Matthew Hughes discusses his new novel A WIZARD’S HENCHMAN

Matthew Hughes, the mastermind behind the Archonate universe, spills the beans about A Wizard’s Henchman. The universe of Archonate features in the majority of Matt’s fantasy fiction – an interstellar civilization whose
scientific foundations are about to be overturned by the dawn of an age of magic.

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For quite a few years now, I’ve been imagining a far-future civilization called the Ten Thousand Worlds, which occupies an arm of the galaxy known as The Spray. The time I’ve been writing about is just before the universe suddenly and arbitrarily shifts from a basis of rational cause-and-effect to a new regime based on magic. When that happens, technological civilization will collapse and the age of The Dying Earth will dawn, with its grim thaumaturges, haunted ruins, and louche decadence.

Whether they live on grand old, long-settled worlds or strange little planets in odd corners, virtually none of The Spray’s multitude of inhabitants knows that disaster impends. A handful do, and they are preparing for the great change.

Until now, I’ve written only about the handful and I’ve always taken the overarching story just to the point where the cataclysm is about to break upon the Ten Thousand Worlds. In A Wizard’s Henchman, for the first time, I go all the way.

So the story starts out as hardboiled space opera and transmutes into dark fantasy, from a universe of intelligent space ships to a realm of dragons and demons.

I’ll be interested to see how it’s received.                                   Matthew Hughes

Click here to read an excerpt of A Wizard’s Henchman, and be sure to check out Matt’s website! You can order an unsigned jacketed hardcover from our website, a signed numbered edition limited to 100 copies is also available.

 

FSCN0582Matt writes both fantasy and suspense fiction. To keep the two genres separate, he uses his full name, Matthew Hughes, for fantasy, and Matt Hughes for crime.

He’s won the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award, and has been shortlisted for the Aurora, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, Endeavour, A.E. Van Vogt, and Derringer Awards.

Even STRANGERER things from Matt ‘n’ Ross Duffer!

Got a call from Tim a week or so ago suggesting that I should check out STRANGER THINGS on NetFlix. Tim is rarely wrong, so Nicky and I watched the whole thing (eight episodes) over two evenings and I must say we thoroughly enjoyed it.

So I checked out the producers/writers/directors (a truly talented dynamic duo in the shape of twins Ross and Matt Duffer) and who’d have thought—while they were at film school they started out with an 18-minute adaptation of my story, ‘Eater’ which originally appeared in the rightly revered Cemetery Dance magazine (as well as being filmed on two other occasions).

Anyway, I recommend it to you without reservation and for those interested in seeing where the Duffer Brothers started out, click here to watch Eater.

 

Heading for the Long Grasses

Long, long ago in a world simpler by far—and before I became (relatively speaking) the seasoned giddy gadabout you see in Convention bookrooms and on panels etc—I began making occasional trips to London there to drool over the metal comicbook spinners in Dark They Were And Golden-Eyed (“a pound for just one comic? Geddouda heyar!”) and browse Forbidden Planet’s and Murder One’s stuffed-full shelves of imported American paperbacks. Oh, the pure joy!

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It was here, particularly in FPthat I repeatedly discovered rare and unknown gems loosely collected within our own much-loved World of the Fantastical . . . brightly coloured paperbacks that promised fun, excitement and even the occasional scare. Lin Carter’s Adult Fantasy series for Ballantine and Del Rey (where I discovered Clark Ashton Smith had written far more than the half-dozen tales with which I was familiar), which included in their line-up the likes of Hope Mirlees’s LUD IN THE MIST, David Lindsay’s A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS, Hannes Bok, James Branch Cabell and many many more. They were truly magical times. On one such visit—on several, actually, but this one I just knew was extra special—a single cover leapt right out at me. I loved the picture, a young woman knelt on a grassy sward with a big tent in the distance and above which a flying man with angelic blond hair floated, his right arm extended silently asking her to visit. ‘It’s summer,’ the back cover proclaimed . . .

The circus is coming to town. And in the shadows of the gaily painted wagons lurks an ancient and evil creature whose inhuman lusts will shatter forever the peace of a small Kansas community.

