The below is a quick and dirty manifesto I put together for a writing prompt over at Ganzeer’s Restricted Academy forum. I love a good manifesto – filled with pomp and self-importance, (naive?) idealism, and moral absolutism. I think they rarely stand up to scrutiny, but they’re not meant to, they’re meant to grab people’s attention and put a fire under their arses. It’s meant to get people to think.
So here’s my manifesto titled Cyberpunk’s Not Dead, But Maybe It Should Be. A little half-baked, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about recently. It also ties into one of the books I’m planning – with it, I hope to develop the language and themes of a new SF sub-genre, the same way William Gibson did with Neuromancer and cyberpunk (because, hey, why not aim for the moon, right?). With that background established, here it is:
Cyberpunk promised us a corporate-controlled future where, despite advancements in tech, average people would struggle to survive while the rich hid away in opulence. That’s the future we got, but we deserve better.
Inspired by the potentials inherent in CRISPR gene-editing, CRISP SF isn’t post-cyberpunk, it isn’t ecopunk, solarpunk, or cli-fi. It’s a new type of fiction that strives to discard anthropocentric perspectives and replace them with something, anything, else. CRISP SF is about change – it’s about climate change caused by human intervention, it’s about changing humanity into human-animal hybrids to survive radical climate change. It’s about what it means to be human if destructive ideas about “dominion over nature” are finally done away with. It’s about what it means to be human if we consider ourselves simply one part of the hyperobject called Earth. It’s about what it means to be human if we treat the animals, plants, and microbes as our peers instead of as our servants, our food, our raw materials waiting to be packaged, branded, and sold.
CRISP SF is post-capitalist. CRISP SF is post-anthropocentric. CRISP SF is the future.
CRISP SF is about changing our perspective as we change our DNA. CRISP SF is about considering the personhood of non-human animals in an effort to stop the Great Extinction Event we have wrought.
Because we can do better. Because the world deserves better from us.
19th September, 2018
Just had an email from someone that caused me to sort of crystalise some of my thinking above. Here’s what I wrote:
There’s no doubt that human-animal hybrids have been present in cyberpunk for decades now (Jeff Noon’s Vurt comes to mind), but that’s exactly the point I’m wanting to make with CRISP SF – getting completely away from cyberpunk’s influence.
Cli-fi is set to become the next big subgenre of science-fiction, but when people slap names on it like solarpunk or ecopunk, I feel like it’s limiting the genre’s strength/reach/uniqueness. The whole punk aesthetic is based on aggressive individualism where buying, making, and/or wearing particular products mark you as belonging to that subculture. Sure, crust punks and the like are completely anti-capitalist, but the rest of us buy our rebellions and our subcultural identities. Cyberpunk itself came about at the height of neoliberalism, and it seems to me that rampant capitalism/consumerism is in the genre’s DNA.
So, with Crisp SF I don’t want to just show ways we might buy our way out of a climate apocalypse, or a way massive corporate spending or trillionaire technocrats might save us, because that is all just more bullshit the failing capitalist system is trying to sell us today. I want to imagine a future that is post-capitalist (or transitioning to it), and where it’s aggressive, forced evolution and mutation that sees “humanity” adapt to a climate changed world, rather than gadgets for purchase, trillionaire technocrats, unpredictable, likely-damaging geoengineering projects, or the abandonment of Earth in some sort of plutocratic exit strategy.
I’m not saying I’ll pull it off, or that the two books I’m currently planning will ever see the light of day, but that’s the challenge I’ve set myself.
Fellow citizens of the Republic of Newsletters – if you haven’t already discovered Max Anton Brewer’s SCIOPS newsletter, I highly recommend it. He claims the newsletter is cyberpunk weirdness, but I feel as though that is far too reductive for the breadth of topics covered. There’s surveillance, tech, politics, religion, and all those other things we talk about at the dinner table despite being taught otherwise.
The latest one spoke to me as a former churchgoer who has lost three of his (religious) grandparents in the past few years. Here’s an excerpt:
Nietzsche called Christianity a slave religion. It was the fervent hope of a better life, one that would reward all the suffering and punishment of this world, that kept the many generations of Christians from violent revolt in their own lifetimes. The doctrines of pacifism, obedience, and patience combine to form a lifestyle suitable for serfs. The better you are at subjugating yourself before your Lord (note the feudal flavor here), the more you will be rewarded. But not in this life, and not by this Lord. Count on the invisible entity to kick down the prizes in the next lifetime. In this one, shut up and turn the other cheek and work.
