Sunflowers, Hamsters, and Elderberries: Bifrost Does Watts.

“Peter Watts: The Future of Chocolate”. If I’m reading that right.

In an inexplicable yet welcome bit of ego-boo, the current issue of the French Magazine BiFrost (#93) is infested with stuff about (and in a couple of cases, by) me. “ZeroS” is in there, in French. So’s my afterword from Beyond the Rift. There’s some kind of reader’s guide to the Sunflowers Cycle, and an annotated Watts bibliography.  Bottom line, if you don’t like Peter Watts, you’re gonna want to spend your money elsewhere. You could almost call it a Peter Watts Theme Issue.

The issue’s most epic piece of Wattsian content, though, is a massive 18,000-word interview between me and Erwann Perchoc. “Interview” might not even be the right word, in fact; most e-interviews I’ve done have consisted of answering a static list of prearranged questions, with the occasional followup for clarification. This was more of an extended conversation over beers: Erwann would send a question, sit back while I answered it, then send me a gentle reminder when I hadn’t actually done that after a few days. There was no immutable list of boxes to tick off. Each new question was informed by the previous answers. We took some interesting side roads, dove down the occasional rabbit hole before rejoining the main drag. Sure, some of my answers are rehashes you’ve read a few times before; you have to cover the bases. But I also fielded a lot of questions no one had asked in twenty years of author interviews. (Nobody, for example, has ever delved much into my family background. I never really expected them to; family background is generally pretty boring. It was only after answering Erwann’s questions on the subject that I realized that fucked-up and dysfunctional could actually be pretty interesting.)

It was six solid months in the making.

According to Instagram the BiFrost folks are licking stamps and folding envelopes as I type. So this seems like a good time to boost the signal, and to give Anglophones a taste of what they’re missing. It’s a pretty small taste— I’ve got 18,000 words to sample from, remember— but I’m guessing you’ll still encounter a few flavors you haven’t met before.

 

On Childhood:

I was born in 1958 on the Canadian prairies— Calgary, Alberta— the youngest of three brothers. According to David, the eldest (and creepiest) of those— and the only other member of my family who hasn’t died yet— my own birth was preceded by a miscarriage named “Celeste”, who somehow realized while still in the womb that she was about to be born into a toxic family environment and decided to avoid the whole thing by self-aborting. I, apparently, was the next soul in line, so I ended up being born in her place. Thanks a whole fucking lot, Celeste.

While I’ve been able to independently confirm the existence of two miscarriages throughout my mother’s reproductive history, I have to admit I’ve had no direct contact with this alleged fetus-spirit “Celeste”. Said elder brother claims to have been in touch with her on and off over the years; apparently she would talk to him by forming letters in the smoke rising from burning incense, which David would then dutifully transcribe into an old Hitachi laptop. I had one chance to test his claims, when I found myself trapped in his cabin outside Edmonton during the winter of 1991. I told David that I was going to go into the bathroom and do something behind closed doors; Celeste could use her magic smoke to tell him what that was. When I came out again, David informed me that Celeste had in fact seen me in there, but there were some things decorum dictated she not share even with him.

I remain unconvinced.

 

On my mother:

My mother? Let me tell you about my mother…

 

Clock of the Long Now:

Based on what little I know about that project, I think it’s cool, geeky, and fun. As to its long-term global benefit, though, I can only look to the Long Now’s own stated source of inspiration: “Ideally, it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment.”

Because of course, when those photos of Earth from space made it into the public consciousness, all of Humanity immediately came together, forgot their petty differences, looked in horror at the damage they’d wrought, and set about fixing it with all possible haste and effort. And that is why we have no environmental problems today.

I fully expect the Long Now Clock to have every bit as much of an impact.

 

On Hallowe’en Costumes:

Suffering for your Art.

That was the most painful Hallowe’en costume I ever made. I carved the dorsal spines out of reinforced styrofoam and then duct-taped them to my naked back. Various veins and tendrils, same thing. Then I spray-painted my body black. The esophagus actually extended and retracted: It was a gussied-up vacuum-cleaner hose with a set of novelty vampire teeth stuck on the end, fastened to the main costume with internal rubber bands to keep it retracted. I could make it shoot out by yanking on a cord down by my waist, and when it reached maximum extension, the monofilament attached to the teeth would run out of slack and snap the jaws shut.

I’m told it was pretty impressive (this was back in 1986, just a couple months after Aliens came out; there were no professional xenomorph costumes yet, you had to make your own from scratch). Unfortunately I was inside it the whole night; I could barely even see what was in front of me.

My date came loaded with a chest-burster. A spring-loaded Slinky layered in flesh-colored latex, that would jump out from her cleavage when she tripped the trigger.

I was in pain for days afterward. The black paint beaded on my body hair and would not come off in the shower, so my whole body was effectively covered in tiny velcro hooks. Wear a sweater to class the next day, try to take it off afterward, and it was like ripping off a bandaid that covered your entire torso.

Totally worth it, though.

 

Caitely-wu Puddington Muzzwump BUG IV:

Writing-wise, I’ve definitely got the better end of the deal. Caitlin (aka The BUG, aka Caitely-wu Puddington Muzzwump BUG IV) has a grasp of character and plot structure that I can only envy. She’s not only an author, she also teaches Creative Writing (in addition to her day job in the Ontario government) so she’s had a lot of experience in whipping substandard manuscripts into shape. I can hand her a story that I know isn’t working and she’ll not only diagnose the problem, more often than not she’ll prescribe a solution. My narrative arcs have become a lot more organic since I climbed onto The BUG’s shoulders. My characters are more consistent, more humane. And if I should run a story past her that she can’t find major fault with, I know I’ve got a winner indeed. I trust her instincts more than my own.

