Ryan Boudinot is something of an expert when it comes to the end of the world. He writes slipstream science fiction with the detail and authority of a journalist reporting facts; and his latest novel, Blueprints of the Afterlife, shows a hyperstylized future when a sentient glacier and her polar bears destroy wide swaths of North America. It's a post-apocalyptic haze full of dark humor and clones.
This dystopia, in a way, is an afterlife—a future similar to the one Boudinot will depict when he reads from a new work this Friday at Hugo House. In the latest installment of the Hugo Literary Series, Ya Gotta Believe!, three local authors and a Seattle musician will tackle the topic of faith and higher powers with original work. Don’t expect any strict biblical interpretations.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation we talked to Boudinot about grunge music, America’s fascination with the apocalypse, and his favorite local writers.
Why do you think people have such a fascination with the apocalypse and post-apocalyptic settings?
I think apocalyptic literature is appealing because it psychologically promises to fix all your problems in one fell swoop. We sort of picture the apocalyptic scenarios and then we imagine that we would be the exceptions; we would be the ones that, for whatever reason, survive. The idea of surviving and starting off fresh, I think, is something that’s sort of particularly American. I think a lot of the people who came to the United States wanted to come to a place where they could just start out anew. And since we’ve run out of places where you can escape to, the only answer would seem to be to destroy 99 percent of the population and survive in a post-apocalyptic world. I think it’s a yearning for rebirth and it also sort of flatters our sense that, for some reason, we as individuals would be the ones who survive, where all the people who annoy us would end up dying painfully.
I’ve always been interested in the egotism of an apocalypse. Take the 2012 Mayan apocalypse, for example. It's the egotism to think that the world has been around for so long, but it has to end in my lifetime.
Right. We’ve been predicting the end of the world as long as there’s been predictions, and it hasn’t panned out.
What are some of the non-literary influences on your writing voice?
Music is a big one. I was in my early twneties when the whole grunge thing went down, so that was sort of perfect timing for me. It wasn’t so much the sound that was influential, but the spirit of acceptance of people trying lots of different kinds of things. I mean, there were a few bands that got huge and famous, but among them there were tons of other bands that toiled in obscurity that were trying these crazy, fun, inventive musical experiments.
Film is another area that has influenced me. For a while, I worked at Amazon and I was the DVD editor there, so I sort of had a crash course in art house and international film.
Who are the local up-and-coming writers you think people should really know?
There are a bunch. Matthew Simmons is fantastic. Stacey Levine. Brian McGuigan, most people know him as the guy who runs a lot of things, including the Literary Series at Hugo House; he is an incredibly gifted poet in his own right. Matthew Briggs, Peter Mountford, Nicole Hardy, Tara Hardy as well. There’s a lot of great writers in this city.
Matthew Simmons and Stacey Levine both have a sort of devotion to nonrealism that I really like. I love fiction about things that couldn’t conceivably happen and I love fiction that’s language driven. And Matthew and Stacey kind of exemplify that for me.
Is there a book or two from this year that you think people should check out?
The two that I’ve read recently are the D.T. Max biography of David Foster Wallace [Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story]. And then this book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline [Ed note: This came out in 2011]. Ready Player One is this science-fiction novel that I noticed a lot of booksellers at Elliott Bay Book Company were writing staff recs for. I read it and completely felt enthralled and loved it. It was one the most fun reads I’ve had in a long time.
Ya Gotta Believe!
Nov 16 at 7:30, Hugo House, $25