Of course, Nietzsche was a showboating syphilitic with a bad attitude. But he wasn’t wrong. Christianity is a form of terminal knowledge: a dead-end of thought, a self-reinforcing mental trap.
Terminal knowledge, once acquired, is impossible to be rid of. Like a retrovirus in DNA, it lurks inside the mind, taking every opportunity to replicate its own structure. If you accept one of the memetic hooks, such as “there is life after death”, you invite the entire belief system to infest your mind. It’s all self-referential and internally consistent. If there’s life after death, then of course your soul must go somewhere else. It’s clearly not in your body anymore, after all. If it goes somewhere, is that place better or worse than this one? What makes a person go to a better place or a worse one? Better check the Special Book…
Previous letters don’t appear to be archived online, but if you subscribe now, at least you can be sure to get the next one…
Can’t wait any longer for Void Black Shadow? Well then, the Barnes & Noble SF blog has got you sorted with an excerpt. Go check it out.
Today it has been three years since Marlee Jane Ward and I started dating. But I’m not going to go into how we met, our first kiss, or any gross stuff like that, instead I just want to acknowledge how big an influence Marlee’s brilliant Welcome to Orphancorp was on Killing Gravity.
I’ve talked before about my musical influences for the book, and I believe I’ve mentioned in an interview that Akira was also an influence, specifically this scene:
But I haven’t really talked before about Welcome to Orphancorp. When I was studying writing at University, I’d been reading a fair bit of Chuck Palahniuk and writing mostly in the first person. So ten-ish years later when I decided to get serious about writing science-fiction I felt as though first-person was too juvenile* because it was the form I had used when I was writing… well, juvenile shit. But then I read Marlee’s Welcome to Orphancorp and realised exactly how powerful first-person can be. I mean, just look at the excerpt at this link and try not to be lost instantly in that world and in Mirii’s perspective.
When I had a loose outline for Killing Gravity, I still hadn’t decided on a POV, but it was Orphancorp that convinced me I should go with first person (that, and a scene right in the middle of the book that I knew would work best in first), and I’ll forever be grateful to Marlee for that. Without Orphancorp, Killing Gravity wouldn’t have been the same book, and maybe it wouldn’t have been a good enough book to get picked up.
So if you haven’t read it, you really should.
*There tends to be a bias against first-person perspective among a lot of readers and writers. I’m not sure why that is. It could be that it’s often used in YA, so people who deem YA to be beneath them lash out against it, or it could be that people think it’s cheating because the reader can see everything that’s going on inside the character’s head. I think it’s a tool, and like any tool it has its purposes – and if you write it off as either a reader or a writer, I think you’re going to miss out on some great opportunities.
At these 2 shows I’ll be launching VOID BLACK SHADOW, part 2 of the VoidWitch Saga. I’m calling this a Twin Hometown Book Launch because both Melbourne and the Gold Coast are close to my heart.
My family moved from the outer Western suburbs of Sydney up to the Gold Coast when I was around 12 years old. It’s where I went to high school and university, it’s where I made plenty of incredible friends over the years, and it’s where my family still lives. I moved to Melbourne at 30, and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. For one thing it has a real winter (unlike Queensland), but it’s also a city filled with great pubs and cafes, vibrant street art, music, culture, and a great writing scene.
I want to do something special for readers who make it out to the convention and say hello, so I’ve come up with the following GIVEAWAY.
The first three people at each convention to come up to me with both KILLING GRAVITY and VOID BLACK SHADOW (either that you already own, or purchased at the show), who tell me they need that third book will get a free copy of The VoidWitch Saga part 3 (I know the title, but I’m not telling yet) signed, stamped, and posted to them just as soon as I can get my own copies.
Again, in dot-point form:
- Find me at Supanova.
- Show me KILLING GRAVITY and VOID BLACK SHADOW.
- Tell me you want that third book.
- Give me your email address (I’ll be getting postal addresses just prior to posting in case people move house).
- Wait patiently for me to get in touch (possibly October, maybe November).
Three copies to giveaway in each city for a total of six. I’m also hoping to have at least one short story done up as a zine to give to anyone and everyone who passes the table, so please swing by!
