Wednesday, 9 October 2013

My Favourite Fictional World... a guest post by Douglas Thompson

As part of the Impossible Spaces blog tour currently being organized by Hic Dragones, I thought it would be nice to invite some of the writers onto the blog to talk about imagined worlds. I asked each guest to name their favourite fictional world (a tricky question, I know, but a fun one). Today I welcome my first guest, Douglas Thompson.

As well as numerous short stories in magazines and anthologies, Douglas Thompson is the author of seven novels: Ultrameta (2009) and Sylvow (2010) both from Eibonvale Press, Apoidea (2011) from The Exaggerated Press, Mechagnosis from Dog Horn (2012), Entanglement from Elsewhen Press (2012), and Volwys and Freasdal from Dog Horn and Acair Publishing respectively, due in late 2013/early 2014.

So, Douglas, what's your favourite fictional world?

That’s a tough one. It tends to send one’s brain off in sci fi directions I suppose, in which case I’d go for something by Ursula Le Guin for sure. Probably the two worlds she creates in The Dispossessed, one of the greatest books of the twentieth century in my opinion - not just in sci fi, but in literature generally. In the book there are two worlds described, a little like The Earth and The Moon. The first one is rich and basically Capitalist, but the second one has been settled by people who create an Anarchist society. Martin Bax, the editor of Ambit magazine told me to read it, which was weird because Ambit is a mainstream literary mag and I thought at that point I was a mainstream writer. But he told me I should write sci fi. I know the words of a visionary when I hear them, and genre boundaries and prejudice must die! Before I read the book I’d have thought the idea of an Anarchist society was some kind of joke... I’d heard that the Anarchist regiments in the Spanish Civil War were useless because nobody could agree who was giving orders! But one of the many, many extraordinary achievements of the book is that it meticulously demonstrates how an Anarchist society might actually work, and indeed ultimately be superior to either a Marxist or a free market model. It also demonstrates how censorship is most insidious of all in a supposedly free Capitalist society, because there the censorship becomes consensual and takes place inside everyone’s head even before they speak. What we call “political correctness” in its most extreme form, in America and Britain, is the
best example of this, and I think Le Guin foresaw this decades in advance. For instance, I suspect that my work has sometimes been rejected by American magazine editors for exactly this reason of political correctness. A little voice in their heads goes “Hey, might this offend someone?” and just to be on the safe side they turn it away with a lame excuse about plot or narrative to cover up their own fear. But I want to offend people. Indeed, it’s probably the only reason I write. At least in an oppressive Communist society, everyone could see the censorship and choose to keep their minds free, but when our minds themselves have become the censors, just where have we left to hide or to escape to?

I make it sound as if The Dispossessed is a dry political diatribe, but it is nothing of the sort. It is a hugely gripping and completely alive novel with deeply imagined characters and situations. It will make you laugh and cry. It is compassionate. Like all great sci fi, it is also a metaphor for own planet, which gives it at times an eerie déjà vu sort of feel, a magical mirror in which we see ourselves and what an exotic, beautiful and terrifying world we are living through.

To be a greatly entertaining writer in a book is one thing, but to also raise and answer big social and anthropological questions at the same time: this is what makes Ursula Le Guin one of the greatest thinkers and artists of our age. Incredible to relate, but I actually gave her a copy of my second novel Sylvow and to my astonishment she emailed me back in thanks a few weeks later... wouldn’t tell me what she thought of it though! Well, it’s enough just so speak to God once, isn’t it, and know she’s there and listening? Seriously, these things are uplifting... the realisation that your heroes are just people and that it might just be your turn one day if you can just stay humble, disbelieve your praise as much as the criticism, and keep on learning.

Douglas Thompson's short story, 'Multiplicity', is one of twenty-one weird and dark tales in the Impossible Spaces anthology - out now from Hic Dragones.

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