The OF Blog: March 2003

Friday, March 21, 2003

F. Paul Wilson Interview

Hello everyone!!

I have an interview here with F. Paul Wilson, one of my personal favorites. Paul is the author of more than twenty-five books: five science fiction novels (HEALER, WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS, AN ENEMY OF THE STATE, DYDEETOWN WORLD, THE TERY), eight horror thrillers (THE KEEP, THE TOMB, THE TOUCH, REBORN, REPRISAL, NIGHTWORLD, BLACK WIND, SIBS), and three contemporary thrillers, THE SELECT, IMPLANT, and DEEP AS THE MARROW. In 1998, after a fourteen-year wait, he brought back his popular Repairman Jack character in a new novel and hasn't stopped since. Short stories from his first 15 years as a writer are collected in SOFT & OTHERS ( 1989 ) and THE BARRENS & OTHERS ( 1998 ). He has edited two anthologies: FREAK SHOW ( 1992 ) and DIAGNOSIS: TERMINAL ( 1996 ).
During his carrer he has won the Prometheus and Porgie awards. He has also been nominated for the Nebula, Stoker and World fantasy awards. Besides all of this critical aclaim and prolific writing, the most important thing is these are wonderful books to read. I have read and enjoyed many of Paul's works and intend to make through the entire collection.
Read what Paul has to say, take copious notes as you go, and post any questions you can come up with below. He will be coming by the site next week to check in and answer your questions.



1 ) New Jersey . . . What has kept you there your whole life?

Family -- both my wife Mary and I grew up in North Jersey -- and, I suppose, a certain amount of inertia. The thing is, I live at the shore (or "down the shore," as we say here) and I love it. I'm close to the ocean and an hour from Manhattan. The best of both worlds.

2 ) Are you still practicing medicine? Do you find that having two careers helps you in your writing, through the knowledge you attain and people that you encounter?

Absolutely. I think all writers -- fiction writers, anyway -- should have day jobs. If you spend every day before the computer screen and much of your free time hanging out with other writers, you develop a sort of tunnel vision. You narrow the range of your human experience.

I still practice two days a week. No because I need the money -- my writing income long ago outstripped my family practitioner earnings -- but because I like it. I like my patients and I like solving problems. If I quit it will be due to the insurance companies and the lottery mentality that's driving the malpractice crisis.

3 ) What are the first stories you remember writing and having published?
Are they still dear to you, or have they become trite in your mind?

They're mostly okay (although I omitted a couple from my first collection SOFT & OTHERS because I didn't want to inflict them twice upon the reading public) but I wouldn't hold them up as examples of what I can do. In the 70s some of us did our learning in public, and it showed.

4 ) The Adversary Cycle had its earliest beginnings in Demonsong. Could you give a synopsis of The Adversary Cycle for those who are late to your works?

The Adversary Cycle is about the last decades of a cosmic war that’s been going on for eons, though only a very few people know about it. The backstory is of two vast, incomprehensible unnamed forces/powers/states of existence/entities in eternal conflict. Our corner of reality is not the prize, it’s simply one of countless spheres of existence; we’re a backwater, really, but if one of these forces is going to win, it has to have all the marbles.

We are currently in the portfolio of the better of the two—notice I didn’t say “good.” The best we can hope for from this power is benign neglect. The other force, which some folks have dubbed “the Otherness,” is decidedly inimical. It would change our reality to make it more like its own, and believe me, you wouldn’t want to live there.

That’s the cosmic side, which we never really see because the story is told in terms of it human characters, starting on the eve of WWII (The Keep) and continuing into the near future where civilization is crushed and humanity decimated (Nightworld).

It didn't start out as a cycle. I like doing connected stories -- future histories or separate stories sharing the same milieu, like the Village of Monroe on the Long Island Gold Coast -- but I had no intention of doing a series. It just happened that when I needed two immortals locked in eternal combat for The Keep, I flashed back to "Demonsong" and nabbed Glaeken and Rasalom.

The first three novels of the cycle were intended as stand-alones. Completely unrelated. In fact Wm. Morrow rejected The Tomb because it was too unlike The Keep. And The Touch was like neither. I had no clue they’d ever be connected.

Then I went to work on a novel called The Chadham Clone. It too was meant to be a stand-alone, with no relation to The Keep. I'd started it years before, right after The Keep, but it didn't gel. (That's why there's such a gap between The Keep and The Tomb.) I wanted it to look like a Rosemary's Baby or an Omen but actually be something different (just as The Keep looks like a vampire novel for a while, but is not). I wanted to use an evil entity other than the tired old Antichrist, but who? Then I realized I already had that entity in Rasalom from The Keep. I needed a suburban setting convenient to Manhattan, and realized I already had one in Monroe where The Touch took place. I became intrigued by the challenge of tying those two novels, and The Tomb as well, into Rasalom's reincarnation, bringing the books full circle. It worked so well that I suspect my subconscious might have been linking them all along.

Things grew from there. The result was an outline for a 1,000-plus-page novel. Nobody was going to publish that, so I broke it down into a trilogy ( Reborn, Reprisal, and Nightworld) and sold it that way. But it remains a single novel – a roman fleuve, if you will. (This was the first time, by the way, I'd ever sold anything on outline. Until then I'd always written the book, then peddled it.)

By the way, starting with The Keep this summer, Borderlands Press is putting all six novels of the Adversary Cycle back into print in matching hardcover editions.

5 ) Repairman Jack has made a wonderful return and grown into a very reliable character for you. How are you using him to tie up the Adversary Cycle?

Well, once I brought Jack back in Legacies, and decided to run with him for a while, I decided to keep him linked to the Cycle. After all, you’ve got to figure Rasalom and the Otherness weren’t just hanging out, getting high during the decades between Reborn and Reprisal. No, they had to be setting the stage for Nightworld. So I’ve involved Jack -- against his wishes -- in the goings on. What’s really fun is bouncing him off people and places from other books and stories.

6 ) Jack is extremely anti-government. What, of your own beliefs, brings this out in the character?

Jack’s what I call a gut libertarian. He hasn’t studied anarchist philosophers like Lysander Spooner or Murray Rothbard. He has a code, but he doesn't have a structured philosophy -- at least not one he articulates -- but he instinctively abhors intrusions on his autonomy. So do I. The difference is, I only talk about it. Jack goes out and lives it. He's structured his life to maximize his autonomy. He believes that men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and government is from Uranus.

His is not an easy lifestyle, as I‘ve learned while writing about him. It takes work to stay under the radar. Sometimes even he wonders if it’s worth the effort.

7 ) There is also a very "regular guy" anti-yuppie tone to the Repairman Jack stories. This seems to be an odd characteristic for a character written by a doctor. Are you irritated by yuppies in real life?

Not yuppies in particular. The artsy crowd can also put my teeth on edge. I guess both Jack and I are irritated by pretensions and affectations. But Jack is not my alter ego. He does things I wouldn’t do. He’s far more violent than I could ever be.

