Hostile Questions: John Barnes
Posted by: Daniel Kraus
John Barnes has published over 30 books. So I guess he thinks he’s a real smart guy? Let’s dig a little deeper into these so-called “books” of his. Hmm. Two collaborations with Buzz Aldrin. Well, I guess that’s not nothing. A 2010 Printz Honor for Tales of the Madman Underground. Fine, fine. I admit that might be something. Oh, screw it, John Barnes is the greatest living American writer and we should all be shielding our eyes lest we be blinded by his effervescent brilliance. All right?!?
Just who do you think you are?
At any given moment that’s a very good question. “An assembly of personality fragments flying in loose formation with numerous collisions, all sharing a single driver’s license and social security number,” might cover it pretty well.
Where do you get off?
I very seldom do, anymore. But I guess I could mention that I like it on the bus and if I stay there long enough, the bus comes back around to where I started. Or I suppose I could say that I try to only do that in private. Or I could answer the intended hostility with a shrug; I think I’m kind of a fossil anyway, my sense is that there are fewer people like me all the time and more are not being born or raised, so I see and say things I do because nobody has really put a dedicated effort into stopping me yet, and meanwhile the seeing and saying is what I do.
What’s the big idea?
There’s really only one big idea, and that’s “Pay attention.” All the other sort of big ideas like “Love when you can”, “Nobody gets out alive,” and “Wherever you go, there you are” are subsidiary to it.
What is your problem, man?
My favorite problems are mostly paradoxes, though in general I like any situation in which everyone is right and therefore no one can do what they want. Technically the problem is then to write from someone who is inside the paradox and can only see part of it (even if they can clearly see that it’s a paradox). So I’m less fond of stories, at least of writing stories, in which the question is whether Captain Bonzo of the Space Marines can recapture the Polymorphous Credenza of Humidor from the Forces We Capitalize Without Naming, and more in the ones where the arrows point to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and we went in to go beyond, but there’s only a blank concrete wall after the bath.
I like to think about the tiny people hired to paint the last few Quakers before the subatomic level on the Quaker Oats box, and wonder if they have tiny Quakers to model for them, and how they manage to work when their tiny brains can’t conceive of anything as large as an oat. I like to try to capture the experience of a finite mind bumping up against something transfinite. I don’t think I’ve ever actually done that, but I like the trying part.
Haven’t you done enough?
Probably, but that’s for others to decide. And I pride myself on how bad I am at taking hints.