an interview by Dan Allan
Steve Simpson lives in Sydney, mostly, and works on various speculations for which he is occasionally paid. This story is his second published fiction piece. He is interested in zombies, time travel, and potentially, time-travelling zombies. He predicts that there will be more writing in his future. Steve Simpson has a webpage and his story, ‘Apartment on Copernicus Street’, features in issue #58 of Aurealis.
In ten words or less (haikus are allowed), what is Apartment on Copernicus Street about?
Through mythical truth
Aldona’s path to world’s end
Copernicus Street contains scenes of, for all intents and purposes, spontaneous combustion. Does a fear of exploding into blue flames ever cross your mind? What do you think would be your most unrealistic fear? (For example, I’m often worried about invisible cars hitting me as I cross an intersection)
I don’t think about spontaneous combustion much. If it happens, it happens. When I drive in the country and see something that I’ve seen before, like a particular gum tree on a curve, I think, “Aha, déjà vu.” If it happens again, “Oh no! Space-time has folded back on itself, the road has become a closed loop and I’m never reaching Crookwell.” Slightly irrational, and not just because I rarely visit Crookwell.
How much of the Copernicus Street world exists outside of the short story? Is there a larger tale to be told in this universe?
A good question. I’ve thought about a longer piece. There is very little information about off-Earth events in Copernicus Street, and it would delve into that, beings living in the sun or other stars. But it’s an idea that’s already been done in a lot of stories, and I’m not prepared to go there yet. I find originality a challenge in SF, with so many great stories already written, within Australia and around the world.
What other stories (any medium) did you take inspiration from when writing Apartment on Copernicus Street?
One source of inspiration was Cervantes’ Don Quixote, turned around to be the story of Quixote’s imagined love, Aldonza. I took inspiration in reverse, if you know what I mean, from stories where a heroic male scientist saves the day, “Eureka, fifty millirads of gamma radiation combined with a home-brand aspirin is the cure,” or kills the aliens or whatever.
I find the myths of the Tupi and Guarani people of Brazil fascinating, so they’re in there, and from Greek mythology, there’s the wine god Bacchus and his oldest and most drunken follower Silenus, a character close to my heart. Okay, enough stalling, I’m owning up. The main inspiration came from bricks and mortar: an apartment where I stayed on Kopernikusstrasse in Hannover with mirrors on the balcony to collect the sun.
Do you find real-world places influence your work more than imaginary ones?
Absolutely, I aim for places and people I’m familiar with. As well as that, I do what I can to make the specific setting real to me, including backgrounding with Google Maps. We are talking about SF though, and I have to admit that some of the real estate in my coming pieces can’t be found on Google.
There’s a popular notion floating around that Science Fiction can’t be progressive anymore. That it is a dead genre with no room for growth. What are your thoughts on the future of SF?
You wouldn’t like to ask a big question, would you Dan? It’s a bit presumptuous of me, but I’ll have a go. There’s been an explosion of SF sub-genres, much like music, but it doesn’t mean per se SF is progressing. Evidence to the contrary comes from the staples: zombies still stagger along, time-travellers still create paradoxes, spacecraft still transit in inscrutable dimensions, sorcerers still make potions, and the world still apocalypts, particularly in movies and on television. But there are interesting twists, and the characterisations have progressed dramatically. Related to that, just because a work is mainstream doesn’t mean it isn’t SF, for example, Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, or Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. So in one sense, SF is only finished when fiction is.
But you could take the hard line, ie, “I don’t care about twists or what happened in the protagonist’s childhood. SF is a dead-end because there are no amazing new SF ideas.” Then I would bring out the big guns, and one example is Mieville: Embassytown or The City and the City, with premises that are absolutely novel and astonishing. Incidentally, The City and the City also demonstrates that you don’t necessarily need magic or tech for great SF.
SF’s future? I predict SF will continue to entertain and astound us.
What is your writing process like? Are you a same-time, same-place kind of writer? Do you outline?