8 ) Jack works for cash, so he says. Many times he seems drawn to underdogs with little to no chance of affording him. Is this a trait you see in yourself, or desire to?

Actually the underdogs are drawn to him. Jack considers himself a small businessman and expects to get paid for risking life and limb. That’s how he earns his living. He tries not to get emotionally involved, but almost always does. He has a normal amount of empathy for his fellow man, but he's learned to lock it up when it's going to get in the way. This allows him to be a caring, feeling human being 99% of the time, yet not flinch when he needs to do terrible damage.

9 ) I noticed a quote from Stephen King, identifying him as the President of the Repairman Jack Fan Club. Do you keep many personal friends or acquaintances within the industry?

That President remark was purely tongue in cheek. There is no Repairman Jack Fan Club.

But some of my most cherished friends are writers. (Stephen King is not one of them. We've only met a few times, but he is a Repairman Jack fan.) I'm in frequent email contact and we get together regularly outside the usual conventions. Sometimes I won’t see someone for a year, ad then we sit down and it’s like we were together yesterday.

10 ) I love the serial story Sims. I am waiting for book four now, is there a plan for how many books will be in the series? Will you do any more serialized stories?

Again, I wasn't looking to do a series. In 1999 Richard Chizmar asked me to do a story for the novella series Cemetery Dance has been publishing. I had this idea about transgenic chimps that I wanted to play with, so I began outlining. But the more I worked on it the larger it grew, until I told him no way I could squeeze it into 40,000 words. And I couldn't commit to another major novel because of other books contracted. We talked about it and Rich suggested I do a series of novellas on the theme; he'd publish them as they were written - no deadlines. Perfect.

I handed in Sims One and Two in April 2000, then finished the Repairman Jack novel (Hosts) I was working on. I hadn't fully outlined the series (which gave me a tightrope-without-a-safety-net feeling since I'm one of these anal types who likes to travel with a map) so when I went back I discovered things that I would have liked to put in the first two novellas. But it was too late: One was in print and Two was in galleys.

I wrote all five Sims novellas with an eye to collecting them in one volume after CD published them. I handed in the fifth and final novella in April 2001, expecting it to see print within the next twelve months. With that in mind, I sold the novelized version to Forge that summer. Sims the novel wouldn't appear until 2003, plenty of time for CD to get the novellas out. But problems with the art and other things led to long delays. As a result, the complete Sims was just published (April 2003) by Forge while the fourth and fifth novellas have yet to show up from CD.

11 ) Sims deals with genetic research, and abuse of it. What are your feelings on genetic research in the real world?

Sims is a cautionary tale set in a world exactly like our own except for one thing: the science of genetics is decades ahead. In my scenario, most simple manual labor is done by sims -- transgenic chimps with human genes swapped in -- who occupy a gray zone between ape and human.

Now, the first response I hear when I lay out this scenario is, "And the sims revolt, right?" Wrong. If you're going to genetically engineer a worker species, you engineer revolt out of them. No, it's the people I'm concerned with, the ones who created these creatures, and the secrets they keep.

In order to write Sims I had to go back and give myself a course in genetics. During my medical school days in the early 70s we knew a tiny fraction of what we do now. What we've learned in those thirty years has blown me away and opened up worlds of fiction possibilities. Trouble is, science is moving so fast I've got to keep dancing to prevent a work from being obsolete by the time it's published.

Now that we've mapped the human genome, I think the possibilities are magnificent. We can soon eradicate inherited conditions like cystic fibrosis, Tay Sachs, Alzheimer's, and even the genetic predisposition to heart disease. If we move cautiously, we can open a golden age. If we goof up, it can be catastrophic -- say, accidentally releasing a virus that will make the old Spanish flu look like a mild cold.

12 ) You have written some young adult and children stories. I love The Christmas Thingy, I have one of the drawings above my desk. Did you enjoy writing for a younger audience? Will you be doing any more?

I wrote The Christmas Thingy in the late 70s for my daughters. Later I xeroxed a few copies and sent them to nieces and nephews and friends’ children. Still later I got Jill Bauman involved. She did a few sketches and we tried to peddle it as a children’s book. No one in the strange world of children’s publishing would give us the time of day. (I was informed that having a white middle-class child as a protagonist is quite a handicap in that world.)

Back in June 2000, as I was writing the Sims novellas, Rich Chizmar and I were talking and he asked me if I had anything else, maybe something old lying about. I said no, my trunk’s been empty for some time now. I do have this children’s Christmas story but you won’t be interested in that. He said to email it to him. He fell in love with it and within 36 hours he had Alan Clark signed up to do the artwork. It was released December 1, a little late for the Christmas season, but I love it.

13 ) Alan M. Clark and Harry O. Morris have each done art work for you recently. How involved are you in the selection of the artists for your books? How are artists selected?

I have little or no say in the trade editions, but the small presses want my ideas and approval. I’m always happy to have input. Alan Clark checked with me on almost every detail of the Thingy art. It’s strange talking art with an artist like Alan—he thinks in colors like I think with words.

And Harry O. Morris has got to be one of the most underrated, under-appreciated artists in the field. He sent me three variations on the cover for the Gauntlet edition of Gateways. I told him I liked this part of the first, that part of the second, and the whole left side of the third was great. A few days later he sends me the finished product with all the best elements wedded. Check it out at:

14 ) You have done some work for comics in the past. Do you ever intend to work in any illustrated format again? What role do you feel illustrated works have in the Fantasy, Sci Fi and Horror genres?

Though I’ve seen some good stuff, I’m not overly fond of the idea of illustrated horror. I think the act of imaging (as opposed to imagining, which is the writer’s job) a scene in your own head is much more powerful than having someone do it for you on paper.

Plus I believe the art should be an integral part of the story – help tell it -- rather than simply an add-on. In The Christmas Thingy I have scenes that use the illos to reveal things not explained in the text.

15 ) In The Keep, The Lord's Work, Midnight Mass and Good Friday you give a nod to Richard Matheson style vampires, while shying away from the more common, nowadays, Anne Rice interpretation. What are your feelings on what makes a good vampire, and a good vampire story?

A good vampire’s got to be baaaaad. The first germ of The Keep came from Quinn Yarbro’s vampire hero in Hotel Transylvania. I loved the book, but a good-guy vampire? I liked the evil, scary type better. But it gave me an idea about something that might as a vampire to conceal the fact that it was something far, far worse.

Then came Anne Rice and her Byronic, soul searching, effete, aesthete vampires. Gag me. So in reaction I wrote the purposely retro “Midnight Mass.” I began with the assumption that all the vampire myths—the burning holy water, the lack of reflection, etc.—are real. Then I portrayed them as the scummy obligate parasites they are. I wasn’t surprised when it became one of my most reprinted stories.

The novella has been adapted into a low-budget indie film by a young director named Tony Mandile. He squeezed amazing production values out of half a million dollars. Lion’s Gate has a direct-to-DVD release scheduled for July 1.

