Ken Wisman Interview
Posted: Mar-10-2015 at 8:59am
An Interview With Ken Wisman
by Bobbi Sinha-Morey
BSM: Your science fiction novel Eden is a futuristic story of bioengineering science and its effects in an imaginary world. Please tell us how your idea for this came about.
KW: The idea of bioengineering living creatures into weapons of war has been with me a long time. Back in '89 DeathRealms magazine published a story of mine called "On the Side of the Road," which had this idea as its main theme. The seed for the short story came in the form if a dream in which I saw a hybrid monster that had the combined features of an alligator and a mosquito. The seed was nurtured by the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Reproductions of his work, replete with horrifying and grotesque hybrid creatures, hang on the wall of my writing room. I knew the idea of bioengineering weapons had a bigger potential than a short story, but it took seven years to begin Eden and another seven years to write it--all with the help of a psychedelic substance that fully opened up the gates of my imagination.
BSM: When writing Eden, you connected with your spirituality. What's the experience like?
KW: When I started on my quest using the psychedelic, a journey that I describe in Eden, I was searching for spiritual answers. What I found I would not characterize as spiritual, which has a strong connotative connection with religious values and deity. What I looked for I found deep inside myself--not in a religion or god. The conclusion I came to was that the universe--not an all-powerful being--created life out of a curiosity/need/desire to know itself. The universe experiences itself through every life form, from the most "primitive" unicellular organism, which knows the world through light and magnetism, to humanity, which studies the laws and deepest mysteries of the cosmos.
My experiences led me to the conclusion that our spiritual beliefs--our religions--are archaic. We've outgrown our gods of the past two thousand years; humanity is ready for a new belief system. Jung was an important link in the next phase of humanity's "spiritual" evolution. He put the god archetype squarely in humanity's unconscious. It's just a step more to the realization that we, as a species, have been growing into our god archetypes and surpassing them in different phases of our psychic evolution. Here's just one example: In the bible Job complains to God for tormenting him. God rebukes Job and comes back with proof of superiority by naming areas of knowledge that lie beyond Job's ken: "Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God. Do you know how God lays his command upon them, and causes the lightning of his clouds to shine? Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?"
If Job was in a present-day high school science class he could easily answer: 1) Clouds get their charges as water and ice particles rub together. As soon as the buildup of charge is great enough, the oppositely charged particles attract and discharge their energy as a bolt of lightning. 2) Humanity has now gone to the deepest ocean depths in the latest submersibles. Of course, if God was referring to space as the "deep," then Job could point to the fact that Voyager 1 is now around 8.4 billion miles from the sun, and has entered interstellar space. 3) The earth has a circumference of 24,900 miles at the equator.
So much for God's omniscience.
While under the influence of the psychedelic, I did experience things that could be characterized as mystical. I felt a deep connection with all humanity. Another time, I felt the connection with all living things, then all things animate and inanimate. I haven't been able to sustain those experiences--they came and went with the chemical that opened the gateways and closed when the chemical receded. But it did leave a profound understanding in its passing, which I tried to capture in Eden.
BSM: In some of your stories like "Canon in D'" and "In the Heart of the Blue Caboose" your love of language comes through; in fact, it's often poetical. When did you discover your talent for words, and who were your mentors?
KW: My discovery came early, in grammar school, when I used to write science fiction stories to entertain my friends.
"Canon in D" and "In the Heart of the Blue Caboose" were written to Classical music. I find that certain pieces release the creative flow--it's almost as though the notes become energy that merges with and channels the psychic stream in the unconscious. "Canon in D" was written to Pachelbel's "Canon," and "Blue Caboose" to Schubert's "Ave Maria." As well as stimulating the creative flow, the music adds rhythm and melody to the words. Many of the sequences in Eden were written to music. I mention one piece, Beethoven's Pastorale, which never fails to inspire me. Also, when I was taking my psychedelic journeys, I would use Classical music to evoke images--much as Thera does in Eden when she visits her world-imagining. From sound comes substance; from beautiful sound comes transcendent images.
