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Imaginales 2018 : notre entretien avec Steven Erikson

Par Gillossen, le jeudi 6 septembre 2018 à 10:05:00

En anglais

How is your weekend going? Are you enjoying the festival so far?
Oh, it’s been wonderful. It’s been very good. The weather’s been perfect, the surroundings are terrific, and I’ve just had a great time.
That’s good to hear! I’ve heard that this festival in particular is very different from American or Canadian conventions.
Yes. Lots of those will occur in a hotel somewhere. This one is similar to a few that I’ve been to, like Parma or Luca, in Italy. It’s so much nicer being outside and just being able to avoid being stuck in small rooms with a crowd of people. So it’s been good.
You’ve been in France for a few days already...
Yes, I was in Paris for five days.
And you’ve already had a few signing sessions. How did it go?
It went well. It’s the third try for these books in France. I am really pleased with the new version.
As you just said, Gardens of the Moon is being published for the third time in France, with a brand new translation this time. What would you like to say to the French-speaking readers who’d be hesitant about embarking on this new adventure?
First of all, it’s a ten-book series, and it’s finished – that’s important! Also, the plan is to release one every six months. That allows the readers to have some kind of momentum: they don’t have to wait a full year for the next book, they will be coming out every six months. I believe the translators are now at about book five or six, so they’re well ahead of schedule. It’s a series you can invest in, and it has a completion to it.
Are you involved in decisions concerning your books’ foreign editions, such as the translation and the cover?
It depends on the translator. Fortunately, this time, I’ve been in contact with the translators, so if they have any specific questions, I’m there to answer. But more often than not, I don’t hear from the translators, so it was nice to hear from them this time. (As for the cover), I generally have no control over that – not even with my English publishers!
So the French cover by Marc Simonetti is new to you?
Yeah, and it’s very nice. It’s an original piece. He had a clip on Facebook that was all sped up; it was really fun to watch.
How does it feel to talk now about books that you wrote so many years ago?
I feel like I’m in a time warp! It is a bit strange. Fortunately, I’ve had to do a fair bit of reading of my own material, because I’m working on a trilogy now that’s set in the same world. I needed that to actually remind myself of a lot of details. So I had to go back and re-read my own stuff, which I’m not used to doing.
Your Malazan Book series is mostly described through the adjectives “epic” and “badass”. Does it seem appropriate to you? Would you like to offer other words?
No, I think that’s fairly appropriate. The original inspiration was The Iliad, which, of course, is one of the first epics. So I think it’s an appropriate term. It’s a story that’s sprawling across large regions and involves many, many characters. Each have their own stories, their own arcs. I think “epic” is a good description.
What do you think of the word “badass”, that’s being used for your characters? That’s very trendy right now!
Is it?! OK, badass... A good many characters in this series are characters that myself and the co-creator of the Malazan, Cam, role-played. Our role-playing system in the campaigns provided the foundation for the books. So in the books, the characters arrive fully realized because we’ve gamed them for so long. In that sense, it’s almost as if they’re already “levelled up”. I guess that makes them badass.
Part of the epicness of your works comes from the huge timescales you use in your stories and in the backstory of your world. Do you think gigantism is the only way to magnify the narrative and the stakes of a story?
Quite often, I think, to achieve a sense of atmosphere and realism, to bring authenticity to a fantasy story, you need a sense of deep time. Fortunately, both Cam and myself are archaeologists, so that was our career. We’re always on digs or on surveys where you look at the landscape and you peel it back through time. You sort of try to imagine how things were a thousand years ago – or ten thousand years ago. Then we applied that to a fantasy world as well. We wanted that sense of great antiquity to the world, but we also didn’t want a world that was static. Many fantasy novels are kind of culturally static, and they start out at the same technological level as they end up. You know, the Dark Lord rises, gets defeated, and then, next trilogy, the Dark Lord rises and gets defeated. For these ones, it’s more a case of time passing and things changing. If you think of Gardens of the Moon, it’s already in a huge transition of military technology, through the use of munitions to counter magic. It’s a method of warfare that is actually slowly transitioning into the equivalent of the First World War, but in a fantasy setting. It’s a consequence of how I learned to write, at the University of Victoria and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where I was a short story writer. I never really learned how to write a novel. So these are in effect short stories that are linked one after the other. I’ve sometimes described the series as the world’s longest short story, at 10,000 pages and three million words! But it’s the approach I have towards my writing – the kind of condensation, if you will, of meaning into as few words as possible. That is common for short stories; I then applied that to hundreds, and then thousands of pages. So it has that kind of built-in complexity that allows re-readability: people can come back to it and get more the second or third time through.
