An unlikely cast is pulled into the hunt for lost pulp classic Lode Stars in World Fantasy Award winner Tidhar’s metafictional sci-fi romp The Circumference of the World (Tachyon, Sept.).
What inspired this story?
It began so long ago it’s hard to say! The very early seeds for it were born on Vanua Lava in Vanuatu, back in 2007, where the first section of the book takes place. I became interested in the little-known story of the WWII Coastwatchers there and climbed to their hill fort, which is much as it appears in the novel. But that was just one strand; then I had to wait for the others to materialize.
And how did they?
The black holes came from a novelette I wrote that was also called “Lode Stars.” I ran into someone who told me they thought there was more to it, which haunted me because I realized they were right. The section about hapless book dealers in 2001 London was conceived of as a trip to a vanished past. All those bookshops are long gone, and I was trying to catch a bit of the soul of that world before it disappeared. Which, in a way, is the whole theme of the book: how much of what we are is what we remember and what happens if those memories are lost?
Tell me about your relationship with golden-age sci-fi.
I grew up on classic science fiction, and then I became interested in the people who wrote it. The only person from that time I managed to meet in real life was Fred Pohl, whose memoir The Way the Future Was and his associated blog were really helpful for this book. There’s a “deleted scene” from the final draft of Circumference that’s about how these sci-fi writers were basically kids inventing this new language, this new genre, and the passion that drove them. There was no fortune or glory in it. Not back then and, as it turns out, not much now, either.
Hartley, the author of Lode Stars, turns out to be a real bastard, but he’s also a tragic figure. How did you approach this character?
Hartley is based on a certain well-known author of the time, so I didn’t have to invent much. I immersed myself in the history of the golden-age authors, reading many of the autobiographies and romans à clef of the era, so I knew a lot about the characters. Mostly, I love writing real bastards, as you put it, so that was probably the easiest part.
The full text of Lode Stars appears within Circumference. What was it like writing in that style?
It was looser, and more in the vein of the old pulpsters bashing the typewriter to try and make a magazine deadline. I really just tried to channel my inner pulp writer!