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Gwyneth Jones: Magical Science January 2004

Gwyneth Jones grew up in Manchester, England, and after earning a BA degree in 1973 spent several years in the Civil Service, part of the time living in Singapore and Malaysia. A full-time writer since the mid-’80s, she's published YA novels as Ann Halam, from Ally, Ally, Aster (1981) to most recently Taylor Five (2002). As Jones she published first adult SF novel, Divine Endurance, in 1984. Later novels include White Queen (1991), co-winner of the first James Tiptree, Jr. Award and first of a trilogy, and Bold as Love (2001), winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and first of a series of five planned books with Castles Made of Sand (2002) and Midnight Lamp (2003) published so far. She's published two collections, Identifying the Object (1993), and World Fantasy Award-    
Photo by Charles N. Brown

Bold As Love
winner Seven Tales and a Fable (1995). A long-time critic of SF and fantasy works, ten-years of her critical essays and reviews are collected in Deconstructing the Starships: Science, Fiction and Reality (1999). She lives in Brighton with her family.

Excerpts from the interview:


“I’ve always been puzzled by science fiction people who say, ‘Science here, magic there. We don’t do magic because we have something that works better, and it’s called science.’ The science in science fiction looks no different from the magic in fantasy to me. You do your research, you follow the instructions, and the right demon appears. If it doesn’t, it’s because your frog’s blood got contaminated, or the black cat you boiled had a white hair somewhere. Basically, you manipulate the material world, using processes discovered by trial and error, and force it to come up with the goods. Isn’t that what science does? People say, ‘magic is where there are no rules, where anything can happen,’ but I look for stories where ‘anything can happen’ and where they exist, they’re not genre. Ultimately, magic means power. It’s an attitude: the world will do our will. Mythology says science is different, science is where we don’t make demands, we purely ask questions. But it doesn’t often work that way, in fact or in fiction.”


“The ‘Bold as Love’ series, my current Gwyneth Jones project, is a big departure for me. It’s a very English story, at least at the outset: about the breakup of the United Kingdom, and what would happen if the daydreams of rock music were brought to life.

“I wanted to write a Fantasy of Now. In 1984 with Neuromancer, William Gibson suddenly presented me with a future that was the Future of Now, rather than a future of the 1930s or the 1950s. There was that shock of the new and the excitement of realizing, this is my world, my culture he’s talking about. It was very liberating, it changed my attitude to writing SF. In Bold as Love, I wanted to give mythic fantasy the same jolt of excitement, which I felt could be done because in the past few years real life (even for us middle-class people far away from the war zones) has almost taken on the character of genre fantasy. All kinds of brutal, highly colored events are right in our faces. I wanted to write about the battle to hold onto civilization, the brave few standing against the Powers Of Darkness, the countries overrun, the appalling human disasters (that go on in the background of those thousand-page, post-Tolkien, medievaloid epics), and have people think, ‘Yeah, this actually happens, it’s happening in the world around me now.’ I don’t want to be too negative about conventional genre fantasy, obviously it has many fans. But things have to be reinvented from time to time: freshened.”


“People argue over whether the ‘Bold as Love’ books are fantasy or science fiction. I call them fantasy, because the story is a romance. It’s set in the future, but it’s about a good prince, a fairy princess, and a perfect Champion (rock stars being the knights and princesses of our culture). On the other hand it’s set in the future, in a time of profound change. It’s about a global social and scientific revolution, and it involves plenty of high-tech extrapolation from the possibilities of the present day. So maybe it’s fantasy and science fiction.

“There are so many renowned SF novels that have strong fantasy elements, and vice-versa, I couldn’t begin to name them all. The year before Bold as Love won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the winner was China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station -- an outright fantasy about a kind of Gormenghast version of London. And the close contender that year was Mary Gentle’s Ash, a medieval sword and sorcery epic with underpinnings of very hard science fiction. Science fiction and fantasy are like yin and yang. Distilling out the ‘pure science fiction’ or ‘pure fantasy,’ you wouldn’t get anything worth having. They’re always a blend, a mixture. Maybe it’s time to say rules about genre boundaries are made to be broken and science fiction and fantasy are inextricably bound together.”


“Many people have asked me, ‘Do you have two personalities, two ways of writing?’ I can develop fancy answers, such as: Currently, the Gwyneth Jones books are about fathers, and the Ann Halam books tend to be about mothers. My next Ann Halam is about a search for a lost mother, and I’m not sure about the earlier Gwyneth Jones books, but the ‘Bold as Love’ books do seem to be about fathers: dangerous fathers, demanding fathers. . . . The truth is, I don’t think like that. The Ann Halam books are about half as long, that’s all I’m really sure of. I used to say: I try to write the Ann Halam books very simply, whereas as Gwyneth Jones, I’m working on the edge of what I can understand, and I just hope readers can follow. The ‘Bold as Love’ books are written very simply. I’m getting keen on being simple and direct, and intuitive as possible in whatever I write, so I can’t make that distinction anymore. I suppose the real difference is that the voice in the Ann Halam books tends to be the voice of a teenager, which means I try to take on, or recall in myself, that viewpoint.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the January 2004 issue of Locus Magazine.

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