This interview first appeared on Literary Kicks, May 26, 2006
Postmodern novelist Steve Aylett was born in 1967 in the Bromley Borough of London, England. His first book, The Crime Studio, was published in 1994, and his later works include Bigot Hall, Slaughtermatic and his most recent tour de force, Lint. Aylett’s work has been variously described as cyberpunk, slipstream, postmodern, bizarro, or, in the words of Grant Morrison: “The Matrix choreographed by Samuel Beckett for MTV.”
Steve Aylett’s new Lint is to literature what Spinal Tap is to heavy metal music: a brilliant send-up of anecdotal, cult-of-personality biographies. The parody swings freely between the sci-fi genre, the Beats, and classic pulp magazines. We follow a comix legend named Jeff Lint, who lived in the age when “dozens of new magazines appeared, with titles like Astounding, Bewildering, Confusing, Baffling…Useless…Appalling, Made-Up … Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Swell Punch-Ups” and editors would order up “an octopus, a spaceman, and a screaming woman” for the cover of a typical issue.
I like to call Aylett’s work a combination of science fiction, satire, and psychedelia. His sentences are not only sublimely expressive; they are beautiful in and of themselves. It’s like opening a pop-up book to see gemstones and charms strung together on bracelet chains, rising to display the black noir onyx, the blood-red ruby, the diamond center of the mind, the flaming gold-leaf giraffe trinket of surrealism.
Karloff’s Circus (book 4 of The Complete Accomplice) lights up the town of Accomplice with an anarchic assortment of demons, clowns, factory workers, zombies, politicians, and giant Steinway spiders. The action seems absurd until one realizes that the real world is no less freakish. Even today, we have people kept alive in hospitals against all laws of nature, connected to machines by tubes. We see self-mutilation in the form of extreme piercing and grotesquely overdone plastic surgery. Our children are sent to war by incompetent politicians. Well, you get the idea. Once we establish that our world is crazy, it makes no difference whether Aylett is using surrealism to parody reality, or if he is writing a straightforward story about paranormal creatures in a parallel universe.
Aylett cites Voltaire as an influence, and the influence shows. “Organised religion added Jesus to the food groups,” he tells us, or “Pause any country and you’ll spot subliminal torture in the frame.”
Jacque Derrida maintained that all words have varying shades of meaning to each reader; therefore, every reader brings a certain amount of the story with them to a book. Maybe that is why I like Steve Aylett’s prose so much — he gives us plenty of raw material to process.
I asked the author some questions by email:
Bill Ectric: It seems like you establish patterns of phrasing that are independent of the plot but that the reader can “pick up” on while reading.
Steve Aylett: Yes, there are several threads of sense going through it at different depths. I think the mind picks up which bits link in to which other bits. Some’s almost a subliminal sort of thing going on, and then at the simplest level there’s the running gags or repetitions like the “Snail, Sarge” conversation, which is just so stupid I really like it. And if you don’t like all that there’s always the story to fall back on.
BE: Even though Lint is a parody, I find that you throw in some semi-profound ideas. Like, commands materializing from thin air where someone’s mouth happens to be. The opposite of cause and effect.
SA: The parody thing was secondary to the meanings I was putting in there. I enjoy parody and stupid stuff, but more often than not I’ll use it as a housing for old-time satire, politics and bitter axe-grinding. That thing about authority was about the fact that authority is actually quite arbitrary, and doesn’t manifest any inherent quality. Traced to its root it’s the result of luck, happenstance, crime and the sustaining of a set-up over many years as people hold on to power. It has no moral weight that stands up to a moment’s scrutiny, and is enforced by the threat of violence. Reduced to its constituent atoms authority doesn’t really mean anything. It’s all just people.
BE: When you refer to Karloff Velocet as the “Fall Marshall” is this a reference to the idea of the “fall of man?”
SA: As far as I can recall this was mainly from The Fall’s album The Marshall Suite — and he is marshaling the various falls and collapses in the circus. His circus is all about entropy.
BE: Which is better — for countries to worry continuously about other countries’ ability to build nuclear bombs, or the “stalemate effect” of each country already having nuclear bombs?
SA: As long as America has the ‘preemptive’ policy of attacking non-nuclear countries without provocation, it’s probably better that other countries have nuclear weapons also, as a deterrent to the U.S. (which doesn’t like an even fight) — but in any case there will be a nuclear catastrophe at some point, either through psychotic panic or a technical error. It’s inevitable.
BE: Did you ever hang out with the Krays?
SA: No, I never met the Krays, but I knew their lawyer, and Ronnie liked The Crime Studio.
BE: Now I’m sort of freaked out because I’m not sure if you are serious. The Crime Studio was published in 1994, Ronnie lived until 1996 … are you serious?
SA: Yeah. Actually, Ron liked it so much he wrote a story of his own, which he got to me via a mutual acquaintance. Unfortunately, it was crap. I think I’d got the book to him because the small publisher that did The Crime Studio originally wanted a quote from a ‘name’ of some kind, and I didn’t know anyone in the literary world back then. Unfortunate things used to happen to people when I sent them books for cover quotes. I sent the re-print of The Crime Studio to William Burroughs and he died a week later; I sent Bigot Hall to Stephen Fry and he went insane — temporarily.
Victims of the Aylett Curse: The Krays, William S. Burroughs, and Stephen Fry
BE: Uncanny! Speaking of insane, did you do the artwork for The Caterer? It is so classic.
SA: It all started out as samples from a lot of 1970s comics — that blonde grinning jock appears throughout those comics. Then I flipped them, changed colors, changed expressions and body positions etc, blended them into different backgrounds and with different characters, muted the colors down again, then added dialogue. Often I was doing so much re-drawing I was virtually drawing the character from scratch, by the end.
BE: Near the end of Karloff’s Circus we read, “On the bluff behind them an angel landed, fragile as a feather made of bones. Under a sky deep as grief it closed its silent white wings.”
Is Mike Abblatia the angel? And, at the beginning of the book, when Mike Abblatia jumps off the bridge, is everything that happens in the rest of the book happening in the instant that Mike falls?
SA: No, the book doesn’t occur in Mike Abblatia’s mind/dreams or whatever — it happens, after he jumps. Regarding the mystery angel at the end, I wanted to make the suggestion that it might be Barney.
BE: On some level, Bigot Hall made me think of Kerouac’s Doctor Sax, even though they aren’t all that similar. Did you ever read Doctor Sax?
SA: Yes, I’ve read Doctor Sax. Used to be a big Kerouac fan. That one was different from his others of course, being sort of cinematic and constructed.
BE: You write a lot about other dimensions; did you ever read Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott?
SA: I have read Flatland, though I still believe he cribbed it from Charles H. Hinton, author of The Fourth Dimension (who I mention often in my books).
BE: If they made a Lint movie, who should portray Lint as an old man — Patrick McGoohan or Christopher Lee?
SA: McGoohan is more grouchy, so I’d go for him.
BE: I knew it! That would be my pick as well. So, do the English really say variations of “isn’t it” all the time? For example, in reply to my last question, you might say, “Well, Lint is American, isn’t he?”
SA: English people say isn’t, aint, aren’t, innit, wot, and other things.
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