Keith Bliss is originally from Widnes in the north west of England, just a stone’s throw from Liverpool. After a fairly uneventful first five years of life, he emigrated to Australia with his family and attended primary school in Elizabeth, South Australia before returning to England when he was ten. He attended Wade Deacon Grammar School and Widnes 6th Form College, before going to Leicester University where he majored in German, which came in very handy, with a minor in Philosophy, of which he is not particularly proud. As soon as he was awarded his bachelor’s degree, he left England for Germany, a country with which he had fallen in love during his studies, and settled in the Siegerland area in the west of the country. He has lived there ever since.
He’s been teaching English at the University of Siegen, Germany since 2005, and received a master’s degree in Literature, Culture and Media from there in 2010. If you ask him how he likes his job, he will invariably say it‘s the best job in the world.
Your new book Yesterday’s Savior is set in the year 2075 and centers on the topic of religion. Many sci-fi stories posit a post-religious world. Why did you choose to swim upstream?
I really like this question.
The general answer is:
I have never been one to swim with the stream. I prefer to question established norms, for the simple reason that many norms are by nature not a lasting phenomenon. Some things that we, in the early twenty-first century, might take for granted were deemed to be totally outrageous in the nineteenth century. Just think of the bikini, for example. My Victorian English ancestors would have swooned at the sight of one. Similarly, our twenty-first-century norms might seem absolutely ridiculous in the twenty-second century. So why should we think that our current beliefs are the non plus ultra?
The specific answer is:
Although I am in no way religious, I am realistic enough to think religion will still be playing a role in many people’s lives in the year 2075.With Yesterday’s Savior, I wanted to demonstrate that misguided blind faith can lead to death, destruction and dictatorship. As soon as you start dictating to people what they should eat, wear, do, etc.: well, that’s where you lose me. If a deity is all-knowing, all-seeing, etc., why should he (or even she!) care what I eat? With the Second Coming in Yesterday’s Savior, I wanted, or let’s say hoped, to get people to question their own faith.
You were born in England, lived in Australia and went to college in Germany where you now live. What has drawn you to live abroad?
When I moved to Australia in the 1960s, I actually had no choice in the matter, as I was only five years old when my parents decided to emigrate. On the other hand, the decision to move to Germany was absolutely a conscious one on my part. When I was seventeen, I took part in an exchange visit between my school in Widnes, England, and a school in Mönchengladbach, Germany. At the time, I only had a rudimentary command of German, but I was in awe of the German standard of living at that time. I knew even back then that I would one day live in Germany.
And as a follow-up to that question, do you think there are advantages for a writer in living in a culture that you were not born into?
Yes, absolutely, definitely! My experiences of moving from England to Australia involved getting to know a completely alien flora and fauna. As a five-year-old, however, I took that in my stride, and didn’t really find it strange. On the other hand, my family moved back to England when I was ten, which involved a much greater degree of culture shock. I was, to all intents and purposes, a stranger in a strange land. When you can see your home country through the eyes of a stranger, you have a unique view of that country. When I moved permanently to Germany, I already had a degree in German, but a university degree cannot prepare you for the reality of living permanently in a country with a completely different language and culture. After years of living here and gradually learning to fit in, I am now in the odd position of feeling half English and half German. This situation has enabled me to be objective about both cultures.
You teach in both English and German – what dimension does language and the cultures that surround them occupy in your writing?
I speak and write fluently in both languages; I understand both cultures as a native. As a writer, I now have a huge palette of experiences to draw on. I am at home in two different cultures, which means I can flip between the two at will. Whenever I think of alien cultures in my writing, I can put myself in the position of my characters when they make contact with one of these cultures. When a character has problems understanding a language, or begins to learn a new language, I know exactly how this feels, as I have been in exactly the same position. In my second, yet-to-be-published novel, First a Dream, the protagonists are confronted with a tribe speaking a different language. The language the tribe uses in the novel is loosely based on a dialect of German I am familiar with.
You study the effects of Darwinism on early science fiction. Can you share an insight?
Science fiction short stories and novels begin at a much earlier date than is popularly believed. Before Charles Darwin publicised his theories, however, these stories usually dealt with the technological progress of the time, e.g. what would happen if a microscope or a telescope were much more powerful than what people had at the time. Or they imagined a race of people who looked just like us, and used this as a basis for a moral tale. After publication of The Origin of Species, things began to change: novels like H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds became possible because people were suddenly able to imagine a different type of evolution.
What is your favorite (read) book and why?
Difficult, because I am a huge fan of Arthur C. Clarke and Terry Pratchett. But if I had to choose one single book, I would say it’s Dante’s Equation by Jane Jensen because of the way she combines science and technology with the divine.
What is the book you dream of writing and haven’t yet?
I was actually dreaming of writing a time travel novel based on historical facts but then the TV series Timeless came along. After watching that, I thought I’d add a bit of humour to my time-travelling, historically factual dream book, but then I discovered Jodi Taylor’s St. Mary’s series, of which I’m currently reading the fourth book. So it’s back to the drawing board for me on that front.
Yesterday’s Savior is available on
Find out more about Keith Bliss
Author web pages: keithbliss.org