CHRISTOPHER SLATSKY IS A FREAKING GENIUS!!!
To make a long story short, Christopher Slatsky is just plain one of the best writers of weirdness on earth. If you need more detail, here is a reprint of the review I posted for his first collection on Amazon.com:
There has been a lot of game-changing weird fiction published in the past few years that has really blown the genre wide open and made fans like myself giddy with excitement. Writers like Livia Llewellyn, Matthew M. Bartlett, Sylvia Moreno Garcia, Scott Nicolay, and John Padgett (to name a few) are just KILLING it right now, and dragging weird horror into a whole new world of depth and formal experimentation.
With this first collection, ALECTRYOMANCER AND OTHER WEIRD TALES, Christopher Slatsky rises to the front ranks of writers who operate in the lands of creepy darkness. He brings a searing intelligence and stylistic fluidity uncommon in ANY writing, as well as a wild imagination that seems like it can go in any direction.
Mr. Slatsky must have some kind of anthropology or archeology background, because several of these tales concern mysterious civilizations existing on the periphery of human experience. The insect inspired religion The Drachtig from “An Infestation of Stars”, the sea-going parallel Pugwi race from “The Ocean is Eating Our Graves”, and others are intensely alien, while being grounded in rich detail that seems to have come from historical research.
“A Plague of Naked Movie Stars” (what a title!) takes place on Halloween night in the Satanic Panic-gripped 1980s, and manages to evoke that time and place, while slipping into some horrific cosmic terror. In that story, in particular, and others in the collection, Slatsky excels at adding little touches that inform the building dread while adding whole new vistas of “what the hell is going on here?”. I’m thinking in particular of the drawings the main character finds in his older sister’s desk, the conservative Christian family who, after being anti-Halloween for years, is suddenly gung ho, etc. By the end of “Naked Movie Stars”, it’s hard to know who is possibly complicit in the weirdness, which is a cool touch.
The title story is a flat-out masterpiece, and I rank it with the best pieces from this latest wave of great writers of weirdness. I’ve read it three times now, and still haven’t gotten close to the bottom of it. This is one dense, multilayered, consistently mind-boggling story that almost sounds ludicrous when you try to synopsize it. It follows Rey, a Mexican immigrant farm worker during the Great Depression, as he toils on a farm that is slowly losing its work force, mulls over photos from his past (which seems to mutate depending on his mood), reads from a bizarre book he can’t remember finding but which contains some severely bizarre stuff about Antediluvian Engines and prehistoric history, keeps seeing a horrific vision in the sky, and does cockfighting at night with his rooster, Little Cerefino. Phew. Got all that?
It is rare to find writing that feels truly TRULY weird, like something that operates outside of consensus reality, but I’ll be damned if “Alectryomancer” isn’t one of those. Seriously. Buy this book for that story alone, and you won’t be disappointed. You’ll be happy, actually, because then you have a whole other feast of great stuff.
If this is Slatsky’s first collection, I hesitate to guess what realms of strangeness he’ll venture into the future. Whatever the case, he’s got a fan for life out of me. An unbelievably strong debut.
AWESOME BONUS: Mr. Slatsky was kind enough to answer some interview questions!
Before we go any further with this interview, Mr. Slatsky, I think we need to address what is on everyone’s minds. Namely, that YOUR DAD WORKED ON THE ORIGINAL BLADE RUNNER?!??! Please explain.
[CS] It was nothing too Hollywood or sexy—my father was a set decorator for 50-years or so, starting in 1956 with Giant and ending with the first X-Files film. I didn’t really pay much attention to what he did for a living until he worked on Blade Runner. Sure, I knew he was a carpenter in the studios, did several films and successful long running shows like Rockford Files, Cagney and Lacey, and dozens of others. But Blade Runner—well, that was the real thing to this 10-year old nerd.
There were several movies he’d been involved with over the years that he never mentioned, mainly because they didn’t interest him. He was a big fan of cowboy flicks, so he’d talk about what a great time he had in New Mexico working on that notorious flop The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1979). I remember when he was on location, and we were living in Oregon, he sent us a bunch of prop arrows with rubber tips. Believe me, running around in the woods my brothers and I found ways to inflict damage against each other even with the non-lethal points. But it wasn’t until relatively recently that dad mentioned working on The Birds.
He’d no interest in Hitchcock, science fiction, horror, or much else I loved, but he worked on Land of the Lost, the Logan’s Run TV series, Blade Runner and The Birds. Many other films and TV shows. But The Birds and Blade Runner… Man, that was cool.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s move on to more pressing matters…
When I first heard about your novella “ALECTRYOMANCER”, the synopsis sounded so outlandish that I just HAD to read it. Now, after rereading it several times, I still can’t believe the combination of elements you bring together in that story. What on EARTH was the gestation of that piece like, and what was the original organizing principle for it?