There’s a Zen proverb that has sort of rattled around in my head ever since I first heard it:
Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
It’s something I think about a lot, not because I’m actively seeking enlightenment (and certainly not because I’ve achieved it), but because it seems like a versatile piece of wisdom.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that whatever you’re working on is so important that you need to put life on hold. Whether it’s a piece of art you’re creating, or a different sort of life goal you’re striving toward, you still need to live. You still need to get out of bed in the morning. You still need to shower. You still need to eat, and maintain relationships, and earn enough money to live. You still need to do The Work. You still need to chop wood and carry water.
All I’ve wanted for the longest time was to be a published author. I’m sure in the back of most people’s minds there is a little voice saying “Once I have/do x, then I’ll finally be happy/complete.” But my depression didn’t magically disappear when I was published, and if anything I’ve now got more things to be anxious about than I had before (these tend to fall into the category of ‘Good Problems to Have’, but that doesn’t make the anxiety any less palpable).
I still need to work on my mental health. I still need to work my day job. I still need to make time for my friends. I still need to make time for myself. I still need to chop wood and carry water. And that’s a good thing. You and your art are never so grand that you are above the work of simply living. Thinking otherwise is hubris.
I’ve spoken before about how I originally envisioned Killing Gravity – as a space post-hardcore EP, as opposed to a space opera – but I haven’t spoken in detail about my thinking behind it, or the music I was specifically referring to when I coined that (admittedly clunky) term.
See, operas are big, dramatic, “epic” performances; not only that but it’s also an old artform, carrying with it the musty scent of tradition. I didn’t want to write something big or unnecessarily complicated, “epic” for the sake of genre conventions. I wanted to pare everything back, cut right to the core, and tell a personal story that hints at larger conspiracies and larger battles but remains focussed on a small group of outsiders. So, if I wanted to write a space opera without the opera part, what would I use instead as inspiration? That’s where the idea of the post-hardcore EP came in.
An EP is short. A post-hardcore EP is short, short, dirty, with jagged sound that reaches out of your speakers and grabs you, forces you to listen close. There are moments of chaotic screaming noise offset by downbeat stretches of experimentation. There’s a poetic and broken quality to the lyrics, nonsense and beauty screamed in the same hoarse tone. There are weird syncopated rhythms and abstract time signatures.
And that’s everything I wanted to do with Killing Gravity, to put everything I love about These Arms Are Snakes (and to a lesser extent Genghis Tron, Refused, At the Drive-In, and Dillinger Escape Plan*) into words. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I’m happy with how it turned out.
If all that sounded like nonsense without the music to back it up, then you’ll be glad to find the links below.
Listen to everything at those above links non-stop for a month, and you’ll know what writing KG felt like.
*I’m deliberately leaving out Young Widows because I didn’t discover them until later, but they were basically the sole soundtrack to the writing of the third VoidWitch book.
Mars Xi is a living weapon, a genetically-manipulated psychic supersoldier with a body count in the thousands, and all she wanted was to be left alone. People who get involved with her get hurt, whether by MEPHISTO, by her psychic backlash, or by her acid tongue. It’s not smart to get involved with Mars, but that doesn’t stop some people from trying.
The last time MEPHISTO came for Mars they took one of her friends with them. That was a mistake. A force hasn’t been invented that can stop a voidwitch on a rampage, and Mars won’t rest until she’s settled her debts.
Void Black Shadow is sort of the Empire Strikes Back to Killing Gravity‘s Star Wars. Here, everything that can go wrong does go wrong, people are hurt, and people are changed. It’s dark, and it’s more political than KG (though, still subtle I hope). Did I mention it’s dark? There’s a reason why I settled on that title. I never wanted to do more of the same with the follow-up, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. Some people will love it, some will hate it, but I wrote the book I had to write at the time.
After it’s out, I’ll probably write about some of the people, places, and things that influenced the story, and maybe some of the influences I had to leave out.
It will be released in ebook and paperback formats in March, 2018. You can preorder it now from all the usual suspects.
Brisbanites, hit up Pulp Fiction in the CBD. They’ve been big supporters of Killing Gravity, and I am sure they’ll be supporting Void Black Shadow just as much. Sydney-siders, Galaxy Bookshop might be your best bet, as they’re the sci-fi and fantasy specialists in town.
Also, QBD did a great job supporting me and the other authors at Supanova in 2017. Otherwise, you can simply ask for your local bookstore to order it in for you. Just quote the title, and the ISBN (Void Black Shadow, ISBN: 9780765396938) and the staff will no doubt be happy to help you out.
