Author Interview: Yoss
First off, what is Red Dust about?
In Red Dust, the protagonist, Raymond, although telling the story in first person perspective, is not a human, but a humanoid robot, something "vintage": he wears a trench coat, uses a fedora hat, and admires Raymond Chandler. He's one of the many positronic robots. They don't act according to The Three Laws of Asimovian Robotics: they're able to perform violent acts against humans, since they maintain the order at the huge space station William S. Burroughs, enclave of the Galactic Trade Association, the only hyperspace jumping-off point in the solar system orbiting Titan, Saturn's moon.
The plot begins when, against all odds, a Cetian criminal, Makrow 34, escapes when he is transferred to the Burroughs, destroying Raymond's two colleagues, Zorro and Achilles. While analyzing the images, Raymond discovers the mysterious power that helped the Cetian defeat two robots that were stronger and faster than any human: the fugitive is a Gaussian. In other words, he has the psi ability to alter probabilities to his liking and deform the Gaussian bell curve at any given time.
So, in order to capture him and earn the secondname he longs for, Raymond decides to fight fire with fire and look for a human, a three-year prisoner in the Burroughs, the only Gaussian born on Earth in the last 150 years.
Red Dust kind of sounds like it might be funny. Is it?
A curious fact: as I was writing it, I never noticed that the text also had plenty of comedy. It just came out that way: a robot tries to coldly analyze the events he's involved in, but at the same time acts like his hard-boiled idols. It was only when I finished it, on the first revision, I noticed that humorous bias.
So what writers do you see as having the biggest influence on the humor in Red Dust?
This answer probably will surprise you, because I was also surprised when you asked me: all of my humorous influences for Red Dust were Anglo-Saxons. Some British: Douglas Adams and his The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy saga; Charles Chaplin's movie The Great Dictator; and Monty Python. But I also have to point out two North American humorous science fiction authors: Harry Harrison, with his delicious parody Bill, The Galactic Hero; and Robert Sheckley.
Aside from The Great Dictator and Monty Python, did any other movies or TV shows influence Red Dust?
Obviously, audiovisual references are very important in this novel. To begin with, 48 Hours, with its concept of a rude but honest policeman, a rogue thief with a good heart facing a criminal who's only worse and worse. Also, John Huston's 1941 film The Maltese Falcon, for its visual aesthetics. My passion for Japanese culture, especially for the samurais, is clear in Old Slovoban's armor, while there's also something with the ship Nostromo in Alien and the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars in the concept of Star Rom, the space station made of pieces from other ships. And the stellar combat scene between the asteroids owes a huge debt to the opening of the 1998 film Lost in Space...one of the best cosmic battle films I've ever seen.
What about Blade Runner? We are talking about a noir sci-fi story...
Would you believe me if I told you that none of my fans has ever said something like that to me? Perhaps because the replicants in Ridley Scott's film — or in Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? [which Blade Runner is based on] — are not actually robots but synthetic humans. And every time I tell someone a brief version of Red Dust's plot, I emphasize that Raymond is a robot who already knows he's a robot, and he didn't have a deep existential crisis.
You've said in other interviews that Red Dust takes place in the same fictional universe as your novel A Planet for Rent. Do you think people should read A Planet for Rent before they read Red Dust?
In my opinion, they should. If it were a TV series, it could be said that Dust is a spin-off of Rent: in the same universe, different characters and problems. And a few decades later, too.
Finally, for some people, Red Dust may be the first time they've read any science fiction by a Cuban writer. Is there some quality that you think defines Cuban sci-fi, something that sets it apart from, say, American sci-fi or British sci-fi or Chinese sci-fi?
I think Cuban science fiction writers have the advantage of having drunk from both the classic Anglo-Saxon science fiction of Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Frederik Pohl, and others, from whom we learned bold ideas and the attractive treatment of characters and situations, and from the Soviet school of the genre: Iván Efremov, Alexander Beliaev, the brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky [whose novel Roadside Picnic was loosely adapted as the 2009 first-person shooter S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow Of Chernobyl], Sergei and Alexander Abramov, who were father and son, Iliá Varshavsky, Anatoli Dnieprov, Victor Kolupaiev, Vladimir Savchenko, Olga Larinova, Albert Valentinov, and a long etcetera almost unknown to English-language readers. Add to that "broth" our "creole seasoning": the ingredients of the shot of humor, the parody, irreverence, self-irony or the ability to laugh at oneself, imitation — they all make up Cuban science fiction. It's hard to imitate, as it's mockery with a distinctive stamp, and cheerfully third-world.
Paul Semel has been writing about books (and video games, and music, and movies...) for more than twenty-five years. For more of his author interviews, visit his website, paulsemel.com.
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