A Special Interview With Nick Mamatas
We at the Ranobe Cafe try to bring you something new regulerly, whether that’s news, articles, commentaries, or reviews. But now we can add once again, something new that we have not yet done. An interview.
I got the chance to ask Nick Mamatas, who lead the project over at Haikasoru for the release of Otsuichi’s new novel “ZOO”, some questions regarding its brand new release.
1. Otsuichi’s novel ‘Zoo’ was met with much success in Japan when released, even being adapted into a movie. Do you believe that Otsuichi’s work of fiction will be met with a similar response by English audiences?
It would be great, of course. However, in Japan the short story is still very popular; most major publishers have one or more fiction magazines, which they use to cultivate new talent and give readers something to look at on the expansive public transit system. In the US, the short story has been in decline for decades, since the rise of television at the very least. Stephen King recently claimed that Americans have almost “forgotten” how to read shorts.
Then there’s horror—in Japan horror is typical summer reading. It’s believed that getting the “chills” from reading can one cool down during the hot summer months. In the US, horror is more of a niche—there was a “boom” in the 1980s, but today most horror is disguised as fantasy, or thriller, or even as romance, just so that it can sell.
And ZOO, of course, is a collection of horror short stories, though many of them are science fiction, or fantasy, or the blackest of black comedies. So will ZOO sell over a million copies—it sold 740,000 in Japan? Will there be a film version? (An anthology film, no less!) Likely no. However, it remains an excellent book; the short story is likely the best vehicle for horror, if Poe, Lovecraft, and Bradbury have shown us anything. Horror at novel length generally ends up just being a domestic drama or a mystery novel with scary bits. For the people who do love short stories, and who do love dark fiction, whatever you want to call it, ZOO will be an important book.
2. What is your favorite thing about Zoo? What is your least favorite?
My favorite and least favorite are the same thing: short stories. I am one of those lovers of short fiction; I am so jealous of both Japanese readers and Japanese writers for their luck in living in a country where the form is both respected and popular. I think Otsuichi has a singular voice that brings out the extraordinary found in ordinary circumstances, and his work is very readable.
The frustration, of course, is that short stories are a hard sell. In a way, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; if salespeople don’t think story collections will sell, they won’t hype them to bookstore buyers. If bookstore buyers don’t make large orders of the collections, the public has no opportunity to discover the fiction. If sales are low because of the lack of opportunities, publishers become very wary of publishing short fiction.
3. What do you admire, if anything, about Otsuichi’s writing style?
He’s a real “outsider.” That is, when I first read him I thought to myself, “Wow, it’s like this guy never read a book before he tried to write one!” That’s a compliment, by the way. Genre fiction is, almost by definition, the fiction of repeated experiences. It’s a joke of sorts, when a new author says something like, “But my vampires are different!” And Otsuichi really is different. He turns cliches on their heads because he is able to think outside the book due to the fact—to torture a metaphor—that he doesn’t appear to have ever been in the box. There’s a secret history of the horror short that appears to be his alone.
Also, he’s hilarious. But also as an outsider. Otsuichi means “strange one”, and he’s just like that. He’s the weird guy who just says very funny things, even when he appears to be entirely serious, even earnest.
4. What prompted the decision to choose Otsuichi’s novel over others for a release in English under the Haikasoru imprint?
We wanted to show off the range of Japanese speculative fiction. So our initial list included military SF (All You Need Is KILL), mainstream adventure SF with a strong romance element (The Lord of the Sands of Time), scientifically plausible hard SF (Usurper of the Sun) and, finally, we wanted a book that covered dark fiction, the fantastic, and the short story which is so prominent in Japan. ZOO, which also happens to be a great book, fit all those slots at once. Plus, given that September is a release month on our schedule, we thought something apropos for Halloween would be a good idea.
5. Otsuichi is quite active in the Light Novel community, having written “Calling You”, and having written many short stories in the light novel literary anthology FAUST. Do you feel that Zoo is more similar to a light novel’s writing style, or a traditional writing style?
Or does his writing style in this novel not even fit within either group?
The stories in ZOO are a bit rougher and tougher than his light novel fare, but certainly his use of first-person narratives and minimalist style shows off his light novel roots. That said, Raymond Carver was a minimalist too.
6. Does Haikasoru have any plans to possibly release any other works by Otsuichi? The original novel, which he wrote while in High School, “Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse”, made a big splash in Japan. Could this novel be possibly heading for an English release?
There will be more Otsuichi. More than that, I cannot say right now.
7. What was your favorite part of handling the English adaptation of Zoo?
I was very happy when we received a blurb from Brian Keene, one of the best and hottest new horror writers. That he liked it told me that we were on the right track with ZOO.
8. What do you think makes Haikasoru so unique, and why should fans of Light Novels or for that matter, traditional American fiction, experiment with Japanese Science Fiction?
Japanese SF (and horror) has a close relationship with English-language material, but is given a spin all its own. From Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, to the continued interest in short fiction in that country, to the peculiarities of its publishing industry, Japanese SF is both familiar and alien. It’s sort of like seeing life form and then turning away for a million years, then looking back to see how life evolved in unexpected ways. SF readers are interested in both the “golden age” of their own early reading experiences, and in the new of imagined futures and unique fantasy worlds. Haikasoru offers both.
Haikasoru’s New Release, “Zoo” by author Otsuichi, is now available to buy wherever books are sold.