Years after “Midnight Mass” I did a prequel called “The Lord’s Work.” And a prequel to that—“Good Friday”—was published in 999. Last year I rewrote the 30-odd thousand words of those stories into a coherent whole and then took off for another 70,000. The final novel—which, if I may say so, really kicks ass—will be released in March 2004.

16 ) You have put together a couple anthologies. How were those experiences? Any plans to do more?

No more anthologies. I swore I’d not do another after FREAK SHOW stole most of a year from my life, but then Marty Greenberg talked me into doing Diagnosis: Terminal – all medical thrillers. That was an easier experience because his staff filtered the stories, but I still didn’t like turning people down. There are highs, though, especially when you can point out something in a story that the author missed, then have him or her run with that and send back something that sings. But there aren’t enough of those moments. I’m very happy with the final product in both cases, but it’s not something I want to do.

17 ) You have a couple collections of short stories compiled. How do you feel about short stories? What place do they have in the market, for publishers and as an outlet for writers?

I cut my teeth on short stories—mainly because that was all I had time for. Plus I didn’t think I had the stamina or the ability to sustain a narrative for 50-60,000 words (which is what most novels ran in the 70s). I still do a few, but I find they take significantly more time and thought per word than a novel, and chew up ideas like a wood chipper. This year I’ve promised stories to Joe Lansdale, Borderlands, and Kealan Patrick Burke. I hope I can deliver.

Though short stories are a great way for new writers to feel their way, find their voice, and get published, they’re not for everybody. Some can’t adapt their brains or their style to the concision and precision required for a good one. Some short story wizzes will never be novelists. You have to find your strengths and go with them.

18 ) The Keep was made into a movie, and your disappointment in it has been quoted many times. Do you hope to try this again someday? Soon?

I hate to say it (being a devout believer in Murphy’s law), but The Tomb looks like it’s on its way to being filmed this year. Last October, after seven years of development, numerous options, five screenwriters, and eight scripts, Beacon Films ("Air Force One," "Thirteen Days," "Spy Game," etc) finally bought film rights. Disney/Touchstone/Buena Vista will be partnering and distributing the film here and abroad.

The film will be called "Repairman Jack" (the idea is to make him a franchise character). The final polish of the script was in by February, and everyone (including yours truly) loves it. The budget is set for $75-80 million; the interiors will be shot in either Australia, Rumania, or Canada. Exterior shoots will follow in Bombay and NYC. It will be PG-13 and they’re aiming for summer 2004 release. A film-related videogame is in the works.

At this date no star or director yet. I’m told a number of directors are interested in the project. Various big-name actors have been considered and rejected by either Beacon or Disney; my first choice for Jack, Hugh Jackman, was unavailable in the shooting window.

19 ) On the Sci Fi channel website you have an interactive story, Derelict. How does this work for the reader? How much fun, or trouble, was this to create? Will you do it again?

It was done for Sci-fi’s Seeing Ear Theatre back in 1997 when the 28k bpm modem was the going thing. So it had to be written for that download speed. Streaming video was a dream at that time, so Matt and I had to come up with ways to keep the story real and explain why the player was seeing only stills. I think our solutions were ingenious.

I just went back to “Derelict” and find I can’t play the audio with my current drive configuration. And you need that audio. Hmmm.

Anyway, I love doing branching interactive stories, where a decision you make here will have repercussions down the line. I like to play with the player’s head. I know they’re second guessing me, so I second guess them: Make the obvious, politically-correct choice and you may well pay for it.

Matt and I did a lot of freelance interactive work but most of it was vaporware. The only projects that saw light were “Derelict” and MathQuest with Aladdin (where it was a kick writing dialog for Robin Williams).

20 ) You have done quite a bit of television work. What have been your favorite projects to date? Are you working on anything now?

Nothing happening in that area now. But without a doubt my best TV gig was FTL Newsfeed for the Sci-Fi Channel. FTL consisted of one-minute newsfeeds from 150 years in the future. It ran a new feed multiple times every weekday -- 260 feeds a year -- and repeated them on weekends. FTL was the first and, for a while, the only or original programming on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Matt Costello and I partnered on it and would meet a couple of times a year to map out the large story arcs. Every quarter we’d and break the arcs into 13-week sections, then block out the 65 individual spots (5 per week for thirteen weeks) which were taped over a four-day period every three months.

We’d sit in one or the other’s kitchen and toss quips back and forth, each taking the topic in question to the next level, until we started laughing. That was when we knew we’d gone too far, and we’d back up a step.

Matt and I were very well paid for having a lot of fun -- hell, we would have done it for free. Plus, we were given carte blanche. The folks running the channel weren’t sf oriented—surprise! It was all a kind a mystery to them, so they let us do what we wanted. The show was surreal in a way: serious, sinister storylines peopled with goofy characters.

Not only was it hands-on experience in screenwriting -- the equivalent of writing a four-hour-and-twenty-minute movie every year -- but we got to work with interesting people. We had Gilbert Gotfried, Timothy Leary, Peter Straub, Jeffery Lyons and others doing guest spots. Rhonda Shear (remember USA’s “Up All Night” movies?) was a regular as Bimbetta Mondaine; so was Tom Monteleone as a future mafia capo. We got to work with these crazy people at Image Post who did fabulous editing. All those crawls you see on the news stations now? FTL had those to the Nth degree back in the early 90s.

21 ) Do you have any convention, or other appearances coming up?

I never miss NECon or World Fantasy Con, and this year I’m a guest at the annual Horrorfind convention. I’m thinking of going to Jerseydevilcon again, if I can manage the time.

22 ) Gateways is due out from Gauntlet Press soon. What is Jack up to this time?

Gateways is a fish-out-of-water story. Jack’s dad winds up in a coma after a car accident in Florida, so Jack has to leave his beloved NYC and head south. Of course he steps into the middle of some strange goings on in the Everglades, and learns that his father—who has no idea how Jack makes his living—has some secrets of his own.

23 ) Now that Gateways is proofed and at Gauntlet Press for printing, what is up next for you?

The Hosts paperback comes out this summer, along with The Keep limited. The Gateways trade edition is in the fall, along with a departure from my usual type of fiction: The Fifth Harmonic, a strange, new-agey kind of novel from Hampton Roads. Then there’s Midnight Mass in early 2004

Thanks Paul! I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. I look forward to seeing you here at the site next week

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Phil Shaw Interview

Hello Everyone

Say hello to Phil(Bob) Shaw and Tom(Roonas) Civill, the team that brings us Sacred Pie!! If you have not read Sacred Pie yet, Shame on You!!! Linger here for a few minutes and see what Phil has to say, then click the LINK at the bottom of the page. Once you have read through the story, don't miss or skip directly to the movie segments, come back and ask questions of Phil and Tom in the replies below. They will be in the evening of Saturday March 15th to answer them.

At the very bottom is an area where you can tell everyone how simply wonderful Sacred Pie is!!

Thanks for coming in!
Kick back, grab a beer, enjoy Phil's warm up before spending the rest of the day catching up with Bob, Roonas and Sid......

