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PK Interview: Jonathan Oliver (Part 3)

The third part of our session with Abaddon & Solaris editor, Jonathan Oliver. Previously, we spoke about his book, The Call of Kerberos

You mentioned him earlier – George R.R. Martin…

Yeah. I wish he’d hurry up and write the next fucking book.

Do we think that’s ever going to happen?

Oh, it’d better… I’ve invested a lot of time! Tyrion is one of the best fantasy characters I’ve ever read. He’s so good. He’s obviously not good, but that’s what’s great about him. The Battle of Blackwater Rush is one of the most brilliantly gob-smacking fantasy battles I’ve ever read. And I don’t  usually read big, epic fantasy but I'm now starting to get tuned into that a bit more.

He’s such an influence now for other authors.

He’s set the mark very, very high. Political fantasy can be a bit dry, but he’s made something really political, and not dry at all. The intrigues are brilliant, the characters are so well portrayed - they’re so individual. I normally read an epic fantasy and think, ‘Who is this guy? I kind of remember you mentioning him but now I'm not sure who he is.' But with Martin, you instantly know who he’s talking about – the characters are so well-defined, they don’t blend into one.

So why, when you spoke about him earlier, did you use him as an example what you’renotlooking for?

For Solaris, that’s exactly what we want. 

But Abaddon is more a pulp fiction model – stories you can dip into and out of. I don’t want to alienate readers and say, “this series is just for the  die-hard fans”. I want to draw people in, show them that this is good fun, and then encourage them to explore the other characters as well.  With something like George R.R. Martin, you have to read the books in order – that’s a necessity if you want to understand the story. But it really is worth it. And with the pulps, with Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd & Grey Mouser, they’re short stories. The world feels rich still, it doesn’t demean it by being a series of shorts. I think they’re still some of the richest things written in fantasy.

Fritz Leiber’s just a beautiful writer - full stop. It’s not just his fantasy, I love his science fiction; his horror is astonishing. Our Lady of Darkness is one of the great horror novels. It’s a novel in which the ghost/monster is the city – San Francisco. Stunning, and when I went to San Francisco I got why the novel was written, it's such an evocative and beautiful place.

I love Leiber as well, but there are some fairly edgy parts to his stories. In fact, a lot of the pulp authors seem to draw complaints from modern readers.

Absolutely. As with Lovecraft, there are elements that just aren’t very nice. There’s a rape scene in one of Leiber's Grey Mouser and Fafhrd stories – and this is stunning and horrible to say – it seems to be played for comedy. And that’s very uncomfortable, and hard to reconcile.

With Lovecraft as well, unfortunately, there’s racism, there’s misogyny – well, not so much misogyny as he just doesn’t get women. You get the impression that he doesn’t like sex, or understand what it’s for. He was utterly horrendous to his wife.

And, conversely, there’s also that special sort of fandom that refuses to acknowledge anything negative said about H.P. Lovecraft...

It’s like Hitchcock. Hitchcock was a weird and kooky guy who did some horrible stuff as well as some great stuff. And that doesn’t stop the great stuff he did from being well and truly great but you have to acknowledge a person's faults too.

With The Call of Kerberos, I very consciously wanted to put women in it and have them as strong characters. Katya, Silus’ wife, is pregnant for the first half of the novel. I thought, well, it’d be awfully convenient if she had to stay at home and be protected. Instead, she had to go along. I wanted her to be there throughout the book, see Silus changing and be a foil for him. And Katherine Makennon, the head of the Final Faith. She’s so much fun to write. I didn’t invent the Final Faith. Matthew Sprange and Mike Wild pretty much created it and Mike has done the most writing about it. They’re so much fun – they’re like the Inquisition with black magic.

So, with the Twilight of Kerberos series, I wanted to keep the pulp fiction sensibilities, but not the worst bits. But I don’t think that’s exclusive to pulp fiction, or genre fiction. I think American fiction of that era had a lot of it going around – there’s still a lot of it going around for that matter.



Stay tuned, in the next segment, we get more into the past, present & future of Abaddon books. The Call of Kerberos is available through Amazon and your local bookshop. If you need help finding Leiber, Lovecraft or George R.R. Martin books... yikes.