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4:00 p.m. November 17, 2000 An interview with Caleb Carr By Paul Doro
Caleb Carr is the author of two of the most critically acclaimed books of the 90's. "The Alienist" and "The Angel of Darkness" are both brilliantly written novels set in the past. His skill with history and prose is almost unmatched. "Killing Time," Carr's latest, is set in the near future. Though definitely a change of pace for the author, it is equally captivating and well-written. A classic page-turner, it's one of the finest novels of the year.
We got the chance to talk with Mr. Carr before his visit to the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in Racine (430 Main St., 262-633-7340) at 7:30 p.m. on Fri., Nov. 17. Here's what he had to say about such things as information technology and the future.
OnMilwaukee.com: Do you feel like "Killing Time" is a big change for you?
Caleb Carr: Yes, I do, in terms of the subject matter. But stylistically, not so much. So, yes and no.
OMC: Was it a lot of fun for you to write?
CC: It was a lot of fun because it is a much quicker, straight-ahead adventure story than my other books. It was a little scary in terms of the things I researched and discovered about what could possibly happen and what is happening in terms of the uses of information technology.
OMC: Did you enjoy having the creative freedom that writing a book in the future allows?
CC: It wasn't quite as much freedom as people generally think because when you're writing about the near future you really have to make it plausible if you expect anybody to pay attention. And making it plausible means doing the scientific and political research that you need to make sure your events can follow naturally from events and conditions that are predominating today.
OMC: Is it harder to write about the past or the future?
CC: They're both hard in different ways. What's hard about the past is an emotional thing. The points you make about the past permits your readers a sort of comfort zone. No matter how horrible what you're saying is, it already happened and things are different now so it's okay. That makes it harder sometimes to make your point about the past. The future offers people much less of a comfort zone and it makes it much harder for them to avoid the point of what you're trying to say. The problem then is that people tend to get a lot more upset and uncomfortable about what you're trying to say. That makes it tougher, so each in its own way has advantages.
OMC: Do you think the future depicted in "Killing Time" is realistic?
CC: I feel like it's realistic but I don't necessarily think that is what will happen. It's a cautionary tale but I'm not trying to say this is the future. I'm saying that if certain things don't change there is a great possibility that these things could happen. I think people need to wake up and look at these things (that I'm writing about).
OMC: Have you always been a fan of stories that are set in the future?
CC: My two main interests have always been the future and the past. It's the present I really don't have much interest in. I'm old enough to have been a Trekkie from the first time around and it's an obsession that's never gone away. Once I even got to work on a movie right next to the "Star Trek" studio so that was a gigantic thrill for me. I love history for the same reasons I love science fiction. It's an alternate world that's intelligently constructed.
OMC: Is the Internet doing more harm than good right now?
CC: I think the Internet does provide services that are useful and entertaining, but I also think the harm that it's doing is possibly greater than the good that it's doing. It provides information that is decimated and unverifiable. Anything can be put out over the Internet without any chance of it ever being checked out before it becomes read by millions of people and accepted by a lot of those people as real. I worry about what the Internet is doing. The dangers of unregulated information outweigh the conveniences of buying things or e-mail.
OMC: What should we be doing differently?
CC: You basically only have two choices in this country when it comes to regulation and that's government regulation and corporate regulation. If you do not have government regulation then you will have corporate regulation. The only goal of corporate regulation is profit so anything that they can do to make sure that the Internet turns a profit, they will do, including allowing any kind of objectionable or dangerous material to be published on it. The only other choice is government regulation and I really do think we need an extremely enlightened, but extremely strong, government agency to be created whose only task is to regulate information that appears on the Internet.
OMC: Will "The Alienist" ever be made into a film?
CC: There's certainly a chance. It comes up every year or so. I think someday it will be, it's just going to take time because there's a lot of elements to it that readers like but cause problems for Hollywood.
OMC: Do you have any say in the project?
CC: I don't have a lot of say in the project and that's part of the problem. I can make trouble when they make bad decisions like commissioning a bad script. Then I can go out and raise hell. But other than that, I have little creative input.
OMC: What are your future plans?
CC: Right now just finishing the book tour. Then I'll decide what I'm going to write next.
Caleb Carr's book "Killing Time" is available now from Random House.