Award-Winning

The Aurealis Awards Ceremony happened over zoom the other night, and Repo Virtual has won the Aurealis Award for Best Science-Fiction novel, tied with Laura Jean McKay’s The Animals in That Country.

You can watch the full ceremony here – my acceptance “speech” (I had nothing prepared because I was up against an amazing slate and honestly did not expect to win) is near the end as Best SF Novel was the second last award announced.

I was pretty sure that Laura Jean McKay was going to win, as The Animals in That Country has been nominated for a number of awards and has also won Australia’s richest literary prize… but I never thought that I might win as well. For some reason it feels even more special to be sharing the award; maybe because joy is better shared, maybe because it’s a great reminder (to myself and anyone else that needs it) that publishing isn’t a zero-sum game.

I am proud of my work on Repo Virtual, but with its pandemic release it’s easy to feel that the book could have done better and gotten more attention if it had been released at almost any other time. So it really means a lot to me for the book (and myself, I suppose) to receive this sort of recognition. A lot of my depression and anxiety manifests as self-doubt and self-loathing, but it should be hard for my mind spiders to argue with this external validation.

Again, I’d like to thank the judges for finding Repo Virtual worthy of this honour. And thanks to the Aurealis Awards gang for all the hard work they do year in and year out – Australian SFF is a vibrant and exciting field, and they do a fantastic job celebrating that.

Thanks also to reviewers, booktubers, readers, etc who have talked up my work this past year, and reached out. It’s people connecting with the work that makes it worthwhile, so thank you for helping to spread the word. And finally, thank you to my partner, Marlee Jane Ward, who has been such a huge support.

Four More Years!

Alternative title: May the 9th Be With You


Killing Gravity was published on the 9th of May, 2017, which means it’s been 4 years since I started this (hopefully long) journey of building a writing career for myself.

[Killing Gravity cover art by Tommy Arnold]
It’s easy for me to look at Repo Virtual‘s plague year launch and feel dejected, but 4 years later people are still discovering the VoidWitch Saga books for the first time, and they’re tweeting and gramming about how much they love the books, and reminding me that books can have long tails. As long as the books are “in print” (scare quotes because I’m sure a lot of people are discovering the ebooks and audiobooks), then they’ll continue to find their audience… Largely thanks to reviews and support from my fantastic, beautiful readers. To everyone who’s talked up my books online and off, who’s taken the time to write a review, and who’s reached out with kind words for my work, thank you. You make this all worthwhile.

They say the best promotion an author can do for their book is to release the next one, and I’m hard at work editing it now, ready to go on sub to agents (hopefully) next month. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, I’m keeping busy. There’s the nothing here newsletter, the Buddies Without Organs podcast, and a new collaborative fiction project in the works, not to mention a line of t-shirt designs I plan to launch soon via Oh Nothing Press. Oh, and an anthology that commissioned a story from me, and another video-related project, another collab story that just needs final edits before we get it out into the world, and on and on. Berserker mode, as usual.

Thanks for joining me on this ride.

And just in case you need a prompt, buy my books 😉

Repo Virtual is an Aurealis Awards Finalist!

Repo Virtual is a Finalist for the Aurealis Awards in the Best Science Fiction Novel category! It is an incredibly strong slate this year, and I’m legitimately honoured to be selected alongside these great works/authors.

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL
Ghost Species, James Bradley (Penguin Random House)
Aurora Burning, Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
Fauna, Donna Mazza (Allen & Unwin)
The Animals in That Country, Laura Jean McKay (Scribe Publications)
The Mother Fault, Kate Mildenhall (Simon & Schuster Australia)
Repo Virtual, Corey J. White (Tor.com Publishing)

Congrats to all the other finalists!

Events April 2021

I’ve got a couple of great (virtual) events coming up.

