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Interview: Andy Dudak on “The Abundance”

Andy DudakTell us a bit about “The Abundance.”

It’s the story of a radical and possibly dangerous therapy for PTSD. It’s about how an empire or state manipulates its agents, much like a parasite manipulates its host. It’s a bit of a spy story, though mostly in flashback. This mixed bag is delivered in the form journal entries, amid naturalist-style observations of an alien ecology. So it’s odd, hopefully in a good way.




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

I’d been translating Bao Shu’s ‘The Lighthouse Girl’ for Clarkesworld and was inspired to try the epistolary form. I’d been trying to use the concept of extended phenotype in my stories for years, unsuccessfully, so that was still floating around in my head. I wanted to write something Darwin-esque, something monkish and studious and nature-obsessed. I felt like that would be therapeutic for me, just as it was supposed to be therapeutic for the narrator in the story. Writing in journal entries somehow made the process more of a role-playing exercise. It was just for fun or self-care or writing practice. I never expected to finish it, let alone sell it to F&SF!


Was “The Abundance” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Yes, in a number of ways. For example, I worked in Alaska as a winter caretaker, spending 8 months alone in the bush at a fly-in fishing lodge. I was 250 miles from the nearest road, without running water, electricity dependent on my sketchy generator maintenance skills, communication dependent on a satellite dish that was useless much of the time due to the northern lights. When I returned to Anchorage I had a hipster beard long before they were hip, and a stutter. So, I felt qualified to write about the isolation the narrator endures.


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

I’ve been fascinated with extended phenotype and parasite lifecycles for a long time, so I’d read a lot about this stuff by the time I wrote the story. I’m not sure if that counts as research. It’s all about parasite genes expressing in host bodies, or genes expressing beyond the confines of the body to act on the environment, like genes for anthills and spider webs.


How does translating the work of other authors affect and inform your own writing?

I’ve tried to get Ken Liu to answer this question. He’s been translating much longer than I and finds it hard to pin down what the effects might be. I’ve been translating Chinese fiction for almost three years, and like Ken I’m still trying to figure out how translation work might be affecting my original stuff. In the case of ‘The Abundance,” Bao Shu’s ‘The Lighthouse Girl’ inspired the epistolary format (see above), but that could just as easily have happened reading a cool epistolary story for fun. Sometimes I think I’m more careful with sentence structure and word choice because of translating. On the other hand, I fear that learning Mandarin has lowered my English level. I sometimes think and dream in Mandarin. When I’m back in the States I speak it by accident. Maybe, in the final analysis (a phrase I never used until I had to translate it over and over again), I break even. Conceptually, maybe all this Chinese science fiction has broadened my perspective, though it’s hard to say how Chinese SF as a whole is different from anglophone SF. Both are huge mixed bags.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

Ursula Le Guin, Ted Chiang, Greg Egan, Ken Liu, Stephen King, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Paul Mcauley, Vonda McIntyre, Peter Watts, John le Carre, and HBO, off the top of my head. Influence is tricky to figure out, though.


What are you working on now?

I’m revising an original story in which observation of the universe, i.e. higher consciousness, is causing accelerated expansion. It’s observation as dark energy. It’s a novelette with several layers of story, above and beyond my usual output, so it has been challenging. Meanwhile I’m continuing to translate for Clarkesworld. The current story is about a world where entropy is reversed, so lots of things are happening backwards. Also quite a challenge!


“The Abundance” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

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Click on Andy Dudak’s photo to visit his website, or follow him on Twitter @Andy_Dudak


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