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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Garth Nix on After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia

Garth Nix was born in 1963 in Melbourne, Australia. A full-time writer since 2001, he previously worked as a literary agent, marketing consultant, book editor, book publicist, book sales representative, bookseller, and as a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve. Garth’s books include the award-winning fantasy novels Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen; and the cult favourite YA SF novel Shade’s Children. His fantasy novels for children include The Ragwitch; the six books of The Seventh Tower sequence; The Keys to the Kingdom series; and Troubletwisters (co-written with Sean Williams). Garth’s most recent book is the science fiction adventure A Confusion of Princes. More than five million copies of his books have been sold around the world, his books have appeared on the bestseller lists of The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, The Guardian and The Australian, and his work has been translated into 39 languages. He lives in a Sydney beach suburb with his wife and two children.

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 Garth!! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. For you, how would you define Dyslit or what are its essential characteristics?

GARTH NIX: I’m not sure I’d even try to define dystopian fiction, I have something of an aversion to trying to define categories too closely, because it leads to evaluating stories or books on how they fit into categories rather than on their own merits. That said, I suppose an essential characteristic would be a setting that is dystopian, i.e. the opposite of a utopia, a world where pretty much everything is terrible or has gone wrong. Of course, to be interesting this has to be a matter of degree. The teaming up with “post-apocalypse” also can create problems, since there are quite a few dystopias that exist right now that haven’t required an apocalypse to create them.

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

GN: The major appeal is that of all SF, the ability to create an imagined world and put a story in it. Working with a post-apocalypse scenario, you also have the opportunity and challenge of exactly what kind of apocalypse you want to use, and the effects it would have, both at the time and later. Young Adult readers are possibly particularly attracted to dystopian fiction because in your teens and early 20s most people do think a lot about their own possible future(s), the future in general, and how preceding generations have made it worse for those who follow. (Later on, there might be more consideration about how previous generations have made it better as well, this is the normal course of adulthood.)

CT: For “You Won’t Feel A Thing”, what made you decide to revisit your characters from Shade’s Children?

GN: I’m not sure why I decided to return to the setting of Shade’s Children. The actual idea for the story came to me while I was lying back in an endodontist’s chair, having a root canal done. I was thinking about the marvel of feeling no pain, the x-rays, the super-high speed drills, lasers and what-have-you, and how in earlier times the best you could hope for was a bottle of rum and a drummer both deafening your howls and making you insensible with the reverberation next to your ear. All that modern dental technology would disappear post-apocalypse, a dental problem could once again prove lethal. Over the course of the next two hours or so, I worked the story out, so quite possibly the decision to set it in the world of Shade’s Children can be put down to the effects of Novocaine and whatever else was keeping me comfortable.

CT: What were the challenges in writing “You Won’t Feel A Thing”?

GN: It’s very difficult to pinpoint particular challenges in writing stories. They are all difficult, but rarely in similar ways, and I can never remember particular problems afterwards. Usually, if I can think a story through properly (as in the dentist’s chair) then I can write it fairly effectively, even if it takes several months and is done in a very stop-start way. My biggest problems come when I think through half a story and start writing it, and then realise I don’t know the rest of it. This particular story I had clear in my head, and I wrote the first draft of it in only two or three sessions over a couple of days and then polished it up a few weeks later. Of course, there were some revisions in response to very useful editorial feedback from Ellen and Terri and later the publishers, but nothing extensive in this particular case.


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).

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