In a very short time Lavie Tidhar has shown himself not only as a major talent, but an author unafraid to change genres and styles faster than some people change pants. I’ve never been less than amazed at his tales, and with the astonishing one-two donkeypunch of Osama (2011), and The Violent Century (2013) Tidhar has moved himself to the big times, and it is thus very surprising he’d bother with an interview with the low-rent likes of me.
Lavie Tidhar is the World Fantasy Award winning author of Osama (2011), and The Violent Century (2013) in addition to many other works and several awards. He works across genres, combining detective and thriller modes with poetry, science fiction and historical and autobiographical material. His work has been compared to that of Philip K. Dick by the Guardian and the Financial Times, and to Kurt Vonnegut’s by Locus.
It’s a soaring post-modernist existential noir examination of the Nietzschean concept of the Übermensch.
Now, as a movie pitch.
Now an episode of Torchwood.
Drugs. Someone dies. Bit of sex. The usual!
Since I read your 2009 novel The Tel Aviv Dossier (with Nir Yaniv), you’ve published (according to the mighty fount of all knowledge that is Wikipedia) five novels, four novellas, a collection, and a metric tonne of individual stories. Why the rush? Are you in danger? Blink twice for yes.
I can’t keep track. Wait. Let me check.
I think it’s more like 8 novels. And the 9th is coming out in the UK in October. (7 in English, one – that I don’t expect you to know about – is a Hebrew novel with, again, Nir Yaniv, a murder mystery set in a science fiction convention. We thought it was funny).
I would blink but my eyes are permanently nailed open the better for me to see the horror.
The Violent Century filters the past 100 years through a superhero filter. What were you hoping to achieve through this framework?
I was hoping to get a film deal. So far, my brilliant plan did not work! (though there’s been interest and a producer bought me lunch once. Which was nice).
Unlike the Ka-pow! Wham! Flornk! of most superhero stories, The Violent Century is quiet and brimming with dark noir. Is this commentary on stereotypical British reserve? Or the colourful fascism of the American hero?
I don’t really care for superheroes, but I wanted to look at both the historical roots of the concept (from Jewish first-generation American writers in the shadow of the Second World War, which is a major obsession of mine) and I was sort of fascinated by just why it has such an enduring power, to the point that it’s become a massive industry. Something obviously resonates with people, and that interested me enough to try and explore it – as long as I thought I had something new to say.
What with superhero movies becoming incredibly popular of late, will people burn out on the differently gifted? How can it be kept fresh?
They could hire me to write one…
You’ve genre-jumped quite a bit in your books, from steampunk to Hebrewpunk to superheroes to private detectives. Who (or what) are your influences?
It used to be soft drugs but now it’s mainly alcohol – oh, sorry, that’s not what you meant by influences.
You know, pretty much everything. But what fascinates me is pulp. Marginal fiction, cheap paperbacks, lurid covers, ludicrous plots. I am interested in what’s written in the margins of literature.
A lot of true-life characters show up in your works (i.e. Alan Turing in Century: Jules Verne, Harry Houdini, MANY others in The Bookman Histories). What’s your process for incorporating historical characters? Do you fear blowback from relatives?
My relatives, or theirs?
Same question, but for characters created by others (i.e. Mycroft Holmes, Abraham Van Helsing).
I once did an art class at university – I was terrible at it. They made us do collages and I just – I was awful, and the teacher looked at me in a sort of horrified fascination – I clearly had no talent at all!
Anyway, using fictional or historical characters is sort of like doing a collage. Only I hope I’m a little better at it when it comes to fiction. Does that make sense?
What’s next for Lavie?
My next novel, A Man Lies Dreaming, comes out in the UK (and Canada! And Australia! And so on!) in October. It’s – to be honest, I’m surprised I wrote something as good as that, am quite aware that I’ll probably never manage to pull that off again, and intend to retire and live in penury somewhere.
It’s about a Yiddish pulp writer in Auschwitz who is dreaming a hardboiled detective novel featuring a certain German dictator fallen from grace who is now a private eye.
I could start going on about Hitler’s weird sex life at this point, but I’ll spare you! It’s all in the book anyway.