An interview with Robert Charles Wilson about his book Last Year
(Original cover / French cover)
In dealing with time-travel and setting it in the 19th century, do you set up this novel as a missing link between several of your books ?
I didn’t think of it that way. There is a sort of connection between Last Year and my novel Julian Comstock – which was set in the future, but told in the style of 19th century American popular literature. A lot of the reading and research I did for Julian Comstock was relevant to the writing of Last Year.
This story is, above all, an human adventure. Is time-travel only a pretext, then ?
I enjoyed imagining a kind of time travel without any paradoxical consequences, which I think takes the story in a more human and less metaphysical direction. I’m not sure time travel can be anything but a pretext, since there’s currently no real scientific justification for it beyond the wildest sort of speculation – more philosophy than science, really.
Could we approach your story as a metaphor about the acceptance of the unknown, an apology of tolerance ?
In a way, the novel queries the concept of cultural and moral progress. The idea that such progress is an illusion is unbearable – we want the future to be a better place than the present. But to make that claim is to admit our own imperfections. If we are, in some sense, entitled to judge the past for its injustices, then the future is entitled to judge us for our own. And I hope that’s true…but it can be an uncomfortable truth.
Was it a challenge to adapt your style to this epoch-specific setting ?
I read a lot of American popular literature from the latter half of the 19th century as I was writing Last Year, and when you do that you begin to pick up the style and syntax, the oblique ironies, the odd phrases. It was a lot of fun, actually. The hard part was keeping a kind of dual consciousness…seeing the events of the story from both points of view, past and present.
The rythm of your novel is swiftly paced, like a thriller. Was it voluntary from the beginning ?
A friend of mine said the novel was like a « genre stew » — part Western, part detective story, part thriller, part science fiction, A kind of popular-fiction mongrel. That was deliberate. And part of the mandate of popular fiction is to move the story swiftly and keep a tight grip on the reader’s attention. I tried to do that.
Catégories :Interviews littéraires