Monday, August 6, 2012

A Response from Lois McMaster Bujold about "Borders of Infinity" and Dante

Okay, I just barely resisted titling this post, "Because Bujold is Awesome, That's Why." :D

Earlier this year, I posted my theory that "Borders of Infinity" by Lois McMaster Bujold was at least partly inspired by Dante's "Inferno". A reader of the blog later encouraged me to send my thoughts to Bujold, and, eventually, I did.

She wrote me a fascinating response in return, and kindly gave me permission to share it here.

Here it is:
  Insofar as I can remember what I was thinking back in 1986 when I wrote this novella, yes, the shout-out to the Divine Comedy was intended -- but not entirely consciously, and_ certainly_ not in advance. It came glimmering up out of the material as I wrote, as such things do, and I took what fit and served the story. (As opposed to devising a story to embody some preselected template.) So a point-by-point analysis is bound to fail at some points.
  You can also get a glancing reference to Eurydice out of Beatrice, if you squint. (As, in the tale of Orpheus-and-.) I'm an equal-opportunity culture thief.
  There is certainly a... metaphor? parable? to be had out of the story, if one is inclined that way, about grace having to be something that breaks in from outside; you can't pull it out of your own ear unaided. Or the tale can be read on the surface, skimming along as a straight-up milSF adventure. What sort of reading each reader gets from it will depend sensitively upon the prior contents of each head. Sort of like a Rorschach blot, that way. But that very quality is just what makes books and stories so endlessly debatable.
  Good on you for spotting the Bunyan take. (That passage gave my French translators fits, by the way, Bunyan not being a common cultural reference in France at all. Nor, admittedly, among Americans, but let them hear who have ears and all that.)
  I have an amusing story about the Bunyan quote. I was hand-writing the first draft of this in the Marion Public Library, where I fled to work at this period of my life since it was not possible to do so at home with kids, and came upon that point where I needed something that sounded scriptural but wasn't actually Biblical. I bethought myself of Bunyan, whom I had read some years before, went to the shelves, found a copy (I don't think it had been checked out for quite a while), and flipped it open more-or-less at random to right there, or at least in the first few pages I glanced at. Stole it immediately, slapped it in where needed, and went on. But the story was already partly written and plotted at that point, so any homage was _ad lib_, not designed.
 My initial internal vision of the prison camp was more WWII barracks-like, but first, it wasn't very SFnal, and second, as a person who values and needs her solitude, my idea of hell is to be trapped with a gazillion people and be unable to get away from them. So that dome has to partly be chalked up to my personal taste, as well.
I did have a WWII veteran remark recently that "Borders" was the most perfect WWII story he'd ever read. Still thinking about that one.
Bujold has long been one of my favorite authors, and this thoughtful response just put me over the moon. My thanks to her for letting me share it.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

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