern writer so that he or she can just make stuff up at
random and not really know anything about culture and society. But the world is
much more elaborate and interesting than these other worlds. Great imaginative works like Torah, The Mahabharata, The Holy Zohar, The Vedas and the Devi Mahatmya, are vastly deeper
works because they reflect actual cultures and social constructs and beliefs.
Genre novels strip this down to such a rudimentary level, to such a degree that
most of it is unworthy of being read a second time. But the greater works of the past reveal new levels of significance even after a hundred readings.
a minor aside, it's always a good idea to try to get "trope" out of
You mention on your website that you date women, and many of the
most famous fantasy authors were gay or otherwise atypical in their sexual
preferences. Do you see a
connection between being gay and interest in fantasy? Perhaps interest in fantasy is a side-effect of belonging to
any category considered inferior by society?
companion of many years is a book designer, artist, and presently a gay
activist who works full time for a non-profit GLBT organization. We're
monogamous so I haven't "dated" in years. As for "considered
inferior by society" I would amend that as "considered inferior by
uneducated pigfuckers, Klan rednecks, superstitious bigots who blame their
ignorance on Jesus who by the way was a faggot, and other assorted mental,
social, and moral cretins." Never met anyone of human worth who was so
threatened by queers as to regard us as inferior. But yes, science fiction
fandom attracts assorted outcasts, from jus' plain nerdy nose-pickers with
taped glasses, to sissies and s/m motorcycle dykes, to pensive introverts, to
Midwestern Jews, to chunky chubsters, to folks whose politics could've gotten
them hauled before Congress in the 1950s, to eccentrics who merely feel
misplaced in time and wish they could always dress like the Three Musketeers,
and even the Bubble Boy whose bubble was mistaken for a really cool costume at
World Con and for the first time in his life he was treated as a normal kid.
There's a lot of honest affection between people of every stripe in science
Can you articulate what you look
for in a story? What makes a story
grab you? Do you find that fiction
can be realistically sorted into the better stuff and trash, or is it all down
I am looking for strangeness and beauty and mysteriousness
and excitement. I sometimes find those ingredients in works widely recognized
as important milestones of great literature, and I elsetimes find it in works
others would dismiss as rubbish.
What are your ambitions for the
To never take for granted of my sweety, to be with her as many days and nights as possible while I'm alive, without boring her with my presence.
Is there anything else you'd like your readers to know?
War is not peace. Always mistrust authority. And if you must pick your nose, don't eat it.