Flights of Foundry

Flights of Foundry is running another all-timezones virtual convention – this is exactly the sort of thing I love to see flourishing after our pandemic year. As an Australian it can be easy to feel left out of various US-centric elements of the industry and fandom, so a chance to chat with people from all across the global SFF community is fantastic.

I’ve got two panels:

Times are at the above links (and you can set your own timezone to see the full program at your local times), as well as details about the other panelists and all the rest.

The convention is free to attend, but you will need to register and also have the option of donating if you’re able.

Read the Room

I’m really excited to be doing this event – Read The Room – The Future is Now: The Intersections of AI, Technology, and Power in Science Fiction, Moderated by Charlie Jane Anders, with Naomi Kritzer, J.S. Dewes, and Nnedi Okorafor. It’s a killer line-up, and I’m sure it’ll be a fantastic conversation.

April 28th at 6:00pm EST / 3:00pm PST

Full details here.

Some recent odds and ends

Happy 2021, wherein we’ll have to continue to fight for a better future because our governments and the corporations have no interest in working for it unless we make them.

Anyway, I’ve got a few bits and pieces to share.

Australian science fiction author Corey J White proves that cyberpunk is not dead in his first full length novel Repo Virtual. Set in a slightly in-the-future Korea Repo Virtual is a fast moving tale that features evil megacorporations, plucky gamers, AI and robot dogs.

Some great contemporary cyberpunk books – including Repo Virtual, Infomocracy by Malka Older, and Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor – to check out if CP2077 left you feeling disappointed.

Recent Repo Virtual Reviews

One of the good things about taking a break from twitter (apart from the removal of a deep sense of sadness and constant outrage) is that when you return you might find a few people with nice things to say about your book.

As a rule I don’t read reviews of my own work. The book is done, or at least I’m done with it, so the review isn’t for me, it’s there to help give readers an idea of whether or not the book is for them.

(While the above is true and what I think about reviews, the real reason I don’t read them is because even thinking about reviews gives me anxiety. So it’s a good thing that I’ve got an amazing and supportive partner who can read reviews for me.)

So below are some pull quotes from, and links to, some recent reviews. Thanks to Marlee for the quotes. I like knowing that people out there both get and enjoy what I was trying to do with Repo Virtual.


I really enjoyed the focus on loving character relationships in Repo Virtual. It shows how cyberpunk is actually evolving. What was great about, say, Case and Molly’s relationship in Neuromancer was they clearly had an attachment to each other that went beyond just physical, but they were so alienated from the world and from each other that ultimately it could never work; I liked that and thought it made a powerful statement about how capitalism ultimately alienates us from our fellow humans. Corey J. White is saying something different, that despite that alienation we are still human and woe betide any CEO whose profits supersede our humanity.

If this book is anything to go by, I feel like the tone of modern cyberpunk may be shifting too? I hope I’m not misplaced in glimpsing a tiny shred, if but a kernel, of hope in the modern genre.

For a genre awash with such advanced biotechnology it really shouldn’t have taken this long for it to start exploring ideas around gender identity. Thankfully Corey J. White has dragged cyberpunk kicking and screaming into the year 2020 and with it he’s also consigned a bunch of the shittier stereotypes of the genre to the dustbin of history.

Jonothan Pickering at Parsecs and Parchment


Readers of White’s Voidwitch series (starting with Killing Gravity) know that White hits the action beats and rings those changes well, and he takes those skills and puts them into his mid 21st century story with conflicts and set pieces both small and large. From a tense gun standoff, to a pulse pounding chase across the city, when the author turns on the action, the words just flow off of the page.

what really sets this novel apart from most Cyberpunk is its strongly philosophical bent. It sounds more than a little strange to talk about ontology and philosophy in the context of an often pulse pounding SF novel, but White’s novel and its thesis, for lack of a better word, is encapsulated in the sections when the AI starts to swim toward the surface of consciousness, and the debate, and the issues of a new sentient intelligence, and what that means. It is a far less toxic meditation on artificial intelligence, their rights and nature, than in say, the movie Ex Machina, which I kept thinking of as the AI moves from being a pure MacGuffin to being an entity in their own right, with slowly developing hopes and goals of their own. What rights does an AI have? What is the social contract, here? I was not expecting this level of deep thought, as JD and Troy and the AI come to slow understanding, JD and Troy from without, and the AI from within.

