About the Book
A Q&A with Rich Shapero
Q: Arms conjures a dystopian future, and the hope for a “sea change” appears in the form of the Polyp, the tentacled god of an oceanic heaven.
RS: The Polyp is perverse, yes. But he poses important questions. How are the ideals of a world established? What are the values of creation and destruction that are at work in our world, and what kind of higher power rules it? Is the higher power a conventional deity or the law of fang and claw? Is it quantum physics or trickle-down economics? If you were going to refashion our world from scratch, who would you put in charge? On what basis would decisions be made about whether creatures flourish or perish?
Q: You’re questioning our ideals.
RS: People know how to create degenerate societies, and I’ve made my little contribution with the State of Salt. The real question is: what would you replace it with, if you had the opportunity?
Q: Myths and legends of young men doing battle with monsters, especially monsters with serpentine qualities, survive from quite a few eras. The heroes are usually protecting their people. Arms turns that inside out.
RS: You could think of it that way. Saint George bonds with the dragon and the two return with something new for mankind.
Q: The god of Arms—the Polyp—is, above all, a creator.
RS: He has the will and the power to create life. And he spends a lot of time thinking about creation—what should be preserved, what should be changed, what should be destroyed. These are important questions for him.
Q: Lyle chafes at the lack of creativity in Salt.
RS: Places that celebrate human creativity as the paramount value are few and far between. The airport in New Orleans is named after a musician. That kind of behavior is unusual—an exception.
Q: And there’s the question of what’s being created.
RS: Right. What kind of culture would embrace the crossword puzzle as its art form?
Q: The State of Salt is a cultural and literal desert. The people live for “Pleasures”— to be entertained.
RS: On the surface, freedom from work doesn’t sound so bad. But what do people do with their lives if they don’t work?
Q: In the State of Salt, the degeneracy isn’t forced on people.
RS: No, it’s not. They welcome it. And it suits the State. Like most empires, the State of Salt is happy to have its people complacent and diverted by amusements.
Q: It’s hard to miss the cerebral motif in the Polyp’s heaven. The landscape is like the human cortex. And the Polyp “mingles” himself with Lyle’s brain. What is Arms saying about the ideal conditions for creativity?
RS: I’m partial to worlds where the brain is elevated. For me, the most striking aspect of culture is the extent to which the human mind—its intuition, its judgment, its creativity—is or is not revered.
Q: This “power of the mind” has a lot to do with what you refer to in the book as “the power to change.”
RS: It does. The Polyp embodies the spirit of change, and he offers Lyle what he offered Nawkoo—a kind of summit of human potential. The power to change. Whether you’re forging a new identity or creating something outside yourself, the power to change is the essence of creativity.
Q: And that power is divine.
RS: For me, the potential for change is tied to the idea of transcending humanity.
Q: Leaving humanity behind.