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Interview: Geoff Ryman on “This Constant Narrowing”

Tell us a bit about “This Constant Narrowing.”

It’s a sick sick story for a sick, sick age.  At its best it’s kind of a nightmare suspense story, with a lot of violence and a man in ‘the woman in peril’ role. It also glances at how extraordinary pornography is in the age of the internet as a social barometer, and the mystery of how hatred, self-hatred, and sexual violence keeps adapting to new forms, new rhetorics.

At its worst it’s an old man’s unease with how in the end identity politics requires time, intelligence, constant work, policing by weary volunteers—a worry that we are retreating into smaller and smaller packets of power.  I miss a grand unifying theory.  I miss a vision of the greater good for all, that ‘I have a dream stuff’.  Right now a lot of people quite rightly don’t trust those easy messages of unity or Rainbow Nation.


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


Also way back when there was a writer called Philip Wylie.  He was everywhere—you could buy him in drugstore circular racks right next to James Bond.

Drugstore circular racks were my education.  I was stuck out in the sticks—Meadowvale, Ontario and then Los Angeles, and Los Angeles for all its huge population is as far from civilization as Algonquin Park. Only it’s a decision, not down to distance.

Anyway.  In those racks, I found Tolkien, ER Eddison, THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION, TOTEMPOLE (a great novel about being gay at a time when it took true courage to even buy it in public) and James Baldwin my favourite writer growing up—all of them in drugstores, as if this was popular stuff.  Maybe publishers in those days just didn’t know what they were doing. Or maybe people had more time for extended printed narrative.

Philip Wylie co-wrote WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, a HUGE popular SF novel, as big as Neil Gaiman is now—a not-inconsiderable movie was made out of it.  He wrote GENERATION OF VIPERS a socio-political diatribe that I read in one gulp at twelve, introducing me to the heady delights of political rage.

And he wrote a forgotten novel called THE DISAPPEARANCE, in which women disappear from men’s world and vice versa. This was when we thought there were maybe 100 gay people in the USA and they all deserved jail sentences or possibly some kind of injection. Wylie’s drugstore novel was about the first time I read about transvestite men having sex with men, or nice married ladies exploring their lesbian side. Unbelievably exciting.

For me the fate of THE DISAPPEARANCE, or so many monumental books or features from my childhood, is a constant reminder of the maw of history, how it swallows all.

I was aware of THE DISAPPEARNCE when I wrote this.  I think this story came first.  But then I advised myself during the writing, acknowledge this, Geoff—this is an update of THE DISAPPEARANCE.

THE DISAPPEARANCE is about relationship between genders from a world which assumed the universality of gender.  This is a bit more about how it feels like we are all be separated, cut up into smaller and smaller groups.


Was this story personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Have I been shot, no.  Have I been sexually abused?  In a complicated fashion yes.  In 2016 to 2017 for about a year I was in a physically abusive relationship. The worst of it is that I have pretty much internalized it and now feel I kind of made it happen. Which is pretty diagnostic in itself but it’s also true that I have to own what happened.

The character of Tyrone is pretty much someone I knew in the USA with some aspects re-worked to give him more courage and nobility. In reality, life in the USA was wrecking him.  He got out of Oceanside and seems to be in Colorado now.  Here’s hoping.


Was there any aspect of “This Constant Narrowing” that you found difficult to write?

Oh no, it was a delight, a bit like writing say, Paddington or Winnie the Pooh. Otherwise, I would say that Harry Potter is an obvious inspiration. J


Why do you write?

A desire for fame and fortune.  Really.

I come from a distant planet in which more writers could make something like a living in the middle list.  I’m an arrogant writer, and it simply didn’t get how much readers deserve to have fun. I was not clearheaded enough to see that heady praise from the small world of 80s fandom would not translate into sales or social impact.


What would you want a reader to take away from this story?

A cheap thrill. Something that screens in their heads a bit like a black-and-white film noir.  I only wish Ida Lupino could play Gregorio.

And perhaps a thought that it might be a good idea to really connect with someone.


Anything else you’d like to add?

I wish I believed in goodness.  No scratch that.  I do believe in goodness and try to be good.  So the truth might be formulated as being closer to, ‘I  wish I didn’t believe in goodness.’  Then I could just sit back and watch the show or be a hard headed politico.

The trigger warnings were added by me not by F&SF and are sincerely meant to warn.  It’s not a good story for someone who has been stalked or abused.


“This Constant Narrowing” appears in the November/December 2018 issue of F&SF.

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