I write in the interstices of time, mostly with keyboard, but on paper scraps and napkins if necessary.
Yes, in the middle game of my writing process I outline, do scenes and casting, and write. In the endgame, I edit until I’m cross-eyed. Because fear is a valuable motivator, my opening gambit is to convince myself that I’ll never have another SF idea and will never even produce a grocery list. Following that, I use the gardening technique. I go over my mulch heap of fragmentary thoughts and scribbles, and poetry that I shouldn’t have written, searching for a weed that has particularly sharp thorns or is being eaten by colourful insects. If I find one, on to the middle game.
Do you find the process of writing relaxing?
Relaxing, but a little to the left and down. It’s enjoyable, there’s that magical flow thing when you’re completely immersed in your narrative and the world disappears for a while. And it’s a recreation, because time spent writing re-creates you, heals the wounds from the daily slings and arrows of living. I don’t want to overshare here, but I also find that occasionally there’s a degree of toxicity in the solitary occupation of writing. Murakami talks about it in What I Talk About When I Talk about Running, and dramatically describes it as toxin which is universal in humanity and comes to the surface when you write. When it affects me, as an uneasiness, a queasy feeling, I simply stop writing and do something else, some physical activity. I have no idea what it is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not indigestion.
What do you consider to be a fiction writer’s greatest responsibility?
I’m probably going to say something I’ll regret now, so please mentally insert “in my opinion” whenever necessary. The fiction writer’s greatest responsibility is to entertain, and that implies holding attention and interest by eliciting an emotional response or making an emotional connection with the reader. There are a number of caveats, but I’ll mention only one. Disgust is an emotional response. I’m not a prude, but I think there are places in the darkest corners where there is nothing to be gained by going.
The emotional connection just happens when you tell a story, because writers and readers belong to the same species, and you might say it’s pretty shallow, that the fiction writer’s responsibility is far greater than entertainment, that writing should challenge the reader’s view of the world, expand their horizons, make them aware of some noble cause, inspire them and so on. Great fiction often does this, and that’s fine. But if a writer takes it as the primary responsibility, to effectively teach, then in my opinion, it’s unlikely to end well, because in the final analysis, good writing, like good poetry, comes from the heart and not the head. Okay, stepping off soapbox now.
If you could write in another medium/ genre, what would it be?
I love the idea of uncovering things, mysterious glowing objects buried in the back yard centuries ago, with someone putting incomprehensible and arcane clues together and suddenly discovering the truth. So detective stories.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? And how would the collaboration work?
Jules Verne, not dead, but he could be reanimated as a zombie as long as he was coherent. I would have to learn French, and once he’d caught up with the world, the collaboration would consist of zombie Verne writing amazing futuristic novels, and me translating them and claiming to be the author. Whenever he complained I would threaten to cut off his supply of sheep’s brains.
In ten years time, what is your ideal situation?
“Darling, I just checked the accounts, the royalty payments have come in.”
“Excellent Sophia, get Jason to crack another bottle of the ’13 and we’ll wander down to the beach at Ipanema.”
Slightly seriously, although best-selling author might be the fantasy, I enjoy what I’m doing right now with writing and would be happy for it to continue. It took me a while to wake up to it, but John Lennon got it right, you dream and plan, you try, and that’s living.
And finally,what are you working on? What have you finished? Where can we find it? What’s next?
First is Next In April, and next is Tomorrow in June (sorry). That’s the Next Anthology, CSFG Publishing, and the Tomorrow Anthology, Kayelle Press, and I try to keep my web page up-to-date, stevewsimpson.wordpress.com. I am currently time-sharing between SF short stories at all stages of development: babies saying their first words, rebellious teens, and adults ready to sit in publishers’ waiting rooms. I hope to produce an anthology and start on a longer piece before the end of the year.
Keep on top of everything Steve’s doing by checking out his blog: http://stevewsimpson.wordpress.com
‘Apartment on Copernicus Street’ appears in Issue #58 of Aurealis