Saturday, October 14, 2006

Geoff Ryman in the spotlight

Geoff Ryman, perhaps better known for his science fiction books, brought Cambodia's God King Jayavarman VII to life in every sense of the word in his latest novel, The King's Last Song, which was released by HarperCollins in March. If you haven't got this book, I recommend you get a copy, smartish. Meanwhile, in the new edition of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, his latest story, Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter, gets an airing. In addition, Ryman (pictured) has been interviewed about his writing and more by the Chronicles Network and the full interview can be read here. In it, he talks about The King's Last Song and offers up this precis of the book:

"It links the era of Angkor Wat with modern Cambodia and the recent terrible history of the place. Cambodia's greatest King, the saviour of Angkor and its first Buddhist king, has written a fictitious memoir on gold leaves. In 2004, it is discovered and then stolen by ex-Khmer Rouges in protest at the direction the country is going in.
Two modern Cambodians work to get the book back. One is a policeman, an ex Khmer Rouge who fought from the time he was 12 in 1970 until the civil wars ended in 1998. He loves war and is not quite sane, but he's still a respectable man. William is a younger Cambodian who doesn't really remember the wars. He's canny but commercial and in his heart, peaceful. The two become friends, but William doesn't know that the policeman shot his parents at the end of the Pol Pot era.
So it has quotes from the ancient book, all very poetic. It has scenes from Jayavarman's extraordinary life. There's 20,000 words of the policeman's life in the 1980s, fighting the civil wars, and of course a lot about trying to get the book back in 2004. There is no chapter set in the Pol Pot era, as there are so many fine books translated into English about that time written by Cambodians.
The novel covers quite a lot of ground. I think people going to Cambodia would get a much more 3D view of the country if they read it. The Cambodians are delightful, but they are still going through ****. You won't know that as a tourist, but you might like to know that. It might explain why some of the beautiful smiles are fading." [Interview courtesy of Carolyn Hill for the Chronicles Network]. Read about The King's Last Song here.

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I first met ace photographer Jon Ortner, currently working in the American Southwest on a book of the canyons and deserts of Utah and Arizona, at a remote location on top of the Phnom Kulen mountain range in December 2000. As we approached a temple by the name of Prasat O'Pong, we heard voices in the distance. As the tall brick structure came into view through the trees, so did another visitor and his two drivers and guide. It turned out to be no ordinary tourist as Jon introduced himself and it was very clear from his expensive camera equipment that he was no amateur snapper like myself. In fact he was taking photographs for his glorious coffee table book, Angkor - Celestial Temples of the Khmer Empire, which was published a couple of years later. We've remained in touch ever since. And you can now see the exquisite quality of work on-line at his new website,

1 comment:

Andy said...

Whoops, I forgot to thank JW at Jinja's Webbed Feet Blog for bringing the Geoff Ryman interview to our attention. Sorry JW, profuse apologies.