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Sure, a neato neato cover if only for the brightness and colour if for nothing else. But here was the first time I discovered the power of The Blurb, those little sound-bites devised and constructed to make us throw caution (and penury) to the winds and slap our coins on the counter in smiley-faced abandon. “Here,” we trill, “I shall have this. Nay, storekeeper, I need this. The kids can starve, the bank can foreclose and we’ll forego petrol in the car but this. Simply. Can. Not. Be. Passed. By.” And here was just such an example of the veritas of that last little outburst (for which, alas, I make no apology). For not only did the back go on to announce from no less a luminary than Harlan Ellison How good is this book? It is breathtakingly good, but, courtesy of Gregory Benford, the front cheered volubly Not since Bradbury has a fantasy author so captured the dark heart of Midwestern America. Heh, that was it folks. I was stumped, Driven dumbstruck. Breathless.

That book was the late great Tom Reamy’s BLIND VOICES

Tom struck down by a heart attack in 1977, aged 42—I have shirts older than that (you’ve seen me wearing ‘em, right?)—with just this one superb novel and a blistering collection to his credit. For, yessir, BLIND VOICES really is superb. Sure, it has the almost indefinable poetically purple prose that we forever link with Ray B., but there’s a strange darkness to it that’ll haunt you right from the first sentence in the first paragraph on the first page.

And now we’ve got the book here at PS, with totally off-the-wall splendid artwork from the one-of-a-kind Chris Roberts. Folks, it just don’t get any better’n this one and we’ve got another one just as good to soak up those few coppers you threw back into your pants pocket amidst the trouser-lint—but we’ll get to that in just a moment. No, first things first.

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We may have more to tell you about regarding Tom but for now, read—or re-read—this celebration of words and language and the magic of friends and summertime. Go sit out in the garden with a nice cold beer and turn the page. Here now:

It was a time of pause, a time between planting and harvest when the air was heavy, humming with its own slow, warm music. Amber fields of ripe wheat, level as skating rinks, stretched to the flat horizon and waited for the combines that crawled like painted-metal insects from Texas to the Dakotas. Dusty roads lined with telephone poles made, with ruled precision, right-angle turns at section lines separating the wheat from green fields of young maize.


Farmers stood at the edges of the fields, broke off fat heads of wheat and rolled the kernels between their fingers, squinting at the flat blue sky. The farmers’ wives, finished with the dinner dishes, paused before going back into the hot kitchens to begin a long afternoon of cooking, doing it all again for supper. They sat on the front porches in the shade, trying to catch a nonexistent movement of air. They spread apart the collars of their dresses and fanned their necks with cardboard fans printed with a color picture of the bleeding heart of Jesus on one side and an advertisement for the Redwine Funeral Home on the other.


Then the farmers turned their attention from the sky to the road. Their wives stopped fanning and leaned forward in their chairs. Children paused in their chores and their play and shaded eyes with hands. They looked at each other and grinned, feeling excitement tightening in their chests like clock springs.


In that long-ago summer afternoon in southern Kansas, when the warm air lay like a weight, unmoving and stifling, six horse-drawn circus wagons moved ponderously on the dusty road.


A two-horse team pulled each wagon, their heads drooping slightly, their shod hoofs dragging a bit before lifting to take another plodding step. The six drivers dozed in the heavy dusty air, holding the reins lightly, letting the horses choose their own pace. The wagons creaked and groaned as they swayed; rattled and jolted when the wooden, iron-rimmed wheels bounced in chugholes.


The wagons were a little shabby, their once-bright paint doubly dimmed from sun and dust. The sides of the wagons promised miracles with gilt curlicues and wonders with gingerbread flourishes. Shaking and rattling and squeaking, the wagons were a gallery of marvels, a panorama of astonishments.


The drivers reined in the horses and the line of caravans creaked to a halt when they met the black Model-T Ford arriving in a billow of dust from the opposite direction. The car pulled off the road into the shallow ditch filled with the red, yellow, orange, brown, black, and purple of Indian paintbrush, black-eyed Susan, and Russian thistle.


The man who stepped from the car was nattily dressed in a dark gray pin-striped double-breasted suit and a pearl-gray fedora. Louis Ortiz was thirty-two, handsome in a swarthy way, carefully cultivating his more imagined than real resemblance to Rudolph Valentino. A smile hovered over his full lips, ready to alight, but his eyes were as cold as steel balls.


