23 July 2010
Ian McDonald’s interview with the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography makes me realise what fascinates me so much about the worldbuilding in his near-future India, Brazil and Turkey (River of Gods, Brasyl and The Dervish House): he sees himself as an ethnographer, to all intents and purposes:
It takes years. I read a lot. I travel a lot — and as much as I can afford. I talk to people, I read the papers. I cook the food. I buy the music, I follow the sports teams. I try to second-guess what the government will do in international politics. I learn a bit of the language. I study the religion. I study the etiquette. I try and work out what the day-to-day details are like. I watch people. I have a very strong visual memory and I can recreate an entire scene in my head and observe details. I cultivate an eye for detail. I take thousands of photographs of boring everyday things. I look at what’s on sale in gas stations and what that tells you about a culture. I study the ads. I talk to more people. I get hammered on the local booze. I try to take the country’s political position in the world news. I watch television. I read books for those tiny details. Is this like Method Acting? WTF are you doing with those lights?!?