At my recent book launch, award-winning author, Lauren St John, interviewed me about my new book, The Kind. Here’s the transcript of the interview.
A large part of The Kind is set 450 years in the future. How can you know what will happen then?
The more you understand things that are happening now the more you can make an educated guess, but in reality, there are too many random variables to make accurate predictions. All science fiction is really about the time the author is writing in. Think of Frankenstein, or Brave New World, War of the Worlds. But because it is difficult to imagine the future, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. In fact, humans are programmed to think about the future. It is how our brains work. Every time we plan a holiday, we are thinking into the future. Most animals can do it to some degree. It is an essential survival skill, being able to imagine dangers, risks so that we can avoid them or do something to prevent them happening. This is probably why we are predisposed to dystopia and catastrophe thinking. So the novel is partly me doing this – exploring my own anxieties about the future – but also my hopes and dreams too.
What is the world like in 450 years – in the novel?
My cities of the future – the ones that exist in 450 years – are covered over with roofs made of self-replicating, self-repairing material. The cities are really wonders of science – biospheres – powered by fusion energy, entirely enclosed, with water recovery systems. They have become a necessity because of climate change, but once you inside, you are in a wonderful place full of extraordinary buildings, many plants. It is very green. You don’t need a door key – your DNA is your passport everywhere. There is no money – there is a notional concept of Credits, but everyone is given some – you can’t be destitute (universal basic income). The problem is that not everyone can live in a city. Outside, people are living the best way they can in the ruins of former towns, at the mercy of the super storms and bad weather. And there have been many wars over resources and many of those involved biological warfare, so only a minority of people can have children. The populations of the cities are dwindling so they offer water and food to the towns in order to bolster their population. They buy their children. Isobel is thrown into this world. She has been the citizen of a city but she has been thrown out beyond the walls because of a crime she has committed.
Is your new book a dystopia?
The bits that are not so optimistic are about climate change – although you might argue that is just realism. But there is a large dollop of utopia as well.
Which parts of utopian?
This novel sits in a broader universe/world that I created, where I imagine the very far future, 10,000 years from now. In my stories, the beings that have evolved from humans are no longer really human at all. They are data – replicable, backed up, resilient, immortal, able to create any body for themselves they would like. My idea of the very far future is highly utopian because these beings have overcome many of the physical and mental things that hold us back as a species. They are never sick, there is no war, they don’t die, they have no material needs and they are very playful. They exist only to learn. There is a character in the novel called Clay. It is a historian that has hopped back in time to record the lives of the significant characters from its own ancient past. The historical figure Clay is recording is Isobel Twelvetrees. One of the many twists is that Clay decides it doesn’t like the original story – and so it intervenes – it changes it. In the ‘real’ version of events, Isobel dies, but Clay saves her and uses her to change other parts of history it doesn’t like.
Where do you get your ideas?
I read a lot of popular science books, journals etc. and I’m addicted to the New Scientist. In science journals, there’s a constant stream of scientific wonders. There’s much in my stories that about that simple wonder and excitement. I remember seeing Michio Kaku’s TV series, Visions of the Future many years ago. I was fascinated by this show – I watched it again and again. He was explaining quantum entanglement and how a home replicator might work and now teleportation has been done with photons. I love to imagine futures where some of this stuff has happened when people are living with these technologies and taking them for granted like we use mobile phones.