From the opening line, “The Streets of Babel” catapults the reader into the story. What inspired this tale of sensory and social extremes?
I had the essential image, a metropolis as amoeba, extending pseudopods to locomote across a landscape, while sucking up people to function as its citizenry. I have absolutely no memory of this image entering my head, but everything else in the story proceeded from that genesis.
I find the story a surreal blend of a dystopian future and primitive hunter gatherers: AM from Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”; the wedding scene in Ellison’s “A Boy and His Dog”; the landscapes and struggles from Quest for Fire. Do you have any particular thoughts on blending genres? Are there elements from other genres that you feel would work well together?
Oh, I blend genres all the time. I have completed stories and sought out help as to where they belong on the graph. Sometimes it’s not quite clear. One story I wrote as science fiction, “In the Temple of Celestial Pleasures,” was meant for Lightspeed but ended up at Nightmare, though I considered it an uneasy fit. Boxes are for things that fit easily on shelves.
There is no direct conflict in this story. Instead, “The Streets of Babel” peels back layers of assumption to reveal certain societal pressures as seen through the eyes of the outsider: sexism; the nine-to-five work drive; the differences between the sexes; television; a sense of despair and powerlessness. What is it about these everyday stressors that appeals to genre readers? The familiar amidst the unknown? A matter of presentation?
Sometimes it’s enough to just illustrate a situation. Another writer (and certainly most moviemakers) would have resolved this particular story with our protagonist, the unnamed savage, leading a successful revolt against the churning metropolis. I find that a lot less interesting than the diagnosis. Many genre readers understand that at this length, at least, it can be as useful as what plot would provide, a course of treatment. (And they like having their assumptions tested; at least, those I court do.)
You regularly post on social media of your love of movies, often sharing Asian movies, most notably Korean and Japanese. Setting aside other cinematic styles, is there anything in particular about the various Asian cinemas that speaks to you as a viewer? As a writer?
One factor that makes Asian cinema, specifically Japanese, Hong Kong, and Korean cinema, feel so fresh to this viewer’s eyes is that these traditions have not completely internalized the rhythms and patterns which so many American movies fall into, to the point where it is possible to watch many of our own films while not fully paying attention: to wit, the strict three-act structure where you can see the various story complications lining up according to page count, the final act where story reversals appear on cue, the return to status quo even when any trauma experienced during the tale would render that unlikely.
One thing I appreciate as both an audience member and as a storyteller is that the best Korean films (in particular) play for keeps. They have little observable fealty to the way a story “should” go, will not pull back when the time comes to horrify—even in non-horror films, will twist the knife at times when many American films would have would paused for a tension-relieving joke. You don’t know, as you do with many homespun movies, that it’s safe to go to the popcorn stand now, because something of importance just happened and that nothing else of importance will happen for the approximately seven minutes that will take.
By contrast, too many American films are wholly consequence-free. Even if the characters go through absolute hell in a battle for survival, they will often be laughing and telling jokes to assure us, in the last five minutes, that we can go back out to the parking lot feeling good. I am not saying that this is a universal failing; far from it. I am saying that one key way to make a story feel like it doesn’t matter is to return the characters to their starting positions, without effect. (This may be an odd note to append to a story where that basically happens, but it’s okay for that to happen occasionally, less so for that to become default formula.)
To date I have seen extraordinary Korean films in the genres of Horror, Disaster Film, Science Fiction, Police Drama, Thriller, Western (or “Eastern,” I suppose), and Romantic Comedy. Want a great recommendation? Check out the Korean romantic fantasy The Beauty Inside. See it with someone you love. Or Castaway On The Moon. Beyond beautiful.
When not writing, how do you rest and reconnect with the world? What does Adam-Troy Castro do to recharge his batteries?
I tell the cats to put that down, whatever “that” is, in context.
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