Does Cyberpunk still have something to say and to present itself as a viable subgenre for the early 21st century for writers and readers? Repo Virtual by Corey J White proves that the answer is, that eye of the needle can be threaded. It’s difficult to write near-future SF, but White not only manages it but succeeds excellently at it.

Paul Weimar at Nerds of a Feather


The book really shines when it uses the heist plot to facilitate some fantastic social commentary as well as advance its pretty heavy themes… In many ways, the book reads like a well written political paper more than a story – which weirdly works for me.

Andrew Mather at Quill to Live

Blackbird

This personal essay was originally published in Creeper Magazine Issue 1.


I don’t remember the first model kit I built.

I remember the small metal tins of Humbrol enamel paint. I remember levering the lids off with a flathead screwdriver, and struggling to fit them back into place when paint clung thick to the edges of the metal. I remember the X-Acto knife I would use to cut kit pieces from their plastic frames (years later I would use this same knife to cut myself in search of answers to my teenage angst), I remember the chemical smell of the paint and the glue, and the sticky consistency of the white paint compared to any other colour.

I don’t remember building the 1:72 scale model of the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, but I must have been proud of it, because I remember showing it to my dad. I remember him joking that Saddam Hussein was sitting in his office, building the same models. I assume the joke was at Iraq’s expense—the country too backward to gather intelligence in any traditional way, relying instead on a child’s toy to know what it was that they faced in an adversary like America. The joke surely wasn’t at the expense of America’s arrogance in attempting to police the entire world, or the cultural saturation of this idea of righteous American war against, first, Communism, then Middle Eastern dictators, and later (and still), the vaguer notion of “terrorism”.

(Christmas 1989, and I receive my first GI Joe figures and vehicles. I had seen my father buy these toys at Kmart, but had believed him when he said they were for a cousin, rather than myself. I would become obsessed with GI Joe, but it all began because I asked for a My Little Pony. I can only assume my father feared I’d grow up gay if I were to receive a bright purple horse, so instead it was GI Joe. But this is a story about model kits, not action figures. Though they are both stories of the cultural acceptance of war.)

I don’t remember if I laughed at dad’s joke, but I remember thinking I understood it. Saddam Hussein was the villain from the television. He deserved ridicule. He deserved it in the form of jokes from middle-class white men all across the Western world. He deserved it in the form of racist cartoons in major newspapers.

My father didn’t serve in Vietnam, but his father served as a gunner and radio operator in a Beaufort bomber in the Pacific theatre during World War II. His father’s father served in the Scottish army during World War I—one of the many who returned from the war and would not, or could not, speak of it, a man broken by what he’d seen and/or done. I don’t know if this weighed on my father, if he felt that he was somehow breaking the line of White warriors. But when the television tells us that we’re at war with Communism, then isn’t consumerism a sort of combat? Isn’t each swipe of the credit card the same as pulling the trigger?

(The CIA backed The Baath party in Iraq—which counted Saddam Hussein among its numbers—in a coup against the Communist-aligned General Qassim. At this stage it should be a given: Of course America would have been instrumental in bringing its future enemy to power. How many times has America built its own bogeymen from pre-existing kits they barely understood, gluing the pieces together with American money and American weaponry? How many more times can they manage it before their empire crumbles?)

