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This interview has been read 9397 times

Note: cYbErDaRk.NeT is a Spanish virtual community of scifi, fantasy and horror readers. Almost all the content is in Spanish.

   by Ignacio Illarregui
   translated by María Jesús Sánchez

   Along the 90`s, it had emerged a new generation of writers as Paul McAuley, Ken McLeod or the last one, China Mieville, who has created a very particular way of understanding cf. Far from innovate and bring us new clichés, they have used their early readings to build the basement of their narratives. Of course, we couldn´t find that innovative, but they have a rich and baroque esthetic of their own, where we could discover very interesting topics and influences.

 

Richard Calder

 

   One of these new authors is Richard Calder. He was living in southeastern Asia for almost a decade, and this distance from the cf utterances, its trends and movements, let him create a very personal style, based in a sort of intensely alienated characters that survive difficultly in a exhuberant world. The first title translated into Spanish, Malignos, a sword-and-sorcery story, offers more than is accustomed in this kind of books. Soon, we`ll have another novel in our bookshops, Dead Girls, a very surrealistic love story, really trasgressive.

   I would like to thank Richard Calder for his kindness conceeding these interview, and the time he dedicated to answer our questions. I hope it could discover you these author, and push you to read him. Sure you`ll enjoy it.

Ignacio Illarregui      

   Malignos describes an exotic and perilous journey from the surface to the center of the earth. What was your inspiration?

   My novels have often grown out of an opening sentence, the story gradually cohering about the tone of the first-person narrator's voice. (Once I have a voice established in my head, a storyline seems to unfold of its own accord.) In Malignos I feel I tapped into a deep archetype. Richard Pike, the hero of Malignos, is, of course, something of a Campbellian hero, and his story is the oldest story in the world: that of a man who, like Dante's middle-aged protagonist, finds himself lost in the dark woods of life and cannot find his way home. Pike embarks on a journey that involves the classic, mythical descent into the underworld. There, the hero is tested, has strange adventures, discovers some important truth that transforms him, and then returns to the upper world to share his knowledge with others, and, of course, comes home. Malignos is but one more telling of this old, old tale.

 

 

   Malignos was also more obviously inspired by Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Pike enters the underworld by way of a volcano in the Philippines, which parallels the manner in which Verne's characters descend into the earth through the mouth of an Icelandic volcano. The landscape of the Philippines (I was living in the Philippines when I wrote Malignos), and various Filipino friends and acquaintances, were also a crucial influence.

   Richard Pike, the main character, constantly feels like a stranger in strangerland. Foreigner in the Darkling Isle, foreigner in the Philippines... Have you ever felt like him?

   Most certainly. Alienation is a key theme in all my novels, and it's something, I suppose, that first drew me to the Far East: to find an alien land where an alienated individual might feel at home. Once you have lived abroad for several years - over a decade, in my case - it becomes difficult to readjust to life in your native country. There's an abiding sense that you're an outsider, and will always remain so.

   He is a singular character. Ruthless, coward, selfish,... values very dificult to find in a protagonist of a science fiction story. Why did you make him that way?

   I'm interested in creating characters that are neither good nor bad but simply interesting, but I often think that the Devil really does have all the best tunes. It's quite true that Pike isn't cut from the usual heroic cloth - but I like to think of him as a more complex being than the average sword-and-sorcery protagonist, and as such (I hope) more engaging. If he is something of a 'Flashman', his voyage underground is an inner journey as much as an outer one: he discovers that he is not the man he thought he was. In other words, his arrogance, vanity, conceit and snobbishness are, at last, undermined by a revelation that he has it in his power to become something else - a man worthy of the love of his malignos woman, Gala.

   What similarities exist between Malignos and the rest of your narratives?

   My fiction often employs first-person devices that lend the narratives a certain 'tone', the disaffected 'voice' of the narrator being central to the novel's effect, and the narrator of Malignos is no exception. Like Ignatz Zwakh, the narrator of Dead Girls, Richard Pike is an outlaw who looks upon life with an outlaw's perspective, and this is reflected in his wry, sardonic, acidly witty manner of speech. And like Ignatz Zwakh, he has entered into an illegal liaison with an inhuman woman - the concept of 'forbidden love' another theme central to my work.

 

 

   Last year it appeared a sequel of Malignos: Lord Soho. What is the relation between them?

   Lord Soho is the story of Richard Pike and Gala's descendants, a generational saga spanning centuries and continents. The novel focuses on a dying earth and a series of cursed, human narrators who have malignos blood in their veins.

   Why did you define the book as a Time Opera?

   The book is composed of a number of inter-related novelettes, each one of which focuses on a different 'Richard Pike' and his contribution to the history of his time - and this accounts for the 'time' element. It is called a time 'opera' because each novelette is literally based on an opera, the sequence of novelettes paralleling the worlds evoked by The Beggar's Opera, The Marriage of Figaro, La Traviata, Patience, Turandot, and Harrison Birtwistle's Punch and Judy.

   This year, Gigamesh is going to publish Dead Girls. Can you tell us something about this book? What will we find in it?

