Lavie, what a story. For me, so emotionally resonant. So representative of the complexity of relationships and love, against a backdrop that is, through metaphors, very real. Tell me about the inspiration for Isobel and her “robotnik” love interest—where did these people come from?
Thank you so much! The origins for this actually go a long time back. People might notice that the Central Station stories (a sort of mosaic novel, really, which is now collected/out from Tachyon Publications) contain a lot of references, but what might be less apparent is that they correspond quite a lot not just with American SF but also Israeli SF. Which, in fairness, would be obscure to the vast majority of any kind of reader.
In this case, a very early inspiration for me were a pair of short stories published in the magazine Fantasia 2000 in the mid-1980s (and which I only read, I suspect, years after they were published, in worn-out library copies). They were by a guy called Mordechai Sasson, and to the best of my knowledge were the only things he ever published. They were called “The Stern-Gerlach Rats” and “The Conman and the Tin Beggar,” and they were set in a sort of future Israel where robots were basically begging for spare parts. They really stuck with me, through all the years, and I started exploring this idea with an early story called “Crucifixation,” which I sent to an unknown little magazine called Apex Digest, edited by Jason Sizemore. It turned out it was the first story Jason ever bought for his magazine, and it began a long association between us, which eventually resulted in my early collection, HebrewPunk, and of course The Apex Book of World SF series. But back then, I had no idea!
So, this is kind of where the robotniks came from . . . and they kept popping up in the sort of interconnected future history I was writing throughout that time, and they kind of evolved and got more complex as time went on, until the Central Station cycle kind of allowed me to go back to their origins in a more . . . mature form? But really the start of it all was sitting in the library as a kid in the SF stack and reading these beat-up old magazines.
And, of course, I’d argue at the heart of Central Station is, well maybe not romance but love, relationships, and that is kind of what “Under The Eaves” is about. But it feeds through all of the stories and, in fact, if you pick up the actual book, you can see the Isobel/Motl arc kind of extended a little bit there.
“‘Is it not enough,” the woman said, ‘that you do?’” This was an incredible moment for me. I loved the way the sense of power and weakness—not to mention confidence and fear—struggled for prominence within Isobel, a woman facing uncertainty, essentially. In your writing, what tools and techniques do you use to so effectively treat shifting, powerful emotions?
It’s an interesting question! Nothing consciously, I would say. I am very fearful, as a writer, of emotional manipulation (which I’d argue can be a quite common element in certain science fiction stories). Really I just try to write as honestly as possible. I am actually very fond of books where a lot of the stuff is under the surface, the sort of paired-down noir style (which is much more predominant in my novels like The Violent Century or A Man Lies Dreaming), but my goal with these stories was very different, and more gentle. I just wanted to explore the characters and their interactions, to kind of look at an ordinary life against an extraordinary background, if that makes sense.
“Under the Eaves” is a brief, but captivating, exploration of your Central Station world. One of the noticeable themes here is the confluence, or perhaps crashing and swirling, of cultures (in this case not only of various human cultures, but also digital and alien). How is identity and culture important to you, personally, and what do you hope to convey (or perhaps gift) to the reader?
Well, I’m a bit of a mishmash of identity at this point—I grew up in Israel, to an extent in South Africa, I’ve lived in the UK for a long time, but also in places like Vanuatu and Laos, I speak and write in three languages—my latest project is actually writing a series of short literary fiction vignettes in Bislama, the South Pacific pidgin/creole that is the official language of Vanuatu (and which I stole for my “Asteroid Pidgin”). So these are coming out every month in The Vanuatu Daily Post, which is kind of amazing! The idea of Bislama becoming a sort of universal language is actually not new, the radical playwright Ken Campbell was a big believer in that idea, going so far as to stage a version of Macbeth adapted into Bislama at the Royal National Theatre in London (back in 1998). And Campbell was well into his science fiction, putting on an epic stage version of the Illuminatus! trilogy and trying to adapt V.A.L.I.S. for stage . . .
But I digress! So I was living back in Tel Aviv for a little while and was captivated by the area of the giant bus station, which is where a lot of African refugees, and Asian economic migrants, had settled, and I wanted to kind of explore that, and in turn explore contemporary Israel, and Golden Age science fiction . . . a whole bunch of stuff.
So, yeah . . . I kind of feel like a bit of a stranger wherever I go, and obviously my own cultural/linguistic/etc. baggage is pretty much unique in the field, which has been both a help and a hindrance, but it has been interesting to me to be able to explore a more personal story, something connected to my own identity(ies). Of course, I’m not entirely sure I ever expected it to actually work!
Your latest book, Camera Obscura, just came out—congratulations! But I have a feeling you’ll have more for us soon enough. What are you working on that we can look forward to? And I also wonder: will we be returning to the Central Station setting soon?
Camera Obscura is actually a new edition of my book from 2011—we’ve been re-issuing all three of the Bookman Histories novels, with new covers and new bonus material—it’s been quite gratifying to see new people pick it up. The Bookman came out in August and The Great Game is due very shortly. And besides those three, A Man Lies Dreaming, which came out in the UK in 2014 (and picked up a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize for Best British Fiction, and a British Fantasy Award nomination, and this year was also shortlisted—in the Italian edition—for the Rome Prize), was out in March from Melville House in the US. And then of course the Central Station book just came out from Tachyon, and besides that I did a little non-fiction book with my friend Shimon Adaf, called Art And War. So that’s six books out in one year in the US! I think, you know, let’s maybe take a short breath before talking about a new one . . . though actually I’ve been quite busy, there’s just nothing I can talk about right now.
I’ve also had a pretty good year with short fiction—I had stories I was very happy with in places like Tor.com and F&SF this year and so on, and I have some forthcoming from Analog and Apex and in Conjunctions, which is very cool.
As to going back to Central Station, well, they say never say never! Though I’m working on a new, “pure SF” project at the moment, which is quite exciting to me, only it’s on the opposite side of the spectrum to Central Station. I can’t talk about it much either, at this point, but it’s going to be very interesting in the way it will be published!
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