Fantastic Metropolis

A Glob of Multicolored Chiming Vibrational Bubble Gum

An Interview with Steve Aylett

Rick Klaw

Rick Klaw: When I am asked about your works, I find them almost impossible to define. How do you define your work? What do you tell people when they ask what you write?

Steve Aylett: There’s various stuff there, but the heart of it is satire. Satire. It’ll be nested amid poetics and goofing-off, and occasionally I’ll do a book that’s only poetics and goofing off (The Inflatable Volunteer affiliate link), but the heart is satire. I can reverse and turn inside-out anything you give me and if there’s a hole in your argument I can see it visually before even thinking about it. Even when I’m not in great shape. There’s no power in this — seeing the truth isn’t the same as enforcing it — but there it is. It can even be a weakness.

Rick Klaw: Is there a genre or type of story you feel needs Steve Aylett? One that could benefit and be greatly improved by your style and insights?

Steve Aylett: The satirical one.

Rick Klaw: Your work is steeped in pop culture. Is there one aspect of popular culture that intrigues you over another?

Steve Aylett: The term pop culture is a bit dodgy — I’m not sure where that ends and where the rest begins. I suppose I know what pop music is but that’s all. I like some movies, is that pop? Are they all pop? To me something’s either interesting or it isn’t. I really don’t know or care what’s pop and what isn’t.

Rick Klaw: Does pop culture inspire you or do you inspire pop culture?

Steve Aylett: I haven’t made a huge impact on culture at large, pop or otherwise.

Rick Klaw: Many of your projects feature your own artwork. Are you a frustrated artist who became a writer or are you a writer who dabbles in art? Do you enjoy producing the art that accompanies your writing?

Steve Aylett: I’m a writer but I like drawing, music and stuff like that. In art I like extreme color, as I’m synaesthetic and get really interesting stuff from colors. There are reversed-acidic colors you can get with Photoshop artwork that’s difficult to get by painting unless you’re using metal flake. I did a lot of fun stuff for the LINT project, and I’ve just done a cartoony cover and title page for the US edition of The Inflatable Volunteer (Wildside Press) — though they inevitably chose the less colorful of the cover options I sent them. I get music from color and color from music, so I also do music projects like the music/textures/shrieking bloody vortexes I do with The Wesley Kern Gun, of which there’s a CD coming out soon from Humbug in Norway, who specialise in weird music. I’m also doing a project with Stephen O’Malley of the subsonic guitar band SunnO))). And it’s fun doing mindlessly stupid comedy like Lord Pin too, which is just mumbled stand-up.

Rick Klaw: When did you first use your own art in conjunction with your writing?

Steve Aylett: I remember writing a version of Jason and the Argonauts when I was about five or something, with illustrations of the monsters. But the sailors would always run away when they saw the monsters or the seven skeletons — Jason would shout “Get back to the ship” and they would sail away from the island. They never had a fight. That’s me: lack of appropriate conflict, too much conflict in areas that aren’t meant to be disputed.

Rick Klaw: I really enjoyed the Tao Te Jinx. Whose idea was it? What is the book’s purpose?

Steve Aylett: It started off as a printing test — I’d heard that print-on-demand had come on a lot since the pie-in-the-sky days and so decided to do a test. But since the test would result in a book — and I love books — I thought it should be a good juicy object, even if only one copy existed. So I ended up spending a lot of time filling it with stuff — nearly 600 selected quotes and pics and rarities and stuff that hadn’t appeared anywhere else. The quotes and stuff that I think are good, as opposed to the ones that get quoted a lot. It turned out really good printing-wise. It turns out POD printers make up their money on exorbitant delivery charges, but before I had the sense to realise that I put it on sale for a couple of months pretty cheap. So there’s a couple hundred of these little rare things out there, that might even be worth something one day. Fuck it.

Rick Klaw: You’ve written short stories, novels, comic books, audio productions, reviews, and more. Which is your favorite?

Steve Aylett: Novels — which I write in the same style as my short stories, because I don’t like to water things down.

But I like the idea of doing stuff that has a visual, like comics, cartoons or movies. The comic world is near-dead at the moment. Powers is okay but considering it’s a graft of Top Ten and Watchmen, it should be a lot better than it is. But why put two other comics together in the first place? Why not just do something new? I really wish someone would do something new. There aren’t any actual laws against it yet — not quite. The Nerve comic, which I wrote in 2001, is about the stuff which is happening now as regards using fear as a manipulation tool and general vacuum maintainer. It’s better than any comic I’ve read lately. Matthew Petz has done the artwork. No idea if it’ll ever be in print anywhere — probably not. It’s really good.

I’m not a consistent enough artist to illustrate a comic — I think you need to be a confident draughtsman to do that, and I’m a total amateur, a mess. The Tom Strong I wrote was illustrated just right (by Shawn McManus), except the flower at the end which should have been simpler, like a sunflower. The different versions of the comic world in it were done really well.