1 ) First, let’s cover the partnership between you two, Bob and Tom. I know the site gives some information but, for the sake of context and the enlightenment of those who are going to rush
there after reading this, could you tell us how you two got together in the first place

Well, it was way back in 1999 when we first started really hanging out on a regular basis. We had met through a mutual friend (Martyn in the comic) who Tom had known since Jr. High and I met my first day of college.
Then, one fateful afternoon, I was hanging out in the "the apartment" with Tom (aka Roonas) and Sid, talking about yet another comic book idea that I had. As I'm spitting out the first bits of the Sacred Pie idea, Roon says "Well- draw it."
And I did.?

2 ) Bob, the predominance of black & white, along with the general feel of the comic, reminds me of the days when Kevin Eastman first came along with teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Were these comics you read and possibly drew any inspiration from?

Actually, yes. Kevin Eastman was one of the first artists I got into when I moved away from Marvel comics in my early high school days. My other black and white indy comic inspirations include Ben Edlund (The Tick) and Drew Hayes (Poison Elves).
I wish I could say that these guys were what inspired me to stay black and white, but it's mostly a matter of time management. I'm just really slow when I color- I'd never be able to keep up with my updates if they weren't black and white. (That's why the full-color Pokey Monster chapter was only 11 pages long.)

3 ) Some of the character costuming and personality reminds me of Golden Age comics, such as Blue Beetle, Phantom and Shadow, were these comics you read when coming up?

Not really. I never read many Golden Age comics; I was a full-on Marvel kid until I was in High School.

4 ) The back story was an almost scary amount of religious history for a light hearted comic. It passed quickly and incorporates well, laying a very good premise for the entire storyline from there on. Is religion a major part of your life? Do you see this as a way to share some of that knowledge with an audience that may otherwise not take the time to learn about it?

Religion is indeed a big part of my life. I am a practicing Catholic with years and years of Sunday school education to draw religious references from. I don't see Sacred Pie as a "religious" comic- it's a tale of the struggle between good and evil. In my own belief, the subtle, eons long campaign against each other is the best example of that.

5 ) I love the panels containing only one or more of the characters in a freeze frame expression or blank stare. The emotions, or simple pause for thought, that are conveyed are brilliant. Has this become a trademark in your style? Do you use it intentionally, or simply see it as the only way to express the moment?

Most of those are just my way of doing a "funny take". Most of the time, I'd rather have them react to something with a well drawn facial expression than a witty one-liner.

6 ) The impromptu responses from the characters, such as the scene where they had to pick one of the group to fight solo in the pit (“not it”, “not it”, “crap” and the opening scene where The Traveler dies in their living room (“dibs on the gloves”, are hilarious. So, writing genius or actual behaviors of the people the characters are based on?

No writing genius here. We actually talk like this.

7 ) I noticed that English is the standard language throughout the universe. I wonder if this is a commentary on the state of the world today, or simply a way to simplify the writing of the story.

I followed George Lucas's lead here. He invented a language he calls "Basic" that all of his sci-fi characters seem to understand, so why can't I.

8 ) Beer and cigs, available everywhere. So, there is hope for the future!
Many sci-fi stories tend to show the society as being “past” these types of activities. Is your version intentionally taken in the opposite direction to show what you see as more likely?

Yes, indeed. I'm a big fan of what I call "dirty sci-fi". I don't like the clean, pristine look of the utopian future. Wherever we go, humans will be humans. We'll drink beer, eat cheese-fries, and shoot before asking questions. I don't see why other alien races wouldn't have the same bad habits, either.

9 ) Bob. He’s always getting his arse kicked. Is this self deprecating humor a reflection of how you see your life, or simply a tool of the story?

This is a little of both. In any trio of friends, one will always tend towards the "comedy relief". Since in real life, I am the clumsiest of the three, I opted to be the crash dummy.

10 ) There are a few “tasteless” jokes thrown in, such as “Kill Whitey” (during the uprising against Diego) and “Suddenly I’m craving Chinese food” (after the cat people are thrown in the fire). It seems as though you’ve picked such harsh stereotypes to show your distaste of them in real life. Do you use these stories to draw attention to the inappropriate nature of these types of sentiments?

Yeah- that's why they are funny. When Bob utters "Kill Whitey", it's clear that he has no idea what he's doing. Most of the humor we use in Sacred Pie is very subtle, but every once in a while we fall back on a planned joke. Usually kind of dry, or trite, but funny- because it sticks out from everything else in the comic.

11 ) Roonas talks to the audience, or makes reference to the comic itself, several times.
So, were you a big Bruce Willis fan too? Or, just a fan of this comic bit?

Actually, Roonas kind of reminds me of a kinder, gentler Zack Morris.

12 ) There have been several parodies in the story (i.e. Fantasy Island, Star Trek, Star Wars, Willy Wonka and Pokemon ) so far (btw, thanks for killing Team Crochety…..that was lovely). Do you plan to continue with this?

I think that I will always give small nods to people and things that inspire me. The Pokey Monster chapter was fun to do, it gave me a chance to break out a little and stretch my artistic legs, but, as Sid said at the end of the Star Trek parody, "I don't feel like doing any more spoofs."

13 ) WetWerks. Tell us all about them, if you would.

These are guys that went to college with. Rob (the drummer) and Seth (the lead vocalist) lived down the hall from me my freshman year in college. We kept in touch after college, and now they're a really successful local band on the verge of being a "big time" band. I love referring to them on Sacred Pie; it's my little way to support the band. (By the way, you can learn more about WetWerks at )

14 ) Was there a change in drawing style during chapter 11?

I think that may have been one of my "growth spurts". Every once and awhile I learn some new way to draw something, or an inking trick, and my art jumps up a notch. I hardly notice it happening, but Roonas has pointed it out to me a few times.

15 ) The movie that served for chapter 12 was a lot of fun.
What inspired such a large move away from the existing style for part of the main storyline?
The Pokemon chapter was also different, but also not so imperative to the story.

I think that chapter 12, War, is going to be what sets Sacred Pie away from most other online comics. It was a huge turning point in the story, so I wanted to make it stand out a little more. Plus, I was starting to get into a drawing rut, so I needed something new and exciting to do.

16 ) Foreshadowing a little with “Sid” helping them find the ruby and The Admiral(Roonas) pointing them in the right direction weren’t you?
Do you have all of the time travel and changing of history details worked out?

Yes we do. Roonas and I actually meet and make time to "officially" work on Sacred Pie. We go over possible story holes, plot lines, time travel problems, and a host of other storyboarding duties. Thus far, we have nearly a decade of Sacred Pie loosely plotted out.

17 ) What does the future here in this time and planet have in store for Bob, Roonas and Sid?
Do you hope to take this comic to print?

Excellent question. We are going into print this summer actually. An upcoming chapter will be available in print, months before it is posted online. Roonas and I are also going on the comic book convention circuit to promote Sacred Pie as well.

