‘Amazing technologies, deviant desires.’ Map these onto 19th century America, throw in some hardscrabble characters and a strange journey that cuts across time and space, and you’ve got Enigmatic Pilot, the second installment in Kris Saknussem’s Lodema Testament. This is a seductive, enfolding trip of a novel, an audacious yarn that nods to the New Weird and tips its hat to the evolving traditions of Steam Punk, but owes much to the ghosts of Melville and Samuel Clemens, whose spirits, like the enigmatic script at the center of the story, illuminate the pages with the queasily addictive light of true lies. More than just a subtitle, this ‘tall tale too true’ takes up where Saknussem’s cult hit Zanesville leaves off, or rather before it begins, not so much a prequel as the source code. It is more accessible, less obscure, even more darkly hilarious, and packs quite a haymaker. If Saknussem has matured, he most certainly has not mellowed.

Kris Saknussemm

Q: You’ve got three books out right now, yes?

A: My collected short fiction Sinister Miniatures is out from Lazy Fascist Press in Portland, and a portfolio book of my paintings called The Colors of Compulsion from Les Editions du Zaporogue in Europe. Enigmatic Pilot from the Del Rey imprint of Random House, a prequel to the world of my first novel Zanesville, will be released on March 22.

Q: Busy boy.

A: Not a boy anymore.

Q: Feeling the pressure?

A: Always. On the other hand, art is what I care about most. I got a cut on my arm the other day and I looked at it—in one of those distanced moments—and I thought that’s just fucking beautiful. Sure it hurt, but visually it worked. I was only sorry I had to clean it up before I could photograph it properly.

Q: Some people wouldn’t call that sane.

A: Art and sanity have never mixed well. But the measure of sanity is finally paying your bills and staying out of custody. That’s all.

Q: You worked with seriously insane people once, didn’t you?

A: I did, and it forever influenced my ideas. The truly deranged, who can’t look after themselves, are a tiny and universally abandoned minority. Psychopaths and sociopaths however, abound and often rule, as we know too well.

Q: Is that one of the key themes in your writing?

A: I’d like to think a broader definition of sanity is. Some of my work is dark, but I value intelligence and humor…loyalty. Most of the behavior we class as insane is actually an attempt at a rational response to perceptions that fall outside society’s accepted frames. I’m very concerned about those who curate and manipulate these frames.

Q: Speaking of such, Enigmatic Pilot is steeped in paranoia…conspiracy theories…mysterious ancient orders…counterfeit people…hypnotic devices…

A: Emerson talked about the two tribes of Hope and Memory. Sounds innocent. Forward looking on the one hand or nostalgic-conservative on the other.

The paranoid version sees these tribes as secret societies in perpetual conflict. My form of cultural anxiety simply addresses this schismatic view of human development in terms of the chessboard of history—with some special kinds of masks, nightmare machines, hallucinogens and media puppeteering mixed in.

Q: Which side will win?

A: The biggest mistake any gambler can make is to be too sure who’s actually in the game.

Q: More paranoia?

A: Prudence. Old drug ways. And something I’ve learned from Facebook.

Q: Final question. If you had one wish that could be granted, what would it be?

A: I’d like to know a whole lot more about whoever can grant such wishes. And I’d be very curious to learn how long they’d been watching me.