Louis looked into the glowing eyes painted on the lead wagon, and they looked back at him, fiercely, beneath a brow cleft almost in two by a widow’s peak spearing down from varnished black hair. The mouth was thin and stern and uncompromising. Louis shifted his eyes to the second wagon, to the portrait painted there; the portrait of a pale and beautiful young boy, a gilt corona painted around his white curls, his white-robed arms uplifted, his face beatific and rapturous.


The smile almost alighted on his lips.

He walked to the rear of the first wagon and propped his foot on the step, wiping the dust from his black patent leather shoe with a white handkerchief. The caravan door opened and a man stepped out. He was an older version of his portrait. His hair was not so sleek nor so black, his face not so smooth nor firm, but his lips were just as uncompromising. He wore a black satin robe and carpet slippers, like some Oriental alchemist. He waved his hand petulantly before his face to clear away the floating dust and looked inquiringly at Louis.


Louis flipped the dust from his handkerchief and folded it into his breast pocket. “We’re all set,” he said with no trace of the Latin accent his appearance would suggest. “The posters are up with the merchants. I rented the vacant lot and got a permit from the sheriff.”


He looked up at the older man, squinting in the sun, and the smile settled softly. “There’s only one thing that might be a problem.”


The other man raised an eyebrow.


“The movie house,” Louis continued, “will be showing their first talking picture tonight. It’s the main topic of conversation in town.”


The older man grimaced. “There’s always one petty annoyance after another. It would be very pleasant if this movie palace were to burn to the ground.”


“It needn’t be that drastic.”


“Perhaps you’re right,” he sighed. “The unpleasant bumpkins might blame us. This trip has been extremely wearisome. We should head back east where the towns are closer together.”


Louis’s mouth twitched slightly and the other man frowned. “I’m sure you will think of something, Louis. You’re a very clever man.“


Louis grinned and made a slight bow with his head.


“How much further to this prairie metropolis?”


“Hawley,” Louis answered. “About ten miles. There’s a little place two miles ahead called Miller’s Corners. You can rest and water the horses there. Hawley’s eight miles beyond that.”


The man shrugged with massive indifference. Louis returned to the car, still smiling slightly. The man stood in the doorway of the caravan watching the car turn around to chug and rattle back the way it came. He grimaced at the fresh cloud of dust and went back inside, closing the door. The wagons began to move.

He opened a door in the partition dividing the wagon in half and stopped, leaning against the door frame. He looked for a moment at the pale, naked boy lying on the bunk, and then sat on the edge beside him. The boy looked much like his portrait, though he was older and perspiration wet his strained face. His white curls were matted and the pillow under them was damp. His eyes moved nervously behind his closed lids.


The man put his hand on the boy’s stomach and leaned over him. “Angel,” he said softly. “My own beautiful angel.” His hand moved up the boy’s body until it lay lightly on his cheek. “Shall we begin again? There is still so much to do.”


The boy’s ruby eyes opened, but they did not focus.

Now come on now—you gotta buy it, right?

Just like I had to, all those years—almost forty of ’em—ago, when I had a lighter spring in my step: you, too, looks to me like. And that wasn’t the only time I done got snared. This next time I want to talk about wasn’t so much both blurb and cover art (the latter of which I like to think figures high on the agenda here at PS Towers—and it’s all down to Nicky who works feverishly in that area) as pretty much just blurb by its-own-self.

This book appeared in 1984 as a hardcover (which I missed), and then as a paperback the following year from the old and much-loved Pan Books, home for Herbert Van Thal’s PAN BOOK OF HORROR SERIES and the marvellous GHOST BOOKs edited by Lady Cynthia Asquith. So it was the paperback I saw.

ceremonies ted klein uk paperback

It was a rather curious affair insomuch as the blurb I referred to occupied almost two thirds of the front cover. And the rest of that cover merely pictured a girl with her eyes closed in a prayer of some kind, her face painted and her hair on fire.

On the back of the book was a fulsome breakdown of the actual story (kicked off with: The tree was dead. But crouched amid its branches something lived; something old far [sic] than humankind. Something that breathed, schemed, felt itself dying and, dying, lived on. It was outside nature, and alone. Its time would come . . .), rounded off with a nice quote from Publishers Weekly who had this to say: Impossible to put down. Klein has put himself in the first rank of fantasy-horror writers.

