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Interview: Hanuš Seiner, and story translator Julie Novakova, on “The Iconoclasma”

Questions for the Author, Hanuš Seiner:

What was the inspiration for “The Iconoclasma,” or what prompted you to write it?

I have always found it interesting that so many new technologies are accompanied by concerns about – or even fears of – their possible impacts, be it nuclear power, GMOs, or reproductive cloning. I tried to create a world where such a fear is turned into something real. And humankind needs to learn how to fight this fear to be able to use the technology.  But is the fear then just a reaction of the society, or does it become an inherent part of the technology? There were several intriguing questions coming out from the main idea.


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

I write so sparsely that each story is kind of personal to me. So the answer is most likely yes, but it is hard to recall how, because I wrote this story more than six years ago.


Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “The Iconoclasma?”

I have never done anything like real research when writing a story. But I read a lot of scientific and popular science stuff due to my job, or just for fun, and I also often visit lectures from different fields of physics and math. If something sticks in my memory, I can use it later in my writing. Some ideas are waiting there for years. Some will stay there forever.


What was the most difficult aspect of writing this story, and what was the most fun?

The most fun for me were the most hard-SF parts, those lengthy world-building info-dumps that the readers will probably not enjoy that much. And the most difficult? I hate dialogues, honestly. Both reading them and writing them. My secret dream is to write a novel completely free of dialogues. No one will probably want to read it….


Why do you write?

That is something I would like to know too. It is a time-consuming and not very rewarding free-time activity. Some authors say that they write to relax, but I struggle a lot with every sentence and every paragraph. So it remains a mystery, I would say.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

I am a passionate reader, even though I do not have so much time for reading now, and I would say that every good book I read influenced somehow my writing. So it is hard to pick few authors as my influences. But definitely one of them would be John Fowles, who I consider as one of the most original minds in the 20th century literature. The others could be David Mitchell, Don DeLillo, Stefan Zweig, or Roberto Bolano. Surprisingly, it is more difficult for me to name some science fiction authors that influence my writing. I love reading Cordwainer Smith’s or Howard Waldrop’s short stories, but don’t feel this is anyhow reflected in my own writing. Maybe Ted Chiang, who I adore for some perfectionism in his stories.


Questions for the translator, Julie Novakova:

Tell us a bit about “The Iconoclasma.”

It’s an intriguing mix of science fantasy, space opera, and hard SF – and if you think that’s an impossible combination, go read the story! I loved the idea of the world of topology being alive and both captivating and dangerous. Its depictions are complex and drew me deeper into the story, a gripping tale of survival and ingenuity under pressure. I do love good space opera as well as fresh ideas, and this story delivered both in my opinion.


What can you tell us about the author of the story, Hanuš Seiner?

The first story I read by Hanuš was “Hexagrammaton”, published in Czech in an anthology of winners of the Karel Čapek Prize contest 2013, and I was immediately hooked. I absolutely loved the story, and I regretted that it didn’t exist in other languages so that more readers could read this gem (at that time, I was just starting to write in English and wouldn’t have dreamed about translating other authors; three years later, I translated the story and it was published by “The Iconoclasma” was the next story of his that I encountered, and I loved it too. When I was preparing my anthology of transhumanist stories, I solicited a story from Hanuš. That was “Terra Nullius”, which became the anthology’s titular story and which I later translated for Strange Horizons. I met Hanuš in person only once, at the anthology’s book launch. However, I’m always eager to read a new story of his (if only he wrote more!).


In addition to working as a translator of Czech fiction, you are an author in your own right.  How do you find these two activities influence each other?

They’re mutually time-consuming, of course – but they can inspire each other. Writing came first; I started publishing stories when I was about fifteen, and my first novel was published when I was seventeen. I started writing in English in 2013, and eventually I felt confident enough to try translation – first my own stories, then other authors. As a translator, I pick what I translate, and I’m very selective. Hanuš’s style and themes just click with me. However, I have also translated a classic space opera story, a horror, a historical story, and I’m working on a cozy gaslamp fantasy. Their authors either already have published something in English, or are on the best way to do so. Translations help me use more different voices when writing in English, and I can always take a break from writing and translate a bit, and vice versa.


There is a strong tradition of Czech science fiction in the 20th century.  What is your evaluation of Czech science fiction in the 21st century?

It still thrives. There are perhaps fewer “big names”, but only because its scope has widened and diversified, just like elsewhere (not that it hadn’t been diverse theme-wise before). I’d like to see more current Czech authors translated into English. Writers such as Jan Kotouč, Tomáš Petrásek or Lucie Lukačovičová are actively working on it; others don’t write in English or translate, but their work would merit translation (certainly Vilma Kadlečková, Karolina Francová, Jan Hlávka and Jana Vybíralová and many others). I’d like to point readers who want to familiarize themselves with up-to-date Czech SF to my anthology Dreams From Beyond (free for download as an e-book here, paperback for sale here – ships worldwide) and this roundtable discussion in Mithila Review, where a reprint of Jaroslav Mostecký’s thrilling story “Axes on Viola” also appeared. What I can say now is: there will be more!

“The Iconoclasma” appears in the November/December 2018 issue of F&SF.

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