 

 

   Dead Girls is set partly in a near-future, sea-inundated London, and partly in Thailand. It has something of a 'Bonnie and Clyde' theme in that it is about two young lovers on the run from the law - the lovers being very young, and the law being the mad, gynocidal law of a neo-fascist England represented by a ruling party that calls itself 'The Human Front'. The 'dead girls' are young women infected with a malignant nanotech virus that causes human females to metamorphose into vampiric, porcelain-like dolls at puberty. (The search for the origins of this 'doll-plague' constitutes much of the book's plot). Dead Girls is a novel of high-octane, sometimes surrealistic, escapades set against a tropical nightmare world of high-tech bedazzlement, but at its heart it's a love story between the enraptured narrator and 'doll-addict', Ignatz Zwakh, and his robotic, magical girlfriend, Primavera Bobinski.

   Didn´t you take a lot of risk starting your career with a "trilogy"?

   It didn't start off as a trilogy. After completing Dead Girls I simply couldn't get the narrator's voice out of my head, and knew that he had more to say to me - and so I continued the narrative into Dead Boys and, eventually, Dead Things. The risk, I believe, was not so much in starting my career with a trilogy, but with a series of novels that are sexually transgressive, verbally and formally pyrotechnic, and (for an SF readership, at least) experimental.

   In your recent visit to Gijon, you affirmed Angela Carter is one of your more important influences. Why do you find her narratives so interesting?

   When I first read Angela Carter, at about the age of twenty-eight, she was a revelation. I was writing verse, almost exclusively, before that time, and she demonstrated, to me, a way forward: how to write a rich, poetic prose capable of dealing with exactly the same kind of themes that I was interested in: the dark side of Romanticism, Symbolism, the Decadent movement, the Gothic, and a unsparing focus on sexual issues. I also loved her use of the picaresque - the kind of narrative structure I use in, say, Malignos.

   What other authors inspired you? Why do you appreciate them?

   In my mid teens I was heavily influenced by Michael Moorcock and Mervyn Peake, and also by French Symbolism - in particular, Baudelaire. For me, Baudelaire's oeuvre seemed to conflate with the work of bands such as The Velvet Underground. Proust was a later influence. Joyce and Burgess, too. I've always appreciated, and been influenced by, authors who use language in an interesting way, and who explore the theme of the 'outsider'. I could mention so many others: Burroughs, Ballard, Genet, H.P. Lovecraft, Poe. And of course, with poetry being so important to me, particularly in my early life, I'd have to mention Alexander Pope, the English Romantics, Tennyson, Browning and Rossetti, as well as the great Modernist poets - I love Ezra Pound's translations, for instance.

   Why do you use fantastic elements in your stories?

 

 

   Because my literary focus is the exploration of fantasy, or rather, of man as the animal that fantasises - the 'fantastic' animal, if you like. This puts me squarely in the tradition of Surrealism, though like most contemporary writers, I eschew classic Surrealist techniques. One of my heroes is Freud, the seminal writer of the last one hundred years, who demonstrated that fantasy - the life of dream and confabulation - is at the very heart of human life. So I'm interested, not merely in my own fantasies, but in how human beings in general fantasise, and how fantasy is a key factor in modern society. To lift fantasy - especially human fantasy in its darker aspects - into the realm of metaphor, and redeem it from literalization as societal hysteria, panic, witch-hunts, and paranoia, should, I think, be every fantasy writer's objective.

   What do you think about science fiction today?

   British science fiction, today, mostly comprises space opera. And however well-written space opera might be, it seems an odd, not to say retrogressive, state of affairs, that so many writers - many of them very skilled - find themselves mining such a relatively exhausted vein. For me, there's a sense that the traditional themes of science fiction have been played out, and that publishers - who are not much into risk taking these days - are intent on endlessly recycling the past, in much the same way that contemporary popular music samples and recycles the popular music of previous decades without doing anything genuinely different to reinvigorate or transform it. In short, there's a dearth of originality, a surfeit of 'product', and a disinclination to make the big imaginative gesture.

 

Round table, left to right: Andrzej Sapkowski,
José María Faraldo, Tim Powers and Richard Calder
in "La Semana Negra", 2003

 

   Do you usually read it?

   I read SF/fantasy in fits and starts - I'll pick up a handful of books, some contemporary, some, perhaps, out of print, and read them. But these days it's becoming increasingly rare. I'm interested in SF/fantasy when it starts to become something else, or is used in such a way that it becomes incorporated in an extra-generic literary structure. I was very interested in the New Wave and Cyberpunk, but not much recent writing has truly excited me.

   Do you want to say anything to the Spanish readers? What can they expect from Malignos or Dead Girls?

   I'm very glad to be published in Spain. There seems, from what I can gather, to be something of a resurgence of interest in SF and fantasy in Spain, and I greatly enjoyed SEMANA NEGRA in Gijon and the enthusiasm of Spanish fans. What may they expect from Malignos and Dead Girls? Well, I hope they encounter worlds that are firmly set in science fiction and fantasy territory, but which are also markedly different. I hope they encounter a fictional universe not quite like anything they have come across before...

   

   If you want more information about Richard Calder, you`ll get it in his web: http://www.richardcalder.net/

   As well, you can get it at the Gigamesh web, his publisher in Spanish: http://www.gigamesh.com/libros.html

   Here, in our data base at Cyberdark, there is a link to his books that has been published in Spanish: http://www.cyberdark.net/autores.php3?cod=1065

 

@2003 Ignacio Illarregui
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