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Author Interview: James Morrow

Today I am interviewing James Morrow, satirist, science fiction writer, and author of a recent fantasy novella, The Asylum of Dr. Caligari.

Over the course of a long career, Jim has published ten novels, four stand-alone novellas, and three short-story collections. He has won the World Fantasy Award (twice), the Nebula Award (twice), the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire, and the Prix Utopia. His work has been translated into thirteen languages.

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DJ: Hey Jim! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview! For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?

JM: Within my circumscribed but loyal readership, I’m best known for my philosophical and irreverent Godhead Trilogy, comprising Towing Jehovah (a Nietzschean sea saga), Blameless in Abaddon (a modern-dress retelling of the Book of Job), and The Eternal Footman (a vision of a post-theistic world). All three books turn on the premise that God has died, leaving behind a two-mile-long corpse—a bald and arguably overbearing conceit, to be sure, but after living inside it for most of the nineties, I, for one, began to believe it.

Although I’m an atheist, I recently figured out that I don’t really write as an atheist—I write as a heretic, somebody who loves to play with grand theological and cosmological ideas. If it weren’t for God, I’d be out of a job. Most of my readers would describe themselves as nonreligious or even antireligious, but I’m always gratified when a churchgoer sends me a fan letter saying I sent his or her thoughts spinning off on unexpected directions.

DJ: What is The Asylum of Dr. Caligari about?

JM: Beyond all my scoffing at religion, much of my oeuvre critiques the popular notion that war is a good way for human beings to solve their problems. Back in 1986 I published This Is the Way the World Ends, mocking the Reagan Administration’s nuclear saber-rattling. The plot concerns “the unadmitted,” hypothetical humans whose lives were canceled when their would-be ancestors extinguished themselves in World War III. The unadmitted end up putting the perpetrators of Armageddon on trial, under the Nuremberg precedent, for crimes against the future.

Then came my stand-alone novella Shambling Towards Hiroshima, set in 1945 and keyed to the conceit that the U.S. Navy has developed biological weapon that strangely anticipates Godzilla. My hero, based on the horror-film actor Lon Chaney, Jr., must put on a lizard suit and demonstrate this horrendous biotechnology before a Japanese delegation.

In The Asylum of Dr. Caligari, I take potshots at war profiteering. Most of the action unfolds at the fictional Träumenchen Asylum during the early months of World War I. The title character, who happens to be a sorcerer, has created a jingoistic oil painting so hypnotic it can compel entire regiments to rush headlong into battle. The plot turns on the efforts of my hero, Francis Wyndham, an art therapist at Träumenchen, and his most gifted pupil, the supernaturally talented Ilona Wessels, to defeat Caligari’s wicked masterpiece with a Guernica-like painting of their own. Continue reading

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