Interview: Tim Sullivan on "The Nocturnal Adventure of Dr. O and Mr. D"
Tim Sullivan–author of "The Nocturnal Adventure of Dr. O and Mr. D," which appears in our April 2008 issue–said in an interview that the story came to him when he woke up one morning with the idea of two of his personal heroes meeting in some nether world. "I jotted it down on a pad I keep under the lamp on the night stand and started writing the story that same day, after a long dry spell," Sullivan said.
In the story, a writer, Mr. D, is staying at a musician’s house; one foggy night, the musician, Dr. O, becomes restive and the two men go for a walk. "A cat named Krishna goes with them," Sullivan said. "They visit a neighbor, an amateur artist named Doris. The three have drinks and share a few laughs, but eventually the mood becomes serious, and they talk about their most deeply held beliefs. This darker conversational turn culminates with the musician bluntly stating that they’re all dead. The writer’s not so sure, and thinks that they may be living in an alternate reality that can be explained by science, but Dr. O insists that he remembers dying. Their host remembers her death as well. She becomes upset, and the musician apologizes to her. After comforting Doris, the two men leave the house, and follow Krishna deeper into the fog rather than returning to the musician’s house."
Mr. D. is a deceased science fiction writer who has grown remarkably famous since he’s been living in this other reality, where he can’t reap any material benefits from his fame. "While he’s aware of this, he’s indifferent to the exploitation of his reputation," Sullivan said. "He’s more interested in ideas than anything else—in getting at the truth of things, no matter how complex."
Dr. O, meanwhile, is a famous rock star who was murdered at the age of forty. "The identities of the real people these two characters are based on will come as a surprise to no one," Sullivan said. "Doris is like a lot of us, trying to get through things in a creative way, even if we don’t set the world on fire with our projects."
Apart from Sullivan’s admiration for these two men, the story expresses his ambivalence about the concept of an afterlife. "I’m inclined to believe there isn’t any, that the supernatural doesn’t exist, but I’d like to think there may ultimately be some rationale for it, perhaps explained through physics," he said. "My mother passed away after a long illness a couple of years ago. I was there at the end and saw the woman who gave birth to me die. If that doesn’t start you thinking about what it all means, I don’t know what will."
As research for the story, Sullivan read a book on String Theory by Brian Greene. "[It’s] probably the same one everybody who can’t do the math has read, and I’d been doing some reading about Christianity, Judaism, and Islam by historian Karen Armstrong," Sullivan said. "Greene and Armstrong are both great at popularizing their disciplines, much as the late Isaac Asimov was."
The Catholic Church’s recent decision to abolish Limbo enters into it, as well. "Our two friends are in a sort of Limbo, whether of their own making or not," Sullivan said. "The rest is just information I’ve picked up over the years about science, mysticism, and the lives of these two great men."
Sullivan has another story in inventory at F&SF, a hard science novelette called "Planetesimal Dawn." He’s currently working on a historical novel about a Greek in the third century BCE who makes a journey to India, as well as a couple new short pieces, "Star-Crossed" and "Way Down East."
Sullivan had a bit more to say about "The Nocturnal Adventure of Dr. O and Mr. D," but if you don’t want to go into the story not knowing who Mr. D. and Dr. O. are, then wait to read the following until after you’ve read the story.
Sullivan said that we’re fortunate that Mr. D.–Philip K. Dick–was such a prolific writer. "Even if the prodigious rate at which he produced his large oeuvre made his work stylistically uneven, his ideas were always first rate, and his gentle sense of humor appeals to me very much," he said. "The first novel of his I ever read was Clans of the Alphane Moon, with a cover by Ed Valigursky. I’d read a bit of his short fiction, but I was knocked out by the comedy and unpredictable plot. The underlying sincerity was what really made it work, though. Lord Running Clam is the only Ganymedean slime mold I’ve ever shed a tear for. I’ve read most of Dick’s novels, but that’s still a favorite of mine, even though I’m aware of its shortcomings.
The musician Dr. O–or Dr. Winston O’Boogie–is John Lennon. "The more I’ve read about John Lennon, the more touched I am by what happened to him," Sullivan said. "He was a driven man, and he could be quite unpleasant at times, but once he attained the fame he’d striven for, he tried to do something good with it. Not that he always succeeded, but making a fool of himself seemed to be the least of his worries. He took on the big issues head first, and in the end that was probably what cost him his life. I admire his fearlessness as much as his great talent. And he was a funny guy, too, like Philip K. Dick."
Sullivan said that if he’d ever met either of these men, he probably wouldn’t have written this story. "This is my fantasy about them," he said.
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