"Reading about imaginary characters and their adventures is the greatest pleasure in the world... Or the second-greatest!
~ ANTHONY BURGESSThis morning I was delighted to find Beyond the Rails under praise in the literary blog of one David Lee Summers, a steampunk-writing astronomer, the real deal who holds a position at the Kitt Peak Observatory. If that sounds like an odd combination, well, sometimes odd combinations make the best fiction, and I can only suggest that you check out his multi-fascinating blog, The Dead Planet.
Today's article deals with speculation concerning some of the more esoteric uses you might find if you actually had access to time travel. He was tagged by Susan J. Voss at the Dab of Darkness blog, and while he didn't exactly tag me, he did mention my work in a favorable light, and I'm taking the opportunity to keep it rolling. This is almost an interview, with the subject tasked to answer a series of fun and revealing questions, so let's get started!
What is your favorite historical setting for a book?
I'm not sure I have just one. Historical rules out sci-fi and fantasy, which have always been big on my reading lists, but that still leaves a lot! As a steampunk author, I'm almost obligated to say Victorian, and that's true, but I also like those tales from the age of exploration, the golden age of piracy, the colonial era in the Orient, when the Asian cultures were viewed as somehow mystical, and separate from anything we in the west could imagine. But with me it's more about the historical era of the author rather than his particular work. I am a very immature reader. I most enjoy (and write) stories written in the style of a bygone era, when the action didn't stop every ten pages so the hero could have sex with some random hot chick, when they used cleverness instead of torture to gain information, when the solution to every problem didn't involve blowing it up with the biggest bomb yet seen on the planet. I very much enjoy the "boys' own" adventure tales of the 1920s and 30s, and when I can find a book written in that style, period or contemporary, it becomes a prize possession and even gets re-read from time to time.
What writers would you like to travel back in time to meet?
Jules Verne, of course; I'd even learn French for a crack at him! H. G. Wells, one of the pioneers of sci-fi, who also gave us wargaming in the gentleman's parlor. Doyle, Poe of course, and Robert Louis Stevenson, who popularized pirate tales. The pioneers in their fields, I suppose, the people who said, "No one's ever done this before, so I'm going to." That's brass, and also huge talent. To identify a new field to write in, and then to do it, and nail it in such a way that their names are remembered and their books are sold and read over a century later just boggles the mind.
What books would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?
The Forgotten Realms series by R.A. Salvatore. For those unfamiliar, this is an ongoing fantasy series that began in 1988 with The Crystal Shard, and continues with the release tomorrow of Hero. The series at this writing comprises 47 books and counting. The publishing house is Wizards of the Coast, and all the characters and situations are based to a large extent on whatever edition of the Dungeons and Dragons game was current at the time of each book's writing. When I saw that, I was remarkably unimpressed, but Salvatore's talent is to pare this huge world down to a handful of core characters and make you care about them over years of adventures together. Teenage Jack would have loved it!
What book would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?
This is tricky, as I don't know my older self... Or maybe I do, being 68 years old now. When I try to think of a book I enjoyed as a youngster that I probably wouldn't pick up now, it's hard (see my answer to the first question above) because I'm such a juvenile reader that I still like the same things I did as a kid. Probably a book I would skip today just because of its lurid cover art would be Cycle of Nemesis by Kenneth Bulmer. I probably would have skipped it as a teenager, but I was stuck for a weekend in an airport waiting for a seat via space-available, and there was very little to choose from. Cycle of Nemesis concerned an ancient Sumerian/Babylonian god of pure evil who was locked away by reading the incantation on a stone tablet. Because the bottom of the tablet was missing, the wards only held for 7000 years, meaning that 7000 years after the last uprising, the current society had to remember what was required, and equally importantly, believe in it in order to reset the seals. Of course, in the plot of the book, it was our turn. It was an amazingly good read trapped in an amazingly bad cover, and coincidentally, in keeping with this theme, it involved a good bit of time travel. I still have this book, and re-read it again about two years ago.
What is your favorite futuristic setting for a book?
This is a hard one, as I've really kind of moved away from sci-fi reading. I would probably have to say the Star Trek universe, as there is room for science, adventure, exploration, social commentary, and most importantly, there is a huge amount of established canon, so I don't have to learn a whole new reality every time I crack the cover. That may be part of my fascination with Forgotten Realms as well; I'm a lazy reader. I want to pitch into a gripping story, not slog through a cultural history of some nonexistent society.
What is your favorite book that is set in a different time period?
One book? You have to be kidding, right? Limited to one that I assume would comprise my entire library for the purposes of this question, I would have to go with the collected stories of Sherlock Holmes. The brilliance of the man and the ambiance of his surroundings are just too good to pass up.
Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book to see what happens?
Absolutely not! Knowing first hand the blood writers shed to bring us their fantastic stories, I couldn't do this to them. I may have when I was a child, but if I did, it was too long ago to remember. Respect for The Craft aside, why would I want to deprive myself of that earth-shaking surprise. And if you're a reader who does commit this disrespectful act of pure evil, SHAME ON YOU!
If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?
Easiest question on the list. I would take it to the deepest point of the Marianas Trench, weld it to an anvil, and drop it in! I've read altogether too much terrifying sci-fi to imagine that anything good could come from messing with the time flow.
Favorite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods.
This one's easy, too. I simply have to return to Cycle of Nemesis. Just stellar work, as the Big Bad's imps tamper with the time flow attempting to gain an advantage over the heroes, and those confused characters try to make sense of the occasional glimpses they catch of themselves in strange costumes. A spectacular ride.
What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?
The Gor series, by John Norman. Begun in the 1960s, these books postulated the existence of a Counter-Earth named Gor that traveled perpetually on the opposite side of the sun, and in the pre-satellite and space probe days, could not be detected. Gor was a fantasy world without magic where warriors rode on giant hawks or tyrannosaurs, and unwittingly fought for humanity in proxy wars set in motion by the mysterious Priest Kings. There are 34 books, and the series continues, the last installment being published this August. The first six were a magnificent sword-and-planet series reminiscent of the Carter of Mars books by Burroughs. Somewhere between #6 and #7, he seems to have had a run-in with one of the early militant feminists, and the series thereafter devolves into an anti-female screed, with whole chapters devoted to the idea that women are neither happy nor well-adjusted unless they have a man telling them what to do, they are natural slaves and sex objects, and a whole list of similar themes that I found too offensive to continue to wade through to get to the deeply buried story inside. What I wish is that I could go back and read the first six, and never know there were any more after that; that would eliminate a huge disappointment from my young adult years.
And that concludes my "interview" on time travel. I'm going to tag a few friends here, and challenge them to post to their own blogs. Ready? Here we go!
Karen J. Carlisle
and of course, William J. Jackson.
I can't wait to see what you guys do with this, so get busy! Love you guys. Have a great week!