Authors: Vyacheslav Murygin, Sergey Kalintsev
Translated into English by Salomé Dix
They say another man's mind is a closed book, and your own is closed even tighter. One can always claim that nobody can understand the beauty and charm of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s world, but the people living in the post-soviet countries of the CIS. But it's been long known that the fan community of the series grew well beyond the boundaries of the now disbanded USSR and German writers such as Bernd Frenz and Claudia Kern have been working hard on novelizations of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s setting. Almost a year ago Mr. Frenz gave an interview (German version) to GSC-Fan.Com, and now his colleague Claudia joined us.
GSC-Fan.Com: Good afternoon, Claudia! Why are you attracted to science fiction, and not, for example, to romantic prose, as it’s typical, according to popular opinion, for writers?
Claudia Kern: I think a lot depends on the books and films you grow up with. My mother loves horror movies and my uncle is a big science fiction fan, so becoming a fan myself just kind of happened. And I think that's true for a lot of women. We are not born with the urge to like Julia Roberts movies, we are just trained to because relatives give us romantic novels to read and romantic films to watch. There would be a lot more female science fiction fans, if we were exposed to it from an early age.
Claudia Kern was born in 1967 in Gummersbach, Germany. She specializes on novelizations and scripts for video games. She is an author of a number of novels for Maddrax, Professor Zamora and Perry Rhodan series, she translated books based in settings of "Halo", "WarCraft" and "Anno" and she was a screenwriter for space-sim "DarkStar One". She worked on the "The Zone of Death" novel together with Bernd Frenz. Kern is also a contributing editor for sci-fi magazine "Space View".
GSC-Fan.Com: Women's view on science fiction – how it differs from men’s one?
Claudia Kern: I don't think it does. I've often heard that female writers write character driven stories whereas male writers write stories with more plot and action, but among the writers I know I find that not to be true.
GSC-Fan.Com: Where can we draw the line between science fiction and prose?
Claudia Kern: That's a good question. I think when a book challenges you in some way, if it makes you reconsider beliefs or views, then it is definitely serious fiction. If you read it, throw it away and never think about it again, then it probably isn't. But there's a time and a place for both. It's like food. Sometimes you want to enjoy a five course expensive dinner, the next day you want to go to "McDonald's".
GSC-Fan.Com: What is more complicated to write a book about foreign universe (based on video games) or to create something different?
Claudia Kern: There's good and bad in both. In a foreign universe I have to play by somebody else's (the game creators) rules, when I create my own world I have to figure out the rules. I liked the rules in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., so I enjoyed writing in this universe. But creating my own worlds is definitely more complicated because no one except me knows what they will look like and if they will work.
GSC-Fan.Com: You work in an industry that in recent years more and more brings together games, books and films. Do you like this merger?
Claudia Kern: Absolutely. I think it's great that we as authors now have so many different opportunities. Just a couple of years ago, no one would have thought that books based on games could work, but here we are. It's great.
GSC-Fan.Com: How do you prepare to write another novel or a screenplay? Do you cater for any particular reader?
Claudia Kern: I try to write what I would want to read, that's all. Okay, if I were to write a book based on a game for children, I would probably leave out the zombies and the gore :) But I would never write something I don't believe just because I think that's what the readers want. It's insincere and people feel when they're being lied to. At least that's what I believe.
GSC-Fan.Com: If everything depends on you, which of your books you would like to see in a game?
Claudia Kern: All of them :) Well, okay, probably the fantasy trilogy I have written because the world I created looks a bit like "Dragon Age" and I can just see the characters walking through it. Also the trilogy has a lot of magic and action which would fit nicely into a game.
GSC-Fan.Com: How did begin your collaboration with GSC Game World in a literary S.T.A.L.K.E.R. project? How did your work together with Bernd Frentz on "The Zone of Death" ("Todeszone")?
Claudia Kern: We got an early script for the game and were able to play some early content, plus we got to take a look at the beautiful concept art. That helped us tremendously, but we also realized our limitations. There was so much not yet finalized or even hinted at that we had to be careful. So Bernd I and met one day, set down and basically wrote down everything we couldn't do because we feared the game might contradict us later. Then we came up with a story, wrote a short summary, got the "okay, you can start" from the publisher and started working. We wrote chapter by chapter, Bernd did one, I did the next. It was fun.
GSC-Fan.Com: The book "Todeszone" was written before the game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. came out, and do you think, if you wrote a book about the game, which had already came out, then would the book be different from this one?
Claudia Kern: Yes, we would have been less careful. So the way things were back then there were a lot of things we didn't dare to write because we had no idea if the game would contradict us at some point.
GSC-Fan.Com: With what the world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. may involve a writer, as opposed to, for example, a fantasy?
Claudia Kern: You have to make it real. It's set in a real, if very strange place, so you need to give the reader the feeling that the place where these characters go actually exists. So you throw in a lot of references to existing things like brand names or events that readers know about. In a fantasy novel you do the opposite thing: you try to create a new world for the reader by filling it with a history and detail that's foreign to the reader.
GSC-Fan.Com: On the one hand, now in the fantasy genre it’s difficult to invent any innovation, as there become well-established usual stereotypes – elves, orcs, gnomes, magic, dragons... Is it possible to include something new in such a realistic world, like S.T.A.L.K.E.R., without breaking its conception?
