Science Fiction and the City

In case you missed, or miss, BLDGBLOG’s earlier interview with novelist Jeff VanderMeer, you can now read it in print…

The full interview – complete, I believe, with artist John Coulthart‘s excellent bookplates – was just published in the new issue of 032c, an arts/culture/politics magazine produced in the groundless, post-historical urban spaceship of Berlin.
The theme of the issue is “Life in the Long Shadow of War” – which, judging from the cover, appears to have something to do with European women suggestively eating peeled fruit… Other contributors include Thomas Pynchon, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Rem Koolhaas.

So what does Mr. VanderMeer have to say in this interview? An excerpt:

As a novelist who is uninterested in replicating “reality” but who is interested in plausibility and verisimilitude, I look for the organizing principles of real cities and for the kinds of bizarre juxtapositions that occur within them. Then I take what I need to be consistent with whatever fantastical city I’m creating. For example, there is a layering effect in many great cities. You don’t just see one style or period of architecture. You might also see planning in one section of a city and utter chaos in another. The lesson behind seeing a modern skyscraper next to a 17th-century cathedral is one that many fabulists do not internalize and, as a result, their settings are too homogenous.

Of course, that kind of layering will work for some readers – and other readers will want continuity. Even if they live in a place like that – a baroque, layered, very busy, confused place – even if, say, they’re holding the novel as they walk down the street in London [laughter] – they just don’t get it. So you have to be careful how you do that.

And if you happen to be in Moscow, there will be an invitation-only party for the magazine’s release on December 7th; and, in Beijing, another such party will be held on December 12th.
If you want an invitation, I assume you just email 032c.

One thought on “Science Fiction and the City”

  1. WRT VanderMeer’s layering effect, consider how many layers of construction (or destruction) there may be in long-established cities.

    You may not always like the results, but it’s those pockets of local history or futurism that make a place interesting.

    Polyglot design goes too far when it’s incorporated into a single structure, though. The exterior of the main Denver Public Library is one example: good thing it has lots of books inside.

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