-Phil Shaw

Thank you Phil and Tom!! That was a load of good stuff, hopefully everyone is either writing their questions and comments or clicking the LINK to catch up with the series first! I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to be with us and I look forward to reading your replies to the members here on the evening of Saturday march 15th.


Saturday, March 01, 2003

Jacek Dukaj Interview

Jacek Dukaj, a phenom of modern Polish literature. Compared to the outstanding Stanislaw Lem, yet making a mark all his own, he has raised the bar in science fiction and fantasy. His short story "The Cathedral" has been adapted into an animated short, garnering multiple awards throughout this past year enroute to its current Oscar nomination. His award winning writing is in the process of making its way into the English speaking market. The short story, and future feature film, "The Iron General" will appear as part of an anthology and other works are being presented to publishers as we speak.

Here at OF we had the amazing opportunity to be among the first to see passages of "The Cathedral" and "The Iron General" translated into English. Now, we have an interview with Jacek himself, including synopsises of other works, comments on Polish literature and discussion of his background.

I have linked the english passage of "The Iron General" at the end of this interview. "The Iron General" is in turn linked to the english passage of "The Cathedral". That passage is in then linked to a site containing information on, and a trailer for, the Oscar nominated animated short based on "The Cathedral".

Below, in the replies, I have set up headings to ask questions of and make comments to Jacek himself. He will be visiting on March 5th to make his replies.

Please, do not reply to questions asked of Jacek until after he has answered them. I have set up a heading at the end for group discussion and comments on the interview itself.

Thanks for coming in!!



1 ) Your first published story, The Golden Galley, was at age 16. Who were your influences and what support did you receive to allow you to put together a publishable work at such a young age?

Well, I've always read a lot, so you can safely say there were some influences from literature; but what were they exactly? Even if I did know that then, I certainly don't remember that now.

Support, mhm. I had a support: someone from my family gave me an old typewriter. I've been scribing various stories for years, probably from the very time I learnt the alphabet :-) When I got the machine I typed the story I was writing at the time and sent it to "Fantastyka", the biggest SF magazine in Poland. It was "The Golden Galley" ["Zlota Galera"]. The rest is history ;-)

2 ) This story appears in English as part of The Dedalus Book of Polish Fantasy, have you published much else in English? I notice that your newest novel, Black Oceans, is listed as being available in English, is that so?

No. Someone translated a very short fragment of "Black Oceans" ["Czarne oceany"] (it was part of a Polish culture promotion done by some foundation), but I didn't have the chance to authorize it, and the book's summary attached to it is, mhm, rather free interpretation. You know, the kind you'd expect from a mainstream critic who knows everything about a SF novel before reading it. "Computers going crazy", "computers ruling the world" etc.

3 ) Since that first story, some 13 years ago, what other works have you had published?

A couple dozen short stories and novellas (my short stories count from 60 pages, my novellas from 120-160 pages :-)), in various SF magazines and anthologies. Four books: "Xavras Wyzryn" in 1997 (in fact containing two novels: "Xavras Wyzryn" and "Before Night" ["Zanim noc"]), "In the Land of Infidels" ["W kraju niewiernych"] in 2000 (containing 8 stories and novellas), "Black Oceans" ["Czarne oceany"] in 2001, a huge novel cut down on my publisher's request from over 1000 pages, and "Extensa" in 2002, a short novel.

4 ) How do you perceive your style has evolved, if at all, during these years?

Well, I think it has improved. I hope it has :-)

Trying to be objective, I'd say I now focus more on the visual aspects of the story. Also I'm editing myself to be more "understandable" - I have a reputation of being too original (putting too many ideas in my stories), writing in too sophisticated of a manner about complicated things. Maybe I'll finally find some balance.

Also, in the way the narration feeds on itself, my ideal would lie somewhere between Julio Cortazar, Gene Wolfe and Friedrich Durrenmatt. The rule is this: write what you'd like to read yourself. And I like those kinds of stories: make the reader think, twist his mind, and demand from him some knowledge and determination to "solve" the text. When you finish reading and then read it a second time, you discover new meanings and things you would swear weren't there before.

5 ) It seems there is a lot of Polish literature that is overlooked by those of us mired in English-only. What is your opinion of the writing produced in Poland overall?

This is a matter for long discussion. First, one has to separate prose from poetry and science fiction & fantasy from mainstream prose. We had and have many really great poets (my favorite is Zbigniew Herbert). Some of their poetry is impossible to translate, too idiomatic, rooted too deeply in Polish culture and history; but some of it is known all around the world (see Nobel Prizes). We don't have the tradition of "storytelling" as strong as it is in the Anglo-Saxon world. Probably the only Polish novelist fitting this profile is Henryk Sienkiewicz (author of "Quo Vadis" ). Polish literature lacks, almost completely, "the popular genres": mystery, adventure, horror, thriller etc. - you could only point to single writers, the exceptions. The underlying principle is: you don't write to tell a story (no matter how amusing, original and captivating itself), but to USE the story for some higher purpose (political, religious etc.). Nevertheless, two such genres have evolved in Poland: romance (for women) and science fiction (in last 10 years, hand in hand with fantasy). Of course, they are (were) completely invisible to mainstream critics and "real literature" specialists. A good example is the history of Stanislaw Lem's reception: first they had to clean him up from SF mud (key phrase being "Despite using the SF decoration..." ), then they could notice his greatness. So now, when capitalism rules the book market in Poland, SF seems to be half of all Polish "literature for people". There are some really talented writers, saying in their fiction far more about contemporary Poland and the world than all of the Polish mainstream authors - Rafal Ziemkiewicz, Andrzej Sapkowski, Marek S. Huberath and others.

Of course, all of this is horrible simplification and if some Polish literature professor reads it, I'll run straight for the trenches ;-)

6 ) Have you had the opportunity to spend much time with Poland's other young super star of literature, Dorota Maslowska? What can you tell us of her?

Despite being nominated to the same award and often being mentioned together as "those young novelists", I've never met her. She comes from a completely different literary tradition and completely different circles. Ninety percent of her prose is in its form: language plays, cultural associations, Polish pop-culture "inside jokes", smart observations of subcultures (I'd love to see it translated to English - it'd have to be a "holistic" translation of all modern Poland or rewrite the whole story from scratch as a British or American one). Funny thing is, having jeered at and criticized "the establishment", Maslowska very quickly found her way to it. With one book under her belt she became "the voice of young literature" in Poland. I'm very curious about her second book, I want to see if the first one was "the book of her life" or the first cry of great writer being just born. I hope for the last, I wouldn't mind her being the name, the face and the language for 21st century Polish literature.

7 ) Stanislaw Lem is one of the most famous writers in Poland today. What is your opinion of his works and of the current comparisons between his works and yours.

I'm being compared to him just as every successful writer of epic fantasy is being compared to Tolkien ;-)

Which doesn't mean there are no similarities (I think you'd find them in a strong sense of logic, a kind of synthetic rationalization, and in a fondness for philosophical puzzles), but I certainly don't copy him,
don't try to emulate his style or "continue his work".

