diumenge, 10 de maig del 2015

Dmitry Glukhovsky: “I want to spread my books like a virus”

Dmitry Glukhovsky.                                                     Photo: Anna Guxens.

Dmitry Glukhovsky is both a writer and a journalist and we cannot understand one without the other. As for the first one, he has written the popular dystopian Metro series and several other books, such as Dusk and Future. As a journalist, he reported the Chernobyl accident, made the first connection to the North Pole and covered the Russian President trips abroad. Where is the connection between both sides, then? Russa itself. Being known for being very critical to Putin’s government, Dmitry has tackled with the stinky things of Russia in his work in a metaphorical way although, sometimes, he has put his finger directly on the wound, like he did in his satiric compendium of tales Stories About Motherland.

Adria’s News interviews Dmitry Glukhovsky in order to know which have been the most striking experiences he has had to face as a journalist, to ask him if he has planned to turn Metro into a movie, besides the already existing videogame, and to request if he is able to forecast the near future of his natal Russia.

This is your second year here at the Celsius 232. Why coming back?
I loved it for first the time. Asturias is a very nice refuge from the summer heat. Then, there is a fantastic atmosphere and the organizers are very friendly. It’s like a family reunion more than an official meeting. I really enjoyed the first time and, since I have very good memories, why not repeating the experience?

You have worked in a lot news media. Since we are both journalists, I need to ask you, which is, for you, the main enemy we should defeat in order to get our job done properly?
The State. Or maybe not the State itself, but the politicians are the main issue. The journalist must be very aware of any hint of power abuse. The problem comes from the fact the financing depends directly on the political world and journalism is supposed to be a reflection of the reality. Humans exists as well in the objective world as much as in the imaginary world and they are very susceptible to adding to the objective reality the imaginary part of it: religion, political ideology… So you get kids lying to parents, parents lying to kids; husbands lying to wives and wives lying to husbands, you know? We exist as much in the imaginary world that we created for ourselves and for the others as in the objective world. What’s sad is the temptation to abuse media to construct reality in which your people would live and which maybe has nothing in common with the objective reality itself, which is too huge. You can seduce people to follow you and force them to do anything you want to by lying to them, and media is the universal tool that can be used to lie, so media is power, and not abusing this power requires a very strong system of control that only few countries have developed, like the Scandinavian ones, basically because they have nothing to share. So the biggest adversaries as a journalist are the owners of journalism.

You are Russian, but studied in Jerusalem. From my outsider view it seems strange, so I was wondering why you took this decision?
I’m partly Jewish; not a proper Jew, but my father is Jewish and I was just looking for a place where I could study out of Russia. I considered a few options and I realize studying in Israel was a non-expensive option with an American quality of education. I never was religious or I didn’t know anything about tradition, so all the things I learned about Judaism and Israel came when I got there. And still, I’m a complete Russian in my soul; a westernized Russian, maybe, but I have become a fan of Israel after living there, not that I started feeling myself a Jew, but I definitely started feeling an Israeli after living there for a while. You make some choices, sometimes, in a very spontaneous way, and this one was one of those. England was expensive, France maybe not, because was expensive too, and Israel was just 3.000$ a year!

Corruption “The problem of journalism comes from the fact the financing depends directly on the political world”

Dmitry Glukhovsky.              Photo: Anna Guxens.

You reported the Chernobyl disaster and you also made the first connection to the North Pole. Which has been the most striking experience you’ve ever had as a journalist?
The most striking experiences, in a dramatic sense, came when I reported a couple of plane crushes. Those were strong, although I really didn’t feel, I would say, all the horror. I tried to, but I couldn’t force myself to go to the relatives and stick a microphone into their mouth. I just didn’t feel that was the proper thing to do. I can interview a medic, a doctor, an official or whatever workers, but I can’t go and rape emotionally people who just lost their relatives. So I wasn’t a very good professional, I guess… On the positive side, things that have shocked me included the parade for the 60th anniversary of independence in India. That was a crazy and hallucinating thing. We are very used to military parades in Russia, but they are all very serious. You have those threatening military equipment, dozens of meters long, missiles able to destroy the United States or Europe, dragging to the Red Square, showing the world our still fist, but in India this was completely different. There was a military parade, but then the colors of the uniform were completely out of this thing: pink, blue marine, turquoise, gold… Crazy uniforms and very sweet faces! It was like a circus, and then they had the biggest camels I have ever seen, and I have seen some camels in my life. They had the size of an elephant, huge creatures. I’ve never seen anything like that in any zoo in the world. And then, the real other fun were the child heroes, the children who did some heroic act, like saving other children from water or fire. Every elephant would carry three to five children in a cabin. What kind of parade is that? And then, tanks and platforms with people dancing. And at the end there was some helicopters flying on the crowds throwing tons of rose petals onto them. So what do you need to smoke to make such a parade? That was one of the strongest impressions, along with the North Pole trip, which was also astonishing.

