GIJON, Spain (Reuters Life!) - Ian Watson, the doyen of British science fiction writing, has made what he terms “transgressive” interpretations of history in his most recent book of short stories, “The Beloved of my Beloved.”
Born in 1943, Watson began writing while working as a teacher in Japan in the late 1960s and has since published countless SF, fantasy and horror novels, in addition to poetry.
A finalist for the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and widely anthologized, Watson is also credited with screen story for U.S. director Stanley Kubrick’s final film, “Eyes wide shut,” which starred Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
He spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of the Semana Negra (Noir Week) crime-writing festival in Gijon, northern Spain:
Q. Tell us the true story of “Vlad the Impaler,” the man who inspired the Dracula myth.
A. Now history relates Vlad Tepes impaled thousands of people because of sadism and to scare the Turks, for example.
This is not true. He was trying to discover which people in Romania had most capacity for levitation, because he wished to go to the moon and they did not have moon rockets at the time, so he would have to use the powers of levitation.
Those people who survived the impalement by using levitation powers, he used as the boosters for the Romanian space rocket which went to the Moon in the Middle Ages. This is a little-known fact.
Q, Obvious, really.
A. As soon as you think about it, yes.
Q. How did you begin writing in Japan?
A. Tokyo in the late 1960s seemed to be like one of the futures that science fiction presents. Here was the proto- super-technology of the future, electronically, robotically, blahblahblah, intercut with traditional Japanese cultural patterns, Shinto patterns.
But there was also heavy pollution and eco-catastrophe and super-urbanization that science fiction often warns about. As an example, the famous cherry trees were trying to die from the pollution, but had nutrient drips in them.
I started to write science fiction as a psychological survival mechanism living in this milieu and because the experience of daily life was so much at variance with the English literature I was supposed to be teaching, Jane Austen for example, I mean what the hell does Jane Austen have to do with urban life in Tokyo?
Q. How do you describe your writing style?
A. Basically, I tend to see the world differently to other people and I write books and stories to alter the imagination of people so that they also see the world in a different way.
Q. Tell us about your work in films.
A. I worked with Stanley Kubrick for almost a year back in 1990, trying to develop the screen story for his project “Artificial Intelligence,” which is about a robot boy who wishes to become a real boy, a future scientific fairy tale inspired in the myth of Pinocchio.
Unfortunately, Stanley worked so hard on the post-production of “Eyes Wide Shut” that he died in his sleep.
Q. Kubrick wanted Steven Spielberg to direct the film?
A. Kubrick’s work does not necessarily engage the emotions. It is the supreme work of cinematic intellect, shall we say, whereas Spielberg is the master of plucking the strings of the human heart.
As a homage, Spielberg made the movie in the same way Stanley would have made it.
It was not a great commercial success in America, because basically it was too poetic and imaginative, whereas worldwide it was the fourth-largest earner of the year.
Q. How do see the near future, using your science-fictional powers of prediction?
A. Well, this crisis is an economic downturn which causes pain and unhappiness to quite a lot of people, especially those of us who live in the West, in developed countries.
I think we are living in paradise with regards to the ways we can amuse ourselves, communicate. We have such a richness of possibilities.
This does not apply to people who are out of work, but even then, the places they are living in are a utopia compared to the Third World or almost any other time in recorded history, and it is possible that this will not continue.
Reporting by Martin Roberts, editing by Paul Casciato