John Paul Catton is a recognised force to be reckoned with in the field of Japan-based urban fantasy. I first came into contact with him some years back as a fellow-member of SWET, the Society of Writers, Editors, and Translators in Japan, and I helped produce an early edition of his alternative history, Moonlight, Murder & Machinery.
Since then, he and his imprint, Excalibur Books, have gone from strength to strength, with the next major planned release being a collection of Olympics-themed stories by a number of authors. The series was originally entitled Tales from the Unknown (as in the earlier version of a cover from the series here), but has been retitled as Dimensions Unknown.
The idea of an Olympics-themed anthology, to be published in a year when Tokyo is preparing to host the world’s athletes (though at the time of writing, this remains in some doubt) is an intriguing one, so I decided to ask a few questions about it:
Q: What’s the working title for your new Olympics anthology? How many stories and how many authors do you expect it will end up being?
A: The official title is Dimensions Unknown 2020: Warriors of Olympia. This is Volume 3 of the Dimensions Unknown series, and it will have twenty stories from eighteen talented authors, both veteran and new.
Q: How Japan-centric do you expect the collection to be?
A: About half and half. There are some stories focusing on Japan the host country, and its society and culture. Settings include both the samurai and swordplay of the Edo period, and the bizarre technology of the nation’s near future. The other stories are Alternative History stories set in previous Olympic years, such as Berlin 1936, Moscow 1980, Los Angeles 1984, Sydney 2000, and of course the first Tokyo Games in 1964.
Q: Do you expect the stories to have any links with each other than Olympics (characters in common, or from your other books)?
A: This is a kind of Excalibur Books Crossover event, so there will be links to other stories and characters in the “Dimensions Unknown” series and the “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy. Simon Grey from Charles Kowalski’s novel “Simon Grey and the March of a Hundred Ghosts” and Hina Takamachi from Cody L Martin’s “Zero Sum Game” will be reappearing. I must stress, however, that this is designed as a stand-alone volume of short stories and novelettes that can be enjoyed without having read any other releases from Excalibur Books.
Q: Since Japan has been in Olympic hysteria mode for about six years now, there’s no need to ask about the inspiration for an Olympic anthology. But what about some “alternative Olympics”? Will there be a Yōkai Olympics, for example?
A: Not an Olympics exclusively for Yōkai, but Japan’s supernatural critters do make an appearance in Reiko Furukawa Bergman’s story. The “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy features a huge number of Yōkai as both protagonists and antagonists.
Q: Japan’s had bad luck with Olympics – the 1940 games which never were, and now there are serious doubts about the 2020 games. Almost a story in itself?
A: I wouldn’t say Japan has had bad luck, because the Tokyo 1964 Olympics was a tremendous success. It announced Japan’s return to the world as a modern, high-tech nation with an invigorated pop culture. In a wider sense, it encapsulated the “Golden Age of Modernist Science Fact and Fiction” optimism that, a few years later, was to transform into a Post-Modern pessimistic dread of approaching Apocalypse. That’s not a reflection on the Tokyo Games; it was a result of the inevitable gravitational pull of global technology and culture.
Q: And how do people submit their stories? Or are they all picked already? If any have been picked, would you like to say something about them, and a teaser about their story?
A: We promoted the anthology guidelines for two years on social media, and the deadline closed at the end of 2019. The content is now finalized, and includes Alternative History versions of the previous Olympics mentioned. For example, there’s a Steampunk story where the modern Olympics started not in Athens 1896, but London 1860; there’s a Low-Gravity Olympics set on the Moon, in 1966; and we have a story set in 1964 Japan, which is a blend of two of the nation’s greatest film franchises – a kind of “Tora-san meets Godzilla”. Last and not least, there’s a non-fiction account of the original 1964 games, in an excerpt of J-Boys, by Shogo Oketani.
Excalibur Books has set up a Patreon to attract interest and to help pay for formatting and book cover costs. There are stories, both excerpts and full, going up on the Patreon on a weekly basis along with all kinds of bonus content, so if anyone likes the sound of this anthology then I ask them to join us on the Patreon. Let’s be positive! Whatever happens to the real-time Olympic games, we promise that this collection will be an awesome souvenir of 2020! Who wants to be part of it?