Thursday, January 07, 2010

Guest Post: Adventuring, and How to Avoid It by Lavie Tidhar

As part of him taking the world by storm, we've got Lavie Tidhar visiting us today on his whirlwind blog tour. What I found / scrounged up about the world-travelling Lavie is:


Lavie grew up on a kibbutz in Israel and has lived variously in South Africa, the UK, Asia and the remote island-nation of Vanuatu in the South Pacific.

Lavie’s first novel, The Bookman, will be published by HarperCollins’ Angry Robot imprint in January 2010: “both an exuberant steampunk adventure novel and a book about books, a retelling of the Orpheus story set against the wide background of an alternative nineteenth century.” It will be followed by at least two more books in the series.

Lavie’s other works include novellas An Occupation of Angels, Cloud Permutations and Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God, linked-story collection HebrewPunk, and collaborative novel The Tel Aviv Dossier (with Nir Yaniv), as well as numerous short stories. He has also written a short play, a Hebrew poetry collection, and scripts for comics.


Adventuring, and how to Avoid It

I think I always feared, deep down, that unless I did something drastic with my life I would end up at sixty with a pipe, a glass of sherry and a book, sitting in an armchair, having lived a thoroughly dull life.

Which, looking back, might not have been such a bad idea!

Someone once told me only dull people go travelling: interesting people stay at home and have an interesting time. Certainly, the kind of conversations you can expect when you travel seem to boil down to the “where do you come from?” and “where are you going?” prompts (to both of which I used to answer “Japan”, for no good reason but to get it over with). And yet...

There was the Artificial Intelligence doctor I met in a guest-house in Zimbabwe one time... and the nuclear physicist travelling around the South Pacific on a miniscule yacht, who shared his sense of excitement in working on nuclear weapons for the US military in the 60s and 70s... or the South African police detective who retired to the shores of Lake Malawi, and shared stories of spontaneous human combustion...

Someone once told me most of my stories feature travel. And that is certainly true of The Bookman, my first novel coming out this week in the UK. My hero, Orphan, is a reluctant traveller – a guy who wants nothing more than to stay at home and read books. Adventure, as it were, is thrust upon him. Because the thing about adventure, the real-life truth of it, is that it is usually only fun once it’s safely over, and you can sit at home, warm and well-fed, and recall it.

Adventuring means being cold – and hungry – and tired – and scared. I once climbed the volcano on the island of Gaua in the South Pacific – a semi-active volcano surrounded by the southern hemisphere’s largest volcanic lake, Lake Letes. Very few people ever get to go there – the Banks islands of Vanuatu, where I lived, are some of the most remote and inaccessible parts of the world. And the volcano was beautiful. Giant eels lived in the sulphuric lake, and giant prawns, and nothing else. There were no people there, no lights, nothing but the smoke rising from the volcano and the sun setting in the distance.

And we ate instant noodles mixed with tinned fish. I urge you to try it.

And it rained that night.
And trying to go and relieve myself, I instead fell in the mud.
I really wasn’t having a good time.

We walked bus fasin (bush fashion). Barefoot through the forest, knee-deep in water from the rains. We had to push our way through with machetes, clearing a path over steep falls and precipices. A fall would have meant an instant end: there were no helicopters standing by, no doctors, no hospitals.

I didn’t fall – luckily.

Another time, I was in a small town on the Rejang river in Borneo, around 600 miles into the interior – the farthest one could go – when I started talking to a man who turned out to run a logging camp deep in the jungle, and who said, “If you want to go, we’re leaving in an hour.”

My girlfriend and I grabbed our bags and an hour later were sitting in the back of a pickup, traversing dirt roads deep into the forest, arriving – six hours later – somewhere near the border of Kalimantan.

No one knew we were there. We weren’t even supposed to be there.

Looking back... you take risks you’re not even aware of. Hitchhiking from Zimbabwe to Malawi, via Mozambique, in a day – at one point sitting at the back of a pickup belonging to a speed-mad Portuguese missionary... or going off into the Gobi desert for ten days, where a frozen river sits an hour’s drive from giant, pristine sand dunes...

I don’t know if any of this made me any more interesting than I was. No one likes other people’s travel stories. For me, it was – it is – about visiting the more remote places of the world, of getting to see life as it’s lived elsewhere – and try to gain a new perception from it.

In The Bookman, Orphan leaves home not because he wants to, but because he must. How far will you go for love? And how far will you go to learn the truth about yourself? It seems to me, as it no doubt seems to Orphan, that adventure is best enjoyed at home, in comfort. Adventure is best found in books – and I love adventure books. I also love having hot water in the shower, and clean water to drink – rare and wonderful things, both. And so I hope that The Bookman has that sense of adventure to it – the sweat and the fear and the discomfort, but also the sheer unbeatable exhilaration of it, that sense of pure freedom that can be more addictive than any drug.

That sense of fun.

There’s a lot more in The Bookman – exploding books and vast conspiracies, automatons and giant lizards, chases and escapes, a quest of sort – but fun, I hope, lies beneath it all.

I hope you might read it –

And I hope you agree.

Lavie's novel The Bookman is out later this month from Angry Robot.

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