“Alectryomancer” started as a Weird Western set in California, but slowly transformed as I felt the characters and setting was better suited to the Great Depression. The Weird Western has certainly grown in popularity, so moving things to the late 20s allowed me more freedom to touch upon the scoio-economic plight of Filipino and Mexican field workers of that era, as well as the stranger and more grotesque aspects of California in the 20s and 30s. “Alectryomancer” is my tip of the hat to West’s The Day of the Locust.
In the story I tried to convey that numinous awe on discovering the history of the world is unlike anything thought of before. To hint at the idea that every stage of life on this planet has been influenced by something so outlandish its revelation would be the stuff to topple religions and invent new faiths to explain it, and even then humanity would be incapable of fully comprehending the enormity of the weirdness. That was the intent anyway.
Your first collection is a real stunner, with a massive re-readability quotient. Each story is so singular yet dense, without repeating any elements. Many authors put together a “mythos” to operate under, but you never do that. I imagine it must be exhausting to create from whole cloth again and again, but is that something that drives you?
Thank you so much!
I’m not particularly interested in creating an overriding “mythos”, though I have (and will) expound on the concept(s) of Phainothropus in a novel (and touched upon it in “From a People of Strange Language”). I’m also not big on setting my stories in one location and repeatedly telling stories there (though I have referenced “Cottage Hollow” a few times, which is a thinly veiled doppelganger of Cottage Grove, Oregon, the town where I grew up). There are too many ideas and too many locations to explore, so I fear I may come across as something of a dilettante by writing about the varied things that interest me. I know my work is probably too esoteric and I’ll never be widely read, much less appear on an Ellen Datlow list or win any awards, but I write what I want to know more about, and that’s all I can do.
I’m so glad the stories have a repeat readability factor. I do intentionally write stories that reveal more and more on repeat readings. It’s likely pretentious to put it this way, but I think of storytelling as a palimpsest, each and every layer adding something new, stories buried beneath stories yet faintly peeking through here and there so every reading experience adds more meaning and raises more questions.
It becomes pretty clear after the second or third story in the book that you must have some kind of sociology, archeology, or intense history background. Either that, or you are the best faker of academic depth of all time! Which is it, and what can you tell us about it?
I’ve an anthropology background, though I never pursued it professionally.
Some authors write every day, some have daily word counts they try to hit, write only in the morning, etc. What are your writing habits like?
I wish I had an interesting answer. I’ve no pattern whatsoever. I don’t keep track of word counts. I’ll go months without writing, then hammer out a sentence or two whenever an idea strikes, morning, noon, or night. It’s really a matter of whenever I find time and I’m near a computer. The only slightly unusual writing affectation I have is that I never write notes or drafts by hand— my handwriting is too slow to keep up with my thoughts, and carpal tunnel pain means more than a paragraph of handwritten text is as much as I can handle.
Who are some influential authors and books that really changed your life? And has darker fiction always been what attracted you the most as a writer?
Though I read far more science fiction and fantasy than horror early on, I definitely preferred darker fiction overall. As a kid, authors like John Bellairs, Mervyn Peake, and Ursula K. LeGuin were profound influences. When I hit 11 or 12 I discovered Ervin Krause, Chester Himes, Shirley Jackson, Hubert Selby, Algernon Blackwood, Octavia Butler, Cormac McCarthy, Tanith Lee, Rikki Ducornet, and Charles Wileford. They opened my eyes to what was possible. During this time, and shortly after, I was captivated by everything from Jack Kirby and Chris Claremont comics, dog-eared cheap Mack Bolan novels, pulpy westerns, Raymond Chandler, Poe, Ligotti, and everything in between.
Is there any kind of conscious effect or philosophy or overall theme that your work flows from? If so, how do you see it play out in an example story?
Not consciously, though I see myself exploring notions of what is and what isn’t consciousness again and again (“No One is Sleeping in This World” would be the first example that comes to mind). I can see a subtle pattern in my stories in that the construction of the World is tenuous at best, and whatever means humanity uses to study and describe it—whether through religions, science, and philosophy or otherwise—shows that each method is deficient, incapable of fully comprehending all. The most fervent theist and the reductionist skeptic accept a basic reality, a nuts and bolts physical world. The theist believes there is more, a spirit realm that exists independently of the material world, while the skeptic accepts the complexities of life as arising from matter as emergent properties. But what if they’re both wrong? What if the very physical basis both theist and non-theist accept is a very different animal than anyone has considered? That’s what I use as a springboard for storytelling.
Do you have any upcoming projects in the hopper you’d care to share a little about?
My story “”Affirmation of the Spirit: Consciousness, Transformation, and the Fourth World in Film” will appear in Vasterian: A Literary Journal later this year or early next. A reprint of my story “Tellurian Façade” will see print again in Martian Migraine Press’ anthology Chthonic: Weird Tales of Middle Earth this December. I have a handful of stories in limbo, I’m tentatively sending out feelers regarding a second collection. I’m also knee-deep in a really long novella that may mutate into a novel. It’s set in 1979, and is about punk rock, Uri Geller, Phainothropus, psychic frauds, and the origin of human consciousness. We’ll see how it goes.
A big giant thanks to Christopher Slatsky for taking the time to visit!