This second interview with Barry Bayley was done again via mail, in March - April of 1998. If you haven't already, you might like to read the previous interview first.

Again, if there are any spelling errors, they're all mine.. Juha

You wrote juveniles and some pseudonymous work early in your career. Do you think this is a good way to start a career?

Apart from P.F. Woods I only used pseudonyms a couple of times. It wasn't a good idea at all. I did it because it was fashionable at the time, I expect.

As for the juvenile stuff, it was a way of making a living. My friend Mike Moorcock introduced me to it; he churned out copious amounts. It was also pretty good training in the art of writing fiction, or aspects of it, at any rate.

Do you write daily? If not, do you think about writing daily? Does writing affect the way you look at the world around you; e.g. do some events easily turn into "material"?

Sometimes! For the second part, the answer is essentially no, I don't go looking for material in everyday life, and I've learned to avoid local people who constantly want to suggest to me that their dull and uninspiring selves must be giving me pretty good material to write about. Of course, some personal experience does get used.

ANNIHILATION FACTOR is a rarely mentioned book, it seems. Yet it was far more complex in ideas and plot than THE STAR VIRUS, though (at least in my case) also less exciting. The sociological ideas were fascinating as were many of the characters; Castor Krakhno in particular, and the head of the Political Police who reminded me of a Philip K. Dick character. How do you feel about it today? Was it an important step to you as a writer?

Like STAR VIRUS, ANNIHILATION FACTOR was expanded from a novelette or novella appearing earlier in NEW WORLDS, so I didn't feel it to be a step forward. I enjoyed setting out the plot with consequences rebounding back and forth between the factions, and the whole thing was great fun to write as unabashed space opera. I'd always been captivated by the title of an Edmond Hamilton novel, STAR KINGS, though when I came to read it in my early teens I found it a disappointment and can remember nothing about it now (though the American paperback had a great cover). ANNIHILATION FACTOR is my attempt at a novel that lives up to Hamilton's title!

Castor Krakhno is loosely based on a historical character, Nestor Makhno (I also used him as Nestor Makento in one of my boys' serials), an anarchist leader during the Russian revolution who gained control of a slice of territory for a while. He figures in an autobiography I once read of someone who lived through those times and found himself on a country railway station when the station master received a telegraph to say that Makhno and his force were coming through, having been defeated in a battle. In a state of terror the station master stood saluting on the platform as a long train of flatbeds came by, on which were mounted artillery etc and filled with carousing anarchists. On one of the flatbeds was a landau in which lounged Makhno, toying with a revolver. As he passed by he casually shot the station master dead.

Makhno ended up in Paris where he died of alcoholism while still young.

Does the fact that the first three of your books were expansions of short stories have any significance in them being now considered relatively 'minor' novels ? You rarely visit your characters or settings again.

Possibly, but also the fact that they were my first essays into novel length. The stories were easily capable of expansion, that's why I used them.

"Love in Backspace" is one of your, in my opinion, most dazzling and original pieces. Could you tell me something about how this particular story came about; was there some initial image that started it?

Yes, and this is an example of how I am sometimes forced to work. I think I said that at one time it was my habit to write openings straight out of my head and see if something emerged. These openings sometimes become stories years later -- in this case, well over three decades later. I had the opening paragraph, more or less, with its introduction of a character and the idea of backspace which could be ridden on a sort of raft. I thought maybe Little Tony could get lost and then see the signal of an alien port, which weren't supposed to exist. But that's not enough to make a satisfying story, and I couldn't think of anything else, so it joined quite a large store of partly worked out ideas for stories, most of which get abandoned eventually. Some, however, stick in my memory and I review them from time to time.

It's fairly recently that there occurred to me something known to every other professional writer in the world throughout history: that if a story lacks something to make it 'go' then putting in a love or sexual interest usually does the trick. Why I discovered sex at such a late age has presumably to do with the fact that I was raised on magazine sf of the forties and early fifties, in which such matters were given scant regard. (Which meant, come to think of it, that sf writers of the time had to be more skilled than their non-sf counterparts.) After this revelation I started to apply the principle, including to the Little Tony story, taking a cue from the word 'backspace'! The story suddenly came alive. It worked really well.