The one comic I’m looking forward to is Grant Morrison’s Vimanarama. I’ll read anything with vimana in it.

I very rarely write reviews, and the only motive to do it is the futile one of trying to redress the balance — I mean, because most reviews are so badly written.

I was involved in a radio thing a while ago, but came up against the imposed vacuum we’ve got with everything at the moment. It was a four-episode thing for BBC Radio 4, and I was instructed that for every original, unusual or interesting idea in the script, 5,000 listeners would switch off. So I was meant to go through it, stripping the ideas out. I actually went along with it for a while, to my shame. Finally there was basically nothing there, but I was told it was still too relentless, so I walked away. And this was something that was very light even at the beginning, based on the couple of Caltagan Sharp stories in Toxicology affiliate link, basically P. G. Wodehouse parodies. The lightest, airiest things I’ve ever written. But no, people wouldn’t like hearing those damned inconvenient ideas. I feel like ripping my own face off, really.

Rick Klaw: For our readers out there, can you explain vimana?

Steve Aylett: These are spaceships and weird flying machines described in the ancient Vedic literature of India. Some are described in quite a bit of technical detail, and the drawings which late-19^th^ and early 20^th^ century scholars created from these descriptions are quite beautiful. Strange spaceships with veined sails.

Rick Klaw: If you could work with any other writer’s universe/creation, what would it be?

Steve Aylett: On balance I prefer doing my own stuff, but it is strange how you can get into the creative atmosphere of someone else’s creation if the situation arises, as I found with Tom Strong. I was surprised how relatively normal I ended up writing it. I suppose the most interesting thing would be to take a former good thing which has become bland and bring it back to fertility, or maybe better than it ever was. Like an Anne Rice vampire book as good as The Vampire Lestat. Or in film, a Hellraiser sequel that was actually scary, atmospheric and unexpected, can you imagine?

Rick Klaw: Why do you think your Tom Strong story turned out so “normal”?

Steve Aylett: A writer can get into the atmosphere and structure of something that’s already created, if it’s a good enough one and they’re into it. I don’t necessarily mean “normal” in the normal sense. And it was a style I was happy to indulge in, as Alan Moore is one of the few creators I respect and one of the very few human beings I like as a person.

Rick Klaw: Along those same lines, is there anyone dead or alive, you’d like to collaborate with?

Steve Aylett: Alive, it would be interesting to do something with David Lynch, like a really creepy musical or something. And dead, it would be good to meet the greatest (published) satirist Voltaire, though he’d probably just give me a sharp look and punch me in the throat. Also among the dead it would be good to give Spalding Gray an awkward hug and say thanks, but I couldn’t improve on his particular genre.

Rick Klaw: Why couldn’t you improve on the satirist (Spalding Gray’s) genre?

Steve Aylett: Gray wasn’t a satirist — he did a humorous observation exaggerated confessional monologue performance thing, and whatever label that ends up getting, I couldn’t even approach what Gray did if I tried it. I saw him do Slippery Slope and it was great stuff. And no-one could say “scuba guru” like him. David Sedaris tries something like Gray but sticks to his script, they’re basically readings, though very funny anyway. Meanwhile, elsewhere, satire is something else entirely, with totally different mechanisms working in it. A lot of people these days don’t know what real satire is — they think it’s sarcasm, or impersonation, or humorous commentary, while real satire actually has a lot of very particular crunching mechanisms working in it, it’s not slapdash and rarely splashy, it’s not just sarcasm, or humor, or commentary, or impersonation, or those things together. It’s a very precise cutting tool.

Rick Klaw: Your novels have a manic pace, do you write quickly? How long does it typically take you to write a novel?

Steve Aylett: I don’t write quickly, and for bits of time I don’t write at all. I don’t have a daily schedule or any of that. A book takes about a year. The book turns up as an entire pre-formed thing in my head, a sort of visual object with a feeling to it, then it’s a case of writing the book which will make that shape. It’s usually like a glob of multicolored chiming vibrational bubble gum with structures pushed through it, and it feels like heart sherbet. There’s about ten of those book shapes floating in a holding formation at the moment. It’s up to me whether to take the dictation or not, after all, and at the moment I’m just letting a lot of them hang. Especially as people would rather pay for Tom fucking Wolfe and walk around as empty as porcelain.

Rick Klaw: Are any of your works optioned for film? Would you like to see a book of yours filmed? If so by who?

Steve Aylett: I’m chatting to someone about The Crime Studio affiliate link and that whole Beerlight thing. And it would be nice to see something like Shamanspace affiliate link filmed. It’s got a pretty straight story to it, really. But, dammit, it’s still got those pesky ideas…

Copyright © 2005 by Rick Klaw.