On the other hand, I freely admit I started reading SF because of his books. "The Investigation" was the first one.

He warped my fragile young mind :-)

8 ) Black Oceans, winner of the Janusz Zajdel Award, was released this past year, could you give us a synopsis of the story?

This is probably a harder thing to do than writing it :-)

OK, let me try to describe the background and the beginning of the story.

End of XXI century, New York. (In "Black Oceans" NYC is "the evil city"; I needed an archetypical city-Moloch of the western world). There will be no characters to like, no heroes to admire. Nicholas Hunt is a cynical, egoistic bureaucrat, whose main motivation for all of his decisions in his job is, it seems, covering his ass. Once he was a big player in Washington, but - as we'll learn much later - made one mistake in choosing patriotism over egoism (why?). Now he's the manager of a small budget government program: a couple of rooms filled with computers, ten scientists working part-time, analyzing the data. Nicholas rots in his office, reliving memories of the glamorous past, while writing a dark political novel on his terminal about the amazing career of his alter-ego. His only consolation is he managed to arrange his sister's contract marriage with a New York senator.

Enter Marina Vassone, a cognitive, neurologist, and mathematician, one of the "science parasites" living off various government agencies, programs and foundations. She's heard somehow about Nicholas’ program (it's not so secret) and received a recommendation from Nicholas'
brother-in-law. She wants to search Nicholas’ program databases.

Now I have to delve into theories. Nicholas and Marina, and most people from higher classes of America, Europe, Japan etc., are "genetically sculptured". Their DNA is not from their parents' DNA, but was designed by genetic engineers according to their parents' wishes, from standardized "geneframes". It doesn't mean the sculptured people are some Ubermenschen, they just don't have flaws, physical or mental. You can recognize them by the model-like beauty of their bodies, and the dates of their births – relating to the fashion trends which these bodies match. Women who can afford it don't get pregnant and don't give birth to their children themselves, they buy a home incubator and watch the growth of the fetus through its glass. This way, women aren’t disfigured and don't have to stop working nor change their way of life. The trick is - this is still a luxury technology and no more than 5% of the population of Earth uses it. There are still huge areas of poverty and constant wars in Africa, Asia and South America, conditions even worse than in the XX century. And division is not clear, "sterile". There is a great river of artificial genes flowing into seas of natural human DNA, and no one can predict what will be the result of all these re-combinations of genes which never existed in the whole history of Homo sapiens. Completing the Human Genome Project doesn't mean we know what every possible gene stands for. So, this was the program Nicholas worked in: registration and analyses of the fast changing "American Genome". Government got involved because information about one's DNA is one's property and the whole operation was a little "shady".

Now Marina's theory. She found proof that one of those "mutations" was telepathy and now she wants to find the genes of telepathy. The theory was developed this way: I have a man who receives the information from another man's mind but is isolated from him by materials stopping any known particles/energy. Conclusion: obviously there is some new, unknown kind of particles (?), somehow reacting ONLY with the mind/brain. So Marina builds a theoretical model. The smallest possible quantity of information transferred that way is called "a psychomeme". Maybe it's a particle, maybe it's a wave. It exists on the plane of "myslnia" (my neologism; think: "thought" (in Polish "mysl" ), "abyss"; 'mysl -> myslnia' as 'thought -> ?'). Since memetics is a well developed science in those days, Marina quickly draws analogies: psychomemes work like genes; they copy, mutate and evolve. The most important thing is they don't need our minds to exist, they only emerge from them and interact with them. There, on myslnia, is an entire parallel life, existing at least since the times of the first neural structures on Earth. New science – psychomemetics - is born. Its goal is, of course, exploration of myslnia. Are there psychomemetic plants, animals, intelligent beings ("neuromonads" )? (I stole word "monad" from Leibniz, but I use it differently, to describe "the cells" of psychomemetic organisms). Can we communicate with them? Although they "eat" our thoughts, they aren’t necessarily aware that this "meat" has meaning. So Marina needs telepaths to proceed with more and more complicated experiments. (A “telepath" does not mean some mind-controlling freak, just a man who is less immune to myslnia than others are).

A common mistake of SF writers is to launch, all at once, a completed scientific theory. I didn't want to do it; I wanted my science to look like "real" science - in the history of science there are no "completed theories". So I collected some empirical data and built several equally "true" theories (meaning: matching all data, being susceptible to falsification (in Karl Popper sense, but then - look at the Duhem-Quine thesis) and bringing some new information). Marina's theory is one of them, but there are also other theories of myslnia: as a machine (non-material computer); as God (it matches some of God's definitions quite well); as a liquid-like matter, behaving by the laws of physics for liquid and gas; and others. When Nicholas uses this opportunity to resurrect his career and become the president of the DARPA-funded agency for the exploration of myslnia, data is still being gathered (psychomemetics is interested in all ghost stories, "haunted house" stories, "evil possession" stories, etc.) and telepaths are being secretly hunted.

But why does the government give the money for it, and why is it so secret? Because those who learn how to manipulate monads first, will win the Economic Wars: the human factor was always the weakest link. The Economic Wars are the result of further complications; acceleration and computerization of the world economy (There are also various economic theories but I'll skip them). Everyone battles everyone and you can't refuse to participate: you'd have to isolate yourself from the world economy and it'd be the death of your personal finances.

Then one day comes the information about great, unexplainable, changes in the management of Asian countries-corporations: these are the signs of the beginning of the Monadal Wars. Someone was faster and already learnt how to manipulate myslnia. (But how is it possible? Who betrayed?) There's a political storm in Washington and Nicholas has to figure something out. To buy some time he comes up with the idea of the conference of "government scientists" (loyalty comes with money), a kind of brainstorming. He knows scientists: there'll be no revelations, just terabytes of scientific trash and a bunch of incoherent theories, which will allow him to justify any possible decision (Most of the theories later in the book are quotations from the conference).

That doesn't mean Nicholas and his people haven't done anything so far. They tracked down telepaths, kidnapped them and sent them into Earth's orbit so they'd be noticed by neuromonads (in the relative "silence of myslnia" ) and start interaction (there's a long history of "mystical experiences" of astronauts). But these telepaths end up in comas, with flat-lined brains. Some of them know what awaits them (the psychomemes of their predecessors linger in orbital labs) and prepare for revenge. One day, during lunch, Marina becomes "possessed" by monads of the psychomemes of a suicidal woman who killed her children. This is not a horror. The "possession" progresses by laws of cognitive sciences: alien psychomemes mix with Marina's own, a new structure is built. A new memory, a memory of the past which unites Marina's history and the woman's history; a new personality, a new person is formed (Marina recognizes in her memories the memories of one of the kidnapped telepaths and because of that contamination she knows whose revenge it is - this is also the proof this kind of the manipulation of monads is possible). Nicholas observes it up close because meanwhile he started a sterile, antiseptic romance with Marina (or she started it?). "Sterile, antiseptic", for New Etiquette covers all the ways of interaction between people. They are constantly under the surveillance of the "legal insurance net", which registers all their actions so that they couldn't be falsely accused of some "personal offense crime". New Etiquette (NEti) is not a complete, coherent system of new laws; it's based simply on legal precedents. I extrapolated here (maybe to an absurd) some existing trends. Mainly those related to the expansion of law, which steps on the fields left by religion, common sense etc. NEti doesn't affect everyone. You can live "out of NEti", if you choose so, but you can't make a career that way.

