Interview Ian R. MacLeod
( 1 )
de Ian R. McLeod
aux éditions ActuSF
Genre : SF

Auteurs : Ian R. McLeod
Date de parution : janvier 2000 Inédit
Langue d'origine : Anglais UK
Type d'ouvrage : Interview mail
Nombre de pages : 1
Titre en vo : 1
Cycle en vo : Guin Saga
Parution en vo : janvier 2007

Lire tous les articles concernant Ian R. McLeod


Actusf : Could tell us a bit more about yourself ?
Ian McLeod : I’m a product of the fringes of industrial Birmingham in the 50s and 60s. I grew up on a council estate, and spent a lot of time wandering and wondering. Books didn’t hold much appeal to me until I discovered John Wyndham when I was about 13, and then, until my late teens, I read little else but SF. As far as careers were concerned, I studied law because I liked the look of the old leather-bound case books, and enjoyed much of it, but couldn’t bring myself to accept the idea of spending the next 40 years writing contracts or arranging divorces. Instead, I spent 15 or so years writing fiction under my desk in the English Civil Service — the kind of stuff which I thought I’d enjoy reading if there was more of it available, which was and remains an amalgam of the fantastic and the real. Eventually, my work started to sell. These days, I live with my wife and daughter in the river town of Bewdley, and divide my time between writing and doing teaching work.

Actusf : Who are the writers that influenced you the most ?
Ian McLeod : So many. But I always have to mention Keith Roberts as far as SF is concerned. He had a concern for good writing and a strong sense of place and character which is rare in the genre, but which has always been important to me. Otherwise, names like J G Ballard and Brian Aldiss and Delany and Ellison in the States come to mind. Outside of the genre, the books I’ve re-read the most are probably Sons and Lovers by D H Lawrence, The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald — and Proust, although not in the French, I’m sad to say. I love language, but I’m no linguist.

Actusf : It seems in your writings, that you’re influenced by painters too. Which ones ?
Ian McLeod : I don’t pretend to understand painting as much as I do books and music, but I’d mention Max Ernst and the Pre Raphaelites as being important to me, simply because I encountered them at an earlyish age. I would guess that a lot of what you’re detecting in my visual style is more down to the movies. I’m always drawn to directors who have a strong, and often surreal, visual style. David Lynch, for example, who, as I seem to recall, studied art and is also a painter as well.

Actusf : Both The Summer Isles and The Light Ages are uchronic stories. Why ?
Ian McLeod : Basically, I guess that it’s because I continue to be fascinated by the point where reality and fantasy intersect. So-called heroic fantasy, wherein in whole new world is created, can certainly work marvelously, but I do rather feel that it’s been over-done in recent years. So many fantasy worlds merely seem like lopsided versions of our own, with, say, a medieval or an Arabian template. Much more interesting, I decided, to use real places and references than loads of made-up names. London, for example, which I use heavily in The Light Ages, is already so stuffed with meaning and potentiality, not to mention legend, that it has far more innate power than any invented city. Not, as I say, that I’m against invention, but I was determined not to create a book which had a map at the front showing places like the Dark Mountains or Wolf Forest, or some unpronounceable string of random vowels and consonants.

Actusf : Silverberg in The Gate of Worlds or Sterling and Gibson with The Difference Engine, are very specific about how and when their history split from ours. But in The Light Ages, you’re pretty loose on your timescale. Is it at purpose ?
Ian McLeod : I did see the book as, essentially, a fantasy. I wanted to play with the concept of our current history and reality rather than be too literal-minded about it. Also, the book is written from the viewpoint of the world I’ve created, and I’m sure that anyone from some other reality would be scratching their heads about the whys and hows of their world being different to our own if they found themselves suddenly dumped here. I dislike fiction where some helpful person emerges to take the main character by the hand and explain everything to them ; the whole idea is immature and unreal. Sure, as kids and sometimes even as adults we find ourselves longing for that to happen, but it never does. It seems a continuing mistake to me in much SF that the world the writer creates is too clearly and easily explainable. A quick look around the particular world we find ourselves living in would suggest that that certainly isn’t the case.

Actusf : Are you more interested in Zeitgeist than in historical accuracy ?
Ian McLeod : Yes ! Absolute factual accuracy is impossible. You’ve got to do your best to get things right, but also accept that, at various points, you’re bound to get it wrong. As long as the feeling is there, readers will be forgiving.

Actusf : For you, does depicting prevail on storytelling ?
Ian McLeod : No, but I do think that the dynamic and feel of my book reflects a love of literature which extends far beyond fantasy and SF. Although The Light Ages has, to my mind, plenty of conflict and action, it is also interested in things which a lot of genre writing still tends to skim over or ignore.

Actusf : In both of your books issued in France, there’s a social issue. Do you consider yourself as part of "politically concerned scene" alongside with Charles Stross, China Miéville or Iain M.Banks ?
Ian McLeod : No, although I do like dealing with social issues. To me, they’re inherent in most of the “what ifs” which generate the stories in fantasy and SF. More specifically to The Light Ages, I was also always aware that much of the fantasy genre which the book reflects and builds upon takes the idea of people’s status in life for granted. Rarely does anyone ever question the right of a princess to be a princess. Even if a goblin’s a goblin, he may be unhappy with his fate and try to change it, but goblins don’t seem very often to question the whole system of goblinification itself. But, for a world to be real, these concerns are exactly the sort of things which would come up. Indeed, they’re especially relevant to the tightly structured guilds and classes of worlds of fantasy, as my examples suggest.

Actusf : Duplicity is in the core of The Light Ages and The Summer Isles. Do you think that power can only be built on lies ?
Ian McLeod : No, but I think that power begets lies as it seeks to sustain itself.

