PW: Your new novel, Nekropolis, is set in a future Morocco where the poor live in mausoleums. Is the Nekropolis a symbol for their lives and relationships?
MM: I found the old city where people live with death to be metaphorically rich, but I was careful never to work out the specifics. The people who hire my protagonist, Hariba, are distanced by comfort from the life and death concerns of those who live in the Nekropolis. I was careful, however, just to let that material work on a subconscious level.
PW: Hariba falls in love with Akhmim, an artificial person created by mixing human and animal genes. Tell us about him.
MM: Akhmim is the ideal lover. Akhmim is a person who must satisfy others' needs. It occurred to me that if I had someone who could do this, I would become tremendously self-absorbed. Akhmim started out as a concept; the more I wrote about him, the more interested I became in the impossible plight of someone who must please everyone around him. Actually creating something like that would be very immoral.
PW: Is their relationship a matter of addiction and codependency?
MM: While I wrote, the central metaphor of the book was drug addiction. Akhmim is sort of a drug in Hariba's life. She shouldn't establish a relationship with him because it's unhealthy and, when she does, it works on her as well as her family, much as crack cocaine addiction works. Her family and friends are affected. It becomes so central to her that she will sacrifice anything for it.
PW: The protagonists in your books are all outsiders, people who don't fit well. Do you feel an affinity for such people?
MM: In science fiction, it's difficult to get in the background information that the reader needs. A viewpoint character who is inside is less likely to notice these things than one who is outside. I tend to write about outsiders partially because I feel tremendous sympathy for people who are marginalized and partially because I use a narrative style that features a very close point of view. If I don't have an outsider to describe things, they never get explained—partly it's just a technical matter.
PW: Where does your feel for Moroccan culture come from?
MM: I have no feel for Moroccan culture [laughter]. The Morocco in Nekropolis is purely a construct. A note in the book apologizes for any mistakes. I had a guidebook and a cookbook. The food is accurate because I'm obsessed with food. I resisted giving the place a name until it became impossible not to do so. The Necropolis where homeless people live is actually in Cairo; Morocco doesn't have above-ground cemeteries.
PW: Do you see the ending as happy?
MM: No, but I see it as necessary if Hariba is ever going to be happy. In the end, Hariba is forced to start growing up.
PW: A lot's left unresolved, though. Do you plan on a sequel or do you just like open endings?
MM: For me, the essential issues are not left unresolved. Her life is left unresolved, but all our lives are left unresolved. You know the old theater saying—every exit is an entrance. No sequels. Maybe someday, but certainly not now. I like loose ends.