Absolutely true, in every regard.

But the clincher was a lyrical waxing from Stephen King that reads thus: Wonderful, exciting and suspenseful, full of tension and a sense of deep brooding mystery . . . the most exciting novel in my field to come along since Straub’s GHOST STORY.

And you know what, he may even have undersold it.

And in this instance, not only did Steve secure a sale of the book for Ted—royalties are royalties, folks, so scoff ye not (look after the pennies and the pounds—or dollars look after themselves)—but he secured that sale despite what can only be considered pedestrian and lackluster art. So I bought it and, that night, I started reading.

The forest was ablaze. From horizon to horizon stretched a wall of smoke and flame, staining the night sky red and blotting out the stars. Vegetation shriveled and was instantly consumed; great trees toppled shrieking toward the earth, dying gods before an angry gale, and the sound of their destruction was like the roaring of a thousand winds.

For seven days the fire raged, unimpeded and unquenchable. No one was there to stop it; no one had seen it start, save the scattered tribes of Mengos and Unamis who had fled in terror from their homes. Among them there were some who said that, on the evening of the blaze, they’d seen a star fall from the sky and crash amid the woods. Others claimed that lightning was the cause, or a queer red liquid bubbling from the ground.

Perhaps none of them were right.

Let it, therefore, rest at this: the events recorded here began as one day they would end—

In mystery.

And, sure enough, they do.

I’m not going to extract any more from the novel’s 500-plus pages but here’s Ted’s up-to-the-minute Foreword specially written for this edition.

It has often been said . . .

But why am I resorting, in the very first line, to a voice so vague and passive? Because the observation that follows seems to have been credited, if the web is any guide, to nearly a dozen distinguished names, from Da Vinci to Auden.

Well, then, to repeat: It has often been said that a work of art is never finished, merely abandoned. And while I’m not sure I’d proclaim this book a work of art, it was most definitely abandoned—in fact, a little sooner than I’d have liked. I was late—characteristically late, some might say—in delivering the manuscript; and weeks or months after that, I missed the publisher’s deadline for turning in the proofs. I remember literally scribbling last-minute changes to the final pages as I rode the elevator up to the Viking offices. (Still, when I recall that I was also editing Twilight Zone magazine at the time, I’m a bit amazed I ever managed to complete the book at all.)

On top of other problems, likely as a result of the delays I caused, the hardcover edition was never properly proofread. So in sending the book out into the world a second time, after more than 30 years, I’ve tried to correct what strikes me now as some clumsy writing here and there, as well as a few mistakes and inconsistencies. Though I doubt anyone but me would notice the changes, I’m a lot happier with the present version.

One thing I haven’t attempted to do, however, is to update it. The Ceremonies was first published in 1984, but the story it grew from was written at the start of the ’70s. The book is set, therefore, in a pre-cell-phone, pre-Internet world, and the places it describes are considerably different today, if certainly no better. Attitudes have changed about what’s dangerous (cigarettes, suntans); so have salaries, food prices, and rent. You might even say that the past is a foreign country . . . although I believe that, too, has been said before. Imagine, no laptops! No e-books! I invite you to return to that strange, vanished world.

I’ve bought many books on Steve King’s recommendation, his voice whispering determinedly in my ear as I stand in the bookstore thinking should I or shouldn’t I? And, inevitably, he whispers give it a try, Pete. Don’t be scared. Just give it a try. And I think, with surely no more than one or maybe two occasions—though I couldn’t actually name them (and wouldn’t even if I could)—I have not regretted them. Indeed, more—much more—to the point, I’ve purchased many books that it’s fair to say I would not have purchased otherwise.

THE CEREMONIES is a gloriously intense book, and reading it is akin to breathlessly searching for some sign of something familiar—something not hostile. Well, you’re not going to find it so you just might as well get started. It’s getting dark out there and you got a long way to go before morning.