In this part of the novel there are fragments of a diary of the next kidnapped telepath. He writes the story of his "impossible love" (you cannot love someone whose thoughts swarm in your mind; in permanent intimacy there's no intimacy at all), and we gain insight to his mind.

As a result of one of the analyses Nicholas asked for, a surprising discovery comes. Comparing the frequency, times etc. of the explosion of various suicidal, UFO-oriented, crazy cults/religions with all possible sets of data, a young scientist discovers that they match precisely the mechanics of a Sheratan planetary system - Sheratan, Kaukab al-saratain (from Arabic: "the star of two signs" ). Nefele, a second planet of the invisible satellite of Sheratan A, seems to "cause" - by its alignments with stars and planets - the increase of the intensity of these cults and their bloody rituals. We don't have the proof myslnia "obeys" the laws of physics and now it seems the psychomemes can travel faster than light. (There is this "morphogenetic field" theory by Rupert Sheldrake, but I'll skip it). What do these rituals "mean"? Do they mean anything? How would a cat "stuffed" with an ant's psychomemes behave? Maybe it's a result of physiological cycles of Nefele's inhabitants? But – maybe their religion...? How can we know what cultural trends on Earth are the results of the alien psychomemes infection? And we propagate our psychomemes through myslnia as well. So as a final result, in the whole universe there will be only one species, Psychosoic universi, shaped by the intergalactic fashion trends of body and soul.

Nicholas learns of it shortly after the accident Marina has. It wasn't an accident, it was a murder attempt. He doesn't know it was her who sold the secrets of his Program and that now, after her "possession", the corporation Marina secretly worked for thinks she can no longer be trusted and wants to waste her. "A corporation thinks", "a corporation wants" - this is (I think) the main theme of "Black Oceans". An atrophy of personal responsibility, the rule of overcomplicated systems, the will born from nowhere, the power of (memetic) trends; no one plans anything and there are only victims. Nicholas and Marina live in times of "metaxocracy" (my Greek neologism: we are ruled by "things that are between" ). It starts at the level of politics and comes down to every small decision we make. We all know history isn't a random composition of economic/political systems. There are laws of evolution there as well, but it's hard to notice them when changes take centuries. However, now the processes accelerate, the world shrinks, everything affects everything, there are no countries of alternative economy that work as well as ours or better. Everything comes in one direction and every decision we make narrows the range of decisions we can make next. But do we really make "decisions"? Can some politician choose a completely different path? He'll ruin his country and his successor would have to quickly return to the old ways. We can see it now - how small the differences between rivals are. In the time of Nicholas Hunt there will be only one kind of freedom left for the "rulers": a freedom to make wrong choices. And it doesn't mean there are some "secret rulers", the "real power" behind etc. In the second part of the novel, when Nicholas and Marina are on the "path of low probability" and real action begins (i.e. chases, street battles, chaos in NYC as "the city of dark psychomemes", all logically justified by "futuroscope", but I skip this theory, too), they are the victims of the "conspiracy of no one": there's conspiracy to secretly kill them, but there are no conspirators.

Meanwhile Nicholas starts suspecting something (his brother-in-law gives him a lead) and he hires a hacker to find proof. Now, bear in mind: neither this hacker (actually "sneaker" ), nor the Economic Wars I wrote about above are anything like the ones we know from the classic cyberpunk of "capitalism of predators". This is all very down-to-earth, even unattractive (the hacker is a middle-aged gardener with a bunch of kids and a big belly etc.). Finally Nicholas gets the proof of Marina's betrayal. Earlier, during his private investigation in Washington, he found the dead body of one of the officials supervising his Program and it's not clear whether it was murder or suicide. Also, someone sends him a computer program called "Prayer".
But... dam, to explain the functions of the Prayer I must now describe the whole technology of bionano, the self-configuring bioimplants being injected into veins like some antibiotics. The idea of OVR - ortovirtual reality -, where you do not enter artificial realities, but customize your reality (like changing the GUI of your PC, you can change MUI (Multisense User Interface), de-formatting your whole world (including yourself) according to a chosen theme. Nicholas picks Necropolis, his brain's manager is Devil - but Nicholas claims it was by pure chance. Maybe that kind of blind chance which decides what product you pick at the supermarket? As one of my characters says: "acceptance of an aesthetic of the evil is the first step to accepting the evil itself" ). And those bioimplants are so efficient because they work also on unused parts of the owner's brain, a so called "neuroRAM SWAP". You can also "edit" yourself, your voice, your facial expressions, your body movements. Marina’s ex-husband, who appears later, is an ex-soldier nanocyborgized this way.

Still, I haven't told half of the novel, not a word about RNAditors. All of these theories/technologies mix with each other, bionano and RNAditors are used in the Monadal Wars. It all operates from the plane of Hunt's MUI, where New York is a techno-gothic city of death and we see Crowd on its streets as an apocalyptical beast - but then to explain what Crowd is I'd have to list the various RNAditors used there...

9 ) The Cathedral, your 60 page novella, was adapted into an animated film. This film has won the Siggraph 2002 Computer Animation Festival's Best Animated Short and Germany's Animago Award. Could you give us a synopsis of this story, your role in the adaptation and opinion of how the adaptation relates your novel.

I believe the story itself was completed before Tomek Baginski came to me with an idea about making a film in this technology. "The Cathedral" was in a file of 300 pages of various treatments, finished and unfinished stories, which I sent to Tomek (We were working by e-mail only). Then the selection began. Financial (it was a completely amateur undertaking), technical and format (short film) limitations cut out 90% of my propositions. After 9 months of this painful process "The Cathedral" stood victorious on the battlefield.

The inspirations for the story were albums about Antonio Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia. I thought then about the cathedral that not only "seems" to be alive, but IS alive in some way. About the cathedral under the stars, in a cold void and darkness, growing slowly for millions of years...

I think Tomek Baginski did a great job recreating the climate of the story. His visual imagery was strong enough that he didn't have to "copy" my Cathedral - he's built his own vision of the same dream.

10 ) The Cathedral is nominated for an Oscar as well. How much excitement for you personally is created by all of these award ceremonies?

