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By Patrick (2007-05-16)
Q: The advance praise for Black Man/Thirteen has generated quite a buzz among SFF fans. Without giving anything away, what can you tell your readers about this new novel?
Black Man is set in the aftermath of a century of ill-advised and poorly regulated genetic experimentation, where an otherwise fairly successful global (and extra-global) community is struggling to come to terms with the legacy of the human damage done over the previous hundred years. I suppose you could draw a parallel with the way in which we now struggle with the human consequences of previous centuries of colonialism. Carl Marsalis, the black man of the title is one of a series of engineered humans, in his case engineered for combat, who have been modified not so much in any physical aspect as in the way they think and feel. Itís a specialism based on designed aptitude, and the book aims to show, among other things, that the aptitudes required or desired by our society are often very frightening things. In tone, Black Man is quite similar to my Kovacs novels, in that itís a fairly high velocity crime-and-conspiracy thriller with a noirish lack of obvious good or bad guys Ė but the book addresses issues that the Kovacs series could only ever really meet obliquely because of the sleeving technology. Simply put, in the Kovacs universe physicality and death are problems that can be sidestepped. In the world of Black Man, as in our own, they arenít. You have to meet them head on.
Q: The title change from Black Man to Thirteen for the US market suggests that the USA is still very sensitive to any fiction - even from the SF&F corner of the market - that addresses racial and political issues about the state of the country. How do you feel about the book being changed in this way?
To be honest, Iím not too fussed. Thirteen is a pretty solid thematic summary of the book in its own way, and Black Man wasnít in any case the original title I had in mind Ė though I do think itís very powerful in a way that Thirteen maybe isnít. In more general terms, I think itís a shame Del Rey have to worry that the title of a book alone will spark an instant negative response, rather than trust that people will read the book and then judge Ė but then again, theyíre at the sharp end, culturally, and Iím not, so it seems reasonable to be guided by their sense of things. In Europe, the titles of my books are very rarely a direct translation of the original English, and I donít get upset about that, so it seems a little churlish to start throwing fits about this. The content of Black Man hasnít changed from one edition to the other, and obviously thatís what really counts.
Q: I was lucky enough to hear you do a reading from Black Man/Thirteen a couple of summers ago in New York City. Has time blurred my memory, or is the finished product completely different than that previous incarnation? And if so, how did the tale change in the telling?
No, the reading I gave was taken from the chapter introducing us to the character of Sevgi Ertekin, and itís substantially the same in the finished book as it was then. A bit more stylistically polished, maybe, but otherwise unchanged.