Steve Aylett
D. Harlan Wilson

www.steveaylett.com


I've been a fan of British author Steve Aylett's work for almost a decade now. I first heard about him in a review of his meta-science fiction novel, Slaughtermatic, which was published in America in 1998. A finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award, Slaughtermatic unifies the milieus of Franz Kafka and William Gibson in an unprecedented way. Imagine a roid-raging Joseph K. walking the neon streets of Chiba City with a Tommy Gun tucked beneath his armpit and you'll get my drift.

Since then Aylett's library has grown exponentially. He is the author of over ten novels, scores of short stories, three comics, and enough apothegms to maintain the (im)morality of a Welsh village. To varying degrees, his writing is a multigeneric tapestry of science fiction, horror, fantasy and detective fiction. Most distinctive is Aylett's use of language. Overflowing with witticisms and figures of speech, his bombastic, pyrotechnical, carnivalesque vernacular masterfully reflects the schizophrenia indicative of the (post)postmodern landscape.

Aylett's most recent projects include LINT (2005), a fictional biography of fake pulp science fiction writer and Isaac Asimov impersonator Jeff Lint, and Fain the Sorcerer (2006), a genre fantasy novel that breaks all of the rules of genre fantasy. On deck is And Your Point Is? (2006), a collection of essays on and reviews of the unspeakably quixotic Lint.


DHW: Your most recent novel, Fain the Sorcerer, recently won the Jack Trevor Story Memorial Cup. Tell us about this award and your book. Is this the first award youve won for your writing?

SA: The award wasn't for Fain or any book specifically. It goes to a writer with imagination, idiosyncratic humor, and no money. It was really just Mike Moorcock trying to help me out a bit. No, I haven't won anything before — nearest I got was the shortlist for the PKD Award. As for Fain the Sorcerer, it's basically an accelerated fairytale revolving around the "three wishes" thing. It's a dense and fizzy little novella.

Alan Moore frequently plugs your books and wrote the introduction to Fain. What is your relationship with him? Any chance that you two might collaborate on a comic?

He called me up out of the blue a few years ago to say he liked my stuff and we became friends. We chat on the phone and meet up occasionally. He's a nice bloke, very funny and genuinely creative. He's positive in a non-vapid way, through the fact that he's creatively fertile. I sometimes whine at him and he cheers me up quite effortlessly. I doubt that we'll ever work on a comic together. At the moment he's working on a huge novel that'll take a few years.

Your writing has been called many different things. Postmodern, irreal, surreal, slipstream, absurd, satirical, Kafkaesque, experimental, parodic, avant-pop, splatterpunk, and most recently Bizarro. What do you think of the latter insignia? What is your understanding of the Bizarro movement — purely a promotional phenomenon, or something more?

I like the idea of the Bizarro thing, that it exists. It calls people's attention to more colorful and interesting writing and that's a good thing. A label is sometimes an attempt to say "look at this stuff," and in the case of the Bizarros there's enough good stuff there for it to be worth looking. It attracts a share of crappy writing also, but that's true of all categories. There's also a thing in England called the Off-beats which is a little label that's interesting.

What are the origins of your writing career? Have you always wanted to be a writer? If you could be anything else, what would it be?

I've always written stuff. I think I wanted to be a writer since I was eight or nine. If I was anything else I would have liked to be a marine biologist, as I like sea animals and snorkeling and so on. Some of those fish are like aliens and really beautiful.

How has the reception of your work differed in England and America?

Depending on which is the more conservative at any one time, England and America take turns at being either baffled or impressed. During the conservative/fearful phase people pull up the drawbridge and put a lot of energy into being puzzled and obtuse, so that's what happens. At other times, when people are more relaxed and not acting, they're more interested. Very generally, people are more generous in the States, partly because a lot of people live in the middle of the big expanses of repetitive emptiness that exist over there and they're grateful for something a bit fertile and different. I hear from kids just saying they really like it, it's different and non-insulting, and that's really nice to hear. In England people are a bit more miserly with that sort of thing because they don't have so much spare energy; the desperation here is different, having more to do with basic survival on this tiny crowded island of keening zombies.

While comedic, your fiction revels in the dark side of the human condition. Is this intentional? To what degree do your real life experiences, idiosyncrasies and/or traumas inform your fiction?

My writing is affected by my finding this world to be a lot more bland than it has to be, in terms of ideas, so I load my books with a sort of hyper-concentration of color and interesting or funny stuff, in the vain hope of redressing the balance. I like constantly doing the supposedly impossible thing of creating original ideas, because it just really fazes people — well, it annoys them actually. It really pisses people off because they don't know what to do with it. Also I deal a lot with "hypocrisy too extreme to process," which is basically the modus operandi of today's societies — so that's the satire side of things. My general view of the world is that we're in hell. I find it a hair's breadth away from unbearable, and I'm sure that informs my books. In any bit of reasoning concerning this world I start with the basic assumption of a constant and extreme pitch of agony.

Most of your books are preoccupied with technology on some level and set in or concerned with science fictional diegeses. What is it about science fiction that interests you?

I'm not really that obsessed with tech but there are a few things about it. The fact that despite technology advancing and people pretending to be more advanced, human beings are basically the same as they were a couple of thousand years ago, and absolutely determined to learn nothing from history. So the new tools are used with the same motives as the old tools. Also I look forward to what'll happen when large parts of the power grid and/or the web go down for the first time, and so on — things that most people have come to depend on. Thirdly, certain advances will never be made because civilization is going to stall before we get there — people will be less concerned with personality uploads than just trying to find food and water, and avoiding their cannibal neighbors. Fourthly, certain speculative technology is useful for satire, like my "denial-allow" cloaking system whereby a stream of images are projected portraying whatever the observer can't accept or doesn't want to think about, so that that area of his vision becomes a blind spot (and you're rendered invisible like a beggar). This is also used for propulsion in some of my books. It's just beautifully sarcastic, that stuff.

What is your educational background?

I left school at about 17, and should have left earlier. I found the education system to be destructive, non-creative, anti-learning and almost 100% toxic, really. School is something to spend the rest of your life recovering from.

Do you worry about death?

No, so long as it's absolutely final. When I hear people describe hell it just sounds like life, but eternal — which would be quite a punishment, eternal life. I'd prefer everything to be finished, without any sequel.

Why do people seem so stupid today? Because of the desensitization of subjectivity by media technologies? Or can we attribute twenty-first century stupidity exclusively to people like George W. Bush?

A lot of modern stupidity seems to come from people not really caring, people being comfortable as they are and not really wanting to know. Why should they learn? As a result they're very easily led, and so long as they have their comforts they're happy to be led wherever. Until the gas chamber door slams behind them they won't really complain or suspect.

Have you tried your hand at screenwriting?

I wrote some screenplays a few years ago but nobody was interested. Movies have to be very broad and a bit bland to be taken on — because there's so much money involved, studios will want a film to appeal to the largest number of people, which is why films end up very generalized and lacking in personality. My scripts weren't like that, and didn't stand a chance. I haven't bothered with the film world for several years.

Are there any television or film adaptations of your stories, novels or comics in the works?

There's a Crime Studio TV series idea floating around in the States, but I don't know if it'll happen.

In addition to And Your Point Is?, which will be released by Raw Dog Screaming Press late this year, what other projects can we expect to see from you in the near future?

There's a couple of big books that'll take ages to do and aren't worth talking about yet.

Lastly, who do you think was Jack the Ripper?

I don't know, and I've never been interested in that stuff. Serial killers are boring. Why do the same thing repeatedly?