Elana Gomel is an Associate Professor at the Department of English and American Studies at Tel-Aviv University. She has taught and researched at Princeton, Stanford, University of Hong Kong, and Venice International University. She is the author of six books and numerous articles on subjects such as narrative theory, posthumanism, science fiction, Dickens, and Victorian culture. Her latest books are Narrative Space and Time: Representing Impossible Topologies in Literature (Routledge, 2014) and Science Fiction, Alien Encounters, and the Ethics of Posthumanism: Beyond the Golden Rule (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2014). As a fiction writer, she has published more than forty fantasy and science fiction stories and two novels. Her latest book is The Hungry Ones.
A woman with no memory wakes up in a city with no history.
The city is alive. Among skyscrapers of flesh and bridges of bone, rogue trains consume their passengers, prophetic Buddhas grow out of sidewalks, and the night is lit up with walking neon signs.
The city is under siege from famine victims turned ravenous monsters, while the city’s own flesh begins to mutate.
Somehow, the woman named Kora is the key in an eternal struggle pitting city against country, corruption against starvation, a power-crazed madman against a dying infant.
Hunted as a pawn by several factions, Kora alone may have the power to end the conflict, if she dare unlock her terrible memories. But she has to choose: between the country and the city; between the lost boy-next-door and the man who is not human; between survival and self-sacrifice.
I invited her to tell me more about her book. Did something in the real world inspire The Hungry Ones?
I lived in Hong Kong for a while. It is my favorite city, because it is so fantastic: a mixture of Blade Runner, Perdido Street Station, and a giant shopping mall. One day, I was standing on top of a high-rise looking at the forest of high-rises around me and I was struck by how alive they looked: like sea anemones or tube worms, clutching at the air, waiting for flying prey. This image stayed in my brain like a seed, but it only sprouted after I read a book called China’s Hungry Ghosts about the horrible famine instigated by Mao’s policies that killed millions. Superimposed upon each other, those two images unfolded into a story of a woman who wakes up in the living city besieged by dead men.
What is your favorite scene in The Hungry Ones?
My heroine Kora is searching for the truth about herself and about the city. The two are intertwined: in order to understand what is really happening around her, she has to unbury her hidden memories and understand the origin of her horrifying power. At some point, she finds herself in the belly of a living train. Such trains are the backbone of the transportation network, running through the city’s tunnels just like trains do in our world. But these are not machines: they are living beings, with their own minds — which occasionally snap. The train goes rogue. Imagine yourself on the underground, like the London Tube, and all the lights suddenly go out. Creepy, especially if you are claustrophobic. Now imagine that you are surrounded not by metal and plastic but by living tissue that is beginning to contract around you, releasing gastric juices… Yes, this happens to Kora and the man in the next seat, who she recognizes from her occluded past. They fight together against the rogue monster train that is trying to digest them.
To me, this is the pivotal scene, because this is the first time Kora fights for her life. Until this moment, she is a passive plaything of forces and people she does not understand, bewildered by the flying birdmen, animated houses, and the mysterious Chairman who claims to have created her. Here, she finally comes into her own as a flawed but decisive heroine, capable of using her own hunger as a weapon against the hunger of others.
What was your writing process like as you wrote the book?
I always start with an image, but then it has to unfold into a plot. This can get tricky, especially if you are trying to balance mystery and action. I knew from the beginning how I wanted Kora to discover her origin. But I had to sketch in the whole backstory of the city itself, the mysterious Grandfather who founded it, and the terrible crime that unleashed the plague of the Hungry Ones. It was hard to fit it all in; I decided to leave something for the sequel. So I had to revise whole sections multiple times, in order to make the narrative flow smoothly.
What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of the book?
Very early on, even before the book was published, I got an email from the artist who worked on the cover (which I think is superb). She said that she was totally engrossed by the book but could not imagine a suitable ending for such a complex story. And yet, when she got to the end, she found it perfect. I was incredibly touched by this. Sometimes a spontaneous response from an individual reader is all it takes to make you proud of what you do.
What do you have planned next?
I have several projects going on simultaneously. First, I want to write a sequel to The Hungry Ones that will go deeper into the history of the city and the origin of Grandfather. He comes from a different world altogether: the world in which sparkling machines run on human blood. Provisionally titled The Marching Blades, this sequel will have Kora as one of the main characters but there will be others: a new Mayor who is seduced by the dangerous intelligence animating the living city, a child who is not what he appears to be, a deadly Dancer who refuses to dance …
In addition, I am working on a novel, yet unnamed, set in the USSR that never was. Russian history is a rich field for fantasy and horror. I speak Russian and I know the country: its beauty and its heritage of violence; its imaginative splendor and its terrible reality. Some time ago I published a story called “Little Sister” (in Matador Review) that starts with a schoolgirl and a soldier in a city swarming with monsters. I want to expand it into a novella or preferably a novel.
And I have two already completed novels that are scheduled to be published this year: a dark fairy tale set in the redwoods of California and a sci-fi/horror hybrid. So I am keeping busy!
You can pick up a copy of The Hungry Ones on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2WkCXBB.