I bet the period you covered the Russian President trips abroad was also very interesting…
It was not as interesting as I would hope, but the main feeling I got from these trips is that I lost completely the feeling of the sacrality of power. He, of course, the President, whoever he is, has some special relation, treating thing in a particular way, but you end up just seeing him as a human being. And there are rules that you are not allowed to do… Medvedev, for example, he was reputed for being small. He is 1,60 or so, I think. And because of being so small, there are strict rules of how you can and you can’t cover him. For example, the cameramen can only shoot him from the height of his eyes, so spectators don’t ever see he is small. Moreover, all of his personal guards are selected with the same height, so there is no 1,80-tall man or so around him and he doesn’t look like a dwarf. And Putin is getting bald from the back, so he cannot be filmed on the back, because he has to look youthful and full of energy, but he is 62, the same as George R.R. Martin. And he looks better than George, although he behaves much worse. A part of that, it gave me an opportunity to travel, quite a bit, because Putin was mad going here and there: India, Japan, Algeria, some Arab countries, some European countries… I was not in all of these trips, but I was in a lot of them.

Ukraine crisis “This is not a scar that is going to disappear within years”

Dmitry Glukhovsky.                                                     Photo: Anna Guxens.

There is an important conflict involving Russia nowadays, which is Ukraine. What should be done in terms of international relations, since you have some experience in this field?
I don’t know how to move. It’s a bit of an over zero sum gain for everybody. I’m very disappointed with what’s happening. I’m totally against what Putin is doing on Eastern Ukraine, setting it on fire and creating internal instability, so that Ukraine can’t really join NATO with all this armed conflicts going on. And Putin is actually destabilizing Ukraine on purpose, so that the Russians, from whom Ukraine is a reduce model of their own country, can go in an alternative way. Instead of going in the direction of North Korea and Iran, they can go in the direction of Poland and other European countries establishing democratic values, free elections, free modern economy and eventually in a dozen of years, living better than Russia. For sure, Putin does not want Russians to have a comparison of themselves with Ukraine. He has a number of reasons not allowing NATO or America eating Ukraine that he sees as the traditional sphere of Russia, not only in the influence, but part of the boundaries, underbelly. It is very sensible. He is really paranoid about the West covering themselves in the nice words. He thinks that he is fighting for his life and in this paradigm every tool is legal, especially since he is not really waging a real war with the West, since he is just sending some military troops in Ukraine.

How do you see Russia in 10 years time?
I’m quite scared to think about it, frankly. I’m afraid that there is going to be further isolation, just for the sake of preserving the people in power and a further brainwash. The amount of brain washing is completely unprecedented. The media has completely seized to be a tool of information. The last time they pretended to be a democratic state was when they hosted the Olympics, but since then, and since the revolt in Ukraine things have changed drastically and now the official language has changed completely. We don’t have any dependent media in Russia left; even the big electronic media that used to be independent are now completely submerged by the State. There have been a number of bills introduced that completely suppress freedom of speech online. If you write a post that is considered extremist, this can lead you to get six years of jail. That’s worse than Saudi Arabia. The prospects are not looking good to me at all, but the country will not collapse, because after all it has all the gas and resources, so it’s not like North Korea, which only has rice!

Misinformation “Russia commonly describes Europe as the kingdom of deprave gays and pedophiles”

Dmitry Glukhovsky.                                                    Photo: Anna Guxens.

Let’s move to the books, now. Metro 2033 was free on the net before it was printed, and you repeated this kind of risky strategy when you published the second part of the series. I was wondering why you did the same thing if you had already a fan base that would probably buy the book?
For a book author the important thing is not to sell books, but to be read. I prefer to have ten readers than just one reader who buys my book. After all, of course now I can make my living just with the work I’m doing, but the first and foremost purpose was to share my ideas and thoughts and get feedback. That’s the first impulse and whatever is the patron of the first book, the book is still online for free. I want people to read it, I want people to get put by the story and I want to spread it like a virus.

It’s also a videogame. Do you think there is still a prejudice against them?
I think the situation is improving. Couple of years ago that was kind of a legitimate claim that people still mistreated the videogames as childish or teenagery. But the initial gaming audience is growing older. People who were gamers when they were 12, 13 or 14 are now 30, and although they might not be following all the new releases because now they have work and family, when there is a sequel of the franchise they used to play as kids, they buy it. Like myself, I liked Civilization, so now Civilization VI is coming, so I buy it because I have been buying al Civilization games since I was in school. I remember myself sitting when I was 12 or 13 playing instead of studying, and the first personal computer brought from his work was a black and white screen and Civilization and Wolfenstain were running on it, so of course I’m buying the new versions of these games!