Actusf : So, do you believe that truth is a path to a better world ?
Ian McLeod : No. And yes. In other words, I’m fascinated by how the desire to be good becomes corrupted, and how the bad creeps in. And then what good and bad actually mean. As to truth itself, I believe it’s a relative term, but that, being the creatures we are, we’re always drawn towards the idea of absolute certainty. Any intelligent person will be aware that what’s true to them will appear false to someone else. Even what truths there are in the scientific sense have changed greatly over time, and will doubtless continue to do so. I’m not saying that there isn’t a factual reality, or that the universe doesn’t have basic laws, but I don’t think that us humans are the best equipped of beings to work it all out.

Actusf : In The Light Ages, just as in The Summer Isles, changes come through violence. Are you a revolutionary ?
Ian McLeod : I can’t see that the world functions as it does merely through gradual progress. That’s self-evident through history. If people didn’t rebel sometimes against their circumstances, we’d probably still all be living in caves and digging around for roots. The problem is that, to make things better, you run the risk of making them a whole lot worse. And, even if you do improve the lot of many, others are likely to suffer as a result. Of course, these are exactly the sort of contradictions and ambiguities which drive a lot of fiction, and I’d like to think that they’re in there as far as mature genre fiction is concerned as well.

Actusf : What are the Light Ages ?
Ian McLeod : As well as being a play upon the English term Dark Ages, which reflects a time when European civilization supposedly dipped after the Roman Empire, they’re also linked to the way in which people keep time in my version of the world ; there have been other kinds of Ages as well. The term Light Ages is meant, from my world’s point of view, to be self-congratulatory, look-at-where-we-are-now sort of thing, although of course from our perspective the way their live their lives looks rather backward. Then, of course, there’s light itself, and the promise it contains. And aether.

Actusf : What is aether ?
Ian McLeod : Aether is a substance of my invention, although it plays upon Plato’s idea of a fifth element. Basically, it’s a form of power which suffuses the world, and which an inventor at the end of the Age of Reason finds a way of tapping and using. Aether allows mankind to manipulate matter using their own will. In practical terms, it means you can make machines work better, subvert science and cheat the physical rules of engineering. Effectively, it’s a controllable form of magic – although sometimes it doesn’t want to be controlled.

Actusf : How this alternative world came up to you ?
Ian McLeod : Basically, out of a desire to write about a world which was so close to ours that parts of it would be so similar as to be near-indistinguishable, at least in a historical sense, and which, in other places, would seem to have emerged from the realms of dream, myth and nightmare.

Actusf : When reading The Light Ages, Dickens pops up to our mind. Is it kind of a homage ? And why ?
Ian McLeod : Well, Dickens does get mentioned when people talk about influences and The Light Ages. To my mind, this is because a scene early on has some fairly clear parallels with a scene from David Copperfield, and a lot of the later part of the book is set in a vision of a semi-Victorian London. But, to me, that’s it. So, yes, I was aware of those two things. But there are other writers I can cite whom I was much more aware of at various parts of the book. As no one else has ever noticed, I won’t say who they are ! Basically, when you write, you soon find out that the things you can write about are finite, and you do sometimes find yourself bumping up against other writers, or possibly films, or even songs or paintings. That’s just something you accept, and learn not to worry about, as long as you don’t dislike the thing you’re being reminded of. I certainly like and admire Dickens, and to a degree I find the comments flattering, but certainly wasn’t aiming for a homage.

Actusf : Do you believe that guilds are actually ruling the world ?
Ian McLeod : You’ve probably gathered from my previous comments that I don’t think anyone really “rules” anything. However, there is a fathering sense in The Light Ages that the future of humanity has been hijacked by the discovery of aether. Aether, as is said a few times in the story, has a will of its own. Although it’s not quite a character as such, and its will is hard to pin down, it’s probably the closest the world of The Light Ages has to a dominating influence.

Actusf : The world you created is dense and only partially exploited. There’s a successor to The Light Ages already, but settled a century after. Do you believe that you could write another novel in the Aether World, or are you done with it ?
Ian McLeod : No, I’m not done. As well as The House of Storms, which is a novel set in the same world, and based on the premise, but otherwise largely different, I have an “aether” novella called The Master Miller’s Tale due out as the cover story in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in May this year. I would also like to take things further at novel length, but the ideas I’d like to exploit haven’t really taken shape yet.

Actusf : In France, only a bunch of short stories were issued before The Summer Isles. What are your feelings about the fact that the book was first translated in France, even before the novel length version was published in England ?
Ian McLeod : I remain puzzled, although I’ve been involved in the writing end of publishing for too long to be that astonished. Anyone who knows the industry will know that the way things happen are often hard to explain or understand, so I try not to waste too much time trying to do so.

Actusf : Do you know that you’ve almost killed a translator by despair ?
Ian McLeod : Oh dear — I never knew it was that bad ! Writing the novel was hard, though — with hindsight largely because of the level of background and depth I needed to create — so I guess it’s not surprising that some of that toughness of scope and ambition should work its way into the translation. Having spoken and corresponded with various translators, I’m also well aware of the difficulties in terms of terminology and style that a book as large The Light Ages presents.

Actusf : You’re pretty harsh with France in your books, picturing De Gaulle as a demagogue in The Summer Isles, and talking about the "godamned Frenchies" in The Light Ages. Don’t you know we love your books down here ?
Ian McLeod : Well, I can’t be held responsible for the actions of my characters ! More seriously, I actually like France and all things French a good deal. Of all the countries outside England (and in that I’d include Scotland and Wales), I’d say that France is the one I feel I know best. I do wonder now that you’ve raised the question that liking a person of a place doesn’t actually make you feel freer to be nasty about them in a fictional sense. Not that I’m that nasty, I hope.

Eric Holstein

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