Today, I interview the last Ontario author in Tesseracts 17, but not the last author by far.
CA: Of all the tales in Tesseracts 17, “Secret Recipes” was perhaps the most alien. You use the senses in such a unique way that makes the story poetic. How did this idea come about?
A few years back I had a conversation with my Romanian agent about an article he just read, concerning the North American Science Fiction rules—One cannot write a story that happens in an alien world, having only a cast of alien characters. So, not having at least one human character to give the readers the human perspective on the alien world.
I told my agent I can break that rule and make it work. And so it started.
I wrote that year a short story that did just that. I sold it immediately to Anticipatia Magazine (major SF magazine at the time). It has been awarded and reprinted four times.
After its success, I wrote my first novel, Recipearium, breaking the same rule. I sold it several years later; critics and reviewers wrote about it in numerous genre and literary magazines, and it brought me three awards.
The story in Tesseracts17, “Secret Recipes,” takes place in the same universe as the novel, breaking the same rule. In fact it is a prequel to the novel, introducing the main character and his quest.
CA: The story is quite complex, dealing with betrayal, familial honor, and individual accomplishment. Was there one strong ingredient in this recipe or was it a gradual blending that was a natural evolution?
I thought that no matter how “alien” the world and the characters, there have to be some things that are common to our civilization. That’s what should make the story work in the end—the fact that we can identify some of our values with some of their values and eventually understand and empathize with their struggles.
Family is one of those values. And yes, in their world the notion is quite different from here, but in the end that sense of belonging to a certain group of people and a certain place, to a certain system of values that one is exposed to within that group, the mutual feelings that grow inside the relationships of a family, all these are and have been for most of our history intrinsic to our way of living and shaping the reality around us.
So, it all starts with where my main character comes from. Who is he and why does he make the choices he makes?
CA: Do you think that if we ever met an alien species, even as diverse as the ones in David Brin’s Uplift universe, that we would be able to emotionally relate to them?
To be honest, no. At least not in the beginning. And when I say in the beginning, I don’t mean the first year or so, I mean probably the first century or so.
Although when one says “emotionally” we think of this non-rational, spontaneous instinctive reaction, it is not completely so. That “instinctive” reaction is given to us by our system of beliefs, by the way we are educated to react to different stimulus.
“Alienness” is one of the toughest tests we always had in order to pass as civilized people. There are still humans who cannot emotionally relate to other humans of a different religion or ethnicity, which in a way goes back to a certain definition of alienness.
So imagine relating to beings anatomically different from us. Who have completely “alien” and questionable physiological needs. And that means only scratching the surface. Because then we’d have to cope with their spiritual and intellectual needs. And as we struggle to accomplish that, we’d encounter their philosophical and legal system. Their moral code and cultural code.
So, I think the answer is no. We’d need centuries of contact before some of us could really emotionally relate to them.
CA: What would you consider as being your most difficult story to write in terms of worldbuilding and/or alien perspectives and perceptions.
You know when “they” say that one of the biggest problems of Science Fiction stories is that their characters don’t seem to have common human needs? They do not need to eat, use the washroom, make love, drink a coffee or do the laundry?
Noticed that I said make love and not have sex? It sounds nicer somehow. But truth to be told, sex is one essential component of human life and why not presume of any intelligent organic life out there in the universe. And most SF writers have really avoided the subject either by completely ignoring it, or by starting with a kiss and ending with “and after that they made sweet, sweet love.” But that’s a subject for another day.
Well, you could do all that in terms of worldbuilding and it would be fun, especially if there are aliens involved. But now imagine writing an alien love scene and I’m not talking about one of those poetic scenes that have nothing to do with sex. Like oh, the aliens were these giant butterflies and they loved each other flying majestically through a night sky full of spectacular moons.
No, love making that involves real sex organs and secretions and orgasm and the eventual transfer of fluids. All in the name of love… and procreation, hopefully.
It is hard enough to write a human love scene that avoids all that detail and gives the sense of emotional connection as well as physical pleasure. Then, what do you do when your aliens are not humanoids and not even cute little animals or plants, or birds for that matter. When they are really alien and seriously constructed creatures.
An alien love scene could be really difficult to write from any perspective or perception, without alienating your readers. So I could say…Recipearium, my alien only novel.
CA: What other stories are you cooking up?
New beginnings for me this year.
I’m in the middle of a Science Fiction comedy.
Now, this is also difficult to write as humor is so different depending on so many factors, that sometime one would think this should be the true test of emotionally relating to alienness.
I’ve been also trying my hand at screenwriting. Right now I’m working on a short Sci-Fi drama and a long Sci-Fi thriller.
So all things new to me and therefore so exciting that I feel this year was one of the best I had in a long time.
Costi Gurgu is an art director, illustrator and writer living in Toronto with his wife. He worked as the art director of Playboy Magazine, the French fashion magazine—Madame Figaro, and the women’s life-style magazine—Tabu. Costi was also the art director and illustrator of ProLogos Imprint, where he designed their visual identity and illustrated some of the book covers.
As a writer, Costi has published three books and over fifty short stories in Romania, Poland, Hungary, Denmark, England, United States and Canada. He has won twenty-four awards for his fiction. His latest sales include the Danish anthology Creatures of Glass and Light, the DAW Books anthology Ages of Wonder, the Wildside Press anthology The Third Science Fiction Megapack, The Millennium Books anthology Steampunk—The Second Revolution, and Tesseracts 17.