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FANTASTIC TANDEM: Henry Lion Oldie on the structure of reality and envisioning the future (Part I)

FANTASTIC TANDEM: Henry Lion Oldie on the structure of reality and envisioning the future (Part I)
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Dmytro Gromov and Oleg Ladyzhensky / facebook.com

 

Henry Lion Oldie is the joint pseudonym of the writing tandem of Dmytro Gromov and Oleg Ladyzhensky.

They recently became the first-ever Ukrainian authors to be nominated for the prestigious BSFA Awards, which are given by the British Science Fiction Association.

The editors of our almanac could not miss such an unprecedented event. We offer you a series of publications in which two outstanding science fiction writers discuss the possible and the impossible, the nature of creativity, and the future of Ukraine and the world.

 

WHO IS HENRY LION OLDIE

 

Before passing the word to the «two-faced» Henry Lion Oldie, let us introduce you to this unique, fantastic tandem.

Henry Lion Oldie was born back in 1990 as a result of a creative union of fiction writers from Kharkiv — Dmytro Gromov and Oleg Ladyzhensky. It seems that they managed to resolve the eternal dispute between «physicists» and «lyricists», which creative intellectuals began back in the 60s. The point is that Gromov is a man of science and a chemical engineer by profession, and Ladyzhensky is directly related to art; he is a theater director.

The genre of science fiction has become the field in which a talented «physicist» meets with a talented «lyricist», generating, to the reader’s pleasure, dozens of exciting works, where science is sometimes neighbored by fantasy and mysticism.

Now, on the account of Henry Lion Oldie, more than 60 original books. Together with all reprints and translations into other languages, there are more than 280 books, with a total circulation of about 2 million copies.

Recently, Gromov and Ladyzhensky’s science fiction story «The Unknown Painter» was nominated for a BSFA award in the category «Best Translation of Short Fiction». The work is about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the birth of artificial intelligence technology, and the importance of art.

It was created for the anthology The Digital Aesthete and translated into English by editor Alex Schwartzman. In the former Soviet Union, this appears to be the first time it has been nominated for the world’s premier English-language science fiction prize.

Thanks to Gromov and Ladyzhensky, the voice of Ukraine and Ukrainian culture has become better heard around the world. So, let’s give the floor to the wonderful writer Henry Lion Oldie, who, represented by Oleg and Dmitry, will be interviewed for our almanac.

 

Обложка антологии The Digital Aesthete («Цифровой эстет»)
Cover of the anthology The Digital Aesthete

 

BINOCULAR VISION OF THE TANDEM OF «PHYSICIST» AND «LYRICIST»

 

Oleg: We have been working together for 34 years. During this time, we haven’t quarreled or killed each other. When we decided to work together, Dmytro was already the author of a number of short stories and novels. In contrast, I was predominantly engaged in dramaturgy and poetry but also had experience in prose miniatures.

We read each other’s works, criticized, argued, and one day decided to try writing together. Of course, for some time, we were trying to get along with each other — two different characters, temperaments, and mindsets!

As a result, we concluded that ambition is not the priority. In other words, it doesn’t matter at all who wrote the line that will be included in the final version of the text. We have learned to select the best for the books. Actually, we are theater guys, and in the theater, it is common to do what is best for the performance.

If an actor needs to step back and become invisible in a mise-en-scene, he steps back and becomes invisible. When we realized this, all our arguments transformed into discussions. As a result, we ended up with a certain text in a common style.

Besides, Oldie is not just the sum of Gromov and Ladyzhensky. Binocular vision, looking at the world from two different points of view, gives a kind of new, third quality. When we periodically write separately, we get completely different texts — in style, approach, and even ideas.

Dmytro: Nowadays, we really don’t have as many serious arguments as we used to have in the beginning. We have a common goal — how to make a particular episode better. We usually have a master plan for the piece, and we always know how it will end. However, there are different ways to get from point A to point B, and these are the subjects of our discussion.

We have been heading towards a creative tandem for a long time… In 1978, I brought my story to the Kharkiv literary studio, where Oleg had been working for a long time. We got acquainted, but friendship, and moreover joint authorship, did not arise for a long time.

Each of us entered his own university, and we stopped attending the studio. We met again at a karate school, where Oleg was an assistant instructor. Acquaintance resumed, and I learned that, among other things, Oleg is a theater director, and he has his own studio.

I offered him one of my plays for the theater. It was science fiction with all its classic attributes — aliens, spaceships, abductions… Oleg then read the play but did not put it. And, as I realize now, he did the right thing. But I stayed in his studio for a long time as an actor.

Sports training and theatrical creativity brought us closer together, and we had the idea to try writing together. I am a technician, and Oleg is a humanitarian. We have common interests, but we also have different education, erudition, temperaments, and even tastes.

And this is great, because we complement each other. If we were the same, there would be no point in writing in co-authorship.

 

MARTIAL ARTS: A BREAKTHROUGH INTO THE REALM OF THE SPIRIT

 

Oleg: We have been practicing various martial arts for over 40 years. To karate, we can add judo and fencing on sabers — for me, on sword — for Dmytro.

In our Kharkiv community, there are 80-year-old «veterans», compared to whom 45-year-olds are just boys. These people have tremendous fortitude and continue practicing karate despite their limited physical abilities.

Just like all Kharkiv citizens, our «veterans» were shocked by the war. However, the experience of training for several decades helped and still helps physically and psychologically to survive the most challenging days.

It is almost impossible to separate the physical from the spiritual aspect of martial arts practice. For example, the average person never wants to exercise in the morning. But you get up and start anyway. Indeed, the source of such a deliberate decision is in the realm of the spirit.

This experience can sometimes be invaluable in extreme or creative situations. Of course, we could not pass it by in our literary work.