Was that a problem when you tried to be published? Publishers could have been afraid that people wouldn’t read it.
Yeah! It took eight years to find a publisher for the first book. It was rejected in the United States by two major publishers, who both said it was too complicated for their American audience. As it turns out, the American audience is my largest audience now. But we had to twist their arm a fair bit just to get them to publish it. It took a long time.
You say “we” instead of “I”, because you created the Malazan world with your friend Ian Cameron Esslemont. How do you manage creation together?
It was all gamed in the foundation. We simply partitioned the history: he took some sections, and I took other sections. That’s how each novel is written. Occasionally, we contact each other if we don’t remember something specific, but generally we’re pretty good with it now. I don’t actually see his books until they’re published, which is a lot of fun! We built the world together, but we write independently.
Do you ever have to retcon some details in each other’s books?
No, I don’t think we’ve done much in the way of retcon anything. The only retcon I’ve had to do is when I get the gender of a character mixed up in my own books. It’s got nothing to do with Cam’s stuff.
You recently created a Facebook page and a Twitter account, while you were previously very discreet online. Is it a personal choice to engage with your readership or a professional obligation you can’t escape nowadays?
I think it was a personal choice. I think writers can still, if they want, stay sort of remote, if you will. It’s entirely their choice. I had completed a first contact novel, a science fiction novel, that is coming out in October and is dealing with different publishers. I thought I should hire a publicist to promote this one, and that publicist then created the Facebook page, the Twitter account, and all the rest. It was kind of incidental that this has happened now, as opposed to any other time. For me, and for many writers, it’s a time-sink if you spend too much time on Twitter or Facebook. I’d rather be writing my fiction than doing that.
You paused the writing of Walk in Shadow, the last volume of the Kharkanas Trilogy, because the first two books didn’t meet their public. Can you confirm that Walk in Shadow will be published someday?
Yes, it will. I think it was more a case of reader fatigue, because I didn’t wait long between completion of the ten books and the first of the Kharkanas Trilogy. I think my rest period was probably about two weeks long. I should have waited a year, I think – just to let things settle. I’d heard the sales weren’t good for Forge of Darkness and Fall of Light, and that kind of took the wind out of my sails. To finish a trilogy, you need a lot of energy, a lot of confidence and determination, to make sure it’s rewarding enough for the readers. If I don’t have the fire lit within me, it won’t be rewarding to the readers. So I just thought I’d put it aside and start the Karsa Orlong Trilogy, and see how it goes.
You’re currently working on the first book of the Karsa Orlong Trilogy, The God Is Not Willing. What can you tell us about it?
In order to start it, I had to go back and re-read Toll the Hounds, which is the eighth book in the series, because I was planning to start it where Karsa was left off, in Darujhistan, the city of Gardens of the Moon. That allowed me to remind myself of some of the characters that I’d left behind in Darujhistan. I’m about three or four chapters into it, and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s a much lighter style; it’s closer to the first three books of the Malazan series than it is to Forge of Darkness or anything like that. It’s back to that style.
I think Toll The Hounds was a very personal book for you. Was it difficult to re-read it?
It was. This sounds strange, but it was intimidating, because I don’t know if I’m as good a writer now as I was then.
Walk in Shadow and the Korsa Orlong Trilogy are the last books planned in your Malazan series. Will you stop there or do you have more surprises?
I have three Bauchelain and Korbal Broach novellas left to do. I’m on contract for it. At the end of those, I think that will be it. As you know, Ian Esslemont – Cam – is writing Path To Ascendency, which is the origins of the Malazan Empire. For me, that’s great fun, because that’s stuff that he and I gamed. It’s great to read, it’s good fun.
Netflix and Amazon appear to be intent on investing in genre literature and every week brings a new adaptation announcement. Any news about that for the Malazan universe?