My dad might not have first-hand experience of war, but he was a veteran of Capitalism’s trenches. My parents had lost their business and our family home in the “Recession we had to have”. Still, he could not lose faith, the lifelong salesman a zealous soldier in Capitalism’s army even now. By the time I was building my SR-71 Blackbird model, Communism had been defeated. (I remember where I was when the Berlin Wall came down: playing with GI Joes on the floor of a family friend’s living room. But that is still a different story.) No longer would the armies (or operatives) of America and its allies be dispatched to far-flung corners of the globe to take a stand against an ideology. But the hunger for war remained.

The first Gulf War is contained within a reticle—a rectangular crosshair laid over grainy aerial footage. If reporters on the ground in Vietnam helped turn public consciousness against that War, video footage direct from the nose of state-of-the-art missiles had the opposite effect. How could America ever lose another war with this kind of technology? (The same way they lost Vietnam. The same way they’ll lose the War on Terror.)

Propaganda in its purest form. No rhetoric, no words, just pixelated images, just explosions flaring green and black in night-vision. It was a war fought via CNN as much as any traditional weapon. The war was a demonstration for all the world—for America’s enemies and its allies—that not only could they target you with pin-point accuracy, they could watch the missile hit you in real-time. It made explicit the relationship between missile and target, connecting them via the thread of video, the missile’s visual feed and the target’s life ending in the exact same moment, a life reduced to static on a TV screen.

(It was the precursor to drone strike footage, with the added bonus that the speed of a missile’s journey meant civilian viewers would never see the targeted weddings, the dead journalists, the dying children.)

If aerial and missile footage is the Gulf War image that looms largest in our collective memory, it’s only because the rest of it has become normalised by the endless acceleration of late capitalism. But there are countless other artifacts of this war, gathered beneath the consumerist banner. Flashy newscast graphics like something you would see in Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers a few years later, unashamedly bringing the war into living rooms with an air of excitement. Desert Storm trading cards, released by Topps and other companies, sadly missing the bubble gum that would come with your NBA, NFL, or TMNT cards (the smell of the gum lingering on the cards years after the gum itself was chewed into a tough, flavourless pink blob).

That there have been Gulf War video games should surprise no one, but the variety of titles that were released during or soon after the war is demonstrative of the saturation of the conflict in popular culture. 1991 saw the Macintosh game Operation Desert Storm, released by Bungie (yes, that Bungie), the coin-op Desert Assault, and a Gulf War mission disk for the flight simulator F-15 Strike Eagle II. In 1992 we saw Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf, Operation Secret Storm (starring a secret agent named George B), and Super Battletank: War in the Gulf. In the years since, many other games have been released, all commemorating America’s swift, vicious victory.

(Do not forget the children of Iraq and Kuwait—children of globalisation as much as any of us in the West—who lived through the war, experienced first-hand the sound and fury of military might, then had the war sold back to them in video game form. This disconnect is precisely what Fatima Al Qadiri captured in her Desert Strike EP: the experience of sitting on her rooftop, watching green lasers and anti-aircraft fire streak through the wide black sky, living through the invasion and then liberation of Kuwait, and returning to the war again a year later with the video game Desert Strike. “Playing that game really screwed with me, it really messed me up in the head, because I was just like ‘how does this exist in a format that I can play?’ I couldn’t even describe how disturbing the feeling was. […] It’s really cruel and disgusting when video games are made out of real war. It’s just a disturbing thing, and anybody who’s survived any war conflict and played a video game about it afterwards can tell you how disturbing that is. It’s making something really profound and deep and disturbing into something trivial and fake.” [Source])

And then there were the model kits.

The best war propaganda is that which you don’t have to force onto people—they eagerly buy it from you in myriad forms.

I remember the AH-64A Apache, the AH-F1 Cobra, the UH-1 Iroquois, and the UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters. I remember the jets and bombers, the F-4 Phantom, the F-15 Eagle, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the AV-8B Harrier II, the F-14A Tomcat, and the F117-Nighthawk. I remember the names like I remember the names of my childhood friends. I remember sitting at my small desk, carefully painting these miniature war machines in camouflage patterns, or the flat grey of naval jets, or the matte black of stealth bombers. I remember the missiles, the sticky white paint I would use for their bodies, and the small flourishes of colour on their tips and their fins. I remember gluing the model pieces together, the superglue tacky on the skin between my fingers. I remember tying lengths of fishing line around the helicopters and planes so they could hang in the air above my bed.

