Spotlight on David Moles
This is the first installment of Locus Magazine’s irregular ‘‘Spotlight on’’ series of short interviews, designed to highlight artists, new writers, publishers, art directors, booksellers, editors, and others who contribute to the science fiction/fantasy field.
David Moles was born in California and raised in San Diego, Athens, Tehran, and Tokyo. A graduate of the American School in Japan, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and Oxford University, he has been writing and editing science fiction and fantasy since 2002, and is a past finalist for the Hugo Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, as well as the winner of the 2008 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, for his novelette ‘‘Finisterra.’’ He expects to leave Switzerland shortly.
What one story are you most fond of that our readers should seek out?
I’m always most fond of whatever I’m about to start working on – the ideal story that hasn’t yet been dragged down out of the clean world of forms into the muck of substance.
Failing that, though, let me suggest ‘‘Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom’’, originally published in Eclipse Two but also available – as befits its Doctorovian inspiration – for download under a Creative Commons license at www.chrononaut.org/stories/down-and-out/.
Your fiction has a very global/international flavor – is that based on your own life experience?
The world is big and complicated. People are people everywhere, but people everywhere get up to some crazy shit. Life as college-educated straight white Americans are used to living it isn’t the only life there is; it’s not even normal. There is no ‘‘normal.’’
These sound like truisms, and they should be. But most fiction, including (or even particularly, I’m disappointed to say) most of today’s speculative fiction, seems to prefer to ignore them. In some ways I think that’s a valid artistic choice – every culture, even the unmarked hegemonic culture, deserves to have its own particular literature.
But what I’m attracted to is fiction that makes different choices, and that’s the kind of fiction I mostly try to write. Some of this comes from my own life experience. I’ve spent half my adult life overseas, not to mention the most formative years of my childhood and adolescence. Some of it comes from studying history and linguistics.
Some of it I make up, of course. And some of it is just a descriptive trick I stole from William Gibson.
Why do you write science fiction instead of, say, crime novels or mimetic fiction?
Partly it’s just what economists and historians call path dependence. I started reading SF early more or less by accident, and I started thinking about writing SF early, and by the time I got serious about writing it was easier to stick with SF than try something else. Fundamentally, I’m pretty lazy.
Also, though, I’m a perfectionist. I tend to believe, with A.E. Housman, that accuracy is a duty, not a virtue. I get into arguments with friends about, say, how much responsibility House has to truthfully depict the course of a disease, or Connie Willis to accurately depict the geography of 1940s London. If I write a crime novel, I’ll have to research the hell out of whatever that entails in terms of law, psychology, ballistics, forensics, finance; and I’ll have to be certain in my own mind I know what a ‘‘crime novel’’ is, in today’s market, and what sort I want to write. Likewise, if I write a mimetic novel, it’ll have to come out of my own lived experience – which, despite all the travel, is not, so far, exactly the stuff of The Beach or Anil’s Ghost or Tree of Smoke.
It’s not that the stakes are lower in SF. I’d like to have said of my SF what Johnson said of Shakespeare’s plays: ‘‘The event which he represents will not happen, but if it were possible, its effects would be probably such as he has assigned; and it may be said, that he has not only shewn human nature as it acts in real exigencies, but as it would be found in trials, to which it cannot be exposed.’’ But I find the technique more accessible.
If a crime novel feels to me like engineering, and a mimetic novel like photography (both of which I love, by the way; that’s not a knock on either), then SF, the kind of SF I write, feels more like collage. I can juxtapose things that I know are true: the texture of old paint on a Tokyo railroad bridge in the rain; the sting of yesterday’s tear gas in an Athens square; the scapegoating of women for the breakdown of cultural boundaries in diaspora societies; the Lorentz equations; the sickness of heartbreak – and from them construct something that is still true, even if it’s impossible.
Any plans to write a novel?
Many, many plans. None so far has survived contact with the enemy. At the moment I’m trying to improvise.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your work?
My vices are sloth, envy, video games, gossip and ice cream. My virtues are generosity, compassion, red peppers, and an appreciation for typographical excellence.
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