Why, she even helped me write this answer.

 

Advice to Readers:

Get yourselves sterilized. If enough of us did that (or even just the males), we could solve the problem inside a generation.

 

There you go. Somewhere around 5% of the whole epic.

If you want the rest, go learn French.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Thursday January 17 2019at 09:01 am , filed under ink on art, interviews . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

15 Responses to “Sunflowers, Hamsters, and Elderberries: Bifrost Does Watts.”

  1. Ah, but I already did, in anticipation of this very moment! Not big enough a fan to learn Polish, but French is easy.

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  2. I have two years of HS French and one year of college, so I’ll give it a whirl. But in any case, I’m a sterilization comrade; did it 20 years back! Vive la future of chocolate!! 🙂

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  3. I thought David was the brother who worked for the Canadian Library of Parliament? The analog to the US Congressional Research Service?

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  4. >>>“Peter Watts: The Future of Chocolate”. If I’m reading that right.

    You’re bilingual! You must be Canadian…

    Sadly, as a fellow Canadian, I’ll be running that interview through Google translate, if there’s ever a digital copy.

    >>>My mother? Let me tell you about my mother…

    If I’m not mistaken, you sort of did that through a eulogy awhile back? Whoever it was for, it has to be one of the most unique eulogies ever written – certainly, flat out, the most remarkable one I’ve ever read.

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  5. Pff, some Canadian.

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  6. Lawrence P. Elderburn:
    Pff, some Canadian.

    Well, Watts was obviously kidding, but yeah, my credentials are questionable…

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  7. By the way, speaking of ZerOS, since it’s award season (and you seem the type to not bring it up yourself unless prodded), is there a handy list somewhere of anything you’ve published last year and what category it fits into, and particularly with respect to where potential Hugo nominators should nominate The Freeze-Frame Revolution (I know you said your decision with that respect will probably cost you any shot at it, but I know I’m personally planning to nominate it regardless of whether you think it’s likely to succeed…)

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  8. Hello! I’m reading it ! It’s fun to see my initials in your news. So lol.

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  9. Christina: I thought David was the brother who worked for the Canadian Library of Parliament?

    That would be Jon. He died years ago.

    Phil: If I’m not mistaken, you sort of did that through a eulogy awhile back?

    Well, yeah, but it tended to focus on eulogizing her individual cells. Eulogizing the collective would have been somewhat more challenging.

    Peter D: By the way, speaking of ZerOS, since it’s award season (and you seem the type to not bring it up yourself unless prodded), is there a handy list somewhere of anything you’ve published last year and what category it fits into, and particularly with respect to where potential Hugo nominators should nominate The Freeze-Frame Revolution…

    “List” would be pushing it. We’re talking two short stories (only one of which—"Kindred"— is likely to have been read by more than a couple hundred people, since the weaponized yoghurt story appeared in a local specialty magazine that doesn’t even sell through Amazon), and one novella. (That’s novella, folks, not novel, even though SFWA has already classified it as a novel because they are a flowchart-driven people. I’m told there’s enough slop in the Hugos for FFR to qualify as a novella there, at least.)

    If there’s an award somewhere for “Best ensemble story taking place across more than 200,000 years”, though, by all means put my name in.

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  10. Yes, I thought you couldn’t be talking about Jon:

    “…I think when you came right down to it we agreed on more than he’d ever admit to, but he just really liked yanking my chain on general principles.) Half the time he was full of shit, and he knew he was full of shit, and he’d throw it against the wall anyway just to see if it would stick. Once he tried to lecture me on seal-fisheries interactions off Canada’s east coast…He pulled his argument out of his ass; I busted him; he laughed. He was far more interested in the fun of the joust than in anything so boring as winning…

    Sorry I misremembered his name. He sounded like fun. I had thought you also said he didn’t let you get away with anything in an argument, too. That always makes the battle more fun. 🙂

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  11. Oi, Peter! I didn’t know you’d published Kindred until today: I don’t even remember any fiblets from it.

    It’s great BTW. Please give me a hint on how you picked the name, Palmer…

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  12. Oge,

    Well, if you know why the story’s named “Kindred”, it should be obvious.

    If you don’t— well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to stigmatize you and leave it at that.

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  13. Peter Watts:Get yourselves sterilized. If enough of us did that (or even just the males), we could solve the problem inside a generation.

    It’s pathetic advice. The only people who’d get sterilized would be the smart, responsible, thoughtful people.

    All vocal antinatalism seems like posturing or cries for attention.

    A committed anti-natalist would take real steps to ensure less births in the future: obtain an education in medical science, engineer new diseases, such as a strain of flu that gives people cancer.

    That’s not my idea, I was talking to a medical student who mentioned a professor of his spoke about something like that, the claim was that making such a disease would be quite easy and not at all time consuming. This was at a quite prestigious EU medical school, so I don’t think the guy was talking entire nonsense.

    Personally, I believe that this is inevitable. Internet has created echo-chambers for everyone. Misanthropes in the past didn’t have places to hang out, now they do.

    The odds are, at some point some smart anti-natalist or maybe deep ecologist kid is going to take real steps and achieve historical greatness, if not the end of history.

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  14. R.: A committed anti-natalist would take real steps to ensure less births in the future: obtain an education in medical science, engineer new diseases, such as a strain of flu that gives people cancer.

    That completely misses the point of anti-natalism, in a rather stupid way. That’s terrorism.

    I agree that it can be done and that there are probably people willing to do it. But all that amounts to is an angry maladjusted loser killing others, just on a larger scale than your typical school shooting.

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