Koscuisko, hero of An Exchange of Hostages and Prisoner
of Conscience, is a man of unusual gifts who has been forced
by a peculiarly sadistic system into the dual role of torturer and
the beginning of An Exchange of Hostages, he has finished
his medical training and has arrived at Fleet Orientation Station
Medical, adrift in deep space. Here he is to be schooled, with his
reluctant consent, in the fine art of Inquiringextracting
information from prisoners of the Judicial order. Andrej has both
a finely tuned sense of justice and a deeply buried kink in his
psychological makeup. How he controls and comes to terms with his
odd desires, and how he manipulates the system to wring a fair resolution
from a thorny catch-22, is a story so powerfully told that An
Exchange of Hostages has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick
Award and made the preliminary ballot of the Nebula Awards. The
newly released second book of the series, Prisoner of Conscience,
is equally disturbing and riveting.
R. Matthews, like her creation Andrej Koscuisko, is a Renaissance
personality. Now an accountant at Boeing, she has traveled the world,
been in the U.S. Army, and has read widely on myriad subjects from
Chinese history and philosophy to dark fantasy. Amazon.com's Barrie
Trinkle had some second thoughts about meeting her.
It occurred to me after I read An Exchange of Hostages
and Prisoner of Conscience that I had agreed to come into
a little room with you and shut the door, and I got a bit nervous.
May I direct you to the author photo in the back of the book, of
a rather fluffy, pleasant person who would never hurt anyone.
joking aside, your books are set against a dark, brutal, totalitarian
background. What kind of research did you do to establish that environment?
no research was necessary to come up with the kind of environment
in which the protagonist finds himself at the beginning of An
Exchange of Hostagesit's just boot camp.
of the criticisms that I got from a very respected science fiction
writer about the book was that the system was impossibly closed
and repressive. Nobody can live like that. Well, this dude had never
been in the military! Andrej is put into in an environment that
has been specifically constructed to be as controlling as possible,
to force a profound alteration in what normal people do of their
own free will. And for this reason, Fleet Orientation Station Medical,
where the first book takes place, is even more tight and claustrophobic
than when the story moves out past that stage and goes out into
the fleet, out in the galaxy.
totalitarian governments in the past century have shown the same
behavior that happens in my books. As the system gets too big, it
loses control. As it loses control, it becomes more and more repressive.
A point I hope I made clear enough in An Exchange of Hostages
was that when Andrej's father was in the fleet, this system of inquisition
did not exist. People were roughed up, but that was all there was
to it. There's quite a difference between people being beaten up
in an alleyway and what's going on in Fleet Orientation Station
Medical. The situation is developing; the jurisdiction is getting
worse as it's trying to maintain control of an increasingly fractious
you're a student of history.
explains a lot. Who do you read? What's on your bedside table?
writer I've read a lot of lately is John Myers Myers, who's written
about Doc Holliday, Tombstonelots of books about the West.
I've always loved Joseph Conrad and Dostoevsky and all the other
Russians. I like the interior structure of Russian novels. Before
the OK Corral stuff, I was reading Icelandic sagas, but they've
been moved from the bedside table to the bookshelves.
Are you ever planning to write a historical book, either fiction or
love to write a book exploring Chinese accounting systemstheir
history, changes in accounting practice over the centuries, lessons
drawn from the Chinese historical laboratory.
my first accounting class, I was told that double-entry bookkeeping,
the foundation of modern accounting, was developed in Italy during
the Renaissance, and that it was a unique outgrowth of a combination
of elements peculiar to the Renaissance and eventually to the Industrial
Revolutionthings like enterprise accounting (keeping books
for a sea voyage from start to finish, for example), factory production,
and accrual accounting. All of these business challenges can be
found throughout Chinese history at one point or another, and it's
counterintuitive to believe that if double-entry bookkeeping is
really such a powerful business tool it wouldn't have been invented
until the 15th century in Italy. I've been interested in what the
Chinese accounting experience might have to teach us ever since.
course, to write the story of Chinese accounting, I'd have to learn
to read Chinese. That's the one drawback.
The story of how you got your first Koscuisko novel published is long,
wrote the first draft of the first novel in the story of Andrej
Koscuisko in early 1979. And it was primitive, let me tell you.
But I got my copy of the Writer's Market and sent my manuscript
off to a publishing house in New York. It came back with a half
sheet, which was a mimeographed "thank you for considering us, not
quite right at this time" sort of thing, and I sent it off again
to another house, and it came back again.
went through periods when I just didn't have the energy to send
the manuscript back out, but I had friends who kept saying, "You
can sell this story; people want to read this story." I got to the
point where I told one of them, "Well, if that's how you feel, then
you sell it," and she said, "All right." So I kept writing new stuff,
and we worked for several years on An Exchange of Hostages.
An editor suggested some changes to that one, but then it came back
again, "just not quite right for our market at this time."
it hit the right editor at the right time at the right place, where
they wanted to initiate a new program. They were looking for something
a little bit different, and boy howdy, is this a little bit different!
So through persistence and stubborn luck, I finally found myself
in a position where all the factors came together.
people who sell their first story on their first submissionwell,
good for them, but it doesn't happen for most people. For most people,
it's sending it out, and getting it back, and sending it out again,
and getting it back again. That first manuscript was pretty primitive
stuffI hope to God that no one has a copy of itbut in
persisting for 20 years I was also continuing to write for 20 years,
and that means I was getting better at it.
have to have a strong sense of self to persist for 20 years.
you have to believe in your story; a lot of suggestions I got for
revisions were things that I really couldn't entertain: "This is
so depressing. Why don't these characters sneak offstage and have
a Coke?" Well, there isn't any offstage to sneak off to, and that's
part of the point, but apart from that, the entire dynamic involved
in sneaking offstage to have a Coke is very different from what
I was trying to do here.
Did Andrej himself change during that time, or did he spring fully
formed from your forehead, like Athena, right at the beginning?
some other part of my anatomy... Yes, Andrej and everybody else
in that universe have gotten a lot juicier and more fully fleshed
with time. Andrej was always a fully realized personality, because
of his peculiar psychological situation; that tension developed
him fairly early on. Robert St. Clare is an example of a character
that started out recognizably different, and was fine-tuned into
the personality that he is today.
What do you want people to take away from these novels?
gosh, you knowin the beginning of Paradise Lost John Milton
states that what he's after is to reconcile the ways of God to man.
To take that into a more psychological realm, it is my firm conviction
that there are a lot of us who are capable of doing fearful things,
things that we know to be wrong, but that are so powerful within
us that trying to not do them is extremely difficult. And so I deliberately
put my protagonist into a situation where he has no way to avoid
doing what he knows to be wrong.
are all capable of atrocity, but this does not make us evil people.
If we've never said, for instance, "I could just slap that kid,"
and meant it, then the chances that we might accidentally haul off
and do it are much higher than if we already knew that there were
some times that we might be tempted. And for every one of us who
ever hauled off and whacked that kidit doesn't mean that we
are forever ruined. We can stop kid-whacking at any time.
Even if we enjoy it?
if we enjoy it. Now it's going to take Andrej, in this artificial
environment, a little longer to understand that he has a choice:
he can decide to just not go along with the system, even though
they can kill him. It takes him longer because I have really stacked
the deck against him. So that is, I guess, my deep moral meaning.
of the reviews that An Exchange of Hostages got on amazon.com
absolutely delighted me because the reviewer said that the point
of the book is that we are all Caliban, but nonetheless, worthy
of being loved. That's just such a cool way of saying itI
wish I'd thought of it.