ADAM Browne lives in Melbourne. He’s published 30 short stories, winning an Aurealis Award for best SF short story in 2002 and theChronos in 2009. His first novel, Pyrotechnicon: Being the Further Adventures of Cyrano de Bergerac among the States and Empires of the Stars, by Himself (dec’d), is being released by coeur de lion in September this year — look for a launch at Canberra’s Conflux. Adam has also been working on the internal illustrations — one is available for sale as a print at Signed and Numbered, in Prahran. You can also see a few at his blog.
In ‘The End of Roentgen Rays’, the aptly concluding story of your Phantasmagorianacollection, reality unwinds as language collapses, a process begun with the loss of capital letters: is there a line to be drawn, currently perhaps, between the evolution and devolution of language, and should we privileged texters care as long as we can all understand each other’s tweets?
Yeah, that one’s less about the devolution than language than the idea that the world is made of language. Most of us can’t remember anything before we were two or three; it’s because language doesn’t colonise the mind until around then. Language is cloudware – it does a lot of our thinking for us – or, more than that, it does our perceiving for us.
I wrote the story as a lipogram, but was far too easy on myself: the only letter missing is X. In the end, all the letters unknot and fall apart, the story becoming a lipogram with the entire alphabet missing…
I was looking at the lipogrammatic novel A Void the other day, and suddenly realised it’s a double achievement – not only that it was written, but that it was translated from the French while also avoiding the letter E…
Your short stories often offer a blend of science, history and the fantastic: is there a particular advantage, say, in discussing certain themes, to this melding that more othordox narratives might not hold for you?
I didn’t start writing historical stuff until a friend, Barry Rome, sent an email with a beautiful little paragraph of what he’d like to see in SF; I can’t remember it very well, except that it was sumptuous, diseased – renaissancepunk – bewigged ancients with intelligent calipers, that sort of thing – transgenic peacocks… I wrote a story about Mozart as a hacker as a result. To be frank, I’ve long been driven by the need to impress. Historical science fiction offered opportunities along that line.
But I sometimes think that what we do is try on affectations to see which ones fit. This one fit me in a deep way. Historical SF dealt with my misgivings about fiction set in the future – the future was over, for me at least – and history provides atmosphere, which is so important in fantastical storytelling. The baroque period suits me best, as it suits my love of crammed, adjectival prose, and I think it feels rather like the present – the heedless headlong nature of it – the horror vacui – decadents dancing on the brink of the abyss.
In your forthcoming novel Pyrotechnicon, Cyrano de Bergerac takes us on space adventures. What made you choose Cyrano for this adventure?
Cyrano wrote two SF novels, Englished and republished as Other Worlds in the 1970s. I had the book for years without being all that interested, but then one day my eye just sort of lit on it – that’s all I remember – that moment I knew it was my novel. I was surprised someone hadn’t thought of it before: the third in the trilogy seemed an obvious project. I have to admit I didn’t start my research into the man himself until a year or so into the process. The most interesting detail for me was that Cyrano was gay – proudly, openly – his Trip to the Moon makes it obvious, for all that I assumed the affection between the male characters was just a French thing, or a 17th century thing. I began to wonder if Edmond Rostand, who wrote theeponymous play, was giving a sly nod to this when Cyrano’s love of Roxane is never consummated.
My Cyrano belongs more to Rostand than history. Manic, swashbuckling, epigrammatic, ingenious, madly inventive, a magnificent outsider. I got the same thrill from writing him as I do writing pirates – he’s at once real and fictional – a picture book character with heft, a commedia dell’arte character with depth. His energy and strength of character served to hold the novel together – he’s ridiculous, but he’s vulnerable and ferocious and engaging…
So to answer your question, I can’t really answer it. I don’t know why I started with him, but I think what I’ve said here goes to show why I stuck with him.
As for Pyrotechnicon: Being a True Account of the Further Adventures of Cyrano de Bergerac, by Himself (dec’d), I’m proud of it. I reckon it’s a goer. It’s a good sign when you read something and it feels like someone else wrote it. Like it’s come from on high, where all good art comes from. Maybe it’ll be for me as it was with Rostand, whose best work was also about Cyrano – he’s our muse, taking us to the peak of our art.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
Recently, I belatedly bought Anna Tambour’s Monterra’s Deliciosa & Other Tales. It’s wonderful, full of wonder. Two stories in particular, ‘Temptation of the Seven Scientists’ and ‘Monterra’s Deliciosa’, gave me a feeling I find hard to describe – an airiness in the frontal lobes, as if the central crevice were opening out. Literally mind expanding, I suppose. I relish her naturalist’s approach to the world, her witty, transparent, rich but economical prose.
After Paul Haines died, I re-read The Last Days of Kali Yuga, and enjoyed it as much as ever — he’s not a horror writer, despite that was how he defined himself; like all of the most worthwhile artists, his writing is its own genre, unique to him alone.
I went through my old David Ireland books this year too. The Flesh Eaters, A Woman of the Future. What a writer. How shameful that he’s been out of print for so long – though I saw recently that someone else felt that lack, and is having them reissued.
I beta-read Lee Battersby‘s novel The Corpse-Rat King too – and I’m realising now that all these authors are the same in that they’re all different – all unique. Like the others, Lee’s writing was ostensibly of a genre I normally avoid, but I persisted, and was glad of it – it’s a romp, it’s grotesque and inventive; it’s peculiarly Battersbyesque…
What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
The biggest change was Paul Haines’s death. Without being too sentimental or eulogistic, he’d be king of the scene by now; with his Penguin deal, his novelisation of the Wolf Creek prequel, all the rest of it, he’d have been a Proper Writer, object of awe at the conventions. I’d have been jealous of his success, but his largesse was such that he would have shared it around, would have been admonishing me and my more insular contemporaries to keep ourselves out there; he would been sending this or that opportunity our way and encouraging us with his enthusiasm — all that stuff. Ah, he was such a fun guy. I’ll always miss him.