Liminal

I am at something of a loss. I’m in a weird liminal space at the moment – I’m waiting on line edits from Carl on REPO VIRTUAL, and trying to decide what my next big project will be once that’s locked away. I know exactly what that project should be – my CrispSF novel – but I’m hesitating. Honestly, I might just be scared.

The VoidWitch books were really personal, but otherwise “light” in a lot of ways. As in, if you didn’t recognise that I was using the books to explore my depression, self-loathing, lack of self-worth, anger, disappointment and disconnection with family, and feelings of listlessness, then maybe the books would seem fun but shallow. So with Repo Virtual, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do something that asked bigger and broader questions beyond my own experiences, I wanted to write about a future that could be just around the corner and/or already here. I wanted to do something more “serious” and more intelligent. I wanted to write something that was in conversation with the cyberpunk canon, and maybe pointing the way forward along a slightly different path. And I think I pulled it off, for the most part. Or at the very least I pulled it off as well as I could have at that moment in time.

So now I’m looking to the next step. I want to up my game again, write a novel that will be even more difficult than Repo Virtual, and in doing so also create a new sci-fi subgenre (because, why not aim high?). But something has given me pause.

In her review of Static Ruin, Tasha Leigh compared the VoidWitch books to Ursula Le Guin or Kij Johnson, and while I don’t think I’ve earned those comparisons yet I can see what she means. There’s a sort of free-wheeling inventiveness in the Saga that might be similar to what Le Guin and Johnson do – weird ideas dropped into place to hint at different sub/cultures in the galaxy, backstories only ever hinted at, and an entire universe of worldbuilding that casts a shadow over the books without ever actually being seen clearly. And so reading that review when I was right near the end of Repo Virtual, I got worried: Was that the best thing about my writing, and had I completely left it out of RV? When I look at RV, all I see are the books, articles, shows, films, and philosophers I’m referencing. I know that isn’t the whole book, it might not even be a big part of it, but I’ve been too deep in it for too long to have any sort of context. In using a near-future setting, did I shoot myself in the foot? Did I lose too much of what makes my writing work? Or will RV work for different reasons? Is it better, worse, or just different?

With the CrispSF novel, I would perhaps be splitting the difference – I can already see all the ways that ‘free-wheeling inventiveness’ will be able to manifest itself in the book, while it will also look at real-world issues, future fears, and a different sort of philosophy than what I explored in RV. But at the same time, it has to be a dark book. It has to be horrifying. And I don’t know if I can pull it off yet.

Hence the twitter poll:

Twitter poll

And I have a good idea of what Parallel Universe Spies will look like, and I think it could be big – in terms of worldbuilding, series size, and in terms of reader response. So I’m struggling. Do I dive into Crispr Heart of Darkness and see if I can pull it off, pushing and challenging myself to do something utterly different and completely new? (Or new to me at least – I’m almost certain there are books out there doing similar things, if only because there are so many books out there.) Do I tackle climate change directly, and the tools we might use to face it and adapt to it? Or do I tackle it tangentially in a series of novellas with PUS (because I don’t think I can not write about it)?

Is my fear about writing Crispr HoD something to be overcome, or is it something instinctual I should listen to? Might the book be important, or is my desire to ‘create a new subgenre’ pure egocentric bullshit?

I think what I’m actually going to do is develop both. Come up with the characters and outlines for each, and see which one I need to write. See which one sets that fire under my arse. It could be that in developing my Crispr book, the fear fades as I see how it could form, or maybe I’ll realise it’s beyond me. Or maybe I need to write a novella, a palate cleanser between big novels.

If I had an agent, maybe this would be an easier decision to make. Instead, I’m writing it all out here, in an effort to make sense of it… More than anything, I just want another project. I want to stop feeling quite so lost.

Cyberpunk’s Not Dead, But Maybe It Should Be

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:

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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.

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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.