Ultan's Library

a web resource for the study of Gene Wolfe

“The Lupine Scholar” – an interview with Michael Andre-Driussi

“The Lupine Scholar”

By Scott Wowra

Michael Andre-Driussi is a courageous sort. After all, only a handful of brave scholars gleefully plummet into the literary mazes of science fiction’s Daedalus, American author Gene Wolfe. In this endeavor, Mr. Andre-Driussi has few peers. Michael’s painstaking research produced LEXICON URTHUS, the Rosetta Stone of Mr. Wolfe’s award-winning tetralogy THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN and coda THE URTH OF THE NEW SUN.

For the uninitiated reader, THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN is full of bizarre and seemingly counterfeit words like omophagist (an eater of raw flesh) and cherkaji (Persian light cavalry). In the early 1980s, frustrated readers accused Mr. Wolfe of deliberately fabricating unusual words to confuse them. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of the strange words that appear in THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN are real. And they remind us just how odd language can sound without science fiction authors inventing new words that lack inherent meaning.

In response to his critics, Mr. Wolfe produced the essay “Words Weird and Wonderful” in THE CASTLE OF THE OTTER (1982) to demonstrate that, in fact, all the words he used in THE SHADOW OF THE TORTURER were genuine. The brief essay was an incomplete dictionary covering the first book in his tetralogy. Mr. Wolfe wisely left the rest of the work up to the reader.

And that leads us to Michael Andre-Driussi, the lexicographer of THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN and a science fiction writer in his own right. What sort of person tirelessly tracks down the definition of obscure words, creating hundreds of 3×5 index cards in the process? Undoubtedly, the same sort of person crafty enough to pen them in THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN. In a series of email interviews, I set out to learn more about Michael Andre-Driussi, a leading Lupine scholar.

SW: Who were some of your favorite authors growing up?

MAD: I read a ton of science fiction, and my favorites included Burrough’s Barsoom books, Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, and Herbert’s Dune series. The first author whose work I liked beyond the one set was Samuel R. Delany, and then Jack Vance. Outside of genre, I liked James Joyce, but I never read FINNEGANS WAKE. I still haven’t!

SW: Who are you currently reading?

MAD: I just finished THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO (2007), which isn’t genre, but the eponymous character is a fanboy steeped in science fiction, fantasy, pen and paper gaming, anime, etc. It was okay. The details on genre, gaming, anime, etc., were very impressive, hard nuggets of true expertise. I only found two errors in that regard, and both might have been simple typos.

I’m in the Gene Wolfe Book of the Month Club, so I’ll be starting SWORD OF THE LICTOR today. Yay!

I’m still tracking down Jack Vance mysteries that I haven’t read yet. These are hard to find, but I discovered I can get many through the interlibrary loan system. In the last few months I’ve read BAD RONALD, then THE MAN IN THE CAGE, followed by THE VIEW FROM CHICKWEED’S WINDOW, and most recently THE DARK OCEAN.

SW: Tell us about your short story, “Under the Moons of Jizma.” Can we expect more stories recounting the adventures of Dr. Lee?

MAD: I don’t have anything planned, but I could do that if there were any interest. I have a new story, “The Gray-haired Girl,” coming out soon in “Doorways” magazine.

SW: Congratulations! How would you characterize your short stories? Do you find that your stories are influenced by other science-fiction writers?

MAD: Thank you! My stories vary. “The Gray-haired Girl” is similar to the last one that was published, “Old Flames in New Bottles,” in being set in the local area (East Bay Area) and local time. Sort of Twilight Zone or slipstream, I guess.

Whereas “Under the Moons of Jizma” was a literary trick of making William Burroughs look like Edgar Rice Burroughs. I guess it didn’t work very well, since people just take it as an Edgar Rice Burroughs pastiche! But anyway, that was a clear case of modeling a story after two different authors. A bad habit I haven’t shaken yet.

Sometimes I try to write something like Burrough’s Barsoom, Asimov’s Foundation, or Herbert’s DUNE. Not in that voice or style, but reworking that substance. Likewise, I don’t try to write in a Gene Wolfe style, nor even the substance.

SW: Tell us about your writing process. Where do your ideas come from?

MAD: That’s a difficult question. Depends on the story. “Jizma” came from a line in Delany’s THE JEWEL-HINGED JAW where he compared the two Burroughses as a study in contrasts. I took it as a challenge, thinking that the two were a lot more alike than ol’ Chip was stating for the point of his argument. I knew that Farmer had done “The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod,” so I thought I’d go the other way.

The other two stories I’m talking about here, hmm. Dreams, local events, urban legends, and my observation on youth culture in Japan. Sometimes a story is like a movie in my head–Old Flames was like that.

SW: In addition to your work in science fiction, you have reviewed a variety of anime films. What attracts you to anime?

MAD: That’s a long story. In a nutshell, I’ve been interested in animation all my life, and I used to watch the international animation festival anthologies every year.

I wasn’t particularly interested in the material coming out of Japan, and at a certain point, specifically the anthology “Robot Carnival” (1987), I decided I simply didn’t like anime. “Robot Carnival” to me was too much about surfaces, not enough about story. One or two of the segments were great, but the rest . . . well, it broke my desire, after a long string of misfires. I mean, I had seen the sneak preview of “Metamorphoses” (1978)! (And I’d gotten those passes while standing in line to see “Star Wars” for the first time.)

