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Interview: Gregor Hartmann on “A Hand at the Service of Darkness”

Gregor HartmannTell us a bit about “A Hand at the Service of Darkness.”

A police detective with a strong sense of ethics is dragged into a nasty political operation. It’s a problem many of us face: the world says do, your conscience says don’t. Is it possible to wiggle out of the dilemma?



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

Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia explores the various ways in which Asian intellectuals reacted to the impact of Western modernism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. It’s a fascinating book on many levels. It introduced me to peripatetic agitators who were often forced into exile, so they had to agitate for reform in their home countries while lurking in another. Tensen’s domination of Zephyr is a future example of the colonialism Mishra wrote about.


In fleshing out the world of your Zephyr stories, you’ve written in several different modes: sf, mystery, religious experience, etc.  How do you find the experience of trying out these various storytelling templates?

I wouldn’t say I have a template. Writing for me is like assembling a mosaic from kaleidoscopic fragments. I start with an idea. Bits of dialogue and action occur. Sentences grow into paragraphs and scenes. Pieces are rearranged and discarded. I keep an “outtakes” file. One of my metrics for knowing I’ve written enough is that for a 6,000-word story, say, I’ll have at least 6,000 words of discarded text. Eventually the pieces align themselves into something coherent. It’s frustrating because I often start out intending to tell a particular story, but then the characters and the situation take over and drag me in a different direction. Charlie keeps buying these runaway tales, so I guess the process works.


Did you do any special research for this story?

I’m not a gun owner. So to better understand Philippa, I went to a firing range and paid for three hours of instruction in handguns (from a trainer who turned out to be a retired homicide inspector!). We started with a Glock 17 and advanced to a Glock 19, which, despite the larger number, is a compact gun (lighter weight, shorter barrel, more easily hidden) suitable for a detective. Going through a couple of boxes of 9mm rounds did not make me an expert, but I feel now I can write a shooting scene more realistically.


What are you working on now?

Philippa and her detective trainee Jun (“The Unbearable Lightness of Bullets” in the March/April issue) are on another puzzling case.


“A Hand at the Service of Darkness” appears in the November/December 2019 issue of F&SF.

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