AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Walter Jon Williams

I love the voice of the Commodore, but I was curious about who he was talking to throughout. Do you imagine this is a running monologue he’s telling himself, in keeping with maniacal villains’ tendencies to ramble about themselves? Or do you imagine there’s someone writing it all down, to show the world later?

I imagine him muttering to himself as he’s pacing the quarterdeck, telling himself a story that he’s obsessively told himself before, all while waiting for the Condor to turn up—and when that happens, the story shifts to present tense, and we’re into the climax.

This story has a very loose, Wild West meets steampunk meets the 20th century sort of feel to it. What went into crafting the mythos of The Golden Age? Did you draw from any particular well?

It’s kind of a condensed history of comics from 1940 to the mid-1980s, beginning with a resourceful hero battling a bunch of wacky villains, with lots of jolly harmless violence and hairsbreadth escapes … after which the whole thing grows dark with the arrival of Professor Mitternacht, and people start actually dying.

Honor plays a large in this story, especially between the Commodore and the Condor. Was it important that the Commodore never ceased to be a gentlemanly villain, much the same way that the Condor never became a “grimdark” hero? What went into crafting these ethics?

The Commodore never set out to be a villain; he’s just a guy who ended up stealing for a living because of a misunderstanding. He doesn’t want to kill people, he just wants to be understood (and rich). And of course he wants to understand the Condor, who completely baffles him.

On another level, he’s emblematic of the early villains of the comics, who dressed up in colorful costumes, robbed people, got in fights, got tossed in jail, and then escaped to do it all again. Why get all grimdark when you’re having so much fun?

The journey of the Commodore and the Condor, from small time villain/hero, to icons of The Golden Age, is very well done, and acts as a representation of other iconic heroes and villains. Was their relationship always going to evolve this way? Did they change at all in the telling?

I pretty well knew the arcs of the two main characters from the very beginning—they’re eternal antagonists, like Thor and Loki, or Batman and the Riddler. The minor characters experienced a greater evolution as I figured out where to place them in the story.

It all leads up to the final confrontation, of course. I have to know, how do you see this showdown going? Or is it best left to the minds of the readers?

I’d rather leave it up in the air, as it were. Though possibly it doesn’t matter, since whoever loses will inevitably escape, and then they’ll do it all again.

What is the appeal of “Weird West” fiction? Why do writers—or you yourself—write about it? What do you think readers like about it?

The Wild West is an American myth to begin with—the West as it’s reflected in films and popular culture probably doesn’t resemble the real thing very much; it’s just a story we tell ourselves because we love and need it. And comics have become a new mass-media mythology. So I’m just overlaying one myth on another, and seeing what results.

What are some of your favorite examples of Weird Westerns (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

I have fond memories of the original Wild Wild West television series, with its resourceful heroes and maniacal, cackling villains. More recently, I’ve enjoyed Joe Lansdale’s baroque, gothic vision of the contemporary West, modern media-saturated versions of the tall tales that used to be told around Western campfires.

Thanks for the wonderful story, Walter!

Thanks for giving me the chance to write it!