John Kessel on The Moon and the Other

Wed 24 May 2017 - Filed under: Not a Journal., | Leave a Comment | Posted by: Gavin

Shelf Awareness just review John Kessel‘s new novel The Moon and the Other:

The Moon and the Other coverIf the literary zeitgeist has been dominated by dystopias, The Moon and the Other evokes Dickens and H.G. Wells. It’s science fiction with heart, romance with ideas. It’s utopian and it’s savvy. Kessel’s droll, sideways humor surfaces periodically, as in “uplifted” dogs and casual allusions to punitive “debtors freezers.” He explores gender identity and politics, portraying the complexity of social customs and relationships with neither jaundice nor bullishness. Focused on the lives of his characters, Kessel keeps pace yet makes room for his meticulously thought-out future world.

It’s a grownup vision: not because it’s serious, but because it’s wondrous. It extrapolates not just society and technology, but real-world emotions and human behavior as well. This moon is a place we’ve never seen before in fiction.

and I’m happy to say we have an interview with Kessel for you!

North Carolina (by way of Buffalo, NY) writer John Kessel has long been a writer we love — both his books, and the man himself. We had the joy of publishing a collection of John’s, The Baum Plan for Financial Independence, [I still love the easter egg dustjacket we did] a few years back and when I saw that he had a new novel coming out from Saga/S&S, The Moon and the Other, I jumped on the chance to talk with him about it:

Your new novel, The Moon and the Other, is set on the moon: do you think there will be people walking in the moon in the near future?

John Kessel: I don’t know if people will be on the moon real soon, but I do think it would be possible given current technology to colonize the moon and build livable environments there. The main thing stopping us is whether there is a strong enough motive to do it.

There would either have to be some economic advantage to be gained from living on the moon, or the people who financed and moved to such a colony would have to have reasons that went beyond economics. In my book I hypothesize that many people go to the moon as separatist groups seeking to establish independent alternative societies away from the nation states of earth, based on social principles that people on earth might find objectionable, rather the way groups like the Quakers and Shakers, and later the Mormons and the Oneida Community, established their own social systems away from Europe or the rest of American society.

What was the impetus for writing this book?

John Kessel: There were several. One was a thought experiment, creating a place, my Society of Cousins, where men are given social and sexual privilege at the cost of giving up the right to vote. I had written three stories [Including Tiptree Award Winner “Stories for Men” — ed.] set in that world and have been thinking about it for twenty years or so. I also wanted to explore various political ideas—the notion that most societies are neither utopian nor dystopian, and there is a continual friction between individual freedom and social comity. I also spent a lot of time thinking about masculinity, what defines the male, what different ways there are to be male, and how some are more available to people than others. I am very interested in the question of to what degree our behaviors are biologically determined and to what degree they are social constructed. Is violence a direct result of male biological imperatives, and if so, what can we do about it?

Did you have any societal models in mind when you described the Society of Cousins?

John Kessel: I modeled aspects of the Society of Cousins on the social structures of bonobos, and to a degree on the culture of the Mosuo people of China, near the border of Tibet. Both might be characterized as matriarchal societies with a different sexual and familial setup than the patriarchal hierarchical structures we are more familiar with.

Did you see this book as being in conversation with books or stories by yourself or other writers?

John Kessel: I have been very influenced by feminist sf over the last forty years, from Ursula K. Le Guin to Joanna Russ, Karen Joy Fowler, Eleanor Arnason, and many others. I suppose you could say that The Moon and the Other is in conversation with lots of traditional sf going back to Robert Heinlein as well. I am a magpie, and I borrow pretty shamelessly from my betters. I have been ripping off my pal James Patrick Kelly for decades, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s novels about colonizing the solar system have also had their effect on me.

After teaching writing for many years, did you find yourself breaking any rules you’d not expected to while writing this?

John Kessel: I tend to be pretty conservative in my understanding of story construction and novel writing. I believe in all the traditional elements of characterization, plotting, extrapolation, significant detail, story logic, etc. I don’t think I did anything too unusual in that regard. I do seem to like stories with multiple character viewpoints, where none of the individual points of view can be said to be exactly my own. I have inserted some passages of non-narrative exposition in this novel, rather the way that Kim Stanley Robinson has done in some of his work and I do have one big time disjuncture in the book that I intend to be a bit of a jolt.


Extras: listen to John Kessel on UNC public radio’s “The State of Things” and Carolina Bookbeat with Sam Montgomery-Blinn and Mur Lafferty and read more about The Moon and the Other.

 

 

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