An Interview with Jon
Transcribed from an event for the Ohio Speculative Fiction Group, December 11th, 2004.
My name is Rick Kensley, and I am joined tonight with Jon Wilhelm the creator and publisher of the Aria Kalsan universe. We will be talking about Aria Kalsan and the new release of the “Aria Kalsan Anthology: Mysteries of the Future.”
<Kensley> Jon, there are so many levels to the book, how would you best summarize it?
<Jon> Well, first off, the book is an allegory, which means there are two stories occurring at the same time. The first story is literal and the second story is symbolic. One story is on the surface and the other is between the lines.
As an anthology, it is a collection of short stories, poems, essays, and art. There are eighteen short stories written by fifteen different international authors.
The literal story is a futuristic speculative fiction tale that chronicles life after the Earth becomes uninhabitable as a result of our neglect and apathy. Only the wealthy and powerful of the world are able to escape to the nearby Moon space station and start civilization again. In time, and after they manage to spread to the center of the galaxy, history repeats itself. The surviving generations find they are in the same predicament as before. The stories, poems, and essays take the reader from the first days of life in space to the far reaches of the galaxy generations later.
The symbolic story is basically a structure for international and global stories. It is meant to create a new context for cultural, social, political, and environmental messages. If there is a current event or a person or an issue that is impacting the world, then it can be a story in Aria Kalsan. The names and the setting change, but the meaning behind the story is the same.
So, the allegory represents everything that is happening today in our world on a galactic scale. All of the pollution, depletion of resources, and exploitation that is happening to our modern world is happening on an unimaginable scale in the book.
You know, fifty years ago, people thought the same of our Earth. They couldn’t believe you could damage something so large as our planet. They wouldn’t think that there could be an end to the planet’s resources and materials, such as fossil fuels. They just kept taking and wasting.
In the symbolic or allegorical story, our contemporary cities are represented as the planets and space stations around the galaxy. For example, Washington D.C is “Planet Hope” in the book. As you read about Planet Hope, you can replace that word in your mind to understand the deeper meaning behind the text.
And once you get into the symbolic layer, you will find that there’s a lot to uncover, as you get deeper and deeper.
<Kensley> You’ve called Aria Kalsan a framework or a structure, what do you mean by that?
<Jon> The Aria Kalsan project is really just a framework for the world to tell stories about the world. It is a thin veil to disguise our history and make it accessible.
Aria Kalsan is a whole brand, and it is more of a setting than just one story or one book. Anyone who has something to say about something that is happening culturally, socially, or environmentally in the world today can be a part of the project in some way.
By a structure, I mean a system of understanding. Without getting into the theory and philosophy, I’ll just say any time you are dealing with symbols you are dealing with structures to decode them. Personally, I am just as interested in the linguistic or formal side of the allegory as the interpretations of it.
<Kensley> You mentioned a little bit about theory, what is your background?
<Jon> I have a background in Illustration, Sociology, Hermeneutics (the study of knowledge), Anthropology, and Semiology (the study of signs), so all of my work deals with cultural and social messages. Most of my background is in post-structuralism, which was the critique of the writings of Saussaure and Levi-Strauss by French philosophers in the 70s.
<Kensley> So, which of these facets make it into the book?
<Jon> Aria Kalsan combines all of my interests, and the “Aria Kalsan Anthology” is truly a book unlike any other. The poems, short stories, and artwork have a strong contemporary social and environmental message about creating positive change in the world. My main goal is to tell an entertaining and enjoyable story while also informing the reader about global issues.
<Kensley> How did you get started?
I began work on the initial story in 1999 but really got started in 2001. At the time, I had finished a series of allegorical paintings that compared the “Romans of Decadence” to the cultures of the West. I wanted to focus on storytelling next, so I wrote a four hundred page book. Only when I was done, did I realize that I wanted others to be involved in the telling of the story. It’s a story that we all share, and it is a story that we really have an obligation to tell. So, it made sense.
