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Interview: Lavie Tidhar on “New Atlantis”

Lavie TidharTell us a bit about “New Atlantis.”

“New Atlantis” is a novella set in what I call the Land, a sort of post-apocalyptic utopia where the few survivors of the climate change collapse now live in harmony with their environment – but can still be kind of obsessed with the old world and its excesses! I’ve been writing stories about Mai and the Land for a while now – one of them is “The Buried Giant” in Robots vs Fairies, which is also in a bunch of the Year’s Bests anthologies, and there’s a new one, “Svalbard,” coming out as a sort of interactive/puzzle thing online soon!

“New Atlantis” came out of a very specific request I had, and so one of the nice things is that it deals with a bunch of scientific concepts that are interesting to me – from solar power and hydroponics to immersive digital realities. It was a lot of fun to write, anyhow…


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

The original inspiration came when I was a guest on a writing retreat in Korea. I was exposed to the work of Pak Kyongni, who founded the retreat – she is a highly important Korean writer in the realist mode, but I was hugely inspired by her work and her ideas and I wanted to echo that in some sense. Hence the Land (from her work, Toji), but with a science fictional lens.

I’ve done a handful of stories about the younger Mai (the heroine of the story) and then I got a request to do something novella-sized and jumped on the opportunity to revisit the Land and Mai when she’s older. The original project kind of fell through eventually, but I was very lucky that F&SF took the novella. And I love the cover!


Was “New Atlantis” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

What happened was that when Central Station came out, and which I did not expect at all, it was kind of embraced by people in Silicon Valley. Supposedly it was this “good” future because we didn’t kill ourselves and went on to the moon and Mars – and I just went, Hold on a minute! You know, this was a novel, it wasn’t… So I thought, I really have to write something about how that future’s probably not going to happen. But I also didn’t want to write a freaking dystopia! So I went for – ok, so climate change happened and most people maybe died, but those who survived finally got it. It’s about people finally realising they’re not that important, maybe. So that’s kind of personal. I admire the Extinction Rebellion people and so on, but I’m not much of a protester – but I figure I can try and do things in fiction. Only my contention is that maybe people really aren’t that important and, like in Clifford Simak’s City, maybe the species that will finally rise will be the ants… I rather like ants!


Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for this story?

So much! A lot of the science mentioned in the story is real or at the very least theoretical, but from time to time I had to go into full science fiction mode or I’d get bored. It was fun writing about sustainability, which I don’t think gets much thrift in science fiction. “Boring” stuff like solar power and agriculture and conservation… I researched everything from current models of sustainable agriculture to cutting-edge memory storage and accessibility tech. Because of the way this project started originally, I had to make sure the tech/science were based in real-world applications. So even for the more out-there stuff, like the VR vaults stuff, I had to literally develop a whole methodology and terminology based on current research. It was fun!


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

It was fairly easy to write I think. And I enjoy the research, and I like the characters. Some stories/novels are a nightmare to write, and some just come out, and you can never really tell which it’s going to be. This one was easy.


Why do you write?

I get to work in my pyjamas and never talk to people… That’s a big part of the attraction! Also, you know, to hopefully change the world, obviously.

Changing the world in my pyjamas. That sounds pretty good.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

Too many to list! I’m a big fan of Cordwainer Smith and Roger Zelazny, Clifford Simak… sort of old-school, mid-60s sci fi. But I’m a bit of a magpie. I steal from Spanish crime writers or Hebrew literary fiction or just, you know, poetry as much as I can. T.S. Eliot’s a huge influence – as it happens I pass his old flat (where he wrote and where he eventually died) quite often! (It’s also a pokestop now…).


What are you working on now?

I just finished a pretty giant novel! So that will hopefully be out in 2020, along with another new novel – I never quite know! And I just got back from a convention in Japan, which was amazing. So as I type this I’m hoping to just finish a short story or two and work out where I go next…


“New Atlantis” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

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2 Responses to “Interview: Lavie Tidhar on “New Atlantis””

  1. Short Fiction Watch: IN XANADU and NEW ATLANTIS – Zeno Agency Ltd. on November 19th, 2019

    […] And second, we also wanted to draw your attention to a new novella that was published in Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine, NEW ATLANTIS. Here’s how Lavie described the novella, in an interview for SF Site… […]

  2. Aliette de Bodard, Ian McDonald and Lavie Tidhar on Locus’s 2019 Recommended Reading List! – Zeno Agency Ltd. on February 13th, 2020

    […] And last, but by no means least, Lavie’s novella NEW ATLANTIS is also included in the list. It was published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May-June 2019. Here’s how Lavie described the novella, in an interview with SF Site… […]

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