This past weekend I was a guest author at Supanova in Brisbane, which was as amazing and hectic as you might imagine. I still feel a little run-down so the best my brain can do is a listicle.
[Arbitrary number of] Things That Happened at Supanova, and 2 Things That Didn’t
- I got to spend the weekend with some fantastic authors in our little book grotto built and maintained by the fantastic staff from QBD and the tireless Supanova volunteers (special shout-out to Paige and Kylie, our expert author-wranglers).
List of Said Authors (List within a List. Listception. Yo, I heard you liked Lists so I put a List inside your List. Et cetera)
- Kass Morgan is the writer of The 100, and was (still is, I’m sure) a lovely person. She had a tonne of insight from both writing a series adapted into a TV show and from her day job editing YA fiction.
- Keri Arthur is a veteran of Australian fantasy. She was super friendly and relaxed… she’s done the convention thing all before and nothing can faze her now.
- Marc and James Lindsay are two brothers going all-in on the self-publishing game and doing it right. Seriously, if everyone who self-pubbed put as much effort and thought into the process as these two do, it wouldn’t be looked down upon. They’re also a pair of gregarious lads. They’re writing mythology-inspired action and adventure, so if that’s your sort of thing, check them out.
- Dr Karl is just as effortlessly entertaining in person as he is on the radio. And from the number of books he signed over the weekend, I think a lot of Aussies are learning more about science from him than they ever did in school.
- Ian Irvine – I hardly had a chance to talk with Ian because we were sitting apart and not on any panels together, but after sitting in on the ‘Pushing the Boundaries of YA’ panel and hearing what he had to say, I had a lot of respect for him. He was writing epic fantasy with deep female characters back in the day when many authors were happy with burly men and damsels in distress.
- And of course, last but not least, Marlee Jane Ward, my partner and one of the most original up-and-coming voices in Australian spec-fiction.
- I got to sit on some great panels with the other authors, with intelligent questions from the crowd, and the excellent Rihanna Patrick MCing. She’s an absolute natural, guiding the conversation and asking great questions as though she were born with a wireless mic in her hand.
- I got questioned on two separate occasions at the signing table. First was a group of Masters students looking for some advice on their sci-fi manuscripts. I really wish I’d been on the ball enough to ask them where they studied, because as both Marlee and I have mentioned in the past, our experiences with university were very unfriendly toward genre writing. Later, I was grilled by Eden, the 9-year-old future-journalist. She was the daughter of someone from a nearby stall, and on her own volition she came by to ask each of us authors about our books and our writing, and what our 16-year-old selves would think of the books we had written.
- I got to meet readers and sign for them – including people who had only just picked up the book, others who had read it on ebook and wanted a hardcopy, and others still who just wanted to stop by and tell me how much they enjoyed Killing Gravity. When you’re only 6 months into your career, any number of readers seeking you out is a great thing, so I really appreciate everyone who took time out of their busy convention schedule to say hello.
- I saw a guy dressed as a Stonecutter from the Simpsons, and another guy dressed as Raphael in his gumshoe disguise from the first TMNT film. I mean, there were so many fantastic cosplay costumes, but those 2 were my personal favourites.
- Got to chat briefly with Tom Taylor, an award-winning and bestselling writer of plays, comics, and TV, and a really nice guy. I mean, he even managed not to roll his eyes when I told him I want to do some comics writing in the next couple of years (something comics writers must hear ALL THE TIME), so you just know he has the patience of a saint.
- Drank an unhealthy amount of coffee.
- Ate some great vegan baked goods in the green room.
- Managed not to buy anything (my luggage was already over and I was flying one of those airlines, so I couldn’t allow myself a little retail therapy anyway).
- Had a very brief chat at the airport with a fellow Melbournian Supanova-visitor, who complimented me on my tattoo. Maybe one day I’ll write about that tattoo. I have no idea if she knew Marlee and I had been at Supanova, but I (almost) always like talking tattoos anyway.
- Probably more things I’m forgetting.
- Oh, but I didn’t see Stan Lee at all. Pretty sure he doesn’t exist. He’s a mass hallucination. Or maybe a character created by Jack Kirby.
- And I didn’t have time to get across the river and visit Pulp Fiction. Did I mention how hectic my weekend was? I wanted to pop in and thank them for all the support they’ve given to Killing Gravity. They’re an amazing, genre-focussed bookshop right near Central Station in the CBD, well worth a visit for any Brisbanites.