From the Sense of Wonder to the Sense of Wander
Editorial from Guest Editor Francesco Verso
The main idea of this book was inspired by something I saw some years ago: I was coming out of a flea market in Rome with my wife when we noticed—inside a big garbage bin—an eight-year-old boy, who had just found a doll as tall as him; he was cleaning it and caressing its red hair as if it was his real girlfriend. Then his mother—a homeless gypsy—came yelling at him to move along and not to waste any more time with the doll, as he should have been searching for more valuable things, things they needed to survive. He was dirty, covered with dust, and in his eyes, he had found a treasure. He tried to convince his mother to keep her. But the doll was too big and totally worthless to her. He didn’t cry, but he wasn’t happy at all to leave the doll behind, to leave her there in the trash. A couple of times, he complained to his mother, but eventually she prevailed. They left, pushing a small cart full of old clothes, used appliances, and other shapeless objects.
Immediately after, I started to wonder about what would have happened to him and the doll if it wasn’t for his mother’s opposition. This striking image, at the same time touching and terrible, started Peter Payne’s drama and his years-long quest for a seemingly impossible love found in a pile of garbage. It is no secret that hyper-consumerism and overproduction is leaving on the ground of every city the price that we have to pay for our neglect and lack of respect for the environment, and in the book, I’ve pushed this alarming situation to the extreme consequences of a process that is already visible almost everywhere. The imaginary Megalopolis, where Peter’s drama takes place, is indeed full of huge dumping sites and he works among other recycling people, the “trashformers,” who must survive with what is discarded by richer people.
The environmental theme is very strong in the novel: Peter Payne is a “trashformer,” a guy who has developed certain skills to find residual value in discarded objects, a city hunter fighting against the programmed obsolescence and designed “entropy” inserted into any form of consumer goods; in the megalopolis, in fact, there are many chains of “nth-hand” shops where people can trade for the residual-trade value that’s left in anything thrown away. Moreover, the most important company of the city, the Reverse, is responsible for managing the disposal of waste. Finally, the UCU—Urban Cleaning Units—are monstrous garbage collection vehicles that will play a crucial role in carrying out street cleaning and “kipple” recycling. But, most of all, Nexhuman is a story about an impossible love, a feeling that is supposed to be considered totally out of place in such a devastated urban environment. Still, I said love—as you will discover what twisted kind of affection and weird bond Peter Payne is able to feel for Alba Vicente, who will be missing for a great part of the story. The whole novel revolves around the idea of refusal, of emotion deprivation; around the struggle to be able to relive such a feeling beyond the obstacles set along his path by Peter’s brother, Charlie, as well as the intrinsic difficulties of putting the “pieces” of such a love together again.
The novel is divided into three parts that correspond to three moments in Peter’s life: when he is a fifteen-year-old boy, then when he’s eighteen, and finally when he is an adult, aged thirty-three. The very existence of the protagonist wants to be a metaphor of the liberation from the limits imposed both by nature and by the specific conditions in which each one is born and grown. It is a reminder not to be overthrown, to believe in something out of reach, even when everything seems to go wrong. Peter’s obsession with Alba changes over time; it develops into a one-sided kind of love and what at first seems to be a real madness becomes a surprising ambition that goes beyond inhibitions, handicaps, and abuses.
The book has received excellent reviews: it won two important Italian SF Awards, like “Odissea” and “Premio Italia,” for Best SF Novel back in 2012. It has also been adapted into a screenplay in Italian, by the screenwriter Alessio Billi, and thus, I decided that it was worth trying to translate it into English.
It was a very hard bet: back in 2012, when Livido (Nexhuman’s original Italian title) came out, I didn’t know how to submit the story to a publisher outside of Italy. I knew that nobody was waiting for an Italian SF book, as there hasn’t been one published in maybe more than twenty years and the 3% problem was an almost impossible obstacle to overcome. But I believed so much in this book that I was determined to find an English-speaking translator to help me translate Nexhuman. Meeting Sally McCorry changed everything: not only did she like SF, but she also liked the book and she had some spare time to dedicate to translating non-commercial fiction. I’ve invested my personal money, paying her in five or six instalments over the course of many months as the work progressed, and then we started to work—chapter by chapter—to revise the text in order to come up with a good first draft, something that an English-speaking editor would be interested to read. It took us around one year to complete the task, as we were both working on other things, but finally I had my first English translation and so I started to look for a place to submit it. Thanks to my former literary agent, Anna Mioni, the novel was first published in Australia by Xoum in 2015 and the editor, David Henley, had another round of editing and proofreading to finally polish and adapt the text for English readers. We’ve been working again for months on the translation as some things, like the architecture of the house where Peter lives, weren’t easy for David to understand. For example, in Italy we have a “mezzanino” floor, which is an intermediate floor between the basement and the first floor that doesn’t seem to exist in other countries. I’ve learned a lot about translation by going through this long process of adapting terms (and thus cultures) in order to understand each other.
Then last summer, when Rachel Cordasco helped me submit the book to Jason Sizemore, something incredible happened. In just four to five weeks after the submission, to my great surprise, I received a publishing contract from Apex Books. Nexhuman is the first Italian SF book to be released in the US in a very long time by a publishing house dedicated to SF. This is just to say how incredibly difficult it is to be a SF writer born in a non-English speaking country. It takes so much more time and effort, just to compete with a book written in English.
But here it is, I hope you’ll find it interesting and satisfying. I hope you’ll be seduced by the bizarre quest of Peter Payne, whose only guilt is to born human among future nexhumans.
Editorial from Guest Editor Francesco Verso