We have a special #TBT post with Andy Dudak—who was recently nominated for the Eugie Foster award!—where he discusses his mind-bending “Midstrathe Exploding,” which appeared in our March/April issue. Look for his upcoming translation of Wang Yuan’s “Casualties of the Quake” in September/October.
How did “Midstrathe Exploding” germinate?
This one started with the setting: a city exploding in extreme slow motion, and a community catering to tourists on the perimeter. This idea has its roots in so-called “dark tourism,” like tours of Chernobyl or the Green Zone of Baghdad. After the setting came the character, a young pickpocket making his way in the streets of the tourist area (for more on this, see below). He only got me a few paragraphs in, but that was enough to read aloud at the Two-Hour Transport open mic in Seattle. A plot element came to me in the adrenaline-soaked aftermath of that reading. A Two-Hour-ite asked me where the story would go, and The Return of the Old Lover notion sprang from my lips full-fledged. I gamed the rest in my head using decades of D&D training. All writers should play D&D. Everyone should play D&D.
What is your history with Analog?
I remember haunting Waldenbooks as a kid and reading Analog stories (I usually couldn’t afford to buy the magazine). I submitted to Analog for years before I placed ‘Samsara and Ice’ in 2014. Three years and many submissions later, I sold my second story to the venerable zine of Science Fiction and Fact: ‘Love in the Time of Immuno-Sharing,’ the strangest tale I’ve ever written. ‘Midstrathe Exploding’ is number three. My fourth appearance in Analog will be my translation of Wang Yuan’s ‘Casualties of the Quake.’ This has been a surreal and enjoyable paragraph to write!
Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
Three writers stand out for me impact-wise: Ursula K. Le Guin, Ted Chiang, and Greg Egan. Le Guin opened up a new universe of playing with gender and reproduction, not to mention politics and anthropology. Egan inspired me with his audacious, mind-bending ideas. Dust Theory alone makes him a genius in my book. And Chiang is just the whole package, a master storyteller from idea to character to prose. ‘Exhalation’ and ‘The Lifecycle of Software Objects’ off the top of my head should be studied as masterpieces of the short sci-fi form. Unfortunately, there’s a photo of me belching behind Ted Chiang at a Clarion party in Seattle.
What other projects are you currently working on?
I’m translating two short stories by Liu Cixin (he of Three Body Problem fame), three other stories for Neil Clarke’s anthology of new voices, and a story by Tang Fei, on spec. What little brain power I have left for my own fiction I devote to a novella about post-apocalyptic Christian cults.
What are you reading right now?
‘The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire’ by William Dalrymple, and ‘Holiness Ritual Fire Handling: Ethnographic and Psychophysiological Considerations’ by Steven M. Kane, while trying to catch up on short fiction reading. But all of this reading is sporadic, since most of the time I’m puzzling over Chinese characters. My eyes get tired, and so does my brain, and my soul.
What is something we should know about you that we haven’t thought to ask?
How my translating work has influenced my writing? I’ve ruminated on this for years and just recently figured it out: the work of translation hasn’t significantly changed my craft, but this career has exposed me to a lot of translators and their work. I read more translated fiction than I used to, and not just Chinese. This has made a big impact on my perspective and my writing. A good example is my latest story in Interzone, ‘Salvage.’ I had read ‘The Feast of the Goat’ by Mario Vargas Llosa (translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman), which concerns the final days of Trujillo regime. This reignited my interest in dictators and personality cults, a borderline-obsession that has gotten me writing before (‘Fool’s Cap,’ Clarkesworld 129). Llosa’s book got me researching the mechanisms and horrors of various dictatorships, and the backstory of ‘Salvage’ evolved. As for ‘Midstrathe Exploding,’ the hardscrabble life of the protagonist was partially inspired by Lao She’s ‘Camel Xiangzi’ (translated by Shi Xiaojing), in which a rickshaw puller struggles to make his way in 1920s Beijing.
How can our readers follow you and your writing?
Twitter: @Andy_Dudak; Website: https://andydudak.home.blog/
Andy Dudak’s original stories have appeared in Analog, Apex, Clarkesworld, Daily Science Fiction, Interzone, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Rich Horton’s Year’s Best, and elsewhere. He has translated many Chinese sci-fi luminaries—including Liu Cixin, Chen Qiufan, Tang Fei, and Jiang Bo—for publication in Clarkesworld, Apex, Pathlight, Analog, and other venues. He doesn’t own a cat but has nothing against them.