Claudia Kern: I think that's basically what I meant in the answer above. In order to be original you have to twist stereotypes or in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s case reality until you reach a point where the reader thinks: "Hey, I haven't seen something like this before". It's familiar, but at the same time strange. When that works, as it did in the game, you create something original.
GSC-Fan.Com: Have you become a fan of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. world, do you read some news about the game?
Claudia Kern: I do, though not as much as I would like to. I follow a lot of games, so I have to organize my schedule carefully in order to squeeze some work in.
GSC-Fan.Com: What do you think is the reason of a pretty big success of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in Germany?
Claudia Kern: Because it looked and felt different from most other shooters. I think the reason for its success is excellent gameplay, great atmosphere and also the familiarity Germans have with the Chernobyl disaster. There have been dozens of documentaries about the exclusion zone there, so a game in this setting was already interesting to a potential game player. Also game magazines picked up on it pretty early and hyped for a long time.
GSC-Fan.Com: Can you refer yourself to the people who planed the schedule for the next few years? And if so, what are your future plans about writing? Is there a desire to return to the subject of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.?
Claudia Kern: I would love to return to this world, but right now I'm writing a novel set in the Middle Ages and will after that start with a steampunk horror novel. I'm also doing some work for different game publishers and I hope to create my own game next year. But that's still in the very early stages. Also I think my Russian colleagues are doing a great job keeping the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. universe alive and well.
GSC-Fan.Com: What do you think is demanded from writers, who are engaged in the support of a series of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. books, to remain at a high level interest in one of the largest media projects?
Claudia Kern: You have to keep it fresh, come up with new ideas, extend the scope that the game set and make the world your own, which as far as I can tell from the German translations is exactly what the Russian writers are doing. They're not afraid to invent their own rules and to expand the world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
GSC-Fan.Com: It’s not a secret that many consider that the Zone is not for women. How do you feel about this opinion?
Claudia Kern: You mean in the game? Let me say it like this: if a man can survive the Zone (and so far not many have), then a woman can as well – as long as she doesn't run out of ammunition...
GSC-Fan.Com: How often do you devote the time to video games? What is the most important thing in a computer game for your? For example, the same S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – what are important features you select for yourself in this shooter?
Claudia Kern: Gameplay is the most important thing for me in a game and atmosphere. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. delivered on both. From the second you entered the Zone it just created this amazingly eerie world which was fun to explore. Graphics aren't important to me at all. A game could consider entirely of ASCII art and I wouldn't mind as long as the gameplay was good.
GSC-Fan.Com: If we imagine that the events referred to in the game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – are real, would you like to be there, and how do you see yourself in it?
Claudia Kern: Probably dead after five minutes, my reflexes are crap :) But I would like to be there... for the short time the monsters would let me live.
GSC-Fan.Com: Do you follow the development of science fiction? Are you familiar with the translated into German language novels of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series of your Russian colleagues? What can you say about them?
Claudia Kern: Of course, I follow what goes on in science fiction. Unfortunately, especially in Germany that's not a lot. Publishers rarely publish science fiction novels and when they do they label them as something different like "science thriller" because they feel that science fiction would scare readers off. I've also read the translated Russian novels and must say that I like them a lot. They're very well written and fit perfectly into the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. universe. I'd like to know more about modern science fiction in Russia. Maybe some of your readers could point me in the right direction.
As I said, I don't know much about science fiction in Russia. If writers there are struggling as much as they are in Germany, my only suggestion would be to buy their books and write to the publishers to tell them that you hope they will publish more books like this. Also, looking at the success of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., it clearly shows that good games can come from all directions. It's always a good idea to look at independent games and support their developers.
GSC-Fan.Com: Five years passed after the publication of your book about the world of the game. Was it interesting for you to write this book, whether are there some interesting moments of the process of work still in memory?
Claudia Kern: We had a lot of fun skyping with the developers. These guys were so cool and relaxed. Most of the time when dealing with game developers they err on the side of caution: when in doubt say no. These guys did the exact opposite. When in doubt they always said "yes, you can do that". Brilliant.
GSC-Fan.Com: Are you familiar with Strugatsky brothers' "Roadside Picnic", which is in some ways the progenitor of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. world? And, if so, what do you think about it?
Claudia Kern: Actually, I am. I read the English translation when I was trying to get a feel for the world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. I enjoyed it a lot.
GSC-Fan.Com: Is there something fundamental different to your work on a book of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. world from works on the world of "Halo" and "WarCraft"?
Claudia Kern: Every book is different. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was an original work, the others translations, so that's the first difference. But even if I had written the last two, the challenges would have been different from the ones on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. "Halo" and "WarCraft" present completely fictional worlds whereas S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is based in the real world.
GSC-Fan.Com: If you, for example, have been offered to work on the script for the new S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game, would you agree? What would you want to bring a new in the game world?
Claudia Kern: I would love to work on it. The first thing I would introduce are vehicles you can actually drive :)
GSC-Fan.Com: Claudia, would you like to offer any wishes to your readers, fans of science fiction and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in particular?
Claudia Kern: I wish that you will enjoy the books you read, the movies you see and the games you play and, if the powers that be refuse to give you what you enjoy, that you will make so much noise that they may hear you and deliver. See you all in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 :)
Article authors are grateful to the Andriyash Kozlovsky and Komodo Saurian for support.