“The Evening Interviews” is an ongoing series of conversations with the 21st century’s most exciting writers and artists, conducted by Uni and Chloe Zola Volcano, two kittens who live in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. These interviews are edited and organized by their friend and helpmeet, Scott Indrisek. The cats blog regularly about contemporary fiction at Shit My Cats Read.
Ryan Boudinot once wrote a book of short stories called The Littlest Hitler. He then wrote a novel entitled Blueprints of the Afterlife. From this we can surmise the obvious: that Mr. Boudinot has a promising side career in naming albums for metalcore bands. Ryan Boudinot’s brain is a cavernous room—bizarre, wonderfully illogical, metaphorically haunted by mutant bats—and it’s a place where we like to curl up for a few hours, just to soak in some of that demented juju. Did we mention that Blueprints of the Afterlife is just about the only post-apocalyptic novel in recent memory that does not suck? We chatted with Mr. Boudinot about narcissism, cloning, and socially challenged virgins.
UNI & CHLOE: Philip K. Dick’s work clearly had some influence on Blueprints of the Afterlife, along with a bit of David Foster Wallace (the feral hamsters of Infinite Jest wouldn’t be so out of place in there.) Could you speak a bit about either of these fine, late authors, and how their legacy has affected your own writing?
RYAN BOUDINOT: I was late to Phillip K Dick. I’ve read VALIS and some stories, and that’s about it. I’ve seen a lot of the movies based on his books. I enjoyed how much of a headtrip VALIS was. I’ve read most of David Foster Wallace’s work, pretty much everything except for some of the stories and The Broom of the System, which I started once and never finished. Just this morning I taught a couple excerpts from DFW’s The Pale King in a graduate writing class. I admire his work a whole lot. I’m drawn to his language, his ability to shift registers, and ultimately to what he had to say about loneliness and empathy. Honestly, probably the most profound way he influenced me is that I don’t get as pissed off in long grocery lines anymore. I think about his Kenyon College commencement address every time I’m stuck in a slow line at Safeway.
Sci-fi used to scare us; we thought of it as the domain of damaged kittens who shun sunlight and have very elaborate Second Life avatars. But recently we’ve changed our tune. Can you recommend a few excellent, undersung novels that–while technically being ‘science fiction’–don’t suffer from some of that genre’s excesses and abuses?
By excesses and abuses I’m going to assume you mean a few things: flat, uninteresting prose; a haughty machismo or knowingness that masks the fears of socially challenged virgins; and sexism. That exists, of course, but the genre encompasses so much more. I enjoyed Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One a bunch; the mechanics of the plot impressed me. Another one that’s just wild is Yasutaka Tsutsui’s Salmonella Men on Planet Porno, this fantastic, hilarious collection of stories. I think the whole science fiction/literary fiction pissing match is an American thing. Outside this country other cultures seem to be more open to considering speculative work as just part of literature in general. On that note, isn’t someone like Michel Houellebecq a science fiction writer, in some sense? Borges?
As is our wont, we made sure to earmark every mention of a cat in Blueprints. While feline references are pretty damn common in contemporary fiction, there seemed to be more than the normal share of off-handed pussy mentions in the novel…so we’re curious, what is Ryan Boudinot‘s relationship to the cat kingdom? Are you perhaps the proud father of your own kittens?
I have no cats. I have in the past, and I think they’re wonderful companions. I seek peace with the feline kingdom.
What do you think it says about the 21st century that post-apocalyptic fiction–elaborate imaginings of the total destruction of the world as we know it–is so beloved by readers? We know what we’ll be doing when the End comes (it involves Costa Rica, a multi-tiered tree fort, and an abundance of raw fish), but what are your plans? Would Mr. Boudinot survive?
I think post-apocalyptic narratives are fundamentally narcissistic. It’s flattering to identify with the intrepid survivors of catastrophic events, and to engage in the schadenfreude of thinking of all those assholes we can’t stand succumbing to an alien attack, viral pandemic, or climactic disaster. That’s why the genre is so damn fun. If the End Times come I’ll probably be one of the first to go. There’s nothing special about me that means I should survive, and if I did, it would be because of sheer dumb luck.
If the technology existed, as it does in Blueprints of the Afterlife, where would you fall on the pro-cloning/anti-cloning spectrum?
I think I’d be pro-cloning. I think it would be fascinating to raise a child version of myself. Sort of the ultimate narcissist strategy.
RYAN BOUDINOT: Okay, now a few questions for you cats. I don’t understand how you have evolved alongside humans with a disposition that can come across as so indifferent. Dogs ingratiate themselves to humans, and you do not. How’d you come upon this evolutionary strategy?
CHLOE: We’re not biologists, so we can’t spell it out in strictly evolutionary terms. But your choice of terms is quite illuminating, Ryan…You say that dogs ‘ingratiate themselves,’ which is a very polite way of characterizing a certain desperate, slobberingly pathetic desire to be loved at all costs. I look at dogs as being basically four-legged robots of pure, insatiable need.
UNI: Also it’s much easier to go on vacation when you have cats, so in a way we have evolved to make life easier for humans. You can leave us home alone for two days with, like, a mountain of food and some water, and we’ll just chill. Because we do not give a fuck.
CHLOE: And think about it this way: Maybe ‘indifference’ is just another word for ‘maturity.’ Or ‘poise.’ Or ‘coolly regal bearing.’ Or ‘confidence in one’s own inherent beauty, wisdom, and grace.’
I always wonder about the pets of really famous people. Among cats, do you compare one anothers’ living conditions? Does a cat who lives in the White House understand its place of privilege?
CHLOE: Pussy snobs, the feline elite, the so-called Catterati…We’ve seen these sort of kittens on television. Bloated egos, soft-pawing it across deep pile carpets, mewling and whining, claiming ‘gluten allergies.’
UNI: I have a feeling most of those privileged cats don’t even use their ample free time and luxury to do something self-improving, like reading. I bet if you asked most of those pampered cats what their favorite book is, they’d probably say Of Mice and Men, or some shit by Chuck Palahniuk.
Please describe the experience of catnip for me. Is it really like marijuana is for humans, or is it some other kind of experience altogether?
CHLOE: It’s a jittery effect, perhaps more akin to a combination of hydroponic marijuana, liquid MSG, and the ‘bath salts’ that certain trashier humans have been imbibing as of late. But with less of a drive toward, you know, eating some other cat’s face off.
UNI: In moments of extreme political incorrectness, Scott refers to our actions under the influence of ‘nip by saying that we’re totally ‘NAM’ing it. By this he intends an uncouth allusion to the behavior of shell-shocked Vietnam veterans who, in the midst of a flashback, might mistake the slightest noise for the explosion of a landmine or something. On Scott’s behalf, we apologize to any veterans who take offense at this. Unless you’re one of those veterans who wore a necklace of human ears, in which case: You’re a bad person.