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Imprint: An Interview with Paul L. Bates

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Jul 1, 2005
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Massachusetts resident Paul L. Bates sees his first published novel hit the shelves this month. "Imprint" is a rich, atmospheric tale of a future world overseen by frightening corporate cartels run by a pitiless aristocracy. The cities are warrens of confusion and fear, where the homeless are swept away on a weekly basis like so much vermin; the "Heartland," a privileged community located safely away from the crime and congestion of the city, houses society’s upper crust, but the population of the Heartland is strictly monitored and excess citizens are shed by dumping them in the city as children and then seeing how well they survive.

In this nightmare of beyond-Darwinian competition there are few sources of hope or joy; for young Wyatt, the memory of his true love, Jen, is a precious comfort, but an endangered one: the memory of Jennie, and all of Wyatt’s other missing friends, threatens daily to disappear, along with the city-dwellers’ memories of most events, especially alarming ones like suicide jumpers and gunfights in the streets. Paralleling the general tendency for memory to dissolve is Wyatt’s own unique problem, and talent: each morning, he wakens to find some portion of his anatomy reduced to cellular protoplasm, and only through intense mental discipline can he reassemble missing limbs and organs.

But while Wyatt tries to keep anyone from finding out about his unusual difficulty, the overlords of his frightening world are keeping tabs on him for sinister reasons of their own…

It’s the sort of story that sparks your natural paranoia into pure, jittery angst -- a perfect literary mirror to hold up to our crazy contemporary society. Paul L. Bates was kind enough to indulge EDGEBoston’s request for an interview.

EDGEBoston: In your novel, "Imprint," you envision a world without history, where even personal memories vanish without warning. I wonder if you see our present-day, media-saturated culture -- a culture with a short attention span -- as a forerunner for such a world.

Paul L. Bates: Yes. But probably not as you mean it. I see the "problem" as our phenomenal capacity for denial. The current media saturation gives that tendency loads of outlets. We live in a world where people are expected to have opinions on all sorts of subjects with which they are quite unfamiliar. In Imprint that saturation is taken away. Nothing to mask the denial for the downtowners. A bit more available for those uptown. And then again perhaps my own absent mindedness may play a part in that representation as well.

EDGE: It seems that your book’s central irony is how hard your main character, Wyatt, struggles to keep hold of his memories of disappeared friends as a way of preserving his own identity -- even as physically, parts of him "melt" in the night and have to be reconstituted through an act of will. The mental exercise makes Wyatt a rebel, even as the physical ability he hones for regeneration makes him invaluable to the powers that be.

Paul L. Bates: I’m not certain I understand what you are asking. I think what you mean by irony is my delight in spoofing the Yin-Yang way of perception -- that opposites are a cornerstone of reality. I suspect they are merely a way of looking at things, little more than a result of our own physical geometry, a tool for understanding situations as well as those around us more than an actual blueprint of reality.

EDGE: I get a taste now and again of A. E. van Vogt in "Imprint." Is van Vogt among your influences?

Paul L. Bates: I read "Slan" some years ago. I think we are all influenced by everything with which we come in contact. I’ve read a good deal more Ursula LeGuin and Clifford Simak, but probably take as much from sources like Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, Conan Doyle’s "Sherlock Holmes" stories, Alexandra David Neal’s wonderful 1930’s Tibetan travelogues. The true roots of "Imprint" go back to my High School English courses. We read Orwell’s "1984," Huxley’s "Brave New World," and Shute’s "On the Beach" one semester. It must have left an indelible impression on me.

EDGE: The brief bio of you in the book says that you write "slipstream fiction." What is this?

Paul L. Bates: I’m not certain who coined that term, but it refers to the blending of genres. Humans love to pigeonhole everything, so we got SF, fantasy, mystery, horror, westerns, romance. . . Then we got "subgenres," like splatter punk, psychological horror. . . Now we have slipstream. A better way to say it might be an attempt by many writers to abandon the pigeonholes, and for some to bring a literary quality to what might otherwise be considered as hack. And then there are those that just like mixing the peas with the mashed potatoes on their plate. I like the term slipstream. Has a pleasing sound.

EDGE: What are you working on currently? Do you have any plans for a second

Paul L. Bates: "Imprint" was actually my seventh novel, although it is the first to be published. I’ve written two more since then, including a prequel/sequel/parallel story chronicling the same events alternately through the eyes of Walter and Jennie. It’s called "Dreamer," at least as a working title. Walter is an idealist, whose "dreams" are peeled away layer by layer. Jennie sees little or no difference between her dream and waking realities -- uses them to bolster and influence each other. Their stories are intertwined. I’m polishing the final draft now. Hopefully there will be a demand for it. . .

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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