What inspired this story?
I’d been working on a big space-opera called “The Lacing”—a chunk of which is on my website—and it died on me. The editor who was interested in it—Richard Evans—died and I was more and more involved in political activism; I also ceased to believe that I was, or could be, a writer of SF rather than fantasy. So I bundled up every single good SF idea I had ever had—except for the ones which were allocated to “The Lacing,” in case I ever went back to it—and thought of a story in which I could use them all.
Did you come up with the three instructions first, and weave the story around them, or did you start with the worldbuilding of the Hoaxer peoples?
Actually, neither. I started off with Helena and Philip and the improbable love story between them. The rest came from that, partly, and partly because I wanted to explore the idea of telling as vast a story as possible in as few evocative words as I could—I wanted to do something Stapledonian, but with heart, even sentimentality, at its core.
There is an undercurrent of utopian vision in several parts of the story—the hyper-civilized races that the traveling Hoaxers meet, the theme of kindness, Helena herself, and of course the final resolution/realization. Have you continued to explore utopian ideas?
Not so much in my work as in my activism. I don’t think of it as utopianism so much as a fascination with ethical behaviour, “right conduct” if you will—I suppose you could argue that my big fantasy novel Rhapsody of Blood is about ethics.
The development of the Hoaxer society parallels many human frailties and foibles. Did you find the science fiction genre particularly amenable to satirization of society?
SF perhaps in particular—because of the whole “if this goes on”/comic inferno strain—but pretty much all SFF, because all satire depends on thought experiments and that almost immediately makes SFF into the vehicle you naturally use.
Your writing career has focused on poetry, criticism, and more recently novel writing, more than short stories. From your perspective as an observer of popular culture, what do you think is the attraction of short fiction in today’s world?
Short fiction—not that I write much of it right now except as occasional narrative poems—is a way of going in and getting the job done in a single instant of thought. It has a single-mindedness I like, but it lacks the endless organic growth and sudden moments of “OMG, so that’s what I mean” of huge projects.
What are you currently working on?
Revelations Book Four; some ideas for a novel that will be about memory and time-travel but be less genre, more like the novel/memoir Tiny Pieces of Skull that’s coming out next spring. Poems, always poems—I need to put together another collection.
Spread the word!