Thursday, February 1, 2018

Exclusive Interview with Michael R. Fletcher

 Hey folks,

This is a great opportunity for the United Federation of Charles as we got a chance to interview one of our favorite cyberpunk authors. Michael R. Fletcher is one of the best indie authors currently available and writing some of the darkest fiction out there. 

One of these is Ghosts of Tomorrow, which is the story about a near-future humanity that has successfully managed to crack A.I (sort of). They can't create genuine A.I but can copy human brains into computers called Scans. Unfortunately, the process kills the individual host and the demand for their commercial value results in a huge spike in human trafficking. What follows is a bloody battle between cartels, cyborgs, deranged transhumanist billionaires, and special agents.

It's a great book and we get to discuss some of its elements here and what's coming up next.

1. So, Michael, what drew you to the dark and edgier style of fantasy and sci-fi? Some people have said you write some of the most grimdark of grimdark works.

I grew up reading dark fantasy. Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer books were absolutely critical in shaping my understanding of fantasy. The doomed hero. The anti-hero. The oh-shit-there-is-no-hero.

I never gave darkness (or grimdarkness) much thought. When I get an idea for a story, I chase the story, do my best to tell it like it happens in my head. It just so happens that (so far) the themes driving my books have been kinda dark.  It’s coincidence! I could write something bright and fluffy! Maybe I will! After I finish the next two dark fantasy novels.

2. Could you tell us about your works?

Uh... No! Ok. Fine. Ummmm... Here’s a quick glimpse at each book...

Ghosts of Tomorrow: Near future science fiction with a dash of dystopia. Due to the failure of AI, we scan minds (a destructive process) to be used as computers. One young autistic girl is scanned unleashing her full and devastating potential.

Beyond Redemption: In a land where belief defines reality and the insane are capable of twisting the world with their delusions, one man thinks he can make his own god. Three reprobates kidnap the boy/god, thinking to hold him for ransom, and things go badly for everyone.

The Mirror’s Truth
(sequel to BR): Talking about this one will give things away I’d rather not. So if you read and enjoy Beyond Redemption, you’re probably gonna like this one too. Though rumour has it the sequel might be a tad darker, a touch more insane.

Swarm and Steel: Set in the same world as Beyond Redemption, this is an unrelated standalone novel. A cannibal and a corpse set out to destroy an evil religion and destroy Swarm, the hell it created.

3. My favorite of your books is GHOSTS OF TOMORROW, what inspired this dystopian sci-fi cartels with ninja cowboy cyborgs and autistic AI universe?

Many years ago a group of my friends decided to rent a car (with an unlimited mileage deal) and drive to Mexico. We drove from London, Ontario to Matamoros in Mexico. In three days we put over six thousand miles on our rental car, dipped our feet in the gulf of Mexico, got drunk, bought ponchos and sombreros, and made it back home in time for class on Monday.

Matamoros is a long way (on so many levels) from the small Southern Ontario towns I grew up in. I remember seeing streets comprised almost entirely of what appeared to be dentistries. That visual stuck with me for years.

At some point I imagined a future where neuro-science became as easy and popular as dentistry. I imagines streets lined with back-alley neuro-surgeries where people could wander in off the street to have their personalities modded. Strangely, none of that made it into the final version of the book.

4. Would you say Ghosts of Tomorrow is cyberpunk?

Ghosts very much started as me trying to write Snow Crash, so yeah, it’s gotta be cyberpunk of some flavour. These days the genre seems to have fallen into disfavour, though I find that strange as we move ever closer to living that reality.

5. Some people have asked whether it makes sense Scans can't be copied (at least until someone cracks the technology). Do you think there's fair criticism and audiences just have to suspend their disbelief or do you think there's a good reason its impossible?

Some people? Who? Point the bastards out! Wait. Was it you?  I think that’s a fair criticism. I’m not a scientist or a computer engineer or a neurologist, or even terribly well-educated. Mostly I dream things up and run with ‘em.

For the story I wanted to tell to work, I needed creating Scans to be imperfect, and copying Scans to be difficult. I wanted there to be some degradation with each new generation. Lokner2.0 just wouldn’t have been the same character had be been a perfect copy of the original man.

6. One of the themes is the horror of being a Scan trapped in a metal body but later we find out they have virtual environments to live "normal" lives. Is this a thing which can keep them from going insane or is it a poor substitute?

Virtual reality was intended to be their escape. In fact, in the very first version of the book, way back in 2008, there was an epilogue where we saw a glimpse of planet earth millions of years in the future, devoid of life, covered in machines dedicated to running the VR systems housing hundreds of billions of souls all living in various virtual environments. I had some weird plan for writing a sequel taking place in that future. The scene got cut and my  plans for a sequel sidelined by other novels.

7. The trade in Scans seems like a thinly disguised metaphor for human trafficking. Would you agree with that and if so, why make them the villains?

Thinly… Whaaaaa?  Actually, I’m not sure it’s disguised at all. I tend to stay away from good-guys and bad-guys. All the characters are doing what they think is right. The Scans aren’t villains. Abdul (Scan) worked with Griffin (human) to stop the brain-trade, to shut down black market crèches. Archaeidae (dude on the sweet cover) starts out as a Mafia assassin and later dedicated himself to trying to protect 88. Mark Lokner comes off as the villain, but even he is trying to build a better future based on his reading of a failing reality.

8. Do you consider the Scans to be the people they were created from (perhaps through quantum information) or are they just copies or does it not matter?

I consider them people, though, in the context of the novel, they are imperfect copies of the original. So they aren’t the people they were, but they aren’t mindless robots either. They are a breed of artificial intelligence based on humanity.  The story takes place early on in the evolution of scanning technology. I see no reason why the technology wouldn’t improve.

9. Will we be seeing a sequel?

My plan was always for this to be a trilogy. The sudden and wholly unexpected sale of Beyond Redemption to Harper Voyager back in 2014 sidelined everything and focussed me on other novels. I have a couple of new series I’m working on, but once I have the first books finished, and after I’ve written the last Manifest Delusions novel, I’d like to get started on the Ghosts sequel. I see a war between 88 and the rest of humanity. I see Archaeidae’s growth continuing as he learns the true cost and horror of death.

I see betrayal.

10. Do you have any recommendation of other grimdark authors?

My faves: Jeff Salyards, Brian Staveley (SkullSworn is amazing), Anna Smith-Spark, Mark Lawrence, and D.G Valdron (go find The Mermaid’s Tale, it’s amazing). There are more, but I gotta go to work soon.

11. How would you define grimdark?

Whiskey and grilled cheese. I dunno. I don’t give genres much thought. I write the book, someone else decides what it is. Does the beer taste like warm horse piss? If yes, you’re probably in a grimdark world.

12. What's your next book?

I have two books on the go. I just received feedback from my agent on City of Sacrifice, a weird blend of African and Central American influences, and am rewriting/editing based on her suggestions. She’s currently reading The Obsidian Path, which is loosely based on a decade-long Stormbringer (Chaosium) campaign I ran back in the 90s. Not sure which will see the light of day first.

Thanks Michael!

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