EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Matthew Kressel on After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia

Matthew Kressel‘s fiction has or will appear in Lightspeed, Clarkesworld Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Interzone, Electric Velocipede, and the anthologies, Naked City, The People of the Book, and After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia, as well as other markets. In 2011 he was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for his work publishing the speculative fiction ‘zine Sybil’s Garage. When he’s not designing websites or setting up computer networks for a living, he’s learning to play the trumpet or teaching himself Yiddish. He co-hosts the Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading series in New York alongside Ellen Datlow. And he has been a long-time member of the Altered Fluid writers group. His website is www.matthewkressel.net.

SF Signal had the opportunity to talk with several authors involved in the new anthology, After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, and featuring stories asking: If the melt-down, flood, plague, the third World War, new Ice Age, Rapture, alien invasion, clamp-down, meteor, or something else entirely hit today, what would tomorrow look like? Some of the biggest names in YA and adult literature answer that very question in this short story anthology, each story exploring the lives of teen protagonists raised in catastrophe’s wake—whether set in the days after the change, or decades far in the future.


CHARLES TAN: Hi Matt. Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. For you, how would you define Dyslit or what are its essential characteristics?

MATTHEW KRESSEL: Thanks for the interview, Charles.  Genre definitions are risky, but in general, I think dyslit (or dystopian literature) are stories where human beings (or anthropomorphic animals, a la Animal Farm) are prevented from being all that they are capable of being, often by threats of death or depersonalization, usually by a tyrannical government or organization, but occasionally by other means.  In daily life, some form of natural human expression is limited, be it sexual, emotional, physical, spiritual.  But those in power see the society as the exact opposite, a perfect or near perfect society. (Usually because their needs are met at the expense of the citizens’) In the end, most citizens of the dyslit world find deep dissatisfaction in their surroundings but are often powerless (or have very little power) to do anything about it.  (Sometimes they don’t even know they are being oppressed.) The stories often focus on how the characters face such adversity while trying to maintain their humanity.


CT: What’s the appeal of Dyslit for you? Why is it important, especially for YA readers?

MK: In one form or another, in varying degrees, we all live in a dystopian society.  Whether it’s our parents, or our schools, or or government, our freedoms have been restricted at some point in our lives.  It’s in our blood.  And it’s in the news.  During the Arab Spring, Mid-Eastern regimes cut off access to social networks and the Internet, a dystopian act if there ever was one.  And in the West, where I live, I read about technologies every day which bring the techno-dystopias we read about ever closer to reality.  Whether it’s the gargantuan data center in Utah the NSA is building to track and store all of our communications, or the vast number of cameras being installed all over cities to keep an eye on us, or even Facebook, which records what web sites we visit and asks us to rat out our pseudonym-using friends.  People who read dyslit have a distinct advantage over people who haven’t, because they already know how this technology can be abused, and they can speak up before it’s too late.  I think it’s also emotionally satisfying to see how characters in dyslit deal with their adversity. If this character I’m reading about can survive a totalitarian government, I sure as hell can survive ninth grade.

CT: What made you decide to write about baseball–or at least a form of it–in “The Great Game at the End of the World”?

MK: The idea came to me on the subway in the form of the first line.  I like the idea of the boy, Russell, using his sister’s favorite sport to emotionally ground these series of impossible, bizarre, and terrifying events. Nothing makes sense any more, but baseball — this they know intimately.   So instead of succumbing to the chaos they rise up and carve out a place for themselves. To me, and hopefully to the reader, this is enormously satisfying.

CT: What were the challenges in writing “The Great Game at the End of the World”?

MK: Russell’s a really angry kid.  His dad died years before, his mom is always working and emotionally unavailable, and his sister is lost in her own world.  His only friend, Vinny, is crude, and doesn’t really get Russell’s geek tendencies.  It was hard writing about an angry, sad kid, and then having him lose even more. I thought, man, I’m putting these kids through hell.  I even choked up a few times.  But I didn’t want to write a story that starts bleak and just gets bleaker.  I’m not in the business of depressing kids.  I think it’s always important to end on a note of hope.  Perhaps that’s an essential element of dyslit, the one that keeps us reading, the hope that one day things will improve. I know from my experiences in the dystopian world of high school that things do eventually get better.

 

Charles Tan is the editor of Lauriat: A Filipino-Chinese Speculative Fiction Anthology, the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler, and Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009. His fiction has appeared in publications such as The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, Philippine Speculative Fiction and the anthology The Dragon and the Stars (ed. by Derwin Mak and Eric Choi).