Why did you write The Last Circus on Earth?
I thought it would be good to travel to the near future to see how things worked out by writing a novel about it. As I was researching and exploring, the characters discovered what I was doing and pretty much took over. I really just edited it from that point on.
So, where did the characters come from? Why these characters and not others?
Did I choose them or did they choose me? After all, there's a lot of life-force in the Russian witch, Baba Yaga, who has been with me since my father came back from communist USSR with a cheap printed translation of Russian Folk Tales. Baba Yaga, and all the other classic Russian characters, became part of my life from then on, joining a host of others in my scruffy little head, from Wonderland, the Looking Glass world, Neverland etc. The circus performers from Tod Browning's 1936 classic Freaks joined the motley crew some time later.
The thugs, carnies and psychopaths are a mix of 'hard men', co-workers and narcissists I've had the pleasure of meeting.
What about the setting of The Last Circus? You travel from Britain to Central Asia, which is quite a hike, and requires dragging the poor reader through one post-Collapse nation after another to get to the denouement, which could've happened anywhere. Why put the reader through all that?
I basically wanted a good look around. If you travel all the way to the year 2070, you're not going to stay in the hotel room.
I'd just come back from a novel-writing trip to 1666 with a pacifist pirate, where I had a look at the roots of the so-called Age of Enlightenment. As a result, I wondered - during this spectacularly shitty era - whether those Enlightenment illusions of 'human progress' were actually delusions. Fifty years into the future seemed enough time to get the gist of where our species is headed, and to see if we made it or not. My characters, on the other hand, wanted more than mere survival - which is why the whole book ended up full of mayhem, mischief, murder and, for Shakespearian counterpoint, love.
What's the plot? In brief.
It's really just a variation on the old 'suicidal assassin boy meets super-intelligent locked-in syndrome girl' story. In mine they have a rescue dog together, and try not to get killed for 400 pages.
It's an adventure story.
Baba Yaga's in it so there's bound to be trouble and some sort of quest.
Does Last Circus have 'themes'? Is it Worthy Reading or escapist trash?
It'll never win any literary prizes.
You literally won the 2019 Fantastica Prize.
Good point, well made. As for themes, there's 'love'. All sorts. Love between lovers, between friends and family, and the most powerful love of all, between humans and dogs. And elephants.
There's also 'death'. Quite a lot of death in there. Being murdered, shot, blown up, dragged under the wheels of a train, drowning...all sorts. Also there's lots of 'nearly dying'. Take a good first-aid kit to 2070, folks. Other themes include the nature of consciousness, why 'intelligence' isn't a marker for compassion, empathy, wisdom or good / smart behaviour, plus questioning the limits of human biology in the context of our extinction crisis.
Spec-fic or sci-fi?
Bit of both. On the sci-fi side, I researched the heck out the singularity concept. The spec-fic side is focused on why homo sapiens can't pull themselves out of their collective dive into global civilisational collapse. I also ask how, if you had unlimited means, you could plausibly(?) augment humans to avoid a permanent end to our particular form of 'consciousness'.
No. I'm not a fascist.
Last question: why are you the only person who could write this particular story?
I'm not. It's hardly original. The only area where I push boundaries is arguing that our current concepts of individual and collective intelligence and consciousness are fundamentally incorrect, and that almost all other sci-fi and spec-fic writers get that wrong.