A Conversation with Mike Kobernus, Novelist and Science Fiction Writer

«My perspective towards Oslo has changed over the years, and these days I prefer the tranquility of the countryside to the hustle and bustle of the city. But on the odd occasion when I do visit our capital, I love to see how quickly it changes, with new buildings sprouting like mushrooms. I feared at first that that developments near the Opera building would be dire, but now I am quite fond of the so called Barcode».

His name is Mike Kobernus. He is the founder of Nordland Publishing and also the author of The Guardian, a metaphyisical fantasy series for adults. He first came to Norway, as a tourist, in 1991. He loved how small the city was, and how easy it was to navigate. «There were many new sights and sounds, and I spent many visits over the succeeding years getting to know different aspects».

Mike, moved here in 2001. Since then, he has lived in over ten different areas, in and around Oslo. This gives him some good insight into the various districts. «One of my favourite places to live was Nordstrand, since I had a great view of the fjord at the time. But boy, was it expensive! I have also live in Rødtvet, Nesøya, Sognsvann, as well as in Lillestrøm, Flateby and now Maura».

What do you like and don’t like about Oslo?

On the like side are busy cafes, or places like the Literaturhuset, with people chatting, reading newspapers, and otherwise socialising. On the dislike side are clubs, drunk people and impatient drivers. And cyclists who do not think that the rules of the road apply to them! I like Karl Johans Gate, especially at Christmas. It was terrifying for me to go up in that Paris wheel, but my daughter loved it. And ice skating there with my little girl is wonderful fun. One aspect that struck me when I first visited, was just how many statues there were. Not always of famous people either, but obscure, abstract things that would suddely appear on the sidewalk, and then one day mysteriously disappear. This type of random art is pretty cool and I always appreciated it. I also like how the forest is closer than you think. And I love the Vigeland Park, and his many odd statues. And I love the metro system and the trams. A good public transport system, Ruter, is a symbol of an advanced society. Pay attention USA.

Which thing of Oslo you could not live without?

The sea. Water. It might surprise people, even those who know me well, that I love the sea, and Oslo provides us with an abundance of opportunities to get wet! We have some beaches, we have Aker Brygge, we have the islands, and best of all, we have a great big fjord to sail up and down in. I wish I had a view of the fjord, but that is the price of being a recluse. So I get my fix whenever I visit Oslo. I never tire of seeing Akerhusfestning at night, from a café or bar at Aker Brygge.

Do you manage to tie work and private life in Oslo?

I am an enviromentalist, and novelist. These are two quite different types of work. One requires me to do a lot of work at an international level, while the other demands that I lock myself away for months at a time. Neither are conducive to family life, friends or a social life. But I would not change it. One of the drawbacks of being in Norway is that international travel always demands one and sometimes even two extra stop at various airports, usually for several hours. So travel takes more time than I would like. But then, that is a small price to pay for living here.

Your favorite Oslo’s neighborhood?

If push came to shove, I have to say that Nesøya is my all time favourite. It is pricey, but the fjord is just so awesome. There is nothing better than on a hot summer’s day, wandering down to the beach and just having a quick dip. I also really appreciate the abundance of trees on the island.

Do you have the impression of living in a safe city?

I have lived in some so called dangerous places. Not just in Norway, but in the US, the UK, Israel, and a few other places to boot. In all cases, I have never really felt nervous about where I live. People are people. Some are rich, some are poor, some good, some bad. Having travelled a fair bit, and having seen how in Russia it is necessary to have bars on windows on the ground floor, or in South Africa, where many people live behind high walls, I would have to say that Oslo remains a relatively safe city. But that does not mean that there are no dangers here. But like in many things, common sense mitigates some of these dangers. I am lucky, as I am a big man, and have never been concerned about physical dangers, but I have three daughters so I am acutely aware of any potential danger that could affect them. I wish that there was no crime in the city, but reality does not care about our wishes.

Would you like to move from Oslo to another city? 

I currently live outside Oslo, so I get the best of both worlds: country and city. I think that this is a good balance. If I could live anywhere else, it would be to enjoy the unique aspects of life in the far north. For example, perhaps Longyearbyen, on Svalbard. That would be an experience, I think.

Was Oslo better before or it’s better now?

I think we always have a tendency to remember the past as golden age. For example, I prefer the music of the 70s and I love the American cars of the 50s. So I clearly do have a fondness for things past.

But I also remember how many of the streets in Oslo were filled with potholes, and driving a car, or even worse, a motorcyle, could be a bone rattling and oftentimes dangerous experience. So there has definitely been improvements in infrastructure. I kind of wish that they would stop changing the one way systems, and closing roads and such, but that is only because I hate having to learn new routes. As an enviromentalist, I am acutely aware of the reasons, and I approve of them. Reducing traffic travelling through the city should be a major focus, as air quality suffers thanks to the rising number of vehicles. This is a situation that will only get worse, unless we all switch to electric or hybrid vehicles.

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