Dan Chaon on When Science Fiction Isn’t Science Fiction Anymore ‹ Literary Center


This week on The Maris magazineDan Chaon joins Maris Kreizman to discuss his new novel, Somnambulismreleased now from Henry Holt & Co.

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When science fiction becomes reality:

CC : [The novel] is set in a slightly alternate America, though as I wrote it over the course of about three years, the real world got closer to the dystopia I originally imagined. So I can’t even really call it science fiction, it’s just a little bit different from what the United States is like right now.

MK: I take it you’ve seen footage of the NYPD drone dogs? You don’t know if you should run away from them or caress them.

CC : Yes. They are quite cute, aren’t they? There’s a new product that looks a lot like something I invented. In the book, there’s some kind of drone that flies around and follows you around and takes pictures and posts them to social media, and it turns out that’s a real thing now. Sure. I thought it was a clever invention. I didn’t patent it though.

To have been brought up without an identity:

CC : Billy has a kind of zen attitude about what identity is because he never had one. He grew up with a mother who was a con man who constantly changed her name and story. So he came on honestly…I think one of the things that makes Billy valuable to his employers is that he was raised from a kid to be someone who was off the grid. He was raised by paranoid cultists who thought they had to raise kids who didn’t have birth certificates, didn’t have social security numbers, had never been online. So, in a way, it was this creature that was created to avoid the surveillance state. It’s called an empty Scrabble square.

By accepting the house is on fire:

CC : I was really trying to figure something out about the way we live now, which is that we should all be screaming and crying and tearing our hair out, but we don’t. I was thinking of the famous meme where the dog sits in a cafe on fire and says to himself “I’m fine”. In a way, that’s the mascot theme of this book. It’s about someone who wakes up and realizes the house is on fire.

Recommended reading:

Habitats of the world by Phil Chaon • midnight gates by Usman Malik • The candy house by Jennifer Egan


Dan Chaon is the author of several earlier books, including bad will, a national bestseller, named one of the top ten books of 2017 by Publishers Weekly. Other works include the collection of short stories To stay awake (2012), Story Prize finalist; national bestseller waiting for your response; and Among the missing, National Book Award finalist. His latest novel is called Somnambulism.


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