My writing mentors include Bradbury and Dunsany, both of which have an obvious love for words--not just their meaning, but the way words weave together, and the pure pleasaure of their sound. I also discovered this joy in words in some of the poetry of Dylan Thomas and the novels of Thomas Wolfe. As I mentioned already, Classical composers have taught me a lot--Vivaldi: how to capture innocence in sound; Beethoven: how to weave opposites like anger and joy into transcendence.
BSM: I've heard that you often write your stories in longhand before keying them in on a computer. You can even do a single story in one sitting. Could you tell us more about your work habits?
KW: I always do my creative work in longhand before entering it on a computer. My day job for the past 25 years has been as a technical writer, which has made me wary of computers. I have a fear of losing everything in one large crash--which actually happened once--so I write it all out on paper first. After I input, I make copies to floppy disk or CD and ensconce the disks in the glove compartment of my car.
I've only written one story in a single sitting. It was the day of my fortieth birthday, and I celebrated by taking the day off from work, going out on my deck and spending the entire day and night until I finished. The result was a short piece called "Hard Rain" that got published in an anthology called October Dreams. Most of my short stories have taken at least two weeks to write a first draft. Eden took seven years to finish.
BSM: You've also done two other science fiction novels called Idylwilde Tales and The Story of Ishtar and Blue. The latter, a futuristic tale, is about the lives of two people who were brought up with conflicting philosophies. Please tell us what you drew on for inspiration.
KW: The fact of the matter is, Idylwilde is enclosed in a box, precisely where it belongs. Someone once said that a writer should burn his/her first novel and quickly move on to the next one. Burning was too good for Idlywilde, so I buried it instead.
Ishtar and Blue I put away years ago. It lacked spark. But I've recently resurrected it as Eros, a sequel to Eden. The re-inspiration for Eros is the same as that for Eden--three years using a psychedelic substance that led tot he most profound experiences of my life, and some unusual extrapolations/speculations regarding humanity's future and evolution.
In Eros I hope to fictionalize and speculate on humanity's destiny once we fulfill one of nature's primary purposes for us: the spread of life. Spreading life is an idea explored in Eden, in the form of Ankh, a philosophical belief that--a few hundred years ago in the future--has spread through the Network-of-Worlds. Ankh believes that nature developed humanity's reasoning power so that we could create science and science would take us and other life to the stars. Ankh views our starships as similar in form and purpose to: 1) the water-filled cells that, a billion years ago, permitted the first creatures to crawl across the earth; 2) the armor that protected the first land dweller from the sun's deadly radiation. Nature developed cells to allow organisms to bring their environment along with them as they left the safety of the sea. Likewise, nature created thick shells to shield organism from ultraviolet rays. Our starships will do much the same. They'll carry oxygen and water and nutrients to sustain life; their shielding will keep out deadly radiation.
Humanity will pass through the harshest of environments--the cold vacuum waste in its impetus to spread life across the galaxy. Once we fulfill this purpose, reasoning may lose its hold on our minds allowing other aspects, other powers to develop in our psyches, abilities disallowed by our science and denied by our present dominant belief system.
BSM: Someone once said that by increasing the depth of meaning we provide greater insights and understanding to events whether they are physical, psychic, or mental. What are your thoughts on this?
KW: Meaning proceeds from the rational, reasoning part of the psyche, and is part of the concious process. Reasoning and rationality both have a tyrannnical hold on our minds at this stage in our evolution. Reason is a harsh master that gives little room to aspects of the deeper mind. Intuition is disparaged and ridiculed; imagination is undervalued. The intuitive and imaginative processes have deep channels into the unconscious, which itself is either ignored or denied entirely because it is the seat of the irrational. And yet it is from the unconscious that inspiration comes, and it is often through the irrational that meaning and understanding are deepened. Anyone who doubts this isn't fully informed of the direction science has been heading since the last century. Einstein came along and in bursts of "irrationality" destroyed the carefully constructed, clockwork universe Newton had devised. And who can doubt the irrationality of quantum physics with its molecules that travel back in time, and the completely unbelievable cosmological theory that everything in the universe began as a point tinier than an atom existing in non-space?
The only way to increase the depth of meaning and expression of knowledge is to open our minds to the unconscious and allow the irrational in.
You can purchase the 1/200 signed and limited hardcover edition from Dark Regions Press
copyright © 2004, Bobbi Sinha-Morey
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