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PS Australia

Here’s news of our upcoming new imprint, PS Australia. I’ll leave you with the press release and we’ll talk some more about it in the weeks to come.PS-OZ-Logo

Pete and Nicky Crowther, founders and publishers of the multiple award-winning UK specialist genre imprint PS Publishing, have today announced a new initiative devoted to highlighting the best new work from Australian writers and artists: PS AUSTRALIA

PS has been so impressed with the quality and breadth of Australian talent, that they wanted to get involved. “We want to play a part in showcasing the wonderful work of established Australian writers,” Crowther explains. “And we’re discovering new talents and works virtually every day. It’s very exciting!”

Under the expert tutelage of best-selling author/anthologist Jack Dann, PS Australia’s managing director, the company has already purchased several projects which it intends to launch over the coming year with the first, Dreaming in the Dark, an anthology-cornucopia, due this autumn.

Dreaming in the Darkis a feast of talent with new stories from Venero Armanno, Alan Baxter, James Bradley, Paul Brandon, Simon Brown, Adam Browne, Rjurik Davidson, Terry Dowling, Lisa L. Hannett, Richard Harland, Rosaleen Love, Kirstyn McDermott, Sean McMullen, Jason Nahrung, Garth Nix, Angela Slatter, Anna Tambour, Janeen Webb, Kim Westwood, Kim Wilkins and Sean Williams.

“

Pete is now discovering what I’ve known for some time: that Australian writers are producing some of the best genre fiction in the world—a true embarrassment of riches.” Jack Dann goes on to say that “ Dreaming in the Darkwill be the third part of the Australian anthology triptych begun by Janeen Webb and myself with the World Fantasy Award-winning Dreaming Down-Under.These books have an agenda: to showcase established Australian writers and promote the emerging talent that is already lighting up the genre—and the country—with promise for the coming years. This is a great time to be involved in Australian genre fiction, which is still in its ‘Golden Age’!”

The parent company, PS Publishing, is a folio edition quality genre publisher, which includes the thriving Stanza Presspoetry imprint and the Drugstore Indian Presspaperback line. Launched in 1999, its list of some 700 titles includes work by Stephen King, Joe Lansdale, Brian Stableford, Joe Hill, Ramsey Campbell, Brian Aldiss, Lisa Tuttle, Ray Bradbury, Graham Joyce, Paul J. McAuley, Mary Gentle, Stephen Baxter, Lucius Shepard, Elizabeth Hand, Geoff Ryman, Michael Moorcock, Sarah Pinborough, Ian McDonald, and Jack Dann. This new initiative is the latest undertaking of what is now an international specialist publisher.

More information on PS Australia’s imprint launch list will come in Australia from Jack Dann and in the UK from Pete Crowther.

Please contact:

 Pete Crowther: 0 11 44 1964 537575 editor@pspublishing.co.uk

Jack Dann: jackmdann@gmail.com

Deborah Biancotti talks about WAKING IN WINTER

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Deborah Biancotti’s WAKING IN WINTER novella was published in February, and Deb has taken some time out to answer a few questions about her work. Go here and see the author her very own self fessin’ up.

And just in case you’d forgotten (shame on you if you have), here’s a reminder:

On a far, frozen desert world, Muir the pilot discovers an ancient artefact in the ice. She sees a mermaid at first, but later comes to wonder if it is Ningyo, a fish god from her homeland in Japan. A god that brings misfortune and storm. A god that—by all means possible—should be returned to the sea. The rest of Base Station Un see something else. Bayoumi the lab rat sees Sekhmet the lioness goddess, daughter of the sun god. Partholon the creep finds in its shape a ‘good, old-fashioned cruxifix’. But all of them want to possess it. All of them want it for themselves.

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Deborah is the author of two short story collections, BAD POWER and A BOOK OF ENDINGS. She is the co-author of the Zeroes series, along with Scott Westerfeld and Margo Lanagan. Her work has been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award and the William L. Crawford Award for Best First Fantasy Book, as well as the Aurealis and Ditmar Awards.

You can find her online at deborahbiancotti.com

Interview with Tim Powers

AN INTERVIEW WITH TIM POWERS
By Nick Gevers

Tim Powers
Tim Powers

Tim Powers, the author of such classics of dark fantasy as The Anubis Gates (1983), On Stranger Tides (1987), The Stress of Her Regard (1989), Last Call (1992), and Declare (2000), is a master practitioner of the Secret History. His vastly complex novels–set in intensely realised locations both historical and present day, riddled with skeins of occult conspiracy, and featuring protagonists whose involvement with the supernatural follows a dark perverse logic chillingly threatening to body and soul—are consistently superb, as are his occasional short stories and novellas. After the Victorian milieu of Hide Me Among the Graves (2012), Powers’s latest novel, Medusa’s Web, published in the USA by William Morrow and in the UK by Corvus, returns to the contemporary California of such books as Three Days to Never (2006).