Purpose “For a book author the important thing is not to sell books, but to be read”

Dmitry Glukhovsky.             Photo: Anna Guxens.

Yesterday, in your conference, you mentioned that Oscar-winner screenwriters are now writing the new Call Of Duty, but don’t you have the sense, however, that the visual effects seem more important than story as time goes by? I say this having in mind script-based games such as The Longest Journey or Money Island, for example…
Four or five years ago, when my first game was released, I was complaining about the poor quality of the stories, but since then maybe I was one of the unknown pioneers of the storytelling in the game; since then the game developers have understood that giving good story to a game is very cheap compared to the cost of development, but it’s so important because after all when you grow up a little bit, when you are 20, you are not happy just by the killer instinct satisfaction. You want to have something more than just shooting and running. You wanna know why you should be this character, you want to know his dreams, his fears… You want to feel empathy and compassion to the characters.

But don’t you think people nowadays are very impatient and they just want to skip the story to go straight to the action sequences?
Well, it depends. There is a part of the public that is still playing games to have fun, fun in the American way, just too fool around with the gun and then shoot everybody, but even games that were like this, like GTA, are now developing dramatic stories and plotlines for everyone of the characters, and they are controversial and have an arch, so the convectional film storytelling is coming to the game business an that’s good because however bombastic the special effects can be, they cannot replace the story. Look at the Transformers. It cost a lot of millions and people got up bored. So what’s next? If the story is compelling you will be following, so all the special effects are made up for the story. A good story can make out for an absence of special effects. Look at the British shows, compared to American shows. They don’t have money, so they have very good stories, instead…

Storytelling “However bombastic the special effects can be, they cannot replace the story either in a movie or a videogame”

Dmitry Glukhovsky.                                                       Photo: Anna Guxens.

In Dusk your main character is Dmitry, and involves a Spanish book. Since your name is Dmitry and you are now in Spain I must ask you why you chose the two of them?
There’s a big chunk of my own life, so Dmitry’s everyday life is my everyday life at a certain point. The main character inherits this small apartment I remember from my childhood, and all the tiny details, the potato smell, the radio… These are reminiscences from my childhood in my grandmother’s apartment in Moscow. So it gives a lot of trust for the detail and if you describe it in another way the book would be less emotional. Your personal feelings can suddenly give a lot of volume to the story and lots of psychological reliability, and trustfulness. I just wanted to get back to those childish impressions because they were somehow magical to me: the old books, the old library, the old apartment, the old furnishing, the old mirror that was 150 years old... So the magical reminiscence from my childhood is put into the magical new story. I’m very fond of that book.

You have a new novel, Future, which was also released in a very special way…
Metro was published just online for free; Future was, again, a revolutionary case, since it was published in a social network called VK.com, one of the biggest in Europe. Unlike Facebook it allows you to attach to your post a picture, a soundtrack and a PDF. So I created a community that has grown in half a year into three hundred thousand people and there I was not only posting excerpts of the novel, but the entire chapters, downloadable as PDFs for free. I also posted the soundtrack and illustrations, so you could read it while listening to it and enjoying illustrations created specially for this project. I think that worked pretty well, the book has sold a lot of copies and people are still reading it.

Russia “The amount of brain washing is completely unprecedented”

Dmitry Glukhovsky.                                                       Photo: Anna Guxens.

In Future you bring another big topic, which is overpopulation. Are you worried about this issue related to our world?
The story of Future talks about how the humanity mankind reaches eternal youth, so they avoid all the age diseases, from Alzheimer to cancer, so you don’t die of the reasons you die now. They just stay 25 or 30 years. So because of that the Earth is getting overpopulated and it’s a spectacular visual civilization of huge towers where travel is vertical, so whatever you get out of the elevator you don’t know where you are going to find yourself. It can be a tropical island or a small village in the Alps. Of course you can only go to the next world, on which the rest of the world is projected and the people do not know that, so you can really find yourself in any setting. And old buildings, like Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben are they all in the cellar of these towers with the simulated rest of Paris or London, let’s say. So the main premise is that because of the overpopulation you can’t reproduce anymore. Anyone who is born has the right to be immortal, but if a couple wants to have a kid, one of them has to sacrifice his or her eternal youth. Then, there are the special people, called The Immortals coming to them, and they inject a special virus that would get him old in ten years time, before the kid reaches puberty and can reproduce further.