No. We got very close with a major producer a couple years back – the Weinstein group. So in that sense, we kind of dodged the bullet! (laughs) What I’ve heard recently is that Netflix Canada is investing a lot – something like 60 millions – into Canadian production and Canadian content. So we’re now looking in that direction.
Could you tell us about your next novel, Rejoice: A Knife to the Heart?
It’s a thought experiment. I asked myself what would happen if first contact occurred; then I had to define what that first contact would look like. I’ve read virtually all the first contact novels written in English, and I found many of them very frustrating. They all seem to end where I think the story actually starts. First contact would force upon us an existential crisis such as we have never seen – and that’s what interested me. It’s not about the aliens, it’s about us. So I devised a scenario where you don’t meet the aliens; they don’t make any direct contact with any governments, but they have an effect upon the earth. Then I’m only concerned with our fellow human beings on this planet. It’s an unusual book, put it that way.
Do you write sci-fi the same way you write fantasy? Is it the same intellectual exercise?
Maybe, in that respect, yes. The same things inspire me, but I just have to convert them into a different format. There is nothing simpler for me than writing mimetic fiction, fiction set in this world. There is nothing harder than writing fantasy. It always surprises me when literary writers are looking down on fantasy; I challenge every one of them to take on a fantasy novel, and they’ll realize it’s much, much harder than it is to write contemporary fiction.
Do you feel that some themes are easier to write in one genre or in another?
For fantasy, you can take a metaphor and make it real. It’s the only genre that really fully allows that. For something like science fiction or mimetic fiction, you are quite limited in what you can work with in terms of themes. I just found it to be an effortless thing to write. Sitting down to write a mimetic fiction novel was such a relief after all the fantasy novels I’ve been writing!
Your first sci-fi novel was a Star Trek spoof with a proud and sexist captain in the style of Harry Flashman and Sterling Archer. Recently, a Black Mirror episode, “USS Callister”, has done the same, pointing out the toxic masculinity in our culture. Was it a simple comic relief or real social criticism for you?
Oh yeah, it’s a satire. It’s intended not to satirize the sensibilities of the 1960s, even though that’s the inspiration for the main character; it’s to satirize the sensibilities of the present day. I just used the 60s to sort of elevate some of those aspects. I think there’d be a strong argument for the Black Mirror theme to be not masculine toxicity, but one of almost pathetic or tragic self-isolation. The main character in that show is actually the most tragic of all the characters in there. He is incapable of communicating with people in the real world, so he has to create a fictitious world. So yes, he expressed the 1960s ethos of the male, but even there, they are almost sexless. They have no means of sexual release in that world. Sometimes I think the whole argument about the male toxicity is actually missing the point of that episode – but that’s a whole different story!
This episode also talks about fandom. Do you fear yours?
Absolutely not! I’m engaged with them more now than I’ve ever been because of the Facebook page. I’ve been very impressed with the level of discourse on my page. It’s been excellent. So no, I don’t fear it at all – I appreciate them!
Speaking about fandom, when we were talking about these new releases in France, one of the first questions we heard was: “What about female characters in this epic high fantasy?” And the answer is that there is a very large number of female characters in this story. It seems normal now, but it wasn’t the case when you wrote it.
I don’t know... Is it normal now? One sees a lot of cultural assumptions carried across from our world into the fantasy world. If you create something like a medieval, Euro-centric style fantasy world, quite often, patriarchy is dragged along with it. The Malazan world was intended from the very beginning to be a world without sexism. There is no sexist language in the entire series. We basically asked ourselves what would happen if magic was egalitarian and non-gender-based. Then we wondered what would happen to culture and civilization if that were the case. And the answer is that we would never have any gender-based hierarchy in power, because you could not make that power exclusive to any gender. So if you don’t have that, nobody talks about it, because it never even occurs to them to be gender-exclusive or inclusive. So it is a world without sexism.
Yeah, I agree!
That concludes our interview. Do you have a few final words for those French readers who were hesitant at first but are now resolved to read your books?
(laughs) A good many of the books to begin with in the series are less fantasies with tragic elements than tragedies with fantastic elements. It does raise an expectation as you get closer to the conclusion of the ten books that things are going to get very dark, miserable, and nihilistic. But I promise you they won’t! We’ll leave it at that.
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