The above maybe gives you an insight into why I don't have a large output over all the time I've been writing. A notion will sometimes stay in my mind for decades before I find a way to get the effect I want, or for the same reason I might rewrite the same story over and over. I don't know how many versions "Tommy Atkins" and "The Death of Arlett" went through, for instance -- the first few virtually unreadable, I do know that.

Another, quite short, story that developed over the same time span as "Love in Backspace", but which cost far more work, is "Light", which appeared in a 'best of' INTERZONE anthology. It was originally conceived of at about the same time. I woke up one morning and thought of using the old idea of a living painting, in this case a figure in a painting who is aware of himself but stuck in one moment. I wanted to use this as a metaphor for a character whose personality is stuck and constricted and unable to find emotional satisfaction. I thought, "That will make a nice 3,000-worder. I'll write it this morning, and then I'll feel pleased with myself." But when I sat down at the typewriter all I had was the introductory and closing passages, some notion as to the central character, but no incident.

This was a story that wouldn't let me go: it haunted me. Over the years I returned to it, made notes and collected various elements together, such as the frustrated and bitter sister (this gave the opportunity to burn the painting at the end). The final element to be added was some incident to hang the story on, and I hit on this prior to my 'sexual revolution', by reading accounts in the local newspaper about men, usually old, lonely and living alone, who were in court for having formed sexual relationships with prepubescent (but willing) girls. That seemed to be just what I needed.

But I still couldn't write it! I should explain that even if you have all the elements for a story, it still sometimes evades execution. This is because you have to find what Mike Moorcock calls the 'voice' of a story, and by now I had lost it. Towards the end, I religiously took out the file once a year (in Autumn, which seemed the most conductive time), floundered after a few stodgy paragraphs, and gave up till next year.

After one such failure I was walking to the pub in the evening when the opening sentence of a John Brunner novel came to mind: "Because of who he was, and what he was, he asked for and they gave him, an aircraft to take him anywhere in the world." I had always liked that sentence for its steady, rolling cadences. I tried something similar to introduce my central character: "He hadn't much friendship to give, and when he did try to give some, it was usually rebuffed, and so he had become taciturn over the years." Everything now came together, and I was able to write the story without any trouble at all. I had found its 'voice'.

Needless to say, the pleasure I had promised myself thirty years before was by now well felt.

This is the hard way to write stories: you have to be stubborn enough to insist on the story you want. Though sometimes it's funny the way things work out in the end. Little Tony's amoral nature, which I had envisaged from the start, couldn't have been better demonstrated than by his treatment of his passenger!

The other way to write a story is simply to sit down, make a start, and let find its own way. This only works part of the time for me. Maybe others do it that way all the time, I don't know.

In that story there is a line suggesting a connection between sexual fever and cosmic awareness. The thought was clearly a part of the earlier PILLARS OF ETERNITY and "Cling to the Curvature!" as well; all among your most vivid stories. Do you think your work is currently combining these two; seeing the universe as something you can be erotically attracted to? Is this something you feel strongly about, or is it just for heightened drama?
That's an interesting question. In "Cling to the Curvature!" and "The Four-Colour Problem" I used sexual imagery much in the way it is in ancient mythology, ie to impart the idea of cosmic forces. (I can't quite recollect what I did in PILLARS.) But in this sense it's non-personal, and so not really erotic except to describe the tumultuousness and power of the forces involved. The reference you make to "Backspace" is different. I have noticed that there are two things the mind cannot hold at the same time: sexual feeling and intense intellectual work. One drives out the other. So in that sense eroticism and 'sense of wonder' are mutually exclusive. So by having Little Tony combine them in backspace, I meant it as a kind of fetish impossible in front space: a weird conjunction of incompatibles. (Although actually I think I've had a somewhat similar experience under the influence of LSD.)

