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By Kristin Pazulski
As a non-reader of science fiction, when I think of the genre, images of aliens and space creatures invade my mind. But a conversation with our new faculty member, Alexander Lumans, illuminated for me a different perspective on science fiction—one of reflection, post-apocalyptic disaster, and the “new weird.”
He is teaching short story workshops this session, and while he’s off to a writing residency next session, he’ll be back afterwards. Also, his story “All the Things the Moon is Not” is a finalist for the 2013 storySouth Million Writers Award. You can read and vote for his work here.
A lot of his recent work is rooted in the tradition of science fiction, so we chatted about it.
1. Where do you find the inspiration to write science fiction? Do you take real life and spin it into a fictional world, or is it all pure imagination?
Every story that I write feels weird in some way—this extends to both science fiction and more traditional work. It has become more of a conscious effort in my writing to basically reinvent some aspect of reality, where you spin it in just enough of an opposite direction from what people expect. It creates this nice ability to play with those expectations, too. My approach veers more toward drawing from real life rather than pure imagination, because I think life is weird enough, and there are plenty of things from our everyday worth writing about. There’s a movement called the new weird. It enables you talk about old ideas in new ways. And that’s what I like about it. It keeps me interested I guess.
2. New weird—can you tell us about that?
It was only recently introduced to me, [and] the author I most identify it with is China Miéville.
It’s interesting to try to figure out what new weird means. I don’t know why it has a title. It’s more like a subdivision of a subdivision, but there’s an interview with China on Geeks Guide to the Galaxy by John Joseph Adams that explains it. China has this tattoo that he says is emblematic of the new weird. It represents what he likes to combine in his work, the misunderstood or unknown and the element of fear that comes with that, and the understanding of both.
Jeff Vandermeer’s anthology The New Weird, defines it as “a type of urban, secondary-world fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping off point for creation of settings that may combine elements of both science fiction and fantasy.”
3. There are issues explored in science fiction, particularly some of your stories that I read, that are apocalyptic … do current events inspire your work at all? Do you think some current real-world events allow your work to hit the reader closer to home?
While I don’t necessarily draw from a specific event, I do pull from events. But what I take from them is the mood and atmosphere that surrounds them. That’s what I feel like I tap into more—what perpetuates a certain mood or tone. That’s what guides the story in many ways. The more you can inhabit that mood, the more the story wants to come out.
Moods associated with disaster, be it man-made or natural, is really relevant because disaster is almost everywhere we look now. What’s more interesting to me is not “apocalypse-now” stories, but stories connected to apocalypse. Stories that refer to events that were not meteors hitting the earth or zombies hitting the streets, but something a lot more domestic. And the after-the-fact is the more interesting thing. What we do after the disaster. That, to me, is where all the good stories occur.
I always go back to H.P. Lovecraft. He doesn’t center his work around love or money and anything associated with that. His work is very lacking in class issues or relationships or gender discussions. What it is is an investigation of fear, and how fear is our most powerful and most primal emotion. So I think that people always want to investigate fear in some way, whether to assuage it or identify it, because it makes up our most basic drive. It’s that fear of the unknown that’s the most terrifying, and the fear of the inexplicable, which is what happens with any disaster. Their reaction is “how can this happen?” and it’s a state of wonder at the circumstances that led to this point.
I think people are always searching for reasons … [and this kind of work] answers some, and leaves things unknown. It also says there are things you might never know.
4. How would Denver hold up in an apocalyptic disaster?
Denver’s really interesting because it’s the biggest place around for hundreds and hundreds of miles, so it’s immediately a beacon for people to flood to it. Which is dangerous, because how will the city handle that? Water is a huge issue, even now, and I think people will go off into the mountains, to find refuge where they can be isolated from any number of threats.
In the city, you’re going to have people who turn lawless, and that’s one of the scariest things. You could have people take over parts of the city and just loot out of fear or desire. You’ll be finding out what people are capable of doing.