Were these models—like the Gulf War video games—also for sale in Iraq and Kuwait? The same vehicles that filled the skies overhead also filling the shelves of stores, each one a brute force injection of plastic and ideology, each one a talisman of American superiority. How many Kuwaiti and Iraqi children would—like me—while away an afternoon building model kits? Cutting model pieces from their frames, carefully painting each model to match the ones dropping bombs on their countries. Would they have wanted these war machines to hang from the ceiling of their bedrooms? Would they have wanted these war machines to hang in their air above their heads?

When your toys are weapons of war, does war itself become a game? Do bombings on the nightly news become like explosions in an action movie? (Imagine that disconnect. For Russians, for North Koreans, for Chinese, for Iraqis, for Nigerians, and all the other people demonised by Hollywood. To have yourself-as-villain on the silver screen, as large as god and twice as loud.)

I remember the Sopwith Camel model kit I never built. It was larger than my other models, made in a different scale. I can’t remember if I never built it because it was given to me just as my interest in model building had begun to wane, or if I never built it because it was too disconnected from modern life. The World War I biplane wasn’t made with stealth technology. It couldn’t drop a nuclear bomb. It wasn’t on the nightly news, or on trading cards. It wasn’t in combat in the skies over the Middle East. People weren’t dying in Sopwith Camel bombardments.

My bedroom ceiling was a microcosm. Jet fighters, bombers, and attack i hanging from lengths of fishing line that I could imagine were invisible. In macro, they hung in the air over Kuwait and Iraq, destroying military targets and killing civilians. This is why I was so enamoured. They were real. They were deadly. They were righteous.

My parents bought the model kits for me, but I bought the war.

Wandering the Icelandic States of America

Note: This post was originally a bonus issue for the Nothing Here newsletter. They usually stay locked for a year, but I decide to unlock this one early for the 1-year anniversary of Death Stranding‘s release.


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Life imitates art

Death Stranding was originally released for PlayStation 4 on November 8th, 2019. In the world of Death Stranding, a near-Extinction level event (called “the Death Stranding”) has forced survivors to live confined indoors, relying on porters to deliver most of what they need to survive and thrive. What was meant as a weird and unique sort of post-apocalypse ended up paralleling the way many of us have spent large chunks of 2020.

Playing as Sam Porter Bridges (yes, the character names in Death Stranding are consistently terrible), I have delivered food, booze, books, medicine, and even fresh hot pizza to lonely survivors…all of which I have also had delivered to my house during lockdown, by invariably underpaid delivery drivers wearing masks. (While Death Stranding has a number of hat and glasses options, they missed out on including face masks. This inclusion would have surely cemented Kojima’s status as an actual prophet*.)

And while the porters in Death Stranding couldn’t exactly be called “gig economy workers” they are literally paid in Likes, further cementing the link between the game world and the lives of app-based delivery workers who run the risk of losing income if their rating (or, how well liked they are) drops too low. Not only that, but after moving into the game’s second area you become a contractor for a second courier company, which is reminiscent of the way precarious app workers need to sign up for multiple competing apps just to ensure they have enough work coming in. In Death Stranding though, Bridges is happy for you to work with and for Fragile Express, but in the dystopian (possibly apocalyptic) setting that we call “the real world,” workers are forced to run competing apps on separate phones, thanks to Silicon Valley arrogance and its anti-competitive nature, leading to dashboards that slowly look more like something from the cyberpunk oeuvre. (And don’t get me started on the waste of rare minerals, energy, etc.)

But while Death Stranding might seem a little close to home in some ways, there’s another way that the developers entirely missed the mark.