THE FALL OF CHRONOPOLIS; in a way this book is a fable. We have technology acting as magic. We have the empire, which is ruled by a king and his magician, the insane computer. We have our hero, the knight of these strange, new limits, who is unjustly cursed and sentenced for something he didn't do. There is a princess he must rescue. He even gets to fight the dragon, the mad warlord and their minions. All in the currents of space and time. Was this a conscious decision in plotting the book?

Not at all. Your comparison is quite new to me. I was writing a 'crazed time-opera'. But as they say, there are only so many plotlines and they get reinvented all the time.

You often cite Charles L. Harness as a major influence. Could you tell a bit about how his work has influenced yours, and have you any idea why both of you are fairly little known today? Are the themes and ideas you use too difficult for the average reader or could it just be a matter of marketing?

One thing I liked about Harness was the sense of sheer intelligence in his writing. His stuff is as imaginative as anything you will ever see, but also totally controlled -- a marvellous combination of extravagance and restraint. I have a sort of concept or barely formed vision at the back of my mind about the sort of science fiction I really want to write, and Harness comes closest to it. It probably never would have a wide audience -- and remember, at the time Harness made his contribution, science fiction didn't have a wide popular audience anyway. It was very much looked down on.

Harness never wrote to make a living, as far as I know; he was a patent lawyer. As for me...I could speculate endlessly, but what's the use.

Many of your books have elements of fantasy in them; from alchemists to decadent empires and mad kings. How do you feel about fantasy as a genre?

Mad kings are not fantasy. They've always been around.

I'm not quite sure what your question is. There is a merging spectrum from science fiction through science fantasy and fantasy pure...but the last has a such a broad application it's hard to know what to say. What some consider the greatest work of literature ever, the Mahabaratha, has masses of fantasy in it. I tend to like it when written by experienced science fiction writers like Jack Vance and Poul Anderson -- his BROKEN SWORD is glorious, but really it's a traditional Norse saga, I guess. Would you consider David Lindsay's VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS fantasy or science fiction? It's usually listed as science fiction, maybe just on the strength of the title. Actually I regard it as an important science fiction work, but some would call it fantasy.

Science fiction doesn't stand alone. Although it has (or did have) a fresh vision, it draws from a very deep and long-used well in the human imagination.

You proposed in the Interzone interview that the people writing Gnostic Myths and such, were really the science fiction writers of a time when there was no such thing. What do you think are then those people who write 'pseudo-science' today? Are they failed science fiction authors? Could bad science be considered good science fiction?

Well, some people think of scientology as a pseudo-science, and its creator is anything but a failed science fiction writer, but one of the most successful! If by it you mean the von Danikens of the world, the finders and decoders of stone tablets containing the scientific secrets of the continent Mu, or, a good example I saw once, some Austrian who had invented an extraordinary energy-producing machine with which he had offered to defend the British Empire, these are various cranks, lunatics and hoaxers who would not make good science fiction writers, and probably would not understand the genre.

The sf writers I know are hard-headed people -- cf. Bruce Sterling's remark in "Catscan": '...most amateur madfolk fare rather poorly when exposed to a science fiction professional.' So there are oceans of water between them and say, adherents of the UFO cult. This is generally not understood by non-sf fans. I am sometimes pestered by people contaminated by UFO propaganda who become perplexed and even annoyed when I express my own opinion on the subject. 'But you must believe in flying saucers if you write science fiction!'

Of course, a lot of science fiction contains invented or hokum science (van Vogt is full of it). I believe 'rubber science' is a term that has been used to describe it, a tag that has also been applied to me. I hadn't really meant my remark about Cabbala etc to be expanded upon, but that's really the kind of thing I was thinking of. The Cabbala, for instance, draws upon Greek philosophy and particularly upon the Pythagorean attempt to find the underlying structure of the world by means of arithmetic and geometry. That became the framework for some pretty creative imagination.