I interviewed Tim Powers by email in January 2016.


NICK GEVERS: In your new novel, Medusa’s Web, you set out a very interesting and mesmerizingly complex Medusas-Web-by-Tim-Powersmetaphysical scheme, of spider images that draw human minds up and down the corridors of time. What first suggested this scenario to you?

TIM POWERS: I thought it would be fun to play around with two-dimensional adversaries after reading Cordwainer Smith’s short story, “The Game of Rat and Dragon.” I decided that since such creatures would be dimensionally handicapped by definition, why not have them be fourth-dimensionally handicapped too? I.e. they don’t perceive time, and therefore every encounter these creatures have with humans is, from the creature’s point of view, the same event. So by riding along on the point of view of one of them, you can briefly inhabit whatever other encounters it’s had with humans, regardless of when those encounters happened or will happen.

This seemed like an opportunity for lots of dramatic developments, and even one very intriguing paradox for our protagonist to blunder through.

NICK GEVERS: The central characters in Medusa’s Web, the four Maddens, are all rather short of money—having the crumbling mansion, Caveat, in the family at most adds a measure of shabby gentility. Is Medusa’s Web, like some of your earlier novels, on one level about the Matter of California, the state’s present parched and financially stressed condition?

TIM POWERS: Well I wasn’t consciously thinking of that–but certainly the story uses California as it now is, so yes, that would have been a factor! And I hope the story also conveys my love of Los Angeles, in spite of all the city’s admitted defects. Anybody can fall in love with San Francisco or New Orleans in an hour, but L.A. needs more acquaintance.

NICK GEVERS: Your love of L.A. is very clear in Medusa’s Web: characters drive around in the city a good deal and you depict a lot of the urban geography. “Admitted defects” and all, what makes Los Angeles such an effective setting for complex stories of the fantastic like yours?

TIM POWERS: Unlike New York, San Francisco or New Orleans, L.A. is spread out–there’s long stretches of coastline, and nearly inaccessible twisting lanes and mysterious houses in all the many hills, and everywhere sites where classic movies were shot, and palatial old Art Deco buildings surviving among the newer glass and steel towers–all baking in the sun and interconnected by hundreds of miles of freeway. And unlike Rome or London or Paris, its history is comprehensible–two hundred years ago there was virtually nothing there. There’s a faint whiff of “imaginary” about the whole place.

NICK GEVERS: Those L.A. buildings you mention . . . Caveat, the well-named decaying mansion in Medusa’s Web, haunted (literally) by past eras: is it based on any particular building you’ve encountered? L.A. seems to feature many such architectural relics past their sell-by dates, ghosts in wood, brick, plaster, and stone . . .

TIM POWERS: Caveat is a composite of a couple of places in the Hollywood Hills, and yes, if you know where to look, there are lots of architectural relics in L.A.–often out of the well-travelled routes, or built-over, or cul-de-sac’d away behind the newer towers. Sometimes it’s a bricked-up balcony window in an old building that used to be a theater and is now an ethnic market, or set of steps that now lead nowhere but to a parking lot, but used to be the entry to some fabulous nightclub where Mabel Normand and Buster Keaton hung out. With a bit of imagination, the old stuff can almost eclipse the modern city!

NICK GEVERS: In the novel, Madeline Madden looks back very fondly on the early days of Hollywood, when Los Angeles was young and full of hopeful potential. “Spider visions” allow some of the characters in Medusa’s Web to visit the Hollywood past. You obviously have love and respect for the silent movie era—you depict it very vividly—but do you feel it had a darker side too?

TIM POWERS: There was a peculiar innocence to that time in Hollywood, with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks entertaining visiting dignitaries at the Pickfair mansion, and the two of them and Charlie Chaplin merrily traveling around to sell war bonds–but there were drugs and alcohol and big money waiting in the wings, and they soon got busy wrecking everybody. William Desmond Taylor’s murder, and the framing of Roscoe Arbuckle for the Virginia Rappe death, pretty well ended the idyllic era!

