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By Patrick (2007-06-26)
Q: What was the inspiration that compelled you to make a Jesuit missionary from the 18th century the central character of a science fiction novel?
I love 18th century stuff --I always think of it very much as the century that shaped the modern western world --intellectually and politically-- the Victorians complete the technological and economic transformation. That we seem to be willing to hand back Enlightenment thinking hand over fist saddens me. Luis Quinn was one of the last characters I thought of --I was well into my research and had the 2006 and 2032 sections worked out before it struck me that the story needed a third cord in the rope, and it seemed a nice piece of chutzpah to make SF out of eithteenth century Brasil. This was a wild time --the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French were all battling for control of the Amazon basin and the coast. It's impossible to write about that era without involving the Jesuits --in the Guarani Missions along the Parana river they created the only completely literate society on earth, before they were destroyed by Portugese slave entradas. These were fighting priests --a lot of them didn't go as gently as Jeremy Irons in The Mission. Never pass up a chance to swash-buckle.
A lot of that section is factual --or perhaps, historically inspired. Dr Robert Falcon isn't real, but his brother Jean-Baptiste was and he did invent the programmable loom years before Jacquard. There were rival expeditions to South America to measure the sphericity of the earth, and there was a floating basilica on the Rio Negro. Knowing all this, how could I not use it?
Q: How arduous was it to weave together the stories of Edson, Marcelina and Father Luis across time, space and reality? Making everything come together the way you did was an ambitious endeavor.
That's the trick of being a writer. It also helps to have the whole thing outlined before I write a word. I also wrote each of the strands complete before starting another, then adjusted them so the beat-points matched up.
Q: You mentioned in our last interview that you always try to twist or break the conventions of the genre when you set out to write something new. So which perceived scifi conventions did you attempt to twist or break in Brasyl?
I wanted to play with the conventions of parallel worlds SF: much of the trick seems to come from the sense of estrangement of a parallel world that looks like ours but is very very different: Hitler wins, the South win, Rome never falls, Magick works... I liked the idea of parallel worlds where the differences are minute --minuscule, and that the reader may have to look outside the novel to find that much-vaunted 'PoD'.
Q: How did you came up with the Q-blade concept? I have to say that this must be the first time a laser blade cannot be construed as a Star Wars rip-off.
Nicked the idea from Norman Spinrad in 'The Men in the Jungle' where they have what he calls 'snip-guns' --the perfect guerrilla weapon, which is totally silent and breaks atomic bonds. Like a giant invisible knife. A Brasilian take seemed to me to be much more up close and personal, hence the knife. Swords seemed a bit --well-- poncey.
Q: With Brazil as the setting for this book, there was no way you could produce anything that didn't include soccer/football, right!?!
Absolutely! One of the great joys of researching the book was visiting the Maracana in Rio, the sacred turf and the whole huge bowl --it doesn't't hold anything like the 200,00 it used to-- and the lobby where the footprints of all the greats are impressed in concrete: Pele, Socrates, Zizinho, Ronaldo: it was genuinely moving. And up the Amazon, miles from anywhere, our boat rounded a sandspit and there on the sand were two sets of goalposts... In Brasil, to quote the great Bill Shankley 'football's not a matter of life and death; it's more important than that.'