Something that struck me upon reading "Me and My Antronoscope": you often have elements of Earth, Air and Fire in your books, but I cannot remember really anything with Water in it. You have people living underground - but not underwater - and even the schooners sail the seas of space, not water. Do you think this is true and if so; have you any idea why?

Mmm, it's a thought, if a bit astrological. I can only think of one short story set at sea -- an early fantasy, "The Ship of Disaster". Though the Earth is drowned in "Wizard Wazo's Revenge" (unaware that I was reproducing the myth of Zeus' visit to the Earth) and come to think of it THE FOREST OF PELDAIN is set on a pelagic world with only a few islands on it. A novel set under the sea (with people adapted to breathe water) that I particularly liked is Ken Bulmer's GREEN DESTINY, but I've never thought of trying anything like that myself. Perhaps it's because I can't swim and don't like going into the water.

Something I can't help but notice about my own stuff, and have repeatedly warned myself about to no avail, is my preoccupation with various notions of space.

What is THE SINNERS OF ERSPIA about? Also, you mention in the Interzone interview that you find your "attention dwelling more in the area of feeling and less on conceptual thought" these days. Is this true of the new novel, and how would you position it in your body of work?

Its theme is the suggestibility of the human mind. An alien being, whose own consciousness is totally solitary and unassailable, is studying this phenomenon because he thinks humankind is a freak of nature, only semi-intelligent and destined for early extinction. All other intelligent species are like him.

The storyline is a series of adventures in experimental societies the alien has set up. There is a bit of what you say; being solitary, the alien has no ethical sense, whereas the protagonist is highly ethical and believes in the doctrine of karma. But the novel isn't really new; the first part was written years ago, but I was never able to come up with a satisfactory outline and so no one took it up. Last year I finished it just for the hell of it, and to see how it turned out in the end. I quite like it, but I don't know if anyone else will or whether it will see print. One publisher has returned it unread.

I have a number of planned novels from ten years ago or more which failed to get placed; everything I came up with was being turned down. Some of them I quite like and if I get the time may write them just for my own satisfaction.

Your character names often seem strangely familiar, as in Joachim Boaz, Cheyne Scarne and Absol Humbart, and sometimes are familiar, as in Becmath, Dwight Rilke and Castor Krakhno. This suggests that there may be some meaning behind your chosen names?

OK. A name should in some way denote the character. For instance, if you have a character called Bob Cherry (he was a schoolmate of Billy Bunter) then the image of a rosie-cheeked lad immediately pops into your mind. For stories set in the far future you have the luxury of being able to derive names any way you like. Take Harness' "Time Trap": set in an indeterminate time, it has familiar names like Poole, General Blade, Major Troy -- but the villain is named Blogshak!

Joachim Boaz: Joachim & Boaz are names given to the twin positive and negative pillars of existence in some occult systems, and are included in some versions of the Tarot. Cheyne Scarne: Scarne (I forget his first name) is an expert on card games. As part of the research for THE GRAND WHEEL I read his book SCARNE ON CARDS which detailed the tricks and skills (some of them almost unbelievable) used by card 'mechanics', i.e. card-sharps, or cheats. (Cheyne is the name of a street where I used to live in Chelsea, London.) Absol Humbart: Absol is short for absolute. There's another character in the book, if I recollect it correctly, Illus Ton Mayar. This is the words illusion and maya (the Hindu word for cosmic illusion) garbled a bit. The reason for all this was that reality was coming apart and becoming illusory, due to the changes brought about by time travel.

So some thought does go into this, but it doesn't take much effort, really. I have been criticised for using awkward, artificial-sounding names.

Could you tell me a bit about your two non-fiction projects, examination of the Tarot and a book on economics. You wondered if anybody writing about such disparate subjects would be taken seriously, but wouldn't it be possible to publish under another name?

