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Interview: Lavie Tidhar on “The Vanishing Kind”

Tell us a bit about “The Vanishing Kind.”

It’s a noir novella, set a few years after the end of a Second World War when the Nazis are rebuilding London, and concerns the arrival of an ex-soldier and screenwriter in the city who is searching for a missing ex-flame. It was fun to write – admittedly my sense of “fun” is a bit messed up, especially as it comes after writing a novel – A Man Lies Dreaming – where Adolf Hitler is a disgraced private detective, but there you go! I’m really happy with it, though. It felt important to write.


What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I guess it was sort of the opposite of what I was doing in A Man Lies Dreaming, where Hitler never came to power. Really I had the strong visual image first, and the idea floating around for a long time before I actually sat down to write it. Once I finally did it went very fast, surprisingly so for me. I find it really interesting to combine the sort of grubby, minor – almost domestic, I suppose – concerns of noir fiction with some sort of an alternate history background, and how they tie together. Sort of an opportunity to look at historical processes through a focused lens – the little details, not the big picture, if that makes sense. And it was a relief to finally get it out after all that time it’s been nagging me.


Could you tell us at all about the other books you have published recently – A Man Lies Dreaming; Art & War: Poetry, Pulp and Politics in Israeli Fiction; Central Station.

So I talked a bit above about A Man Lies Dreaming, obviously – sort of a metafictional noir alternate history novel about a pulp writer in Auschwitz who *may* be dreaming the sordid noir adventures of “Wolf”, a German detective on the streets of London that is fast filling up with refugees – and the political backlash that results from that. Frighteningly prophetic, in hindsight. But the mood was there all along, of course. It was hard not to tap into it. Weirdly, it feels as contemporary for the US right now as it did for the UK. But to me, to be honest, it’s a sort of black comedy, the novel. I think humour is really important in underlying the real darkness. It’s out now in the US from Melville House in hardcover.

Central Station’s almost the exact opposite of that. It’s a project I’ve worked on for several years – individual chapters were published in magazines like Interzone and Analog – not F&SF, alas! – and it’s much more of a quiet character study, set in a future Tel Aviv, at the base of a Cordwainer Smith-like spaceport. It’s that sort of Golden Age future, in a way – bright and optimistic – we didn’t kill ourselves or the planet! – but people just get on with their lives like they always did. Also, I suspect it includes science fiction’s only circumcision-performed-by-a-robot scene, so there’s that if nothing else! That’s out from Tachyon right now.

Art & War is my first non-fiction book, a book-length conversation my friend, the author and poet Shimon Adaf. We discuss quite a wide variety of things, including science fiction – I consider Shimon’s novel, Kfor (“Frost”, not, sadly, translated into English) a genuine masterpiece and it’s had a huge influence on my own work. The book also comes with two short stories that were themselves written in dialogue. I was very happy we got the opportunity to write it! That’s put out by Repeater Books, which is a sort of very cool counterculture imprint put out by the same publisher as Angry Robot.


Where do you see “The Vanishing Kind” in relation to the cannon of “what if Germany had won the war?” speculative fiction?

I haven’t thought of it that much, as I usually have fairly little interest in “Hitler Won” stories – though I’m a big fan of PKD’s The Man In The High Castle, of course. It was a bit of a surprise for me to write one! (The novel, as I mentioned, is a “Hitler Lost” novel, which is a far rarer variation in speculative fiction, for obvious reasons…). In a way it’s a challenge – it’s combining two different genres, the noir story on the one hand and the speculative element on the other, and throwing in my otherwise sort of always there metafictional elements and the political angle, so quite a lot to juggle, I suppose. None of my works belong solely in one genre, so I guess it depends on the readers to decide.


What are you working on now?

I tend to work on multiple things at once – at the moment I’m playing with my take on the Western novel, and my take on a “horror” novel, I guess you could say, plus another work of pure science fiction which will kind of take a different tack to Central Station, and hopefully explore a few things we rarely see in the genre at the moment. We’ll see! With regards to what my next published novel will be, I couldn’t currently tell you, but I’m pretty excited about it.

I’ve also got a bunch of stories coming out, including a novelette at (which is sort of my take on space opera!) and another in Gardner Dozois’ new anthology, The Book of Swords. I hope, one day, I’ll also get to sleep!


“The Vanishing Kind” appears in the July/August 2016 issue of F&SF.

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