 

Hindsight is…

I began playing Death Stranding on its PC release, on the 15th of July, 2020. By the middle of July we’d watched America war with itself for close to 2 months following the murder of George Floyd. We saw police continue to murder and brutalise people (especially people of colour) even while under the heaviest scrutiny they have possibly ever experienced, demonstrating exactly how far beyond reformation these gangs in blue really are. We saw the National Guard deployed, and we saw the President threaten to deploy the US military in cities across the country. We saw faceless, nameless, identification-less agents from a variety of federal agencies black bag US citizens and threaten others at gunpoint. (We also saw a mass protest movement, and we saw people willing to stand against a corrupt state in numbers never before witnessed in the USA.) We saw far-right militias on the streets and police ignoring (or fraternising with) them, we saw police committing and allowing violence, just as long as it was wielded against the people standing up for the rights of Black people not to be killed in their homes and on the streets.

I don’t need to remind you about all this (if you were keeping up with the news and/or the newsletter during that time, you know exactly what I’m talking about), but I mention it to provide some context. Because it was against this real-life backdrop that the characters of Death Stranding begged Sam Porter Bridges to help rebuild America by trudging across the continent on foot and reconnecting a series of bunkers and underground towns to the chiral network (think sci-fi internet). As I’m sure you can imagine it’s an incongruous message for 2020. These people – the President, her daughter, and her advisors – begged Sam (ie me) to help rebuild America, but all I could think was “Why would I ever want to do that? It’s a failed experiment.” That introduction to the game, at that point in time, was almost enough to make me stop playing. And indeed, it’s odd that after finishing with Metal Gear Solid, a series that was often critical of American militarism and particularly the corporatisation thereof, Hideo Kojima opens his next game with what can only be read as pro-America propaganda.

So while delivering goods to people, ahem, stranded in their homes made Death Stranding feel very of the moment, in other ways it feels like a relic of 2007 – a time when America was bolstered by war and post-9/11 nationalism, and when American people, the government, military, and Hollywood could all believe in the idea of America as an unqualified force for good. It was a time when it was easy to buy into this rebooted form of the American Dream (powered by a housing market racing toward collapse); before the wars in the Middle East revealed themselves to be quagmires, and before the Global Financial Crisis tore a veil from our eyes. The veils have continued to fall, with the acceleration of mass shootings, far-right violence, police violence, racism, ur-fascism, and a continued degradation of conditions for your average American while the elite continue to gain wealth and power, even as their truly disgusting predilections (Epstein, etc) and corruptions (the Panama Papers) are revealed. All told, in 2020 Death Stranding feels both timely in the context of our global pandemic and completely anachronistic in its view of America**.

I guess one of the reasons why I was able to look past the American Exceptionalism on display in the game’s opening hours is because Death Stranding is obviously a global product, despite its story. Hideo Kojima is Japanese, as are most of the people who worked on the game, the cast includes the French Léa Seydoux and the Danish Mads Mikkelsen among others, much of the game’s music is provided by the Icelandic dream pop band Low Roar, and the geography of the game is obviously (and painstakingly) modelled on Iceland, even if the writing wants to convince us it’s the landscape of the former United States of America.

It’s almost like Kojima et al felt they needed to set the game in America because the mass cultural export of the idea of America has made it into a sort of de facto setting, even if (or perhaps especially if) the story is about a global event. Besides Norman Reedus’ accent, very little in Death Stranding feels American at all.

