There’s a fun Q&A with me and a giveaway of AMERICAN ELSEWHERE over here at Fantasy Literature.
I think the reason I pulled so many disparate things into the story is that I have such mixed, ambiguous feelings about the self-perception of America. The American Dream has been reimagined and rewritten so many times — probably most notably in the 80′s, then in the mid-90′s tech boom — that it’s a story with a lot of alterations to it. In our nebulous national subconscious, we tend to stick it right in the 50′s, but that image has all these changes and adjustments that came from other periods — both earlier, and later — and even other places.
He sees both the style and subject matter as a departure from his previous books. “I guess you could say in the past I’ve been brewing a lot of whiskey, but this is a pale ale. You have to drink a lot of pale ale to get drunk, so there’s more of it.” (American Elsewhere is almost 700 pages long.) “Also, whisky is aged, it’s old, it’s been sitting around awhile. This is a book that has a certain newness to it, and not just because it’s contemporary. It’s kind of a book that’s obsessed with the idea of newness.” He pauses. “Like nostalgia.”
Nostalgia may seem an unlikely point of reference for describing newness, but inAmerican Elsewhere these concepts are thoroughly intertwined. Bennett sees the dawn of the Space Age as a unique moment of optimism for the future of mankind, an optimism that’s no longer available. “It’s quaint. I’m kind of jealous of the 1960s for having that kind of optimism. They had hope. In the past couple of years there’s been a downturn in science fiction, and the agreement is that the reason people aren’t so interested in science fiction anymore is that no one thinks that the future’s going to be very good.”
“Or existent,” I say.
“People worry about that too,” he says with a smile. But he is oddly unconcerned. Although his books reveal a deep pessimism about the world, the apocalypse in American Elsewhere is not chaotic. It’s an apocalypse of conformism and control. It’s about what happens when the world looks too normal.
I am amused to see that the profile suggests I am “aggressively normal.” I know that somewhere, my friends and family are pretty confused.