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Alexander C. Irvine: The Family Thing July 2004

Alexander C. Irvine was an actor for several years, both during and after attending the University of Michigan, where he received his Bachelor’s in Theater in 1991. He attended Clarion in 1993, attended graduate school in Maine and Denver, and is currently a staff writer at the Portland Phoenix in Portland Maine, where he lives with his wife and twin children.

Irvine first story was "Rossetti Song" in
F&SF in 2000; his first novel, A Scattering of Jades, appeared in 2002, winning the Locus Award, International Horror Guild Award, and Crawford Award for Best First Novel. SF mystery novel Asimov's Have Robot, Will Travel, set in Asimov's robot universe, appeared in May 2004. His new novel, fantasy One King, One Soldier, is due in July.

Official site:
Photo by Beth Gwinn

Excerpts from the interview:

“I think writers should be wary of writing things that purport to criticize or expose or analyze something, when in fact what they do is glorify it. Nobody goes to horror movies for the happy ending -- they go for the blood and the T&A. I don't mean to be a prude here, because some of my favorite novels are intensely violent, but the way they speak about violence is not to romanticize it and turn it into this attractive, mysterious thing; it is to point out that a purely senseless brutality exists in the world, and you somehow have to keep living. On a species-wide level, we're chimpanzees. We're not far enough removed from our primate ancestry to get beyond the basic thing primates do: stake out territory and kill each other over it. The effect of culture is strong enough that very few of us actually do this, but it still happens a lot more than it should, and it will happen for the foreseeable future. I find all the Singularity talk just geek eschatology. None of these ideas to change the human race seem very practical or real to me -- though I did write one novella, 'The Life of Riley' (forthcoming Argosy), where aliens come to fix the human genome because they had left it screwed up!”


“I don't get political very often in my stories, but being a journalist has actually sharpened my sense of the utter absurdity of the political situation in this country right now. People laugh every time somebody says 'Orwellian' or 'Big Brother,' but Philip K. Dick always said if you control the meaning of words, you control the people who use them, and you see exactly this kind of stuff. We don't have body bags any more; we've got 'transfer tubes.' There are hundreds of examples like this! They have spent tremendous energy and capital ensuring they control the syntax of all these discussions, which is why they have been as successful as they have been. And then, of course, every time something turns out to be wrong, all references to it are deleted from the White House websites and they pretend it never happened. It is frankly terrifying -- and absolutely un-American. We've got all these 'ultra-patriotic' wackos running around doing things that are completely anti-American in the name of freedom, which anybody with any kind of rational distance from the process has to laugh about. It's comical in the way that Doctor Strangelove is: comical, but frightening.”


“I have always read SF and fantasy -- people like Tolkien, Le Guin, Leiber, Moorcock -- but it has never been the bulk of what I read. Other stuff got my attention: plays and histories, sports books, popular science. This is blasphemous, but I have never been able to read much Asimov or Heinlein, because I could never buy any of the emotional relationships in the books. None of the people seemed real to me, and none of what they felt seemed anything more than a plot lever. For all that I admire the ideas -- the whole Psychohistory thing is kind of fascinating -- the people are counters they're moving around on a board. That's something the genre has had to work very hard to overcome, that these monuments of the field were, in the end, not very good at talking about people. It bores the ever-lovin' soul out of me to read a lot of this stuff. I get puzzled whenever I see a reader or a critic in 2004 say, 'Well, why do we need all this literary crap in science fiction? How come we can't just write it like the good old days?' I want to say, 'Man, that's been dead, dead, dead for 50 years, and it's not comin' back.' Well, it is still coming out, but it's a dead end. For me, at any rate, it's an artistic dead end.”


“The family thing, or even more the acceptance of human responsibility, are important in both my first novel, A Scattering of Jades, and my new one, One King, One Soldier. Both books concern a guy who's utterly misguided at the beginning. He has extenuating circumstances, but he's allowed himself to be weakened by them, and through the course of all his privations and travels, the idea is that he learns how to accept the responsibilities that are incumbent upon him as a human being, whether they involve accepting or rejecting family ties. You could call it self-knowledge.”


“Since I had kids, my thinking about things like genetic tinkering with the biosphere and loose federal standards for pollution has really sharpened. I get much more shrill about stuff like this, where before I would just be kind of pissed off about it. Now that I have these two little beings who run around and call me Daddy, the future is much more real than ever. You have a sense of the future that extends 20 or 30 years from where you are right now, and beyond that you're just kind of making it up -- but then all of a sudden you've got kids, and the portion of the future that seems real expands hugely in scope. Maybe it's not everybody's moral duty to write about the dangers ahead if we keep on going as we are, but it's my moral duty because I feel deeply about it. You've got to steer by your own lights.”

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

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