Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Taliesin Meets… …Brian Stableford

Having sold his first short story to Science Fantasy in 1965, Brian Stableford has been publishing fiction and non-fiction for fifty years. His fiction includes eleven novels and seven short story collections of “tales of the biotech revolution,” exploring the possible social and personal consequences of potential innovations in biotechnology. He has published three novels featuring different kinds of vampires: The Empire of Fear, Young Blood and The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires, and numerous short stories widening the range further, most notably “Rent,” “Emptiness” and “Sheena”. He has also translated numerous early vampire novels from the French, including Vampire City, Knightshade and The Vampire Countess by Paul Féval, The Virgin Vampire by Étienne Lamothe-Langon and The Vampire and The Devil’s Son and The Immortal Woman by Ponson du Terrail. He is presently researching a history of French roman scientifique from 1700-1939, translating much of the relevant material not previously translated into English.

TMtV: Brian, you have been a professional author for a long time, how has the ‘business’ changed, and on balance have the changes been positive or negative and how so?

BS: It’s been fifty years now, and absolutely everything has changed in terms of the technology of production and consumption, with concomitant changes in the way the market works, in terms of submission, patterns of demand, money, etc. There are pros and cons; the writing process is much easier, the chances of selling anything one writes much worse. I can produce much more than ever before, but I’m very glad that I’m an old age pensioner and get paid simply for being alive, so that I can write exactly what I like, with the certainty of publication, and don’t have to worry about getting paid. The biggest shock to me, personally, was the total collapse, virtually overnight, of the reference-book market, where I’d always made a substantial slice of my income; sketchy, corrupt and unreliable as it is, Wikipedia is free and easy, and it has driven all competitors out of the marketplace

TMtV: You’ve written some vampire genre books and I’d like to ask you about The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires as I looked at it in in my book the Media Vampire because of the “overmen” and the connection to Nietzsche’s Übermensch– was the connection deliberate and why did you use the overmen idea?

BS: The use of the term “overmen” reflects, or is reflected in, the fact that M. P. Shiel—who used the term a lot, having adopted it from Nietzsche—is a minor character. H. G. Wells is also there, reflecting the kinship between the story and The Time Machine--the original seed of the story was the thought that it was a pity that the characters listening to Wells’ time traveller are a bunch of nonentities; I thought it might be interesting to gather a more interesting set, including someone who had a real stake in the news brought back from the future.

TMtV: I really enjoyed the way you brought literary figures such as Stoker, De Maupassant and Stenbock into the story – what was the thought process behind that?

The character who was first on my list of interesting listeners was Oscar Wilde—Stoker and Stenbock are both referenced because of their connection with him, and he was a convenient way of introducing the mysterious Count. Wells and Shiel both had an interest in future evolution, and I could hardly leave Sherlock Holmes out. Jean Lorrain is in there because I’d just done some translations of his work. When the sequel, “The Black Blood of the Dead,” switched the action to Paris, I was able to widen the net of French Decadents.

TMtV: The story was eventually included as part of Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of Eternity, did you alter Hunger and Ecstasy for that volume and would you say it was now a definitive version?

BS: That title was the publisher’s—I disapproved, but he said he’d sell more copies if Sherlock Holmes was in the title (and he did). I didn’t think about doing the portmanteau version until after I’d done the second part and began to consider possibilities for its expansion. I tried hawking the novel around with a straightforward linear scheme, simply printing the three short novels one after another, but when it became obvious that the book was going to have to appear as a non-commercial project, I figured that I might as well go for the portmanteau idea. I don’t know whether it works, with all the embedded first-person narratives, or whether it’s too confusing, but it’s certainly unique. The longer versions of the second and third parts never appeared independently, so there’s no opportunity, in any case, for anyone to compare the alternatives. I probably changed “Hunger and Ecstasy” slightly while producing the various versions, but I doubt that there’s much difference between them.

TMtV: You have written using Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, including stories featuring Erich Zann and Pickman amongst others. What do you like about Lovecraft’s mythos and do you enjoy working within that universe?

BS: I was always fascinated by Lovecraft’s work, and the way in which he helped to develop and seed a whole school of distinctive weird fiction, with many elements of which I approved wholeheartedly. I’ve been particularly intrigued by Lovecraft’s notion of “cosmic horror” and his attempts in his later work to fit his horrors into a more rational and coherent quasi-scientific context. One of my own enduring quests has always been finding ways to redesign science and metaphysics in such a way as to make any or all of the characteristic figures of supernatural fiction rationally plausible. Extrapolating Lovecraftian materials provided a useful way to approach that, and led via “The Legacy of Erirc Zann” to a whole series of novellas and novels in which Poe’s August Dupin gradually learns the ins and outs of a multiverse that contains Cthulhu, the Crawling Chaos and much, much more.

TMtV: In 1999 the Paul Féval novel Vampire City was published and you were the translator, what led you to translating novels as opposed to writing them?

BS: I first started doing translations for the small press Dedalus, who were specializing a the time in Decadent material, and I taught myself to translate using a dictionary in order to translate stories by Remy de Gourmont, Jean Lorrain and others for use in showcase anthologies. I was alerted to Vampire City when Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi said that they came up with idea of their Dictionary of Imaginary Places because they desperately wanted to include Féval’s city of Selene. My interest in Féval developed from there and brought me into contact with Black Coat Press, for whom I did several other Féval translations and then started on antique roman scientifique. I translated several other early French vampire novels for them, and eventually did so much roman scientifique that I thought I ought to finish the job and write a definitive history. Crazy, of course, but it helps fill in the time between here and the grave. It’s suitably absorbing, although sometimes a trifle frustrating, when I think “Well, I wouldn’t have done it that way….”

