Interview with Ian Watson
Ian Watson: A little pub in Oxford where Tolkien went to drink... we were in there a few weeks ago. ... photograps on the walls ... 'Eagle & Child' ... near the Memorial, in Oxford.
Ian Watson: How many of my stories appeared in Czech?
TF: As far as I know there was published one story in F&SF, then one in Ikarie (that's another professional magazine) and there's going to be published one my translation of one your story.
Ian Watson: Nice. Right.
Ian Watson: And the story you translated, The Flesh Of Her Hair, will appear soon, will it?
TF: Oh yes, probably in autumn.
Ian Watson: Can you send me a copy of this?
TF: Of course I can.
Ian Watson: Oh thank you. I'll give you my address. Because otherwise I never know about these stories.
TF: So you can store them...
Ian Watson: Yes... I have a bibliographer in America, he keeps the bibliography of all my works, and in a few years' time he makes a new edition. And he wants everything - all stories in all languages.
TF: I can send you also the other translations...
Ian Watson: He'll probably have those, but he doesn't have Flesh Of Her Hair. But I would love to have that, thank you.
TF: My pleasure.
(somebody): Is there any future?
Ian Watson: There will definitely be a future. But I do not know if anyone will be alive to experience it. ... It's very optimistic. Of course there's gonna be a future! Yeah - look - the Universe is gonna be here for 35 billion years. Big future!
TF: But is there any future if man is not there?
Ian Watson: Yes.
TF: But - 'I am because I think.'
Ian Watson: Yes - the Universe exists because there are people to think about it. But of course there will be a future. Yes. Is it our future? That's the question. ... Look - in ten thousands year time - who will have heard of say Leonardo? Who will have heard of Tolkien? (natural disagreement of present fans of Tolkien) ... Oh it's cruel, it's cruel, I know. Well, we have recorded history of five thousand years and already the number of writers, artists, politicians, kings grows bigger and bigger and bigger. And in ten thousand years or in fifty thousand years - who will have heard of Shakespeare, who will have heard of Pushkin, who will have heard of Christ, who will have heard of Mohammed? Maybe nobody. The future will forget us. This is the ingratitude of the child...
Ian Watson: ... oh, it's a few years since I wrote The Flesh Of Her Hair...
TF: When was it, actually?
Ian Watson: It was years after the event happened, but it would be about ten years, I think. So I don't remember everything that was in the story. In principle it was all worse than that. We flew out to Japan. But we decided - it was safer - to come by sea. So...
JW: No. There was Expo...
Ian Watson: Oh Expo was on it. Yes, everything was booked up. There was an exhibition in Osaka...
JW: Wait a minute. What nationality are you? Are you Czech?
TF: No, I'm Slovak.
Ian Watson: Oh, you're Slovak, that's all right. You are not German.
JW: You're not German.
TF: No. But my Father is German.
JW: No we can't tell you the story then.
TF: Oh please. I don't mind.
Ian Watson: So we decided to go on a boat.
JW: No - a doctor, who was a Jewish in Tokyo, Dr. R...., who has escaped from Nazi ....., said to us, when we booked up on that boat, do you know what the name is? ...
Ian Watson: The boat was called The Parussia. We thought it was russian. But he said no, it's the old word for Prussia! Be careful, be careful! This was a cargo boat, owned by Hapag-Lloyd and it had twelwe passengers and a lot of cargo.
JW: And there were no stabilizers.
Ian Watson: Yes, of course, there were no stabilizers. And when we got on in .... in Japan - non stop to Hamburg. There were two Britain passengers, who were excited to have a cheaper trip around the world, they were retired, and they had started a joke about the 2nd World War with the German officers. The captain was a reserve officer of the German Navy, the chief engineer was ..., the steward ..... And they were - quite soon the steward was saying "Ja wohl mein kapitan!" Basically the discipline was broken down on this ship, a long time it got to Japan.
JW: The captain (?Buchholtz) had a Japanese girl there.
Ian Watson: Yes, he took a Japanese girl. And the crew, that was not allowed to, were rebellians. There were fights on the ship... the Chinese cook had fallen out of the boat...
TF: THIS really happened? I thought this part was thought up.
IW & JW: Yes. Yes.
Ian Watson: So we set off from Jokohama, Japan, across the Pacific. ... we were pushed ... the captain and he said: "What flesh do we have tonight?" All of the meal was brought from Hamburg ... or you'll get very hungry if you ... bring me more flesh ... Every Sunday morning they weighed the passengers on the deck and shouted out the weight. Last week's weight, this week's weight and the crew was aah or booo, depending whether you went up or down. ... home movies ... the adventures of Friedolin... in Bangkok ... Friedolin thinks ... Vietnamese refugees ... bleeding whale and Friedolin ... we had a Japanese passenger on the boat - he was eighteen ... his father was in Japanese airforce in 2nd WW ... a Northern Irish protestant missionary who was sent to Japan to convert the Japanese ... you know we have problems in Nothern Ireland... Irish Liberation ...
TF: I remember I had problems with one word in the story and I can tell you no English-speaking person I asked - British nor American - could decipher what does it mean for sure.
Ian Watson: Yes. What is it?
TF: 'Curbside weight.'
Ian Watson: 'Curbside weight.' Uhm. Ah. Yes. (laugh)
Ian Watson: 'Curbside weight.' Hm. I need to know the sentence. What was the sentence?
TF: I don't remember the sentence, but this weight was somehow needed to tell to the officers before going through the Panama canal...
Ian Watson: Oh yes yes yes. It was ..... who this said. OK. OK - a curb is...
TF: ...is what you have along the roads, between the road and the pavement.
Ian Watson: Yes. The margins of canal, the platform alongside the canal is like the curb alongside the road... and the German said the 'curbside weight' ...one ship was floating there like a car beside the curb... you had to declare what the weight is... the actual term is I think the key side or something like that ... I can't remember, but he made that up and I put it in, I understood it... I hope you found some way to translate it.
TF: I wrote is like a pure weight of what's on the ship, without the ship.
IW & JW: Oh yes, actually yes it is.
Ian Watson: What the captain meant was the weight of the ship including the passengers and including the food in their stomachs, which of course is ridiculous, I mean where the food does come from, it comes from the ship...
TF: So he said nonsense.
Ian Watson: Yes, but it was a precise nonsense. The EXACT weight.
Prekladateľov rozhovor s autorom poviedky Tělo jejích vlasů (The Flesh of her Hair), Ianom Watsonom, na Parcone '93 v Šumperku.
Parcon 1993, Saturday, June 26, 1993, Šumperk. Parts of the talk with Ian Watson and his wife Judy. Because of the noisy environment of the bar it was a hell of a work to decipher the discussion and for that reason some of the details may not have been rewritten correctly.
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Ian Watson interview science fiction