In the summer of 2003, I began looking for authors to collaborate with, at which time I condensed the story to fifty pages. Then, I presented the authors with portions of the story and a rough outline and synopsis.
I chose writers who had the best grasp of the concept for my direction. The different authors come from Australia, Canada, Holland, India, Spain, Scotland, and the US. I didn’t ask for resumes or previous experience or any of that. Many of the writers have published works, but it was not a requirement. I wanted fresh and raw styles from the most diverse viewpoints I could find.
<Kensley> How long did it take to write the original story?
<Jon> I worked on it off and on and a little bit at a time for over three years. I like to leave things sitting around and then come back to them later.
<Kensley> Will we ever see the original book?
<Jon> Yes and no. It lives on in the writings on each and every part of Aria Kalsan. You will see pieces of it here and there, but other people will have mixed it in with other works. I have offered chapters of the original book as special promotions, but I don’t think it will ever be released in its entirety.
<Kensley> How long did the Anthology take to do?
<Jon> The Anthology came together quickly—in a matter of months. By December of 2004, all of the stories were in, and we began putting the book together.
<Kensley> And where did the impetus for all for all of this come from?
<Jon> I thought it would be interesting to show how hope and balance can work in our day-to-day lives in a setting that is similar but different from our own.
We talk a lot about hope in a generic or general sense, but we really don’t focus on how to use hope as a force for change. Hope is often viewed as a passive emotion of state of being—almost like the last stage before defeat. I believe that hope is strength, and if we think about it as something proactive, then we can not only radically redefine our actions but also influence others in the process. So, I say, “Use hope to create change.”
Although the setting of Aria Kalsan is harsh and bleak, we are not meant to dwell in those places. It is really only through balance and hope that we can survive. We need to not only conserve our resources but also proactively balance every facet of our lives and world. All too often, we have a tendency to be “reactive,” and then we must resort to drastic measures to solve dramatic problems. Critics argue that businesses can’t afford to think about anything but the bottom line. It doesn’t have to be this way though.
Business and the environment do not have to be at odds. “Green” hotels now use less soap and wash less sheets-saving them money and saving the environment from ruin. This is just one example of balance as a win – win, and only by searching for those kinds of solutions can we get ahead of the game.
<Kensley> You mentioned painting before, do you approach this project like a painting?
<Jon> When I work, I come up with the concept and the message first, and then I find the best way to convey that idea. Sometimes, I use paint or video or even glass. Books are the medium of ideas, so it was only fitting that I begin the project with a book.
<Kensley> Do you have a favorite medium?
When I began Aria Kalsan, I wanted to combine all of my interests from painting to illustration to story telling to activism to music. I’ve worked on all sorts of projects from sculpture conservation to artificial computer consciousness to DVD production. But, I don’t have any one favorite.
<Kensley> Would you call Aria Kalsan or the Anthology sci-fi?
<Jon> Sci-fi means many different things to different people. I call it “speculative fiction” or just plain fiction because I think that has a clearer meaning, perhaps. To me, I am more interested in where humanity and the “civil” part of “civilization” will be in the future than the role of technology in our lives. The book downplays the technology, so it should feel like these events are happening in a world much like our own. There are purposefully very few references to devices, and everything, for the most part, is based on existing technology.
I did have to make stretches of science in the book to accommodate the allegory, such as faster-than-light-speed travel. It was necessary to have some mechanism so that humanity could proliferate across the Milky Way.
<Kensley> What is next for Aria Kalsan?
<Jon> You can look forward to more stories, illustrated works, and a short film based on one of the stories in the Anthology. We are constantly looking for creative ways to expand, and I’m very excited about all of the possibilities on the horizon.
<Kensley> Tell people where they can people order the Anthology
<Jon> They can order through the web site www.AriaKalsan.com or Amazon.com. They will be in stores and libraries in the spring.
<Kensley> Thanks, Jon.
<Jon> Thank you. It was my pleasure.