Fully automated lockdown communism

It seems pointless to offer a spoiler warning for a game that is so singularly odd and fragmented and that really needs to be experienced, but here it is anyway:

SPOILER WARNING

Toward the end of the game it’s revealed that the President of the United States is herself an Extinction Event. It seems like I could make a pretty lazy joke here (something that rhymes with Ronald Grump spook-clear footfall), but that’s baby-brain centrist bullshit, and we can do better than that. Instead I’m going to suggest that POTUS = EE is a comment on the onrushing/unfolding climate change apocalypse. The POTUS is, after all, the head of state and the embodiment of the United States, so with such a sparsely-populated game it makes sense for the President to stand in for the nation as a whole. And the USA is the epitome of the Western world with all the consumerism, waste, and environmental damage that entails (not to mention the massive and massively environmentally damaging US military, which refuses to let itself be in any way curtailed by international climate change agreements). The President brings about the Death Stranding in the same way that the brand of consumerism America has been exporting to the rest of the world since the end of WW2 is bringing about our own slow apocalypse.

SPOILER WANING

So, the titular Death Stranding is a metaphor for climate change apocalypse (making this piece part 2 in the ongoing series Corey Sees Climate Change Everywhere). What’s interesting then is that the game offers up socialism as our only way to face this threat.

(Now I’m realising the Iceland-America displacement was entirely deliberate: suggesting that America’s only chance of rebuilding after its inevitable collapse is to model itself after Scandinavian countries with healthy social welfare systems. [I’m being facetious.])

Now we get to the multiplayer portion of the game. Beginning with Demon Souls (if not before), we’ve seen a sort of asynchronous, parallel, or ambient multiplayer movement coming out of Japan (the Souls games, Journey, Nier: Automata, and Death Stranding are just some examples I’ve played – I’m sure there are plenty more). In the Souls games you can call other players into your game world for jolly cooperation or brutal combat, but you can also leave messages on the landscape that might bleed through into other player’s worlds. Taken from a predefined selection of messages, players found ways to be helpful or funny, or even lure unsuspecting players to their deaths. A similar message system is in place in Death Stranding, and while it might be possible to trick another porter into jumping or driving off a cliff to their death, it’s quite unlikely. Instead you’re far more likely to find earnest suggestions, requests, hints, and even tiny buffs, with some of these messages imparting Likes, BB happiness, stamina, and speed. Help in the form of structures and vehicles constructed by other players can also seep into your world (and vice versa), and you could spend hours delivering packages lost or deposited by other players, earning you both more of those precious Likes. These systems change what is a deliberately slow and solitary game into something that feels subtly communal. Your progression is never significantly helped or hindered by these other players, but seeing the strands of them reach into your game reminds you that there are other people out there, experiencing what you’re experiencing, and sharing your struggles and victories.

(In this way the multiplayer aspect also reminds me of the religion of Mercerism from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? With Mercerism, a person uses an empathy box to connect to a figure known as William Mercer as he struggles up a hill while being accosted and assaulted by unseen assailants. These attacks can even manifest real-world wounds. But while a person is connected to Mercer going through his cycle of pain, death, rebirth and more pain, they are also connected to everyone else who is using an empathy box at that same moment, sharing the pain, but also encouragement, love, joy, and all the rest. It could even be read as the platonic ideal of what the internet could have been…)

So the multiplayer elements of the game encourage cooperation and mutual aid through these ambient connections between players, but these connections are also literally the point of the game and the foundation of its story and themes.

I came across a long review of/essay about Death Stranding*** in which the author complained at length about the economics of the game not making sense. On the contrary, I’d suggest the game’s economics are best summed up by Karl Marx: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. Earlier I mentioned that the game’s porters are paid in Likes – this isn’t because they’re a downtrodden class in some sort of dystopia, but rather because Likes are the only form of payment available to a person. You deliver a massive variety of different items and materials all over the Icelandic States of America, but there is never talk of any payment made or received – not even bartering. The couple growing wheat send bread and beer to other settlements because they have the resources, equipment, and experience necessary to do so. The doctor provides medical equipment, the staff at the weather station provides data to help porters navigate the dangers of timefall, the engineer provides schematics for his latest creations, and the spiritualist provides magic rocks and homeopathic medicines (okay, okay, it’s not a perfect system). The chiral network that Sam Porter Bridges (ugh) is rebuilding helps everyone across the continent remain in contact so that they might share pooled resources, and also lets them share knowledge, including designs that can be 3D printed at every connected bunker or settlement. It could be seen as a partially automated lockdown communism facilitated by 3D printing crossed with a sort of library socialism built on the (muscular and no doubt extremely sore) backs of the portertariat.

