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Interview de Jack McDevitt (VO)

Interview de Jack McDevitt (VO)

ActuSF : Seeker is the first opus of the cycle of Alex Bénédict to be translated in France, although being the third of the cycle. What other volume among five other volumes of the cycle would you like to see translated first and foremost into French? Is there already a next publication planned in French?
Jack MCDevitt : I don’t have a preference. I’d like to see the entire series made available in French. As to publication plans, I recently changed over to a new agent, so I just don’t know what immediate plans are in the works. 

ActuSF : Do other volumes of the cycle take place at the same time that Seeker?
Jack MCDevitt : The action in the six volumes takes place over a period of approximately seven years.

 ActuSF : Alex Bénédict's job could be similar to that of archaeologist, except that it resells its discoveries. What fascinates you in archaeology, is it the link which this discipline allows us to build with our past?

 Jack MCDevitt : I’ve always been interested in things of value that get lost. That can mean all kinds of things. The Italian researcher coming back from Greece during the early years of the Enlightenment with a collection of previously unknown Greek plays (or maybe histories) that he’d found in a trunk, which get lost again when the ship goes down in a storm. We don’t even know what the contents were. 
Or the Temple of Jupiter at Pompeii. 
Or the history we tend to forget, like the courage of the Filipino women who, despite being clubbed and shot, defied Japanese guards during the Death March to bring food and water to the captives.
I couldn’t resist creating an antiquities dealer who would live in the far future, and who would be dedicated to recovering bits and pieces of our history. Though these invariably show up as mysteries.
ActuSF : Margolia, the city searched by Chase and Alex, revisits in some way the myth of the Atlantis. In your opinion, why does this lost continent fascinate so much writers, directors and artists?
Jack MCDevitt : It’s a magic place, irresistibly romantic. Who among us is so unimaginative that he, or she, would not want to visit a lost world? Especially that one. Incidentally, the opening section of The Devil’s Eye depicts Alex and Chase taking two Mute friends on a submersible tour of Atlantis. While unnerving the other passengers.   
ActuSF : Margolia established on the basis of a free and opened society, an utopia created by oppressed individuals. Do you believe in utopias, in the possibility of developing a better world, or you do think that no matter the starting point, human nature will always get over it?

Jack MCDevitt : I think we evolve. With time, we get better. Progress is slow, unfortunately. I have no doubt there’ll always be disinterested persons making self-government difficult, there’ll always be closed minds, there’ll always be selfishness. But gradually we are improving. People living in the West are more tolerant than they were a half-century ago. That’s not to say we aren’t still slow to learn. But we do learn. What is the old line? The human race advances one funeral at a time.
ActuSF : Alex and Chase wake Harry William, the founder of Margolia, from the dead, by means of a virtual avatar the personality of which is built according to the available archives. Is it the process which you used in your other novels? Is the artificial intelligence a theme on which you like writing?
Jack MCDevitt : The avatar technology is present in all of the Alex & Chase novels. And yes, I’ve written a fair amount of short fiction about artificial intelligence. How do we react when an AI begins writing deathless novels, in the spirit of Dostoevsky, Voltaire, and Dickens? And it is able to produce them weekly? Or when an AI brought in to a seminary to impersonate St. Augustine decldes that it’s a Catholic and pleads for access to the sacraments? Or when an AI designed to portray George Washington shows up during an era of immensely unpopular candidates and accepts a challenge to make a White House run?    

ActuSF : In Seeker, we would have liked knowing a little more about Ashiyyuréens, these baptized extraterrestrials "The Mutes" because they communicate by telepathy. Are they also mentioned in your other novels? Did you write an intrigue more developed around their mental capacities?
Jack MCDevitt : The Mutes are at the heart of A Talent for War, and are also a major factor in The Devil’s Eye. There is no detailed description of their mental capabilities. They are portrayed as performing at about a human level, although their telepathic capability makes them very unpopular among us. It is, after all, unsettling to be in the presence of someone who knows your every thought. You spend too much effort trying not to entertain any ideas that would be an embarrassment. Which of course guarantees those ideas will show up. 
ActuSF : During the spatial journeys of Chase and Alex, you build a detailed set, describing certain phenomena, as the brown dwarf for example, in a both simple but also scientifically credible way. Is it important for you to pass on a credible universe - even if science fictitious - to your readers?

Jack MCDevitt : Absolutely. I want the reader to experience the action. To forget that he’s seated comfortably in a chair at home and feel instead what it is to ride on the bridge of the Belle-Marie, or to cruise through the rings of Saturn, or to watch the lights appear on a distant world as they make their approach. If I do anything to remind him that it’s only a book, and he’s not really living through the action, we lose the illusion. And his pulse will return to normal, and he may take a break and go into the kitchen for a sandwich. That happens if I intervene to explain, say, how the star drive works, or why the Seeker artifact is significant, or how Chase feels about having to deal with someone else’s idiot boy friend. It also happens if I get the science wrong.   

ActuSF : Your novel combine in a complementary way space-opera and investigation : what is for you the best romantic dosage to keep your reader “hooked”, “suspended”?
Jack MCDevitt : The mysteries Alex deals with aren’t whodunits, but rather the result of historical facts getting lost. What really happened after the Seeker left Earth all those thousands of years ago, headed so far “that even God won’t be able to find us”?   
 In Polaris, crew and passengers disappear out of a starship that was out sightseeing. There was no habitable planet they could have gone to. Not that it matters, because their pressure suits were still on board, as was the lander. There are no aliens involved, no tricky technology to be brought in. Thirty years later, though, when Alex gets involved, no one has yet been able to figure it out.
The mysteries are all set up more or less that way. The explanation must be rational. And I want the reader, when she arrives at the climax, to think oh my goodness, how did I not see this coming?  If I can capture the reader with an apparently inexplicable mystery, I have no doubt I can keep her hooked.
ActuSF : Did the various jobs that you exercised English teacher, taxi driver, customs officer etc.), inspired you some of your stories?
Jack MCDevitt : Sure. I’m probably fortunate I didn’t start publishing in my twenties. I hadn’t enough experience at that time to understand what makes compelling fiction. (I do now, even though I may not always succeed in writing it.) And all those jobs contributed. Especially teaching. 
ActuSF : Set apart some texts from your youth, you began lately your career as a writer. What advice would you give to those who would like to dash into the writing, no matter their age?
Jack MCDevitt : Take the plunge, but don’t get discouraged. And remember three rules :
1.  Don’t overwrite.
2. Keep in mind that you are not telling a story; rather you are creating an experience.
3. When you’ve finished, submit it to the best publisher available. Then forget it and move on to something else.

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