Thank you for taking the time to chat with us about your story, “The Only Death in the City.” What can you tell us about where this story came from?
I began doing a series of stories set at the end of planet Earth, a kind of a slow decline, for a book called Sunfall. And the story of Paris, which is one of Europe’s oldest cities, dating back to old Lutetia, and its relationship to the Seine, and the melancholy of a lot of French literature, conjured a city enclosed, many-tiered, in which the Seine cascades as a waterfall. I then saw one lone figure standing poised for self-destruction on that brink, and I thought of the French monasteries, the preservation and veneration of bones; and the famous cemetery, and thought—there is quite a lot made, here, of death, and desire.
That was the beginning.
This story was originally published in 1981, in your collection Sunfall. Do you feel that the themes behind it have changed significantly in the thirty-three years since it first came out?
The largest change has been our struggle to go green and break away from old attitudes . . . to clean up our rivers and use the energy of the Sun in one form or another.
There’s an interesting point where you note that the city’s dead are stored in the lowest levels, almost as though it’s built on the bones of the dead. Is such a thematic image deliberate? Cities are often held up as an achievement of society—is there a cost that we ignore?
This is a theme in Paris, which is indeed built on the bones of the dead: It once venerated them . . . and there is this theme of tristesse, sorrow that underlies the gaiety of Paris. There was so much self-indulgence set above so much misery and hunger that it really was two worlds, for much of its existence as a capital of Europe.
Another major point that I got caught up with was that of renewal and rebirth, set in the background of a city, which can’t change as rapidly. Is it the city that changes people or people who change the city?
I think a city has a life of sorts, and it evolves. But Paris could not purge itself of its recurring themes, these grand gestures of death, that simply reiterated lives that hadn’t greatly served the city. In this story, the advent of real death promises change—but a change at the end of time. Is it too late? Is it kind to let these people wake from their long recurring dream, to face reality too late to do anything about it?
What do you have coming up that we should look forward to?
I’m taking a definitely long-anticipated turn in the Foreigner books. And I’m doing some short fiction for my own e-publishing venture, with two other writers, in closed-circle.net. I want to do another in the Cyteen mode. And I’d like to do something totally different one of these days.
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