INTERVIEW: Grady Hendrix, author of “Mofongo Knows”

Grady Hendrix’s fiction has appeared in Lightspeed MagazineStrange Horizons, Pseudopod, and 365 Tomorrows. He is one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival and his nonfiction writing has appeared in VarietySlatePlayboy,Time Out New York, the New York Sun, and the Village Voice. He attended the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop in 2009, and he is the author of the book, Satan Loves You.

 

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

Mofongo Knows is the “years later” epilogue to the greatest Golden Age pulp adventure series you never read, told from the point-of-view of Mofongo: the Mad Science Ape with the Billion Dollar Brain.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

When I was in seventh grade, Ramsay Ravenel had a t-shirt that read, “Molo Knows” with a picture of a chimp underneath. That shirt has haunted me all my life and this was finally a chance to exorcise it from my soul. I haven’t had a dream about Ramsay and his cursed shirt since writing this story.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

I wrote Mofongo Knows at Clarion back in 2009, and the real challenge was toning it down to get it published. The original Mofongo was a much more sexual creature, but that made folks very uneasy. So getting Mofongo to be less over-the-top but to still retain his essential qualities of unstoppable rage, unlimited insult, and exceptional crudity was a real tightrope walking act.

Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I’ve always felt closer to the people I hate than the people I love, and I spent far more time and energy on them, and that’s partly what’s going on between Mofongo and Steve Savage. But also, I’m always disappointed in science fiction’s retrograde Eurocentrism, so I wanted to write a story where the continent of Africa, specifically West Africa, was the location of hope, science, technology, and redemption and North America was a played-out crap festival full of yesterday’s moldy leftovers and disappointment.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

Not that much, actually. Everything in it is either something I experienced (being locked in a cage for decades) or something that was lying around in the more nightmarish regions of my subconscious (attending the Coastal Carolina Fair). All I had to do was remove all the sharp objects from my house, tape padding to the dangerous corners, put in my bite guard and undergo autohypnosis. The words just flowed forth, and then it was just a matter of typing them up from what I’d written on the walls in feces and blood.

What is the appeal of mad scientist fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write it? Why do you think readers/viewers love it so much?

Who hasn’t felt like the smartest but most misunderstood person in the room before? Mad scientists just refuse to read social cues and decide that if they feel awkward, everyone else should be dead. And anyways, on TV and in movies every scientist is a mad scientist. They all have an era-appropriate Magical Science Gimmick (Electricity! Computers! DNA!) that solves all problems, their computers make exceptionally pleasing “beep” and “boop” noises when they work, and they all do things no one quite understands behind closed doors. Also, the more eccentric their behavior the more intelligent they are. In real life, the more eccentric you are the closer you are to winding up on an A&E reality series that pities you.

What are some of your favorite examples of mad scientists in fiction–or fact!–(in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

I still have a real love for all the 19th century mad scientists. Whether it’s Dr. Frankenstein or Dr. Jekyll, I love the whole “Trust me, I’m a doctor…aaarghhh! I’ve unleashed destruction from beyond the realm of sanity…but I THINK I can defeat it by applying MORE SCIENCE!” It’s pretty much the same way that things still seem to work, only people had more stylish facial hair in the 19th century.