Well, for years the Oscar ceremonies weren't transmitted on Polish TV at all. It seems it wasn't profitable for any station, even if there were Polish nominees. I used to check out the winners on the internet ;-)

We don't have high hopes. We can't afford the promotion comparable to that of studios like Pixar. On the other hand, this is not a category where it should matter so much. Anyway, we’re thinking now in terms of the opportunity to find the money for our next project, which should be a full-length adaptation of "The Iron General". That couple of million dollars is probably impossible to find in Poland, but we plan to make "The Iron General" in English, for Japan and the western markets. So the Oscar nomination at least gives us a chance to try to make the dream real... ;-)

11 ) Your current translator, Michael Kandel, is an author and editor himself, in addition to being a translator for yourself and Stanislaw Lem. How did you meet him and how is the relationship working out?

By e-mail :-)

Really, Michael is an ambassador of Polish SF in the West. He reads
Polish magazines and books and tries to present the best (what he thinks is best ;-)) in English. Now, he is completing the anthology "A Polish Book of Monsters" - "The Iron General" was translated for it.

12 ) What are you currently working on?

I have one novel stashed (I completed it two years ago). It's the first part of a trilogy, the title is "An Ideal Imperfection" ["Perfekcyjna niedoskonalosc"]. It was supposed to be "a space opera to end all space operas". But to build the technologies allowing me to describe the biggest possible wars I had to first create whole sciences supporting it, and ended up writing hard SF. The wars that are going on there are... mhm, let me put it in this analogy: the universes are bullets, the number of dimensions are the caliber, the speed of light is gun-powder.

To describe the world of the trilogy (set in XXIX century) as well as its heroes, I should first explain the ideas it is based on. Even the identity of the main character is questionable. He's been resurrected from the wreck of a XXI century spaceship - but maybe it's not him. How
can he tell, if his brain structure can be altered as easy as time and space? If you know Greg Egan's "Diaspora", you have the idea of cognitive science technologies I use here. My great tragedy is that I started writing it before I even heard about Greg Egan, but then I read "Diaspora" and fell into depression... I'm joking, but it was really frustrating. For example, I was especially proud of the declination algorithm I created for the fourth sex (or "beings that transcend the category of sex" ). Which, believe me, is a very hard thing to do in Slavic languages (I wrote "fourth sex" because in Polish there are three different declinations: for "he", "she" and "it" ). And then I found Egan had done the same in English, where it is a matter of merely 3-4 words!

But that's not the main idea. I think "kraft" or "meta-physics" (not "metaphysics"!) would be the one: a science about changing the laws of physics. "Kraft" is a practical technology derived from meta-physics. By krafting you can create quasiFTL waves and "inclusions" in which you can set the laws of physics as you like. Inclusions can be the size of a room - or as limitless as our universe. Measuring them is pointless: they're autonomous and in no concrete relation to our cosmos.

But the idea standing behind it is purely philosophical: if the fittest ones win in the game of life, and the same goes for cultures / civilizations, everything depends on outer conditions. But having left the planet, we find ourselves in exactly the same conditions as any other possible civilization in our universe. And what will be the vector of the evolution? Intelligence, of course; the power of data-computing systems. And we cannot build/create some beings of higher intelligence to help us: if they are really more intelligent, it's us who would be the tools, and then - merely their toys. But at the same time we have to auto-evolve if we are to defend ourselves from other civilizations, to avoid their domination and slow incorporation into their systems (or simply: to stay alive). Every civilization has to evolve and every one goes in the same direction. Soon they achieve the goal: the point of the Ultimate Computer - a system (organic or not, it doesn't matter) which cannot be further improved because it's limited only by laws of physics (Ultimate Computer has already been described by scientists in abstract terms). So every civilization ends in the same form? Ha, there kraft comes in: if you can manipulate the laws of physics, the real quest begins - the quest for the best combination of meta-physical variables (number of dimensions, number and character of particles, speed of light etc.), Ultimate Inclusion.

This is of course much more complicated, various sociological, psychological paradoxes come to mind. And there is the "Imperial Nanoware Field", inf, the invisible soup of nanomachines standarized to 3 basic elements, in constant reconfiguration by laws of DNA-like language. And the Wells of Time; and so on ... but you get the picture.

Why "space opera to end all space operas"? Because nothing can beat the war of endless universes. There are inclusions/universes created with the fastest possible variables of time, where specialized Civilizations
of Death endlessly evolve by the laws of eugenics-like science (and the hero finds himself in the middle of conflict, possessing the key to Ultimate Inclusion). At least I can't imagine yet what could beat that.

Currently I'm writing "The Songs of Others" ["Inne piesni"], a novel which expanded dangerously from a small project. It's not SF, not fantasy (no magic there), not alternative history (no event in history could change it that way), I don't know how to categorize it. It's based on one of those mind-twisting premises I love: imagine Aristotle was right. The universe works how he described it. There are no atoms, no electrons and photons, just five elements. There's no evolution in nature. Nature is teleological, it has purpose, and every Substance is fulfilling its ideal Form, morphe, which "exists" separately from the Matter, hile, but appears only in Substance. The Sun and all the planets are circling Earth. Cancer, leprosy etc. are the signs of mind's insanity, the weakness of Form. Etc., etc.

Of course, this is simplification: Aristotle's theory wasn't coherent and it'd be strange if he guessed everything right 2300 years ago. But this is the direction the science (if you still call it science) went in my universe - because this is what that universe really is - not toward Newton and Einstein and quantum physics - because that's false.

What's even more important, hilemorphism determines life in all areas: political, social, economic, psychological etc. I try to melt the ontological "Form" of Aristotle with Form from aesthetics and some principles from Hegel. There are people whose Form is stronger than others and they can "shape" things, plants and animals, whole lands and nations, just by "being there". You can practice and specialize in this influence - don't we all know people whose wishes we feel compelled to fulfill, whose very presence changes the way everyone behaves? Those
most powerful - kratistoses, kratistas - lay their "auras" on whole countries. In the aura of despot everyone is a little more egoistic and harsh; in the aura of hedonist everyone is a little prettier and sensual etc. (You could say Jesus and Hitler were kratistoses ;-)) There are specializations of personal auras - for example in the presence of ares everything is a deadly weapon and an accidental punch can be a devastating blow. Etc., etc., this is far more complicated. The most powerful kratista had to flee from Earth and now she lives on the Moon, morphing it toward her Form.

The action begins with the journey of Mister Berbelek; who once was a great strategist, but the Form of an enemy twisted him into a small, sad man. The journey is with his adolescent children, whom he hasn't seen for years, and maybe he'll come back to life "copying" Form from his young daughter and son. A journey to the heart of Africa, with its golden cities and mysterious old jungles, from which come tales of amorphous beasts, strange beauty and terrible miracles...

I've completed the first half of the novel. I have put myself on a schedule to finish it all by May, so it could be published in September or October. It should have about 600 pages. But because of the Oscar nomination for Baginski's "The Cathedral" I've fallen behind. There is, for example, a project to make an album for "The Cathedral" with a crazy deadline.

I'd like to ask you if I may use this interview in future, as a reference for English readers (and maybe to lure some publishers ;-))


Thank you so very much for taking all the time you have to provide us with the excerpts, this amazing interview and stopping by to visit. I sincerely appreciate it. I wish you the best in your endeavors.

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