An interview with Adam Browne

21 04 2016

I’ve served as editor (or, to be pedantic, co-editor) on two of Adam Browne’s stories: ‘The D____d’ in Light Touch Paper Stand Clear, and ‘Animal The Colour of Waiting’ in Next. My most recent interaction with Adam is as typesetter of his latest release, The Tame Animals of Saturn, a work I see as a younger sibling of his novel Pyrotechnicon (for which I’ve recently uploaded here the review I wrote for ASIM three years ago).

AdamBrowneTAOS1_lightenedAdam Browne, with latest release and convenient stone armrest

To provide some hopefully-helpful background to Tame Animals, I recently queried Adam on what it was all about. Herewith follow his responses:

1. You’ve extrapolated the work or life-story of Cyrano de Bergerac in Pyrotechnicon, Alighieri Dante in ‘The D____d’, and now Jakob Lorber in The Tame Animals of Saturn, and I know there are other well-known figures that have cropped up in your fiction. Would it be fair to say that you’re somewhat obsessed by historical literary personalities? And what draws you to such people?

I use historical references in general because they help with world building. They’re an antidote to the bad sf I used to read as a kid—books like Voyage of the Space Beagle—they were so thin, so contextually meagre!—the worlds nothing more than pastiches from the sf canon—set in a standard-issue sf Future … Good futuristic sf, most of it written after our unquestioning love of the future faded, works very hard to create a context with depth and heft. I don’t necessarily write futuristic sf, but I reckon using historical characters is a way of creating that richness. A friend once said the practice ‘adds velvet’ to the genre.

I wrote for a long time with someone I’ve had a falling out with—my fault—and he impressed me with the way he played with sf; I was still young, still immersed in the genre; he was mature enough to stand outside it and cock his head this way and that, looking at it in a larger, more historic context.

Also, sf is the literature of ideas; the people I write about or refer to were people with ideas—they interest me—I write about stuff that interests me.

Citing them adds gravitas where I feel it might be lacking. I like writing essays, and essay-writing still shows some legacy of the old conception of the Golden Age. Llike before the Renaissance, or the Enlightenment, when any completely new idea was mistrusted because Aristotle hadn’t thought of it first.

And I like to see and play with the big picture. I’ve recently enjoyed the sf novels of Kim Stanley Robinson, but generally I find the immediate problems arising from climate change, say, are too small-picture to engage my imagination. I don’t say this proudly. It’s just that i feel great sympathy for the cosmic context of writers like Olaf Stapledon. Rising sea levels would provoke less than half a line in his Last and First Men.

2. Why Jakob Lorber?

In The Book of Imaginary Beings, I read of Lorber’s ‘Leveller’. It’s green and, like a lot of Lorber’s animals, elephantlike. Borges writes with great dry wit of the immeasurable service the Leveller does man. Its pyramidal legs are made by God to stomp out roadways in preparation for the tarmac-layers and so on.

When I first read this, more than thirty years ago, I fell in love with Lorber—to me, it’s self evident that such a person has to be investigated. It’s only with difficulty that I acknowledge there might be some people who aren’t immediately captivated by things like this.

I should add that one of my illustrations is a cheating reference to the Leveller, which is not native to Saturn, but Neptune.

3. Tame Animals is both a work of fiction—I assume it’s fiction, though as yet nobody has prised back the veil of Saturn’s cloud decks, so an element of doubt must be maintained—and a collection of artworks. Obviously both take inspiration from the imaginings of Jakob Lorber, but which came first, the words or the art? And how would you describe the interaction between the two modes of expression?

The literally incredible thing is that people are still willing to believe in him. Getting into this, I’d assumed that any faith in him that remained would have focused on his spiritual stuff, or such bits of wisdom as he offers—but no. It’s a conspiracy: NASA et al are hiding the truth—that Saturn, for example, is a solid earthlike planet; that the rings are likewise solid, populated by the souls of the elegant, sexless humanoids that inhabit the planet-proper; that our own planet rotates because its gigantic south-polar organ of excretion is helical; and so on.

These are people who need to believe in order to enjoy something—I might go too far the other way, generally—but in this case, for me, Lorber is a wonderful fantasist who deserves to be rescued from obscurity and outrageous Christian mysticism.

People very often feel the need to couch fantasy in junior fiction, or in humour—or in religious/spiritual writing—it’s as satisfying to me in one form as another.

I was interested in him decades ago; I actually can’t remember when I began writing this, but I do know that the words came first. Someone had to nag me into illustrating it. It seems ridiculous now that I resisted the idea. I’m sometimes suspicious of illustrated books—the idea that the text won’t stand up on its own …

4. You’ve mentioned Jorge Luis Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings as an influence, at least in the context of Tame Animals, and possibly more broadly. What is it about Borges’ work that attracts you?

I discovered Borges when I was young. My reading tastes were still immature, but he wrote so simply that I wasn’t scared off. I was exhilarated by his commitment to the idea. He works so hard to exploit the idea as fully as possible. Too, his delivery is concise. Every paragraph is pregnant; the kicks he gave me weren’t matched until the advent of good cyberpunk writing—the ‘crammed prose’ that Bruce Sterling talks about.

I responded to the melancholy in his stories too, and the uncertainty—he creates an abstract space in which he can pack in even more ideas—’is this amazing thing true, or is this?’

He made his own subgenre to which a lot of scholarly nerds like me are now seriously devoted. I find myself wishing he wasn’t so popular. I get miffed when I see other people talking about him—I’m propietorial about him—I discovered him!—he’s mine!

5. Are there other historical figures out there that, right this moment, you are stalking with pen and sketchpad? What is your next project likely to involve?

I’m writing a standard-issue sf novel at the moment, with spaceships and aliens etc—there’s no particular historical figure I’m picking on, but it is set in SPACE VENICE—the city’s apologists say: ‘as the Venetians denied the centuries of plagiarism and theft with which they composed their city, so we deny any accusations that we are a copy of that city’.

I have to say, novel-writing is a chore. I’d rather make books like Tame Animals. I reckon if my current novel doesn’t make me any money or make any sort of impact, I might give up novelising and concentrate on shorter things, illustrated things.

But—if there is another novel in me, I’d like to set it in Metropolis. I haven’t checked if anyone else has done this. Cities belong to genres as pieces of fiction do. Venice belongs to the romantic tragedy. Metropolis belongs to the epic.

TAOS_cover_600

If the above whets your appetite or your whistle, you might just want to check out The Tame Animals of Saturn for yourself. In this context, I’ll note that the book is currently available at a special pre-launch rate from the Peggy Bright Books website. And, of course, Adam’s Pyrotechnicon (from coeur de lion) and his short-story collection ‘Other Stories’, and Other Stories (from Satalyte) are also well worth your while.

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