Don’t be so serious

In those opening hours of Death Stranding I was certain I would be able to write about the game. It turns out this piece is a little disjointed and fragmented, much like the game it’s about.

I’m almost certain it’s not really a game about socialism, but it earnestly believes that connecting with other people in a spirit of love and generosity may be the highest human calling and might just help us survive the disaster we find ourselves in. For all the games terrible character names, dumps of exposition, and other assorted weirdnesses and minor failures, it still feels like something special because of its utter dedication to this message of connection and the genuine moments of contact and love shared between delightful characters.

There’s another Philip K. Dick story that comes to mind, called War Game. The story is about a couple of customs inspectors charged with ensuring nothing dangerous crosses the border from the nefarious Ganymedians. The inspectors are suspicious of a citadel game that they fear could be a bomb, and while by the end of the story they’re pretty sure it’s just a therapeutic toy, they still don’t let it through just to be on the safe side. What they do let pass is a Monopoly-style board game, but its revealed that the true purpose of the game is to teach Earthling children the value not of accumulating resources, but of surrendering your holdings (say, to an invading alien force). The vast majority of multiplayer games are competitive, usually violently so (both in terms of the games requiring players to interact with one another through the language of violence, and with the violence spilling over into the real world with swatting), but we can’t compete our way out of the coming troubles. Our best hope is cooperation and connection, and we need a culture that recognises and reinforces that. Kojima has talked about Death Stranding possibly being the first of a new subgenre of Strand-likes, and I would really like to see what else Kojima and others could do in the space… I’d especially like to see a deliberately socialist and leftist game, instead of a massive corporate product that seemed to get there much by accident.


*Already, throughout the Metal Gear Solid series, Hideo Kojima has proven his prophetic gift. The most obvious example comes at the end of Metal Gear Solid 2 where Kojima had predicted the current state of social media, and the way it has inundated our lives… even though the game came out back in 2001. That was two years before even Myspace was founded. He extrapolated everything about our social media lives from looking at LiveJournal and similarly small blogging sites.

**To be a more accurate simulation of the current American experience, there would need to be people leaving their bunkers in order to protest the lockdown measures, carrying placards that read “Timefall is a hoax” and “Have you ever even seen a BT?”, and threatening the clouds with their AR-15s while wearing sweaters stained with pasketti sauce.

***It’s only because of this same reviessay that I know Diehardman (yes, you read that right) is named (ugh) Diehardman, because his real name was John McClane.

Repo Virtual’s JD, by Ganzeer

If you’re not already familiar with the work of Ganzeer, this is as good a time as any for me to point you in his direction. He’s an artist working in an area that he coined: Concept Pop. It fuses a bold and graphic style reminiscent of pop art with serious conceptual frameworks, looking at issues including (but not limited to) the Egyptian revolution (and revolution as a broader topic), dissent in Russia, the killing and subjugation of Native American peoples, the racist history and present of the US, and more. He also has been working on the kickstartered graphic novel, The Solar Grid, which I’m super excited about.

Recently Ganzeer was open to commissions, and I thought it was a good opportunity to support an artist who’s work I think is incredibly culturally valuable (and just generally kick-arse), and also celebrate the release of Repo Virtual and kind of reward myself for a book that I’m really proud of. So I asked Ganzeer to draw JD, one of the heroes of RV, along with a hacked police dog (the significance of which will be obvious to anyone who’s read it). I’ve got the original art here, waiting to be framed when I’ve got the money, but I also wanted to share a scan of it with you all.

Illustration of JD from Repo Virtual

Thanks again, Ganzeer. I love it.