So anyway, about eight or ten years after swearing off anime, I watched a Miyazaki movie on VHS. I thought it was good. My daughter, who was two or three at the time, liked it a lot, so over weeks and months we watched it again, and watched other Miyazaki movies as well. In the repetition I began to see how very good the work really is (remember, I knew animation already!), so then I set out to explore new worlds and claim them in the name of genre.

That is, I look for true genre content–the same things I love in science fiction, fantasy, etc. And I find it because the anime industry went through a transformational boom in the late 1980s which has raised the bar for quality and content.

The most recently viewed anime I would recommend is a short series called “Rocket Girls” (2007). It is in the “hard sf” tradition of “Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise” (1987) and “Planetes” (2003-04). This is very rare in anime!

SW: Given the commercial success of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, I recently read that Michael Moorcock is producing movies for his character Elric. Do you think Severian will ever make it to the big screen or perhaps in an animated version?

MAD: No, I don’t, but I’d like to see what is already in the can–a short film version of “The Death of Doctor Island” is in post production. If anybody tries something else, I wish they would film “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”–just the first novella. If that does well, they can make a trilogy by filming the other two.

SW: What gravitates you to Mr. Wolfe’s oeuvre?

MAD: He has just the right blend of style and content for my tastes. I liked it from the first book I read. The variety and the mysteries play a part.

SW: Onomastics is one approach to unraveling Mr. Wolfe’s texts. Have you traced the onomastics of your name?

MAD: Yes, but I’d like to learn about yours!

SW: Okay, let me try again. What are the meanings Michael, Andre, and Driussi?

MAD: Michael is overly abundant, Andre is fairly common, so the nut of the question is really the outlandish “Driussi.” It turns out that it means the same as Andre (Interviewer’s Note: “Andre” and “Driussi” are from the Greek “Andreas” meaning “manly,” “courageous”). Which is funny, since you can kind of see it there, in the letters. But still, it is rare enough that Italians will say it is not Italian. (This in turn leads to questions of “What is Italian?” Like, what language did Garibaldi speak, and who could understand him?)

The origin point is in Northern Italy, the city of Udine, north of Venice. I found out the meaning too late to have any effect–instead of becoming a “manly man,” I became the slinking scavenger that I am. Ah well!

My mother’s uncle was the B-movie film star, Morris Ankrum. What I want to know is, where did he get that Ankrum from? We had it, obviously–it is like a family heirloom, a trunk of traditions, and reaching into that mathom full of names, he pulled out the one best suited for the role. Then they set up the Ankrum Gallery in Los Angeles to show the art of my famous uncle, Morris Broderson (who was named after his uncle).

SW: “Michael” appears as a character in Mr. Wolfe’s THE WIZARD KNIGHT. Is this a coincidence or recognition of your friendship with Mr. Wolfe?

MAD: That has nothing to do with me, and it is not a coincidence–that’s the archangel, appearing as himself.

Granted, some readers have spotted me in PIRATE FREEDOM. (I’m flattered by the theory!) Others have followed a certain trail of roman a clef associations and think I’m in the Long Sun series. (I’m honored by the supposition!) If I were in any of these works, that’s how it would look–not as anybody named Michael. Not likely.

SW: Speaking of onomastics, is “Gene Wolfe” a pseudonym?

MAD: Nope.

SW: If I recall correctly, Mr. Wolfe indicated in an interview that he is in some way related to Thomas Wolfe.

MAD: Yep. (Interviewer note: Michael appears to be channeling his inner Gylf).

SW: You have already produced some insightful essays on THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN based on your work for LEXICON URTHUS. Do you plan on releasing more critical essays on the Urth Cycle?

MAD: Thank you! Yes. There are a couple of them working their way toward publication right now.

SW: Will these essays be released in some sort of collected form?

MAD: Eventually, I suppose. I don’t have anything like that planned at the moment.

SW: Can you tell us a little bit about the projects you are working on now?

MAD: It is probably better if I don’t. I mean, I don’t know why it gets so complicated, but it does. For example, I promised a book on the LONG SUN (LS) series a long time ago. That’s a whole complicated story I can’t get into right now, but there is no book yet, even though the thing was promised. That promise has weighed upon me, believe me!

Okay, so when I saw Gene Wolfe at Seattle in 2007, I told him about LEXICON URTHUS, SECOND EDITION (LU2) being near completion. (See, I don’t keep him in the dark.) And yet, from what he said at the time (which I thought was just enigmatic joking around), and the fact that when LU2 came out, he was genuinely surprised, I have come to believe that he thought this project I was talking about (LU2) was really the long-promised LS book.

Anyway, I’m =finally= working on the LS book, which is actually the LONG SUN/SHORT SUN book. But before that comes out, suddenly THE WIZARD KNIGHT book came along, and that will be published next. Then the LS/SS book. Maybe. Thank you, everyone who has been waiting, for all your patience!

In addition to that, there is the updating the John Crowley book now that the Aegypt series is finally completed. So there, that’s three, or four, if we add this book of collected essays and whatnot, and I should have stopped at one.

SW: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Michael.

MAD: You are very welcome! Thank you for the opportunity. And now I must get back to work, reinvigorated by this refreshing recess!

Fans of THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN are encouraged to visit Michael’s website at http://www.siriusfiction.com/ for information on LEXICON URTHUS, SECOND EDITION, which contains over 1,200 entries of words weird and wonderful.

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Japanese Lexicon for The Book of the New Sun

1 Comment

  1. Scott

    Nigel,

    Thanks for posting our interview!

    Scott

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