Mostly known for writing intelligent, gay erotica, Marten Weber dips his toe in the geek pool with his first science fiction novel, Bodensee. A decided departure from the “Papi Porn” of Weber’s more widely known tales of Cassanova’s younger, gayer brother “Benedetto” and a not-so-angelic fallen angel, “Gabriel,” Bodensee is a thrilling, page-turning epic. Described as “a modern mash-up of Henry James meets The Matrix,” sign me up!
This interview was conducted on June 26, 2012.
Michael Fitzgerald Troy: As the author of Bodensee, what would YOU like us to know about the story?
Marten Weber: I just hope it’s a thrilling ride for my readers. We’ve had great reviews so far. The initial chapters leave many people scratching their heads as to what’s going on, but most are so surprised once they figure it all out that they start the book all over again to see how it comes together. I really think it’s the kind of book you have to read twice to appreciate fully!
Bodensee is science fiction in the classical tradition, that is to say, focusing on a world created by science that does not exist yet—or does it? I think the question the book leaves open is not whether or not this will ever become true, but simply when. I am sure there are fanatics out there who will think the medical technology depicted in Bodensee an excellent idea and get to work on it. And then, we really would end up in a future like Bodensee.
MFT: How was your first foray into the sci-fi arena, and was the process any different for you than writing Benedetto?
MW: In a way, writing a novel set in the future is no different from writing about the 18th century. In both cases you have to make sure you aren’t committing any logical errors. In Benedetto, I had to read a lot of historical documents to make sure that my characters don’t encounter situations which are historically impossible (e.g. meet people who were dead by then.) In Bodensee, it’s the other way round. You have more freedom inventing the future, but true science fiction (as opposed to future fantasies) means the science has to be a plausible match. I spent a lot of time talking to computer experts and medical professionals to make sure my vision of Bodensee is not just fantasy, but grounded in real possibilities.
MFT: Known for your deep, multi-layered characters, where do you find inspiration for the journeys you take them on?
MW: Everywhere. I watch and listen to people everywhere I go, all the time. I am like a sponge, soaking up other people’s ideas and conversations. When I am alone, all the things I have overheard float back into my mind and slowly, fictional characters form themselves out of the bits and pieces extracted from my surroundings. It helps that I have lived in so many countries and cultures.
Also, I try not to watch television, and that helps a lot in my writing. Most TV shows have only very one-dimensional characters, and getting used to that tends to make one see the world in only one dimension. Most characters on TV are simple stereotypes, just stand-ins for clichés: the funny guy, the dork, the queer, the jock . . . and not real people. Real people are a lot more complicated, not always consistent, and certainly not always truthful. I am sure that a lot of the political polarization we are witnessing has to do with people being too used to one-dimensional clichés.
MFT: I roll my eyes as I ask this question; however, if at all, does your sexuality have any effect on the way you tell a story as opposed to the way a heterosexual writes? Is there a “gay sensibility,” per se?
MW: I think it’s a wonderful question. I have no clear answer. At its most basic, I think that being different, being an outsider, being gay, gives you a chance to open your eyes. You learn not to take things for granted. As an LGBT person, you observe more from the sidelines, because center stage is usually full of dumb jocks and loudmouths. That’s true for many outsiders, so maybe there is an “outsider sensibility” rather than a gay one.
There is one aspect I think helps gay people acquire a more nuanced viewpoint: a gay relationship has no direct procreative goal. Gay sex is about enjoyment and pleasure, and apparently serves no biological purpose. This beautiful lack of function is the cause for our focus on beauty. A straight couple may see fulfillment of a union in the offspring created—we only have the act itself, the appreciation of the here and now, and of the other person’s body and personality. A “gay sensibility” if you want, may be a higher ability to see and appreciate beauty, without hidden motives and function. Gay people love beauty and appreciate it, because it’s all we have. That’s why we are so creative and fond of expressive gestures. Life is about love, love is beauty, and beauty is art. There is no art without love.
MFT: Science fiction is a niche market, and gay subject matter certainly narrows the margin. Do you think Bodensee will be able to find its audience easily enough?
MW: I see my writing as an art form. I don’t do it for the money. I do it because I like it, because I feel I have to do it. I am grateful for every single reader, every single fan, who appreciates what I do, but I really don’t think about mainstream vs. niche markets that much. I have no ambitions to write so-called bestsellers. “Number of copies sold” or Amazon ranking is not a measure of success and certainly no sign of quality.
As for finding an audience: the audience finds me. Open-minded readers and gay fans live in a world of mass products which usually leave one wanting. Bestselling books usually do not reflect our gay lives and desires, so we have to go out and seek our own fantasy worlds. That said, I am surprised by the success of Benedetto, launched only a year ago. We’ve over 20,000 Facebook fans already on www.facebook.com/benedettocasanova (but who is counting LOL), and the book is selling remarkably well for a piece of historical literature. I really did not expect that, and I am humbled by the experience.
As for gay sci-fi, I don’t think the market is that small. Many gays are used to seeking escape valves in fantastic tales. What better than a fantastic tale featuring fantastically good-looking guys?
MFT: Will we be seeing any further forays in this genre?
MW: AAAAAAbsolutely, with a capital A. Or six of them. I have only just discovered the idea of sci-fi. I used to think I would not be good at it. I am currently mulling over a book idea which will combine sci-fi and humor. Imagine an alien race encountering our planet for the first time. They have only one hour to see what life is like on Earth, so their expeditionary force beams down and lands smack in the middle of West Hollywood! Just imagine . . . I have written several sci-fi stories in the past which remain unpublished. I might pick up one or the other and turn it into a book.
MFT: If any, what other genres would you be interested in working in?
MW: Everything. Bodensee is ultimately a serious sci-fi book. In the future, I also want to write more funny stories like I did with Jeremiah Hudgejaw. Even in Shayno, amazingly, readers picked up on the humorous parts, even though it is a serious book. I am working on a sequel to Benedetto, and I am researching a number of other ideas. I am studying Arabic and reading The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the book on which Lawrence of Arabia is based, so maybe there’ll be a book on hot Arabs in the future. I just completed a crime novel which looks at a series of murders, but from the perspective of a woman bystander, rather than the usual cute detective. That’s not to say there won’t be any gorgeous policemen in it, haha. I honestly don’t believe in genres, though, my books will also build bridges between set clichés.
MFT: Now known as a vocal voice for the gay community, will we be seeing any “We Want Weber” posters in the coming election years?
MW: Definitely not, although, I like the slogan. LOL. I see my role as a commentator and entertainer. I don’t think I would be very good at politics. I find the political process in most countries exasperatingly slow and tedious; I am too impatient for that. But, as for supporting good causes and bringing them to the public’s attention, I will certainly continue down that road.
MFT: And, finally, just to end on a fun note and take advantage of one gay writer interviewing another gay writer, what’s your favorite disco record?
MW: That must be It’s Raining Men. I remember dancing to it in a gay club in Milan twenty odd years ago—my first ever night out with a bunch of hot men. I ended up in a strange bed, somewhere in a suburb, with two fashion models, and it was raining! I think of that night every time I hear the song.