miércoles, 28 de marzo de 2012

Interview with Lavie Tidhar

Photo (c) 2012 Future Publishing (www.sfx.co.uk)
Photo (c) 2012 Future Publishing (www.sfx.co.uk)
Osama is a fully deserved nominee for the 2012 BSFA Awards in two categories: Best Novel and Best Art (cover by Pedro Marques). It is really a pleasure for me having Osama's author Lavie Tidhar talking about this novel and his work in general.

Odo: Osama is a very interesting book: part noir novel, part alternate history, part weird fiction. How did you come with the idea for the story?

Lavie Tidhar: It came from my own real life experiences – particularly, being in Dar es Salaam and then Nairobi during the 1998 attacks on the American embassies – I actually, unbeknown to me at the time, stayed at the same cheap hotel in Nairobi as the Al-Qaeda operatives, the Hilltop. Then came the King’s Cross attack and the 2004 Sinai attacks, which were also very close – my wife commuted to work via King’s Cross every morning and she was in the Sinai during the 2004 attacks, less than a mile from one of the explosions.

And it felt, you know, it felt very personal. It got me thinking about these two people caught in the various bombings. And I wrote a short story – “MyTravels with Al-Qaeda” – it was published in Ellen Datlow and Terry Windling’s anthology, Salon Fantastique, in 2006 I think. And that was the start of Osama.

It was a book I actually wanted to write for a long time. It was only when we were living in Laos, in 2008, that I thought, you know, I’m going to try writing it, now. I don’t know if I can do it, but I want to try, now. In a way, I needed to be somewhere like Laos to write it, you know. It’s a place so out of the way of the “War on Terror” and yet a place with some very strong parallels, and obviously that’s all in the book!

Odo: Were you afraid that having Osama bin Laden as one of the characters of your novel could raise controversy? What has been the reaction of the readers in this respect?

LT: It’s maybe worth mentioning that despite the title – or perhaps because of it – Osama bin Laden doesn’t actually appear in the book. It’s more that we see his shadow. His influence. But he is consistently absent from the proceedings.

Of course there’s the possibility of controversy. I think, today, it’s very easy – there’s very much a demand for – writing things that won’t offend. To be nice. And I hate being nice. There’s nothing wrong with writing crowd-pleasers, as such, but to me fiction – if we are to look at fiction as art, which again, I think is something we’re seeing less and less of, these days – then that fiction needs to have something to say, it needs to be about things that matter.

I don’t think it really caused much controversy, to be honest – it’s very hard to shock people these days. Which is partly what the book is about, I guess. About how we accept a lot of things, how we accept different versions of the world as they’re presented to us. In a way, I guess, it’s a book about questioning the world, questioning reality.

Odo: Some scenes of your novel reminded me of Paul Auster (The New York Trilogy comes to mind) and also of The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad. What authors have influenced your writing?

LT: It’s interesting that you mention it. I think The New York Trilogy is obviously a very important book – to me it’s a book that’s easy to admire, but at the same time, difficult to love, if you know what I mean.

Now you mention it, I probably had Auster in the back of my mind – that idea of using the detective “formula” as a way to ask some profound questions about life. I have a lot of, you know, what you’d call “influences”, writers or books I admire. It’s hard to give an answer to that one. I think, with regards to Osama, I was particularly interested in that sort of European sensibility with regards to crime fiction. If you think of, say, Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, which combines all these different genres to make something rather profound, rather unexpected. Or Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, who again, uses the crime “formula” in a completely different way to the Americans, using to ask important questions – I think his The Buenos Aires Quintet is just wonderful. Or Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Dumas Club, which again plays with this idea of genres. I was influenced a lot by that approach to fiction, which is using “crime” in a very non-formulaic way.

Odo: In your book, Osama bin Laden is a pulp fiction writer, but his novels are about terrible tragedies of our reality. Do you think there exists such a thing as "escapist literature"? Or is any literary work, no matter how light, an implicit criticism of the real world?

LT: I think it doesn’t matter how light – how fluffy – a book is, it obviously contains within it all kinds of underlying cultural assumptions, a narrative of the world. There’s nothing wrong with escapism – I think Joe, in Osama, is obviously in search of exactly that! But to read it exclusively – to read anything exclusively – would be a great shame, I think.

Odo: The cover of Osama has also been nominated for the BSFA Awards. Did you have a part in the creating process of the illustration? What do you think of the result?

LT: I admire Pedro Marques, the artist, a great deal. To be honest with you, what I expected – what both me and my agent were looking to see – was this very pulpy sort of cover – a “Mike Longshott” cover! You know, a 1950s style lurid paperback cover. And instead we got... well, this amazing Modernist illustration, very much a sort of Penguin paperback cover. As soon as I saw it I knew that we were wrong, that this was absolutely the cover the book needed.

I had a little bit of input on the cover – we went through a couple of drafts, including exactly how to do the typography – Pedro did an absolutely amazing job on the internal design of the book, too, particularly with typography, which I think was crucial. Some of it is lost in the e-book edition I imagine...

Odo: You are very involved in promoting international science fiction and fantasy (for example, you are editor-in-chief of The World SF Blog and editor of the The Apex Book of World SF anthologies). Do you think that the authors from non-English speaking countries are more prominent right now in science fiction and fantasy than they were a few years ago?

LT: It’s hard to say. There’s a little more than there was, that’s for sure. But the fact is 99% of non-English writers are never translated into English. It has a cultural hegemony at the moment that’s very hard to break and that is simply not all that interested in translations. It seems to be a lot better in crime than in science fiction and fantasy though. But I’m hopeful! There’s certainly more visibility these days, and more interest, than there was before, and at least that’s a start!

Odo: What are your working on at the moment? Can you give us a sneak peek of your future projects?

LT: I’m working on too many things, probably! I’m working on this quite ambitious, what you’d call a “mosaic” novel called Central Station. It’s set in a future Middle East, and parts of it have been published in places like Clarkesworld and Interzone. It’s a very different thing to Osama, and I’m trying to both correspond with classic Western SF and at the same time do some very non-Western things with it.

I’m also working on another weird noir novel!

In terms of what’s coming out, I’ve got a novel called Martian Sands coming out next year, a small graphic novel – Adolf Hitler’s “I Dream of Ants” – coming out soon, and a themed short story collection, Black Gods Kiss – of what I call Guns & Sorcery – coming out at some point, possibly this year. And The Apex Book of World SF 2, which I edited, should be out shortly!

Odo: Where can our readers learn more about you and your work?

LT: Check out my website/blog – lavietidhar.wordpress.com – or find me on twitter, where I spend too much time – I’m there as @lavietidhar

Odo: Any other thing you'd like to add?

LT: Thank you for having me!

Odo: Thank you for your answers and good luck with the BSFA Awards! 

Note: This interview in part of the BSFA Awards Special. You can get an entry for the giveaway by answering this question in the comments: Have you read Osama? What did you think of it? If you haven't read it yet, are you considering reading it? 

(You can also read this interview in Spanish/También puedes leer esta entrevista en español)

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