Anthony Doyle is a man of many talents, who writes in multiple genres and speaks in multiple languages. Born in Dublin and raised in Wicklow, Ireland, he has been living in São Paulo, Brazil since 2000, where he works as a translator of fiction, non-fiction and film scripts from Portuguese.
Doyle has published numerous translations, including the novel There Were Many Horses, by Luiz Ruffato (Amazon Crossing), and the acclaimed memoir Operation Car Wash (Bloomsbury), by Jorge Pontes and Márcio Anselmo. In addition to short stories and poems, he has published the children’s book O Lago Secou (Companhia das Letrinhas, 2013).
Set in 2045, the novel Hibernaculum explores a future where humanity turns to hibernation as a solution to the earth’s diminishing resources. Recently I had the opportunity to pose a few questions to the author of this phenomenal work of speculative fiction.
Nadja Maril: What attracted you to the genre of speculative fiction?
Anthony Doyle: I think it was a case of what suited the idea best. I had the idea for a human hibernation novel a few years ago when I got sick and spent a whole week sleeping. It was such an odd sensation. I ended up in hospital for a couple of days before getting better, and when I came out it was like emerging from hibernation in a way, and the feeling intrigued me so much I decided to explore it. I knew nothing about human hibernation science at the time, but when I started researching, I found that this was actually a very well-established field that was way more complex than I’d ever imagined. I was fascinated by all the possible angles and implications. The more I probed the issue, the more “rooms” seemed to open in it. That ended up influencing the kind of novel Hibernaculum became, because a traditional novel format was never going to be able to cover all the permutations that came pouring out. Speculative fiction is really ideal for that sort of content, because you can let your imagination run wild. It’s a loose category that embraces everything from magical realism to supernatural fiction. Hibernaculum has been described as dystopian fiction, which is another category that folds into the speculative, but I’m not sure it is purely dystopian. Some readers might find utopian elements in it too. The Hibernacula are the effects of a dystopian reality, but they have a utopian quality to them too. There’s the germ of something new and potentially special in the ruins of the old world.
NM: In your notes about the book, you mention wanting initially to tell the story of Jonah and the Whale. How do you see that story relating to the plotline of Hibernaculum?
AD: The Jonah story has always held a particular fascination for me. Both the Christian and the Islamic versions are so rich in symbolism and psychological truths that I could go on writing about them and never get bored (though the reader probably would). Hibernaculum was originally intended as part of a triptych called Three Jonahs. The other installments are a recently-finished novel called Jestor, and a poetry chapbook called Jonah’s Map of the Whale (which is currently with Old Scratch Press). Each work explores the Jonah story from a different angle. In Hibernaculum, I imagined the process of hibernation and the hibernaculum dome itself as a “whale” that swallows the sleeper. Instead of 3 days, this descent into the underworld lasts 3 months or more. Jonah had plotted his course: he was going to board a ship at Joppa Port and sail away to Tarshish (Gibraltar). That was his plan, but it wasn’t the right one (he was supposed to go to the city of Nineveh). We have our plan, our course, collectively and individually, and it doesn’t seem to be the right one either, and sooner or later we’re going to be tipped out of our own boat and forced to reconsider. That’s what Hibernaculum is about: a society forced to reconsider its “course”. It’s also about individuals who don’t need to be pushed. They jump right overboard, either to help drive the change, or because they can’t stand being in the boat anymore and the deep, dark ocean couldn’t possibly be any worse than where they are now. It’s basically an allegory. All my writing ends up being allegorical somehow, intentionally or otherwise.
NM: Hibernaculum is set in a bleak future where basically the earth is expiring under the weight of overpopulation and depletion of resources. Do you see this as our inevitable future or did you write the book as a warning of what might happen if we continue as we are?
AD: Unfortunately, I think it is inevitable. We’re on a very comfy bullet train heading for a cliff, but as the train’s running smoothly, and service is continuing as normal, people aren’t really doing anything. Points of no return aren’t amber lights, they are red lights, but that doesn’t seem to have sunk in yet.
Living in Brazil, I see that painfully clearly. I recently visited the Brazilian savannah, a biome called the Cerrado, and I was shocked by what I saw. We were heading to a massive reservation where the native vegetation is protected, but along the way we passed miles upon miles of soy plantations. The native vegetation had been razed and replaced with monoculture as far as the eye could see. This didn’t happen overnight, it’s been building steadily for decades, and government-come, government-go (left, right, center) the process continues, because money talks. I’ve been to the Amazon twice, and being there, in the forest, you get a picture of just how unbelievably rich it is. A single square meter of Amazon rainforest probably contains more “life” than a whole county of my native Ireland. But it’s being destroyed by illegal miners, cattle ranchers, loggers, narcotraffickers, and all manner of criminal interest. It doesn’t matter what the government discourse is, the reality stays the same. So while we know the pickle we’re in environmentally speaking, I don’t—and truly can’t—see it converting into change. We’ve lost the basic ecological sense/intuition an animal ought to have.
Eventually, tough measures will have to be taken. I don’t think people are ready for what’s to come. That’s something Hibernaculum tries to show. It’s set at a time when synthetic hibernation is voluntary, but it’s not hard to imagine that changing. Everyone talks about AI and the possible problems it could cause, but few seem to realize that human hibernation science is advancing very quickly and is already attracting private investment from companies interested in exploring its potentials. Private investors don’t pump money into something unless there is a very good chance of future returns. Hibernation scientists don’t see the process as an if so much as a when, so it’s something that is likely to become a reality in the not-too-distant future. Can you imagine receiving a hibernation draft notice in the mail, ordering you to appear for mandatory 6-month hibernation? Not fun. But not unimaginable either.
NM: Your “day job” is working as a translator for fiction, non-fiction, film and television. How has your fluency, moving back and forth between Portuguese and English informed your creative writing?
AD: I think I learned to write from doing translation. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had some fantastic clients over the years, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount from them. Translation requires a kind of reading that is multi-layered, and one of those layers is very technical. That helped me immensely. You really get into the nuts-and-bolts of sentence-building. It hasn’t all been great material. I’ve had to translate some real clunkers too, but that teaches you what not to do, which is just as important.