TMtV: That’s not to say that you don’t continue to publish your original work, of course, how much of your time do you split between writing and translating?

BS: For the last few years I’ve been translating roman scientifique almost full time, in order to write my history, but I hope to finish that this year, and then divide my time much more evenly between translation and original work. I need to publish another 22 novels to clock up the hundred, so I’ve been busily scribbling down ideas while doing the translations, and I hope to get seriously busy on some of the missing 22 next year, hoping I can get through the lot before the grim reaper comes knocking.

TMtV: How much of the author’s craft remains in the translating process?

BS: Translating is a little like driving a car with a satnav—you have to go where the machine tells you to go, but you still have to steer, change gear, keep your eyes on the road and so on. You have to choose the most appropriate alternatives from sets of available equivalents to various French words and phrases, and you have to reconstruct the sentences so that they work in terms of English grammar and syntax, so there is a considerable artistry to it. It also helps to have a strong sympathy for what the original writer is trying to do, which not all translators have.

TMtV: Having read several of your translations, I have to say that I have found you have kept (what I assume to be) the original author’s voice – or should I say I don’t detect Brian Stableford’s voice. Is it difficult to maintain the original voice?

BS: Literary voices do tend to be language-specific, but I try as hard as I can to maintain the flavour and tone of the original text as well as the meaning. Wordplay tends to be difficult—footnoting untranslatable puns is obviously not a satisfactory substitute—but I do what I can, and keep my own whimsicality strictly to the supplementary material.

TMtV: Yes, I noticed that in some of the translations you’ve added footnotes explaining aspects, where a word doesn’t directly translate for instance. How strictly does the translation follow the text as a general rule?

BS: I try to keep it as close as possible, while maintaining an appropriate fluency. It’s arguable that I overdo the footnotes, but my feeling is that the additional explanations do help readers to get a sense of material that it’s impossible to bring across directly

TMtV: For a vampire genre enthusiast like myself I have to say that the translations you have released through Blackcoat Press have been a godsend, allowing access to works previously unavailable. Is it yourself or Blackcoat who decide which books should be translated?

BS: In the beginning it was mostly Jean-Marc Lofficier who indicated works that he’d like to publish in translation, and he still puts in occasional requests, but since I started developing my own agenda he’s been kind enough, most of the time, to let me follow my own inclinations. Borgo Press was taking the material that overflowed Black Coat’s schedule for a while, but since Rob Reginald died Black Coat have been building up quite a backlog, so I’ll probably have to start self-publishing some material next year, which will allow me to cast my net even wider and do some seriously idiosyncratic projects.

TMtV: Which of the Translations have been your favourites?

BS: I’ve been very pleased to be able to do some books whose existence I’d known about for a long time and always wanted to do—the sets of titles by Maurice Renard and André Couvreur, for instance—but since I started researching the entire history of French imaginative fiction obsessively I’ve been particularly delighted to stumble across various things that were totally unknown—the works of Henri Austruy, for instance. I keep coming across wonderful surprises, like the twentieth century’s first great epic fantasy, Les Atlantes (1904; translated as The Last Days of Atlantis), by Charles Lomon and P. B. Gheusi (due out soon).

TMtV: You seem to have a particular fondness for Féval’s material, what is it you see in his work particularly?

BS: I’m fascinated by the curious craftsmanship of producing daily serials for newspapers, making it up as you go along, adapting to editorial and reader demand, and so on; Féval was one of the great pioneers as well as one of the great experts, and he’s also a very self-aware writer, often commenting sarcastically on the things he’s being forced to do. He was a writer of great imagination who was always being ordered by his employers to rein it in and stick to the clichés, and I have a good deal of sympathy with his struggles. I love it when he just lets himself go and has fun, as he does in Vampire City and Knightshade.

TMtV: I find the variety and array of pre-Stoker vampire lore fascinating, are there any vampire rules you particularly like?

BS: In terms of the early history of vampire fiction I’m not so much interested in the “rules”—most adapted from Calmet or adopted for narrative convenience—as the improvisations, and the strategies by which something imagined in folklore as straightforwardly horrible was very rapidly adapted and elaborated by writers as something intensely erotic.

TMtV: Are there any books you particularly want to translate and why those volumes? In particular are there any vampire novels you wish to bring to the English reading world?

BS: I’ve done most of the early French vampire stories that hadn’t been translated previously, although there’s one more Ponson du Terrail title, L’Auberge de la rue des enfants rouges, which I’ll try to do next year, and there might well be some as yet “undiscovered”. I keep an eye on the calendar to see what material is falling into the public domain year by year, but I’m not aware of any significant vampire material due to make the fall imminently. I have a long list of supernatural works I want to do when I’ve finished the roman scientifique—enough to keep me going for at least five years, should I live that long; I am desperate to survive until 2023, when Rachilde falls into the public domain, so I can do La Princesse des Ténébres, and I shall never forgive myself if I die before then.

TMtV: What is coming up from Brian Stableford?

BS: My definitive four-volume history of British scientific romance, New Atlantis: A Narrative History of Scientific Romance, should be out from Wildside Press fairly soon. The Black Coat Press history of the equivalent French material will be a companion of sorts, out some time in 2016. Black Coat are currently publishing two translations a month—in the next few months, look out especially for The Last Days of Atlantis, Jules Hoche’s The Maker of Men and His Formula, Albert Robida’s The Engineer von Satanas and two volumes containing the four fantastic novels of André Arnyvelde. My next original novel will probably be the next in the Dupin series, of which the present working title is Cthulhu’s Child, but that plan might change.

My sincere thanks to Brian for both his time, answering my questions, and for the works (both vampire and not) that he has made available to the English reading world.

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