We have a novel «Messiah cleans the disk», which is written using the material of China of the XV century. Naturally, the famous Shaolin monastery and fighting monks are present there. There are novels «Carp and Dragon» and «Dragon and Carp» about alternative Japanese history of the end of the XVII century, where samurai, geisha, and monks appear.

In Kharkiv in the 90s of the last century and at the same time in Japan of the XV-XVI centuries, the events of the novel «Noperapon, or In the image and likeness» take place. So, we often refer to our experience of martial arts in literature and life. It’s one of the sources of energy and ideas for us.

Dmytro: We are often asked how our many years of martial arts training influences our writing. We have novels where martial arts are a plot-forming element.

Also, different characters have various «pieces» of us in them. They don’t have to be one hundred percent us — they can be worse, better, or totally different. It is clear that the hero is not a banal mold of the author but a kind of composite personality. There are both accidental and specially invented traits in it, and something from our acquaintances. But certainly something from us.

It has long been noticed that a literary hero does not «come to life» if the author is not at least partially reflected in him. This is true literally for any character — positive, negative, major or episodic.

To put it simply, if you don’t put a soul into a character, he won’t «come to life». And except for ours and Oleg, no others, as you understand, we do not have — we are not the God! That’s why some of our qualities, our passion for martial arts, and sometimes our mood and physical traits are transferred to the heroes.

 

Дмитрий Громов и Олег Ладыженский во время занятий каратэ
Dmytro Gromov and Oleg Ladyzhensky during karate training / facebook.com

 

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ON THE PREDICTIVE FUNCTION OF FICTION

 

Oleg: In my opinion, the predictive function of fiction is greatly exaggerated. It is a kind of legend. When Jules Verne described the submarine, the idea of the submarine was already there. He simply extrapolated it into the future. In the same way, the idea of heavier-than-air flying machines existed before airplanes were invented.

Science fiction writers don’t predict the future. For example, no one foresaw the internet, although the idea of an «all-planet information center» existed. But with one important note: no one talked about the fact that a significant part of people’s lives would move into virtual space until this movement actually began.

When a science-fiction writer models the future, he is just elaborating on the existing trends, presenting them in an artistic form. It is known that the entire European mythology, for thousands of years of existence, could not come up with such a «fantastic» animal as the kangaroo until it was discovered in Australia.

So, you can’t invent something you don’t have at least a little idea about. Why, for example, has post-apocalypticism been popular for the last 10-15 years? Why the desire for pictures of post-war devastation and scorched earth with Mad Max and mutants running around?

Because the threat of a transition to a post-apocalyptic world is very real, it’s constantly in the air. Today, we’re getting up close to that scenario. God forbid that it should materialize, but any person has no less chance of «guessing» it than a science fiction writer.

Dmytro: We can name a number of fantasy works where some realities of the future were foreseen. It is believed that Arthur C. Clarke predicted, for example, cellular and satellite communications. But the fact is that satellites had already been launched by that time, and the fundamental possibility of using them for communication already existed.

Clark, of course, is a good man — he was the first to proclaim it. But it was not some incredible visionary breakthrough. And so it is in the vast majority of cases.

If we take the best works of science fiction and subtract them from all the predictions that have come true or are coming true, we will get, at best, 0.1%. And that’s only because, according to the statistics of probability, when making predictions, science fiction writers must sometimes hit the ten.

 

FANTASTIC TANDEM: Henry Lion Oldie on the structure of reality and envisioning the future (Part I)
Cover of the book «Carp and Dragon. Book 1. Tales of Karma» / instagram.com

 

ON THE STRUCTURAL SIMILARITY OF REALITY AND LITERATURE

 

Oleg: If it makes sense to talk about prediction, it’s only in relation to the «format» in which a writer works on a story. The whole reality around us is built on conflict in one way or another. In the real world, conflict is always preceded by some event, which, developing incrementally, leads to a climax and denouement.

Similarly, the engine of any literary plot is conflict. In the plot structure, there is always an exposition, there is a situation when there is no conflict, and it is just emerging, there is a climax, etc. In other words, we can easily find certain structural similarities in the history of mankind and the history of our lives.

Dmytro: I think it is no coincidence that a literary work is structured in this way. Intuitively or intentionally, literature has always followed life, and at some point, literary scholars took notice of these structural features of the literary plot and wrote about them in textbooks.

Where else would literature get all this from if not from life? It is doomed to follow the logic of the development of life conflicts. Anything from family conflicts to geopolitical ones.

We can look at the conflict between Ukraine and Russia from this point of view. Obviously, from the perspective of the plot structure, we are still far from the climax. Moreover, you and I are not even the main characters in this story. Without mentioning the authorship…

Oleg: We can only guess how the stories will end in the real world. They have an open ending, and the full structure of the historical plot is known only to the Writer. As far as external historical events are concerned, you and I are anyone — readers, spectators, actors, but in any case, we are not Him! We just don’t see the whole picture, we lack information.

Of course, Dmytro and I have some idea of the possible climax and denouement of this war. But it is hardly necessary to announce it to a broad audience. Not because it is a mystery but because it is too presumptuous.

We see the world from inside of just one «episode». But thousands of people on earth exist in their own «episode». And their role in it is dictated by their view of the world, which is different from ours.

Each person works with their free will and their choices exclusively within their own «episode».

Dmytro: No single character can fill all the plot space. Every conflict has a «planner», an author who conceives conflicts before they even begin. I assume that, in addition to God, the Russian-Ukrainian war had those who planned its climax and denouement in advance.

Another thing is that these people could easily be wrong. As we know, any plan never fully materializes as it was conceived. So, they could easily have missed the shot. And not only in small things but also globally.

 

Read Part II

 


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