999 edited by Al Sarrantonio
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A Conversation With Chet Williamson
An interview with Lisa DuMond
August 1999

Chet Williamson
Chet Williamson
Chet Williamson was born in 1948 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania, receiving a B.S. in 1970, and went on to be a teacher at public schools in Cleveland, Ohio, then he became a professional actor before becoming a freelance writer in 1986. His earlier novels include Second Chance, an ecological thriller/romance, Ash Wednesday, Reign and Dreamthorp.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Searchers, Book One: City of Iron

The Searchers, Book One
Murder at Cormyr
Clash By Night

Other SF Site Interviews
F. Paul Wilson
Tim Powers
Michael Marshall Smith
Thomas F. Monteleone
P.D. Cacek
David Morrell
Chet Williamson
Ed Bryant

999 Review
999 Table of Contents

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Your contribution to 999 "Excerpts from the Records of the New Zodiac and the Diaries of Henry Watson Fairfax" bears, among others, two distinctions: certainly the lengthiest title in the anthology, and the only turn-of-the-century tale to boast flashbacks and a few flash-sideways in its millennium madness. Is this brand of lunacy going to run rampant every time humans pass another milestone in time?
No. Milestones in time have nothing to do with greed and the lust for power. These things are eternal. All that changes is the way in which power is exercised and greed is channeled.

Your rather dubious hero in this story finds himself waxing nostalgic about the good old days at the end of the nineteenth century, but is it safe to say he got a few of the details wrong? Or at least the spirit of the thing?
Actually, my feeling is that Fairfax got the spirit right. His attempt to restore what he could of civility to an ever more incivil world was admirable, but once he realized that such an attempt was impossible, at least among those he enlisted for his little project, he had no choice but to become a more subtle (and more lethal) part of that same incivility. One might think that he was better prepared for it than most of his dining partners, absolute business savagery having been in both his genes and his upbringing, despite his memories to the contrary.

Is society less civilised than it was in the 1800s? Do people ever really change?
If certain elements have their way, the clock will be turned back to the previous fin de siècle, with the rich ever richer, and the poor ever poorer. We're no more "civilized" than we were then, but today our politicians (among whom I include certain commentators, clerics, and a wide variety of others pushing their backward-looking positions) seem to rationalize their greed far better.

If you can find a "winner" in this tale, it would have to be Fairfax, in what has to be one of the most extreme examples of survival of the fittest. Would you give the "bad guy" the edge in most situations?
Not necessarily. I'm still idealistic enough to believe that the good can ultimately triumph. Fairfax happens to triumph because he is more skilful than the others and less of a fool. But he is, at the end, left totally alone. So it's up to each reader to decide how great his "triumph" really is.

Fighting dirty would have to be an advantage in a white-glove society such as the one in "Excerpts from the Records of the New Zodiac and the Diaries of Henry Watson Fairfax." But is the result a more evolved creature?
Although Fairfax wishes he lived in a white glove society, he quickly sees that this is not the case. I think I would call the members of the New Zodiac the result of devolution rather than evolution, and those "white gloves" are rather distastefully stained with red.

In this story, you break one of the most basic taboos in the "civilised" world, but you do it in such a tasteful way. Do you think that the prim and well-bred background intensifies the horrific effect?
I would hope so. That's certainly the effect I was striving for. I enjoy a mixture of gentility and terror. I've always felt that you can write about absolutely anything if you write about it "tastefully," and often that makes it all the more terrible.

Would you think we could, well... expect more from a level of society with so many advantages?
Not in the least. Privilege and advantage are not necessarily breeding grounds for nobility. More often than not, the contrary seems to occur.

When you think about it, is the result in your story really so far-fetched based on the competition among businesses right now?
No, it's not all that far-fetched. Hundreds of companies (including publishers) have cannibalized each other in recent years, a practice that will only increase and intensify in its feeding frenzy.

What do you think? Henry Watson Fairfax... sick and twisted, or just plain twisted?
Fairfax simply takes advantage of the situations offered him, even though he might not have foreseen those situations at the start. In this, he is a consummate businessman. Because of this quality of his, I think this story should be required reading for all MBAs.

What was it about this anthology that prompted the creation of the New Zodiac?
I had long wanted to write a piece about the original Zodiac, and looking toward the next century made me realize that it was a New Zodiac whose story I really wanted to tell.

Is an open policy more stimulating to your own storytelling? Or are you more intrigued by a somewhat rigid framework, where each piece is interlinked, such as in Freak Show?
I've written a good number of theme stories and enjoyed them, since there is a real sense of collaboration that does not often come to writers, who are used to working alone. But I've found that the stories with which I'm most pleased are ones where the theme is very loose, not dependent on a certain character or situation. Such was the case here, in which the imagination can have a wider roam, not proscribed by given settings or characters.

Did you intentionally play off the almost unconscious fear that has attached itself to that word since the time of the Zodiac murders?
The Zodiac killings had nothing to do with this story. The Zodiac Dining Club was a reality all on its own, so I had no conscious (or unconscious, as nearly as I know) connection to a tawdry serial killing. This was murder as a gustatorial art, not as a sexual release (if that was indeed the motive behind the Zodiac killings -- my knowledge of them doesn't even go that far).

In a way, because the Zodiac killer was never captured, the fear has no face to put on it. Your gentlemen's club proves there is no set profile to produce murder. Which is worse? The threat you easily recognise? Or the one you never see coming?
The unexpected, of course. Always the unexpected. As we'll all find out sooner or later.

Copyright © 1999 Lisa DuMond

Lisa DuMond writes science fiction and humour. She co-authored the 45th anniversary issue cover of MAD Magazine. Previews of her latest, as yet unpublished, novel are available at Hades Online.


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