This child restriction reminds me of countries like China…
Of course China was one of the inspirations, but the situation in Europe, where people tries to remain young as long as possible, is another strong source of inspiration for me. Before, people in Germany or in Spain used to get married when they were 18, now they get married when they’re 35; they use to have kids when they were 19, now they start thinking about having kids when they are thirty-something, and have them when they are 40. You see a lot of couples with white hair and tiny kids. People don’t want to get old and take responsibility. They want to live by themselves for as long as they can in order to get a degree, travel… Because kids are still associated with getting older, and people want to be teenagers up to the age of 40, and this pushing back all the old age is quite an issue. On the other hand, people are living longer. Not so long ago people used to die when they were 60 and now they die when they are 80. A part from that, there is a very serious development in old age treatment, like gerontology and genetics, starting with the lab animals, rats and mice, to whom they are doing very successful experiments that extend their life term two or three times. Then they have cancer or sexual problems, but they live longer. It’s even proven that the agent process is reversible so certain mice that are about to die of old age receiving some gene therapy become younger and more active in all senses. So aging does appear to be reversal and can be treated as a disease.

Getting older “Nowadays, people want to be teenagers up to the age of 40”

Adrià Guxens (interviewer) and Dmitry Glukhovsky.    Photo: Anna Guxens.

Both Metro and Future remind me of films like Gattaca and Snowpiercer...
I haven’t seen the later, but I know their producers wanted to make a movie out of Metro.

And would you like to have your book turned into a film?
Yes, of course. Future is too big to be just one single movie. Future is about trading your own youth for the life of your children, on one hand, but Future is also about how death defines us, how the finality of our life defines us. Will we need to create, and build, and develop if we are immortal, if we are eternally young? Would we need to leave things behind us? Would we need God? Because one of the biggest problems is that God brings eternal life to us and, more importantly, that allows us to see the people who we love most: parents, friends, mothers, husbands, wives, children sometimes, which is the most painful of all, of course. God says I will bring you to them again in some distant land and people look for consolation. But what if we never go anywhere? Our soul is just a backup of our personality. Paradise is a cloud service in which we store ourselves. This leads to interesting questions, such as “Would the Church function as a political institution or as a business organization, which it is?”

For sure, we can also find a lot of criticism in the satirical Stories of Motherland. What effect were you willing to achieve by writing them?
These have not been translated into Spanish. It’s a set of short stories giving a portrait of today’s Russia in an absurd way and criticizing Putin’s take on Russia. I’ve never been sent to Siberia for writing it for now; we’ll see what happens next.

Ethics “I can’t go and rape emotionally people who just lost their relatives”

Dmitry Glukhovsky.               Photo: Anna Guxens.

You live in Moscow. Knowing all your inputs against the actual Russian Government, are you afraid?
It’s not that I’m afraid. But now, with how the situation is unfolding I’m increasingly anxious. I don’t know where this situation is heading and the changes are too dramatic and too quick to be predicted on forecast. How and where all this is gonna be? This is a mixture of Iran and North Korea, where people do not even understand what is happening and with horrible new laws that have suppressed all the personal and political freedom. The course taken for Russia is to be isolated to become more, more of a dictatorship that commonly describes Europe as the kingdom of deprave gays and pedophiles and have no moral right to dictate us what’s right or what’s wrong. It’s the gay Europe, and America just wants to tear us apart and rule us, and slave the people, and suck all gas in the world. That’s the common picture that has being broadcasted in everyday evening news. And of course people are getting their brain simply washed. The situation is horrible, and stepping out the propaganda to those stands makes very unpredictable where this situation will end. They have never tried to do that before.

It doesn’t sound good…
Increasingly, I have the feeling that I’m living in some kind of parallel reality. I wouldn’t even imagine like being a sci-fi author that Russia would dare to break all the system and grab a part of a different country and say, “it’s mine”. That’s absurd but it’s happening. Who would dare to make any forecast under such thing happening? After Putin instigating civil war in Ukraine, which is seen in Ukraine as a war against Russia and Russians and Ukrainians have been closest people ever existing, part of the same thing. I thought these two people were inseparable, and now, in just half a year, Ukraine really hates us, and this is not a scar that is going to disappear within years. It is a wound that is going to stay open for dozens of years, at least. And all that just for solving some idiotic tactical political problems.  

In Ukraine Putin split Crimea illegally but in Scotland are voting their future soon. Since here in Spain we have also regions with some people claiming for independence, I wanted to know what do you think. I’m talking about Catalonia or the Basque Country.
If Catalonians want independence, Spain has to let them go. But how is this going to function financially? It is not clear to me. And, still, I spent quite a lot of time in Barcelona, but I frankly don’t think the Catalan is a proper language. I speak French and I speak Spanish, so I can find out what they are saying, most of the time. And stop forcing the poor English tourist to learn Catalan! It’s not so difficult to understand once it is written all down, and I’m a fan of the Barcelona, but stop doing that. Stop this fucking nationalism! Be international! It’s Europe! We are not in the 18th Century, get over it! I understand they don’t want to give the money to the poor southern regions, but show some solidarity!

Satire “For now, I’ve never been sent to Siberia for criticizing Putin’s Russia”

Dmitry Glukhovsky with Adrià Guxens.                       Photo: Anna Guxens.

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