Behind the Face-paint 2
A Supplementary Interview with Richard A Lupoff
by Nick Gevers
I originally interviewed Richard Lupoff early in 2001, to mark the appearance of his major short story collection from Golden Gryphon Press, Claremont Tales I (see Behind the Face-Paint). Now, a year later, Claremont Tales II is issued by the same publisher; in February 2002, Lupoff and I conducted a further conversation by e-mail, covering highlights of the new collection, quite possibly his best...
NG: "Green Ice" is a superb story, and utterly unexpected in tone and direction after its predecessor in Claremont Tales I, "Black Mist". How did "Green Ice" evolve creatively, and what decided you on an actual cult--the Aum Shinrikyo, extrapolated futurewards--as Mr. Ino's antagonist here?
RAL: "Black Mist," the first Mr. Ino episode, was written as both a hard science fiction story and a fair play murder mystery. I'd expected "Green Ice" to be another such, and was amazed when it turned out to be a very different story. This reminded me of the fact that authors don't really create stories, they discover them. Or, well, I don't suppose I should generalise that way, every author is different from every other author. But I don't create stories, I search for them. Some are devilishly elusive, others pop right up and reveal themselves. "Green Ice" took some searching, but eventually, there it was. I sat in my chair staring at it, flabbergasted, but there it was.
Of course I'd heard of Aum Shinrikyo at the time of the sarin-gas attack on the Tokyo subway, but my interest was truly piqued when I read Robert Lifton's book, Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence and the New Global Terrorism, published in 1999. What intrigued me was the fact that the members of the cult were not a bunch of ragtag losers nor were its teachings mindlessly nihilistic. The cult attracts many intelligent, successful people and it has a definite ideology which is simultaneously plausible and insane. It is very dangerous.
The story was nearing completion last year when the September 11 attacks occurred, and it struck me that Aum Shinrikyo and Al-Qaida are chillingly similar. Such cults grow around charismatic leaders, offer apocalyptic visions, and appeal to persons who feel victimized and desperate. These cults encourage in their members a desire to purge themselves of worldly connections and give their all to the movement, ending their lives eventually in glorious self-immolation. Even the rational, grounded and intelligent individual may succumb.
NG: "31.12.99" tackles certain implications of quantum theory...
RAL: The story is indeed an investigation of quantum theory, and of its blood relative, chaos theory. Not that I'm a trained scientist, you understand. But I think I have a general lay-person's perception of this kind of thought. The idea, as I understand it, is that the tiniest cause can have the greatest effect; thus the combination of quantum uncertainty and chaos theory greatly strengthens the hand of those who favor free will in the ancient philosophical argument over free will versus determinism.
Personally, I've always favored determinism, but study of quantum theory and chaos theory has caused me to reconsider that position, and in fact to move to the other side in the debate.
This all reminds me of a conversation I had with a philosophy professor shortly before I received my undergraduate degree. "When I started studying philosophy I thought I knew what the answers were. After a while I realized that I didn't know the answers, but at least I knew what the questions were. Now it's four years later and I no longer even know what the questions are."
The professor grinned pleasantly. "That's wonderful," he said, "you are ready for grad school."
And in fact it was a tempting prospect, but I had to spend the next few years in the army, and after that, what with one thing and another, I never quite got around to pursuing an advanced degree.
No pretense that I am the first writer to use these ideas in a story. Murray Leinster's "The Other Now" had a powerful impact when I read it half a century ago, and the reference to a Mr. Jenkins in the story is my acknowledgement of Leinster's influence. Ray Bradbury's "The Sound of Thunder" is another use of the theme, and there was even a "Simpsons" cartoon episode built around it.
NG: Several stories in Claremont Tales II date from the early Seventies, the New Wave Era in SF. Would it be correct to say that the experimental pieces, "The Heyworth Fragment" and "Stream of Consciousness", were your contribution to the avant-gardism of the time?
RAL: "The Heyworth Fragment" was indeed written under the influence of the New Wave authors. I was a faithful and enthusiastic reader of New Worlds in the late 1960s, and felt that the New Wave writers were doing important work in liberating science fiction from its structural and stylistic shackles and its thematic shallowness. I greatly admired Michael Moorcock (when he was in his non-barbaric mode), J.G. Ballard, and Tom Disch, among others.
"Stream of Consciousness" was another matter. It struck me as a funny notion [a very funny one--NG] and I just sat down and wrote it. There was no particular ideology involved, political, aesthetic or otherwise.
NG: "The Adventures of the Boulevard Assassin" is very amusing, a Sherlock Holmes story written in the manner of Jack Kerouac. A skillful and willful exercise in pastiche, obviously; but is there a deeper connection of sensibility between Kerouac and Dr. Watson that adds to the significance, the appropriateness, of the story?
RAL: At first I was inclined to dismiss this notion, but upon further thought, you may have spotted something that I didn't realize myself. That kind of thing happens -- readers perceive elements in stories that the authors didn't know were there. Oh, strange creatures swim around in the subconscious!
