Mike Carey and Peter Gross: Books full of lies, and why we like them
The highly anticipated publication of the latest Tommy Taylor novel is about to take place in the pages of THE UNWRITTEN Vol 3. Said to be written by the--long missing and believed dead--author Wilson Taylor, the novel just may not be what it’s believed to be. I asked Mike Carey and Peter Gross to discuss their inspiration for this storyline and here’s what they had to say:
There’s a long and noble tradition of fake books – which is to say, books that aren’t at all what they claim to be, and haven’t even been written by the author they’re ascribed to. They’re kind of self-indulgent, but kind of fun, too: metatextual mind-games played out in an imaginary universe at one remove from the fictions we already love. Mostly they’re written either as a homage or as a thought-experiment along the lines of “what if X had written Y”?
In the Dead Man’s Knock arc of The Unwritten, we raise the possibility of a fake Tommy Taylor novel, written not from these innocent motives but as part of an attempt to hijack and sabotage Wilson Taylor’s literary legacy – which in turn is a way of a broader plot against his son, Tom Taylor.
So we had these stories in mind when we wrote ours:
Venus on the Half-Shell, by Kilgore Trout
Kilgore Trout is of course the fictional sci-fi author who turns up regularly in the novels of Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut often illustrates a point or flags up a theme by using the device “Kilgore Trout wrote a story about…” But Trout is kind of a tragic figure: whereas his creator achieved mainstream success, Trout continued to be trapped at the lowest end of the genre ghetto, his stories mostly published by porn publishers who want something to leaven out the photos in their magazines.
This purported Trout novel was actually written by Philip Jose Farmer, and sadly, he falls into the pretty basic error of putting in some smut. Vonnegut emphasized again and again that despite their provenance, Trout’s stories never contained sexual references. The book is also full of pretty uninspired in-jokes, for example giving minor characters names which are anagrams of the names of other science fiction writers. Farmer then went on to copy the “Kilgore Trout wrote a story about…” device in Stations of the Nightmare, using his own fictional creation, Leo Tincrowdor – then got high on pseudonyms and wrote a novel as Dr. Watson. So yeah, better in the idea than in the execution: but the idea was pretty cool.
The Iron Dream, by Adolf Hitler
“Adolf Hitler’s lost science fiction masterpiece”, actually written by Norman Spinrad. The Iron Dream is actually the title of the collection as a whole: Hitler’s novel, reprinted (ahem) in full, is called Lord of the Swastika. It’s dreadful, but then what would you expect from a mad dictator? What’s brilliant, though, is the critical essay published alongside Lord of the Swastika, which subjects the work to a rigorous analysis.
Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote
This is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, in which he imagines a modern author deliberately immersing himself in the history and culture of seventeenth-century Spain so that he can reproduce, verbatim, the whole of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. He’s not aiming to rewrite the book from memory: far from it. He’s tried to forget everything he ever knew about the original. He wants to write it from scratch, by aligning his own world view with that of Miguel de Cervantes.
The Library of Dream
In Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, the realm of Morpheus includes a library, where all the books only ever written in dreams are stored. They include alternate versions of many familiar books from the waking world, as well as a near-infinite number of completely original works.
H.P. Lovecraft’s evil grimoire has developed a life beyond outside of Lovecraft’s books. There have been several versions of it published and it’s often mentioned in other authors’ works.
While in college, future authors Tim Powers and James Blaylock created a fictional poet named William Ashbless and submitted his poetry to the campus magazine. Then they started quoting him and featuring him in their books, Powers used him prominently in one of our favorite novels, The Anubis Gates. There’s even a couple of works by Ashbless on sale at Amazon.
There’s an even longer history of fiction passing itself off as real--probably more than we know! More than a few journalists have been exposed for making up their stories and autobiographies have turned out to be completely concocted. Here’s a list of some great hoaxes.
--Mike & Peter