NICK GEVERS: The cameo appearances of silent era Hollywood notables in Medusa’s Web, actors like Rudolf Valentino and Alla Nazimova, are beautifully executed. How did you set about weaving these real people, their actual biographies, into your intricate web of trans-temporal plotting?

TIM POWERS: Well the whole thing started, really, when I read that it took two priests to administer last rites to Valentino. That intrigued me, and so I read piles of stuff about him and the people associated with him, such as Natacha Rambova and Alla Nazimova–and as always, I was looking for inexplicable or apparently irrational behavior that could be explained by postulating a supernatural situation behind it all. And luckily they had such fascinating and crazy lives that there was no shortage of stuff to use! It was fun getting to know them better–initially I didn’t like Nazimova, but as I read more about her I came to admire her a lot, both for her iron ambition and for the way she could stoically roll with eventual failure and financial ruin.

NICK GEVERS: The Maddens’ recently-deceased Aunt Amity is very much a lingering presence in and around Caveat, making Medusa’s Web among other things a thrilling and amusing ghost story. Does Aunt Amity, in her obsessive, egotistical, manipulative way, like so many other ghosts in fiction symbolize the dead controlling hand of the past?

TIM POWERS: I guess so, yes! Nobody ever gets a really fresh, tabula rasa start—there’s always a litter of complications and obligations and restrictions left over from what has gone before, to get over. As Faulkner said, the past isn’t even past. But there’s nice sorts of past too, if you can get around the Aunt Amitys!

NICK GEVERS: Like many of your previous novels, Medusa’s Web involves characters whose artistic creativity is blocked or damaged by addiction—to alcohol or to rather more supernatural stimulation, like that provided by the spider visions. Scott Madden with his painting, Amity with her crime novels, Claimayne Madden with his poetry . . . Is this a danger all creative artists face, especially in Hollywood?

TIM POWERS: I don’t know that Hollywood is particularly susceptible to it, but artists do seem inclined to crash into addictions of one sort or another. I think the problem is that, at the beginning, the artificial aid really seems to help the work and not hinder the life–and then by the time it begins to wreck both, the idea of stopping is inconceivable. “They ride their cherished wreck down into darkness.” I imagine it happens to plumbers and lawyers as often as it happens to artists, but artists are more on display, and we’re more likely to miss the work they didn’t live to do.

NICK GEVERS: Medusa’s Web features some bravura action sequences—escapes on motorbikes, triple-sided confrontations with guns brandished—buttressed by hints of elaborate global conspiracies. There’s quite a lot of humor too. Why do supernatural thrillers work so well when garnished with a sense of the absurd?

TIM POWERS: There’s room, and even necessity, for a fair degree of absurdity when you’re writing supernatural adventures, especially if you’re trying to make them as “realistic” as possible–it’s not particularly grotesque when a gun misfires, but if an earnest ghost stumbles in an otherwise awesome apparition, for instance, it’s going to be at least potentially funny. When the otherworldly has to participate in this world, then accidents in the juxtaposition are going to be absurd.

But I hope I never overtly indicate that it might be funny! I don’t want to lose the numinous fact that this is, after all, the otherworldly intruding into here and now!

NICK GEVERS: There’s a love story at the core of Medusa’s Web, and that love deftly transforms an apparent villain into someone far more sympathetic. Would it be fair to say that in your novels true love is always arduously won?

TIM POWERS: Well sure! What fun would it be–in a novel, as opposed to real life!–if true love was easily won? It was fun to show the initial hostility, and then through stressful adventures break it down. And I do think that happy endings, achieved through horrifying adversity, are more fun than unhappy endings.

NICK GEVERS: What’s next for you? There has been mention of a novella rather strikingly titled Down and Out in Purgatory . . .

TIM POWERS: Down and Out in Purgatory is going to be published by Subterranean Press in June, I believe—it’s a 20,000 word novella about a guy whose cherished plans for vengeance hit a snag when he learns that his target has already died.

And I’m messing around with another novel—it’s to be set in L.A. again, though not connected to Medusa’s Web. After all, it’s a big city.