aux éditions ActuSF
Tim Powers est entré dans le club des grands auteurs de SF avec l’inoubliable Les Voies d’Anubis, roman fondateur du steampunk. Le voici de retour avec A Deux pas du Néant chez Denoël.
Tim Powers : The initial spark was noticing that Einstein’s hair is white in all the photographs taken of him after 1928 — I wondered what happened to him ! The biographies said he had some sort of heart-attack in that year, but I figured, "No, what really happened ?" and so I read lots of books on him, looking for clues to some supernatural explanation. (Only supernatural explanations strike me as interesting enough to build a whole book on !)
ActuSF : Speak to us a little about Franck. How do you imagine your hero ? He seems a little overtaken by the events ?
Tim Powers : Frank Marrity is definitely overtaken by events ! Overwhelmed, even. I wanted him to be an interesting-but-average guy who abruptly finds himself neck-deep in impossible difficulties, called on to protect his daughter from enemies he can’t comprehend ! I hope the reader can share his bewilderment and gradual comprehension, and even some of his anxiety !
ActuSF : This book needed much documentation on the Jewish religion and the history of Israel ?
Tim Powers : Yes — Einstein was closely involved with the creation of the state of Israel, and so even though he wasn’t a practicing Jew, I naturally looked to the Jewish religion and the history of Israel for my plot points. And it’s always nice when necessary research turns out to be fascinating too ! I’m Catholic, but now if Catholicism were ever (per impossibile) proven wrong, I’d jump straight into Judaism !
ActuSF : Was your travel in Israel during 2005 important in the writing of the book ?
Tim Powers : Unfortunately I had already finished the book by the time we got to go to that Israeli convention — but I did pick up some details of Tel Aviv that I managed to fit into the book. And Israel is a wonderful country, with wonderful people — I’m tempted to write another book set there.
ActuSF : What interested you about Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin, these two idols of the XXth century ? There part a little insane and completely brilliant ?
Tim Powers : With Einstein it was his suddenly-white hair, and then the Einstein biographies led me to Chaplin — so I had to read a bunch of biographies of him too. And they both repaid the investment — both of them had very colorful lives, with the sorts of odd, enigmatic adventures that lend themselves to my sort of story. And yes, it helps that they were both brilliant ! I watched lots of Chaplin movies for research, and got a whole fresh appreciation of his work !
ActuSF : You searched in the intimate history of these two men the shadowed areas and exploited them. Is this pleasant to rewrite this way the life of these heroes ?
Tim Powers : Yes, I like making up extra biography-bits of historical characters I admire ! (Well, it’s fun with bad-guy characters too — in previous books I’ve "added to" the biographies of Bugsy Siegel and Kim Philby.) When a real, historical person has that larger-than-life quality, you start to wonder, "What would he have done in this situation ? Or this, or this ?"
ActuSF : The end of your book leaves many questions outstanding and opens many possibilities of continuation. Do you think of exploiting later this universe again ?
Tim Powers : Well no, I hadn’t been thinking of a sequel — but it’s an interesting idea ! I’d like to see what Frank and Daphne Marrity are up to now, these twenty years later !
ActuSF : You won many prices in your career, were they important for you and in your writing thereafter ?
Tim Powers : It’s very gratifying to win an award, certainly ! It’s reason to believe you haven’t been wasting your time. And I like to think that they have increased my readership, but who knows ? At least with the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award, people might see that mentioned on the book’s cover and imagine that it’s a Philip K. Dick book, which would be nice !
ActuSF : You are a teacher, is this concept of transmission of the knowledge to your students important for you ?
Tim Powers : Yes, it’s fun to talk about what you do — in my case, plotting and writing books — to an audience that is interested in hearing about it and can use the information to valuable effect. I love to find students who can write compelling fiction, and if they go on to publish books and stories I like to think I had a hand in it !
ActuSF : Just a few words on The Anubis Gates, your most famous novel undoubtedly. What do you think of it today ?
Tim Powers : I re-read it every now and then, in proof if a new edition is coming out, and I’m always pleased with it ! There are bits in it that still strike me as very funny, or colorful. Of course I’m not impartial — whenever I re-read an old book of mine, it’s like reading an old diary — I’m reminded of the friends and good times that were around me while I was writing it.
ActuSF : One often says that with James Blaylock and K.W. Jeter, you are at the origin of the steampunk. Is this something that you asserted ?
Tim Powers : No, K.W. Jeter made up the term "steampunk" long after the three of us had written our 19th century London books. Really the whole thing started when Jeter, researching a Victorian novel he was writing, found the source-book "London Labor and London Poor," by Henry Mayhew — he told Blaylock and I about it, and when we read it we couldn’t help but write a few such novels ourselves ! 19th century London is just such a goldmine of places and characters, with the ghost of Dickens always casting its shadow over the whole thing, that it’s hard to resist setting a story there !
ActuSF : You published several books of short stories, some of them in cooperation with James Blaylock. Why did you choose to take another name for them and what did these collaborations brought to you ? Could you make a joint novel one day ?
Tim Powers : I’ve known Blaylock for thirty-six years, and our tastes are very similar, so it’s easy for one of us to hand the other part of a story and be confident that he’ll continue it in the intended direction — mostly ! In fact the other guy always puts a bit of spin on it that the first guy hadn’t intended, and this parallax view of the story’s characters and events adds a dimension neither of us could achieve individually. I don’t think we could ever do a whole novel, just because a publisher would have to pay both of us, rather than just one of us !
Our collaborative stories are always published as "by James P. Blaylock and Tim Powers" — that is, with the names in alphabetical order. When we write as "William Ashbless’ (a character we made up in college, whom we’ve used in several of our books), we’re pretending to be this eccentric old poet, and it’s generally not our serious stuff !
ActuSF : On what are you currently working ?
Tim Powers : Currently I’m writing a book set in Victorian London, with, I think, vampires !