An announcement: an interview I conducted long ago with my friend Mark Von Schlegell, a great modern science fiction writer, a true intellectual of the genre, has been re-edited, supplemented, and posted over on Strange Horizons. As innocuous as this is, it’s my first formal foray into the actual, contemporary science fiction publishing world, and I’m thrilled about it.
Claire L. Evans: Donna Haraway, in “A Cyborg Manifesto,” proposes that the novel is a nineteenth century form. Do you think the novel is still relevant? If not, what is the literary form of the future?
Mark von Schlegell: The novel is still relevant; it’s the “Manifesto” that’s old news. The novel was and is the great forge of enlightenment and it was invented, so I believe, not in the nineteenth but in the early seventeenth century, in Don Quixote, a book so long it’s almost impossible for one mind to handle.
Yes, we’re at a low point today. Not only in novel writing, but in all the arts except TV. This is no reason to run about and say a particular form is dead. There have been low culture points before. Late empire Rome in its full decadence, for instance, fascist Europe, Stalinist Russia. Guess what? The larger cultures sucked. When reason, peace, and economic and social justice are on the rise, so then is the good, published, available novel. There are signs of things getting better already.
Though there’s a myth of a quickening, our lifespans are about to get incredibly long and perhaps multidimensional. The novel will have to expand if we hope to keep track and take control of what these lives might mean, into dimensions it hasn’t even realized it’s had. When space travel is the norm, long hours of flight will best be filled by long novels–longer, I think than we even imagine. Presumably, off Earth, one-third gravity will be the norm so we’ll be able actually to hold enormous books rather easily. These extreme books of the future will be extreme-length narratives constituting alternate realities and economies of their own. You can already see this happening in popular literature.