Writer Al Ewing, famous to SFX readers for his work on 2000 AD and his steampunk for Abaddon books, discusses his new novel and the relationship between fiction and the real world
Today we welcome writer Al Ewing to the site. You'll know him from his 2000 AD stories and from his great Abaddon novels (including post-apocalyptic caper Death Got No Mercy ) but soon you'll discover his stand-alone tale from Solaris, The Fictional Man . Described as a novel about identity and celebrity, with Philip K Dick a possible influence, it's out on Thursday 9 May. We invited Ewing to write for us about his inspiration and about the questions which drive his story...
SFX asked me to write a few words about my next novel, The Fictional Man , which is out early May from Solaris. You can read the first chapter, if you’d like, by going to www.fictionalman.com – in the fullness of time I’ll try and have signing dates up there too. It’s a story about the relationship between fiction and the real world, in a world where fictional people are made real by Hollywood studios – because why hire an actor to play Sherlock Holmes when you can just get Sherlock Holmes, right?
So it’s set in LA.
I’ve only been to LA once in my life, more than 15 years ago, during a round trip of the States. By the time I got there, I was almost completely out of money. Back in Graceland – hypnotised by the King’s corpse, the jungle room, and the thrilling tales of flights across America for giant squirrel sandwiches – I’d blown 50 dollars on assorted Elvis tat. In 1997 dollars, yet. And now I was paying for it.
(The big offender was an overpriced "Elvisopoly" game, which was just Monopoly. I played it once – like all games of Monopoly, it ended in a fight. Thirty bucks wasted.)
So entertainment came mostly from the Century City Mall, in which I would loiter until some passing intern handed out free tickets to something – sitting in the audience of Politically Incorrect one night (a title that felt slightly dated even then) and being one of about five people watching a slightly rubbish improv show the next. Time in between was spent watching TV in the motel and walking aimlessly along freeways. I was trying to do LA on foot, and while New York is a place made for foot traffic, LA is unforgiving to anyone without wheels.
So the LA in my memories is all grey concrete, full of roadways stretching forever, cheap motel rooms, cheaper diners, an inaccessible place, resistant to all navigation or exploration. I don’t remember seeing any sights – I feel like I must have at least tried to find Hollywood, but I never saw a star or a handprint in the pavement, or even a celebrity I recognised.
I was going to write a few paragraphs here contrasting the LA I experienced, that miserable concrete stretch, with the dazzling, glittering Hollywood in my head. You can probably guess the kind of thing – look up a few examples of fictional Hollywoods, talk about how I’m adding this one to the list, round off at 600 words, go and make a cup of tea – but then it occurred to me that pretty much everything above this sentence is a lie.
Oh, it all actually happened to me – kind of. I spent too much money on "Elvisopoly", I didn’t have enough to enjoy LA as a result, etc, etc – but the memories are so fuzzy that I’m essentially making a story up based on a few lingering images. It’s less true than Braveheart was. For example, I’ve failed to mention that I travelled around the USA with a friend, because I thought it’d make a better anecdote if I quietly shoved him down the memory hole. The lone protagonist, wandering the streets of a world he never made. How many of my other memories are like that? Scraps and fragments, embellished with the logic of what must have happened, or occasionally just woven into a good story? How many of yours? Where does the fiction end and the reality begin?
The Fictional Man sets out to ask questions like that – not so much to answer them, just to feel around the boundaries of them for a while, seeing where we end up. I hope you can join me along the way.
Thanks Al! You can get the book from Amazon.co.uk from Thursday 9 May and there's an extract ready to read now . Follow Al Ewing on Twitter or find out more about him at the official Solaris website .