LSQ: Your story begins with a person dying of sheer boredom. Could you explain where you got the idea for this plot point and what it means in the larger world (ours and the story’s)?
J.V.: Sudden death has been one of my obsessions ever since my grandmother and uncle died suddenly within six months of each other. Both deaths were completely unexpected. The idea that someone could be alive and well –eating a banana as my grandmother was doing– and be dead the next minute terrified me. In addition to this, last summer a good friend died the same way. He was only a couple of years older than me. It was the first time someone in my peer group died. It was really shocking. The untimely death of someone I considered an equal forced me to face my own mortality in a way I had never done before. Writing a humorous story about an expected death was my way of trying to make sense of those feelings. The fact that Hubris’ death is caused by boredom came afterward as a logical result of the worldbuilding.
LSQ: The worldbuilding in this story is done gradually, letting us know about customs and traditions over time, as it is encountered. It even hints at mythology and history, off the page. Like an iceberg, do you have more of the world mapped out in your mind?
J.V.: Yes, I do. This is a fantasy story, set in a secondary world, so once the idea of an immortal tribe facing a death came up, the first thing I had to do was to imagine how their life would be, their world, which rites they would know and which ones they wouldn’t need, would they have gods, and so on. The worldbuilding process is always fun, and although it’s a shame you can only show the tip of the iceberg of that work you’ve done, I think it’s also interesting to leave readers the freedom to fill in the gaps with their own imagination.
LSQ: There is a lot of contrast in this story that really brings out the differences between our culture and theirs. Their race is so “advanced” that they have forgotten about not only death, but the creation of life too. How else does their “advancement” affect their everyday lives?
J.V.: It affects them above all in the way they deal with everyday situations, how they interact with each other, and with their environment. As I see it, it is impossible to live as long as they do without being extremely aware of the patterns in the cycle of life and nature and draw conclusions as to what impact they really have in their surroundings and also how dependent they are on nature for their own survival. They are the spectators of the “eternal recurrence” of nature, but not a part of it. Also, there’s one quotation by Terence I love that reads “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto” which translates roughly as “I am human, and I consider nothing human alien to me” and I think it’s relevant to this story because living for so long, they would have experienced all the spectrum of human feelings, allowing them to understand each other deeply. Moreover, the fact that they know there is no death coming for them, no afterlife in which they would be held accountable for their actions, has allowed them to naturally develop a Kantian morality based not on punishments and rewards, but on empathy. Doing what’s right just because it has to be done. Considering all this, they lead a quiet peaceful existence with not many surprises or strong emotions.
LSQ: A moment of significant pause occurs in this story when “the words anger and selfishness were born in our language”. When writing this part, were there any emotions you were trying to evoke in the readers? Did you consider this to be a regression?
J.V.: When I wrote this part I wasn’t trying to evoke feelings in the reader, as much as I was trying to create a space for reflection. I had in mind, above all, the idea that such an immortal race would have developed a system based on group benefit over individual needs, and, at the same time, those needs would be met by the very work of the system. In fact, they have to face the inconvenience of a tie because everyone’s opinion is worth the same. No one has power over the others, nor their votes have more value. So, for them, the notion that one of their people could do something without regard for the others is totally alien. That’s why they have to create a word to name such behavior. Furthermore, in a system based on empathy, on understanding the feelings of others, there is no place for anger, but for dialogue. When they find themselves in a situation where they can no longer have a dialogue with Hubris to make him see their point of view or listen to his, they experience anger for the first time. So it’s not truly a regression for them, as much as a lesson on how to cope with silence and with someone that wouldn’t hear you or make the effort to try to understand you.