Both are old abandoned projects I would like to return to. I got interested in economics in my twenties, found what I thought was a new but simple approach, did quite a lot of work on it, wrote part of the book and got a publisher interested, but then had to leave it aside to concentrate on writing sf novels to support my new family. Besides, the amount of work involved seemed to expand and expand, and I scared myself that I could spend a lifetime on it. A very brief account of the central ideas appeared in an issue of NEW WORLDS, sometime in the seventies. If I do return to it, it will be with the intention of doing something concise.

A Tarot book was also partly written long ago, but I would probably start anew. I read a book on the Tarot as part of my research for THE GRAND WHEEL, and asked myself if it was possible to extract a system of ideas from it (the usual interpretations didn't strike me as convincing). I found I had a facility for reading symbols (or, a skeptic might say, for inventing meanings for them), and have what I think is some good material, though it's been arrived at over quite a long time. I hope to put it together sometime this year, but I said that last year as well.

As for pseudonyms: someone writing in INTERZONE recently pointed out the reason why publishers these days will publish new writers but not someone like myself. It's because they are controlled by accountants who look at a writer's track record. A new writer has none, and so looks possible. It makes one think of assuming a new identity, doesn't it ? But I don't feel like doing that at my age.

You've written quite a bit about space. Our environment here - our personal space - is getting smaller year after year (somebody said that men love cars because it's the last frontier in solitude these days), while the scientists begin to understand the universe and the vastness around us. I'm interested in the psychological aspect of this; do you think mankind will implode with the dilemma of space or are we ready (or willing) to leave this planet on a large scale someday?

I expect ancient Rome was just as crowded as any modern city. They had to pass a municipal law forbidding the building of tenements more than seven storeys high, I think it was, on safety grounds. Yet think what the population of the world was then, compared with now.

A point I make in the economics book is that we all live in two environments. One is the human environment -- society and all the artifacts it exudes, buildings, roads, farms and the rest of it. This environment has dimensions of its own. The other environment is the pure physical or purely natural one, that would still exist without us. The truth is that the surface of the planet Earth is an incomparably huge thing compared with human beings, for all our growing numbers. Politicians naturally point to population growth as the cause of shortage of space, even in those places where population is decreasing. In London, in the same period that the population fell by one million, property prices exploded.

The real reason is the same as it was in Roman times: property laws. The reason why the delusion persists is that the underlying physical environment is not noticed, just as the air we breathe is not noticed. Human consciousness is absorbed into 'social space'. This goes for economists just as much as for anyone else; they commonly fail to see that laws relating to land have more far-reaching effects that laws relating to artificial property.

I can't really see emigration outside Earth as a remedy for overcrowding. Bread and circuses will be cheaper.

The possibility of a third book featuring Jasperodus has been mentioned quite often. ANSIBLE reported a few years ago that you had written a synopsis of it. Have you given it further thought? Any ideas about what makes Jasperodus such a much liked character?

There is an outline for a third (and final) novel. I tried and failed to place the three as a trilogy. As for Jasperodus, well, he's a strong, positive character who goes through vicissitudes as well as a puzzling existential dilemma. I felt quite fond of him myself, whereas I'm usually quite distant from the characters I'm writing about.

You mention in the Arena interview that as a boy, after reading WAR OF THE WORLDS, you thought everyone should read this because it would change their perspectives. Is it possible for literature to alter reality as it can a person?

I really don't know, so I'll quote the British economist John Maynard Keynes, himself very influential: 'I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas... Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back... Indeed the world is ruled by little else.'

In your article "Science, Religion and the Science Fiction Idea, Or, Where Would We Be Without Hitler?" you come to the conclusion that science fiction is a religion, that the world is divided into people who get it and who don't. Are you a missionary?

No. I preach to the faithful.

interview copyright 1998 by Barrington Bayley

questions by Juha Lindroos

linked references:

Charles L. Harness
John Maynard Keynes
David Lindsay
Nestor Makhno
Bruce Sterling: "Electronic Text" (Catscan.13)

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