At one time I was quite taken with Kerouac's vision and his prose, but the more I learned about Kerouac himself and the more deeply I plumbed his works, the less I found myself liking him and the shallower his writing was revealed to be. He was--pardon me--a snivelling, narrow-minded, infantile personality. He chose as the object of his hero-worship Neal Casady, an alcoholic woman-abusing rapist and sneak-thief. At the end of his life Kerouac abandoned his wife and daughter and ran home to live with his mommy.
If there is a comparison here it is that of opposites. Watson, while not very intelligent (didn't Doyle refer to him as "boobus brittanicus"?), was a noble, self-sacrificing individual, pure of heart even if fuzzy of mind. And Watson's hero, Holmes, was "the best and wisest of men."
Amen to that!
NG: "Jubilee" is an alternate-history tale, straightforward in manner, about a Roman Empire (technically, a Caesarist Roman Republic) triumphant in world conquest, and expanding into space. Beneath the story's surface, mysterious currents swirl, concerning Martian barbarians, Japanese super-weapons, and so forth. How much detective work should a reader do here? Is there an elaborate secret history waiting to be decoded?
RAL: I suppose there's as much history behind this story as the reader wants to search for or invent on his own. Mike Resnick had asked for an alternate-history story, and I started with Caesar's assassination as my point of departure. What if the plot had failed? We then move 1,000 years into the future (that is, Rome's future -- actually "our" past) and see what the effect would have been.
This goes to my quantum/chaos thinking.
I'm also intrigued by the idea of "alternate biology." The extinct marsupial species of Australia fascinate me, and if there's anything to the notion of re-creating extinct species by cloning preserved DNA, I would love to see the marsupial tiger and other Australian species brought back.
NG: "Whatever Happened to Nick Neptune?" is a very knowing mystery story about the excesses of pulp magazine collectors. How specific is the satire here? I thought I half-recognised one or two fictionalised personages...
RAL: Most of the characters in this story are closely patterned on people I knew in my fan days. Some are now deceased, some are still with us. I've been in and out of the worlds of many kinds of collectors, and their psychology and behaviour are in some ways fine, generous and admirable. In others, they can be selfishly competitive, seriously neurotic or even pathological.
The portraits in "Whatever Happened to Nick Neptune?" are of course exaggerated but I think they are honest and not essentially inaccurate.
NG: "Old Folks at Home" is a murder mystery with some rather grim implications; it features your recurring detectives, Lindsey and Plum. Can you say something about the genesis of these characters, and the extent of your series concerning them--seven novels thus far, I think...?
RAL: Let's take Marvia Plum first. She is an amalgam of three women whom I knew and admired at different times in my life. I drew character traits from each of them: intelligence, warmth, generosity and dedication. When I first introduced Marvia in an early draft of The Comic Book Killer, my agent exclaimed that she was the best thing I had ever written. She had only a small role in the novel at that point, and he demanded that I give her more to do as I revised the book. She has proven immensely popular with readers ever since, and I credit her three prototypes for her success.
As for Hobart Lindsey--a good many people have suggested that he is Dick Lupoff. I don't see it that way and certainly didn't create him as a surrogate for myself. Hey, if I wanted to put myself into a story I'd be a baseball player or a boxer or an astronaut, not an insurance adjuster!
But in fact I had done work similar to Lindsey's at one time in my life, and readers may indeed see something of me in him (or vice versa). Readers often see things that authors didn't realize were there, that they surely didn't consciously put there. Readers are entitled to interpret the stories using their own insights. They sometimes detect things that emerge from the author's subconscious, experience moments of revelation that are perfectly valid and may be very profound, that the author himself was quite unaware of.
NG: A Lupoff collection would not be complete without some Lovecraftian material. "The Turret" is a very impressive example of the form. How easily do you assume the Cosmic tone such tales require? And is there any love lost between yourself and the actual inhabitants of the Severn Valley? They get a pretty raw deal here...
RAL: I've worked in the realms of parody and pastiche for a long time, starting in a fanzine during high school days. In fact, I fear that these works may have obscured the many novels and shorter stories that I've written in my own persona. Well, it's pretty late in the day to worry about that, isn't it?
Some writers, I'm sure, would be very hard to mimic, but those with distinct voices and obvious quirks are easy. Thus, Lovecraft, Jack Kerouac--easy as pie. The late Howard Browne once told me that he'd set out to imitate Edgar Rice Burroughs's style and had sat down with a stack of Tarzan novels and copied out all the adjectives that Burroughs had used. Browne even did a statistical analysis of the frequency with which Burroughs used each adjective.
When Browne's novel Warrior of the Dawn was published, Burroughs sent him a letter to the effect of, "I really enjoyed Warrior of the Dawn, it's one of the best books I ever wrote."
Other writers are elusive.
As for the residents of the Severn Valley--alas, I've never been in England and have no idea what those folks are like. "The Turret" is a sort of second-degree Lovecraft pastiche, and I was trying for the kind of paranoia-inspiring feel that Lovecraft achieved with "The Weird Shadow over Innsmouth" and some of his other New England stories.
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© Nick Gevers 9 February 2002