After the release of his latest novel, Burning Paradise, an interview with Robert-Charles Wilson.
My review of Burning Paradise (in French)
Science fiction is about change. It’s the genre’s great shared theme, a kind of meta-theme : change is inevitable.
So of course I want the outcomes of my novels and stories to seem (in a certain sense) open-ended. As in life, there are resolutions and conclusions ; as in life, there are no final resolutions or conclusions.
Science is very present in your novels, but always popularized …
I’m fascinated by science, and I hope my readers share that fascination. Since I’m not actually a scientist, my perspective is inevitably going to be broad and more philosophical than technical.
What have we learned about the universe, and where is that knowledge taking us ? These aren’t scientific questions, strictly speaking, though they follow from what science has learned and is learning.
Your stories are characterized by a deep humanism and a true love for your characters …
Thank you for saying so. I hope that’s true. The universe itself is impersonal, but our experience of it is always uniquely our own, a deeply human perspective. I like to write from that boundary.
Do you think a novel can convey a message?
Some novels are more overtly thematic than others, but I think every novel conveys a meaning of some kind, even if it’s trivial or hackneyed. A novel is a message.
Your stories are always deeply rooted in reality, despite their SF aspects …
I think of science fiction as a kind of literary realism. Miracle stories, in a sense, but limited to what is or might be possible. Miracle stories constrained by the Enlightenment.
I wanted the story to take place in approximately the present time, though a present time modified by an exterior influence.
The setting had to be both recognizable and recognizably different. It’s a uchronia almost by default.
Did you want to put in light, through this novel, certain excesses of our society and of the media in particular?
It’s more like the premise forces the question of how much we are manipulated by media and other social pressures, and how much we collaborate in our own manipulation – and even whether some part of that collaboration arises naturally from our evolutionary history and might even be, in the right context, a good thing.
This novel offers significantly more action than usual and is also more violent. Was it your wish?
Without giving too much away, the extraterrestrial agency in the nove lis utterly amoral. Not immoral, but completely morally indifferent : morally agnostic, if you like. It experiences neither our abhorrence of violence nor our fascination with it. It uses violence as a tool. I think the story reflects that.
You seem fascinated by extraterrestrial beings and especially other ways to « think » or react as those of humans
We have only one example of what a sentient species is like : us. If we had other samples with which to compare ourselves, I’m sure we’d learn that we’re unexceptional in some ways and utterly unique in others.
Tolstoy famously said that « All happy families are alike ; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. »
I suspect all sane sentient species are similar, but every less-than-completely-sane sentient species is crazy in its own way. And I’m pretty sure our species is less than completely sane.
I find that with this kind of road trip you propose, Burning Paradise can reach a wide audience …
I hope it’s accessible and entertaining even for an audience not deeply familiar with science fiction.
Let’s talk about this masterpiece, Julian, wich will be released in France in pocket format. This novel is very special in your bibliography. Did it helped you to develop your story in another way?
Julian takes outrageous liberties with the concept of « extrapolation » and it’s more overtly political than most of my work. But what makes it special for me is the voice of the narrator, Adam Hazzard.
When I began the book I was coming out of a period of obsessively reading 19th century American literature – not the official canon of great authors, but the completely forgotten stuff, the topical literature and the middlebrow novels no one reads anymore. There was something really interesting in the collective tone of those books, as if they had a single voice, simultaneously naive and knowing, sentimental and cynical, religious and skeptical, often grotesquely racist but with glowing moments of humanism and inclusivity. Paradox embodied.
I couldn’t resist trying to import that voice into a science fiction novel, and it seemed a perfect fit for the retro-future setting of Julian.
You had several opportunities to meet your audience in Europe and France. Do you find that there is another way of perceiving the SF and your novels on the old continent?
I’m not sure I know the European audence well enough to generalize, but it does seem to me that in Europe science fiction is still at least occasionally perceived as a branch of literature rather than a minor component of the corporate entertainment complex.
This blog is made of words and sounds. Is music involved in your creative process?
Yes, it is, in some complex way I’m not completely able to explain. I want the words I write to convey explicit meaning, but I also want them to work as music – I care about the rhythm of words in a sentence, the rhythm of sentences in a paragraph and paragraphs in a chapter: music has these structures too. And I want the words I write to be evocative as well as literal, to create atmosphere, to reflect character by inference – that is, to carry some of the weight of their meaning as connotation rather than denotation, not only in the words but in the spaces between the words and in the explicit silence of what is not said. All this is music.
You have the choice between give us your final word or talk about your favorite dessert …
Favorite dessert: sweet potato pie. Earthy, utterly unpretentious, simple, deeply American in the best sense of that word.
Catégories :Interviews littéraires