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Dario Tonani Interviewed by Paul Di Filippo

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Three questions from the father of Steampunk, on the occasion of the publication of “Mondo9”. War between flesh and gears, sci-fi books and movies, but – first of all – is Science Fiction really exhausted as many experts say?

Paul Di Filippo: What is you opinion on the recent assertion by Paul Kincaid and Jonathan McCalmont that science fiction is exhausted? That the genre is merely recycling old tropes, and doing nothing new, and refusing to  engage with reality, and turning into pure fantasy? How does your own  writing attempt to counter this trend, if indeed you acknowledge its existence?

Dario Tonani: Nowadays the future permeates every corner of our lives, it seeps into our every activity, it’s everywhere: given this state of affairs, it’s quite understandable how a literary genre which by its very nature is measured against tomorrow ends up losing its seductive power even before its driving force. Maybe the genre will turn its attention elsewhere, perhaps to fantasy or to so-called paranormal fiction. At a time when the future is presented in images – just think of film, TV, advertising, video games – it seems of little interest that science fiction authors use the medium of words to describe it. And because progress is just so fast, science fiction can become a subject that is entirely credible. Clarke said that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’, perhaps it’s for this reason we SFauthors have slipped out of our groove – through a total lack of ability to keep pace with the developments of science and technology. I genuinely don’t believe it’s surrender. It looks more like responsible awareness; there’s no point in making risky predictions when you can simply take a path and follow it, in a word ‘fantasise’. And fantasising, entertain. I’ve never wanted to describe something before it became evident to anybody else, I just want to recount my ideas and dreams. I’ve written stories that stand proudly on just one big toe of consistency. I’m not interested in comfortable shoes soled in sound scientific basis. I don’t have to convince anyone, let alone sell a possible or probable future. I’m just a poor Argonaut …

Paul Di Filippo: Humanity and science fiction have had a millennia-old love/hate  relationship with machines. Your “Cardanica” is one of the latest expressions of that often fatal encounter between flesh and gears. Do  you believe that there will always be war between man and his inanimate creations, or could there be a peaceful union some day,  perhaps even if only when the Singularity arrives?

Dario Tonani: Even when not waging outright war, the underlying atmosphere of conflict or truce between man and machine has always been the mainstay of science fiction. Where there‘s no open hostility, there’s at the very least distrust, suspicion, fear. And ultimately fascination. What intrigues me most about technology is the less tameable aspect of its character. The possibility that any slight shift can turn into a fullblown threat. Of course, today’s computers make this all the more real, more plausible. The very idea of the human brain replicating itself, let’s say, ‘by means of software’, naturally provokes an avalanche of atavistic fears. Cardanica and the entire series of World9 herald these fears long before the advent of computers and electricity, when it was engineering that generated a sense of wonder and consternation. The movement more than the worry, the sound of gears more than the anxiety-inducing lack of signal or course. The shiptruck Robredo behaves as though animated by a kind of Hal9000 ante litteram, which rather than being a perfect example of silicon is actually pure intelligence made of metal, oil and rust. As a writer I certainly don’t wish for peace between man and machine, because I find peaceful harmony boring. And it’s not very productive in terms of narrative. Another kettle of fish is having to take into account today’s user who goes round with an iPhone or iPod and is horrified just at the thought that his computer doesn’t behave like a docile little lamb. In my stories men and machines are always on their guard, viewing each other daggers drawn: maybe not spending all their time beating each other up, but waiting for the right moment to advance their own survival at the expense of the other. In short, mors tua, vita mea…

Paul Di Filippo: Have you ever enjoyed any piece of science fiction cinema as much as any favorite science fiction book? Who would you choose as the best director to film your own work?

Dario Tonani: The list of science fiction films made on the back of a good book is long and well documented. But for me these four are essential: Fahrenheit 451, Blade Runner, Inception and Matrix. I value each of them either because they reflect the novel they were based on or because they suffer from not having done so. This is my point: when I watch a film on screen part of my brain goes instinctively in search of the text that generated it. Because according to my ideal ‘creative sequence’ it is still the words that produce the images and not the other way round. And which director would I like? Since we are talking  science fiction, can I create a Frankenstein monster taking some parts from one and some from another? I would build my director with the uberimagination of Tim Burton, the decidedly cerebral bleakness of Christopher Nolan and the visual self-assurance of Michael Bay or of the Wachowski brothers. And why not add in Spielberg’s money? My heartfelt thanks, Paul, for the chat. Until next time!

(Translation: Caroline Smart)

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