I rarely ever channel surf live TV, though when I do I’m consistently amazed at the sheer length and frequency of commercial breaks. The seismic impact of DVRing aside, TV providers have limited if any tools beyond the decades-old “Previous Channel” button to help casual surfers avoid the mind-numbing crush of ads in those rare occasions when clicking around is the entertainment method of choice.
Browsing through the DirecTV channel guide while out of DVR’d shows on a quick lunch break the other day, I thought of a new idea that might infuriate advertisers and networks even as it makes casual browsing just slightly better for viewers.
Imagine a small icon to the right of the channel or show name every time that particular channel was on a commercial break
Imagine your TV provider’s standard channel guide (a screenshot of my DirecTV guide is pictured). Now, imagine a new feature: An icon next to each channel or show name, to appear when that particular channel is currently in the midst of a commercial break. If we want to get negative, the icon could be a red button or perhaps a skull and crossbones; a more moderate icon could be as simple as a megaphone or “Ad break” — anything to provide an immediate and yet subtle visual clue so you can choose to skip past that channel and pick one where that 295th rerun of The Wedding Singer is actually airing.
If TV providers wanted to go a step further and give a nod to the advertisers they were helping viewers avoid, they could potentially even show a logo of the advertiser next to the show name in the guide, updating it live as the ads changed. An even more explicit and potentially mutually beneficial feature would be to show a countdown until the break is over. Sure, a commercial break countdown that still shows 4 minutes left might spur viewers to another option, though a nearly-finished countdown could also tilt the scales towards a few seconds of ad viewing. Since so much of my ad viewing comes via fast-forwarding the ads in DVR’d show, I’m assuming advertisers are already accounting for extremely brief views as part of their ad creation process.
Yes, this would be more visual clutter in the already crowded channel guide user experience, and no, TV providers are not likely to subvert their partners so brazenly. All that said, “heads up” ad break tracking on channel guides could be a useful innovation to a problem that has plagued our lazy weeknights and sick days for generations.
One of my favorite TV shows is ending, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Nearing the third season premiere of Kroll Show next month, co-creator and star Nick Kroll announced that he’s ending the show entirely after this season airs. Not because ratings are low, or the network decided to move on, or any of the business-related reasons that shows are ended. Rather, Kroll is wrapping up simply because he “wanted to feel like we were going out with the best work that we’ve done.”
Given how rare this type of voluntary ending is, I have even more respect for Kroll than I already did. In an industry where the norm is to renew successful shows until long after their natural expiration dates — resulting in increasingly ridiculous plots and beloved cast/characters exiting, among other issues — it’s really refreshing to see a star (with creative control, no less) making sure a show goes out like this.
Nick Kroll and Jon Daly as Wendy and Ashley, two wealthy jerks who get into adventures
Of course it’s natural to want something great to continue. That said, we often stick with great shows to the point where they’re no longer recognizable as what we loved in the first place. The results are comedies like The Office continuing on without its star, funniest character and emotional heart; otherwise superb dramas like Downton Abbey resorting to inexplicable deaths, and previously respected shows like ERdescending into soap opera-like insanity to keep viewers tuned in.
The worst part isn’t even what we’re watching — it’s what we’re missing. When previously great shows continue on well past their prime, their producers and stars are spending time and energy investing in a stale product when they could instead be working on new and different projects. A new project isn’t guaranteed to be a winner, though I’ll always bet on a great performer to come back again with something new and great, when given the chance.
After Kroll Show wraps, I’ll miss Liz and Liz, Ceasar (maybe not), Bobby Bottleservice, Wendy and Ashley, the Wheels crew, and of course Gil and George most of all. That said, loving nearly every minute of the show so far only makes me more excited to see where Kroll and the cast and crew of the Show will end up next.
A few months ago, my wife noticed this simple, beautiful and a little bit sad classified ad, and I impulsively snapped a photo of it. When I’m looking through photos, it’s still one that I stop to read, especially when I want a smile or reminder of the good, and whimsy, of the people around us.
Did the Young Man ever see the ad? Did he ever recover the lid? It almost doesn’t matter. Just the existence of the ad proves that somebody moved beyond thought into action.
Getting tickets to see Steve Rannazzisi (he might hate this, but you likely know him as Kevin on The League) tonight got me thinking about the other comics I’ve seen perform live. Below, a list with approximate dates.
Darryl Hammond, Sept. 2003 (John Fugelsang opening), Orono, ME
Dane Cook, October 2004, Colby College, Waterville, ME
Mitch Hedberg, November 2005 (Stephen Lynch opening), State Theater, Portland, ME
Eugene Mirman, June 2008 (As part of a live taping of Late Night with Conan O’Brien)
Ricky Gervais, June 2008 (Todd Berry opener), Madison Square Garden, New York City
Demitri Martin, February 2009, Orono, ME
Conan O’Brien’s live tour, June 2009 (this counts, right? Deon Cole performed a short set), Connecticut
Bob Saget, December 2010, Orono, ME
Aziz Ansari, October 2011 (Joe Mande opening)
Bill Burr, July 2012 (Multiple openers)
Louis CK, November 2012 (With Gary Gulman opening)
Comedy Bang! Bang! Live, October 2013 (Scott Aukerman, Paul F. Tompkins, The Birthday Boys)
Steve Rannazzizi, September 2014, Orono, ME
Norm McDonald, May 2015, Orpheum Theater, Boston MA
Update, June 2015: Dave Attell, June 2015, State Theater, Portland Maine. (Josh Day, opener)
Doug Loves Movies taping, October 10 2015 (Riki Lindholm, Kate Miccucci, Paul F. Tompkins as Werner Herzog, guest appearance by Dan van Kirk as Mark Whalberg)
Gilbert Gottfried, November 2015, South Portland, ME
The Sunday comics are a big deal in our house, and while we love the overall experience of reading the entire comics, a discussion about our favorites quickly turned into three of us building our own “Top 10 favorites” list. Here’s my list — this isn’t exhaustive, as it only represents the comics available in our local paper, and it’s not permanent — just a few weeks ago, the previous #1 fell to #2.
With his sci-fi thriller pre://do.mai.n, author Christopher Godsoe isn’t interested in painting a dystopian vision for the future — society as we know it can be ugly enough. That is, until you’re prepared to fight for it.
In part 2 of this wide-ranging interview, Chris talks about his influences as a writer and his experiences bringing the book to life over the course of the past year.
pre://d.o.mai.n • By Christoper Godsoe • 395pp • Released December 2nd, 2013
Aspiring writers are often intimated by how to begin writing, particularly while balancing a full-time job, family and friends, and other commitments. I occasionally hear the old line repeated that it’s only a “lucky” or “connected” few who actually produce writing, though most writers who actually try know it’s a lot more about effort than a lucky break. Looking back on how you brought a nearly 400-page novel to life, how did you start? What helped keep you going?
The advice most proven writers give to aspiring ones sounds a lot like this-”Write”. It comes across a lot like, “Get out of here kid, stop bothering me. Can’t you see I’m busy?” I’m sure some of them even mean it that way. Most of them don’t, they’re just trying to let people know that there isn’t really any shortcut. Writing is a slog, it’s a marathon, and the path to it’s summit is littered with the corpses of the millions of people out there that have said, “You know what? I bet I could write a novel.”
Anyone can write a novel. Completing one requires no physical gifts outside of the average human, and since everyone can (meaning there is nothing preventing them from doing so), they assume that anyonecan (meaning that it’s easy). It can be unnerving, but there’s still a large divide between those that can and those that do. Not everyone enjoys writing, especially to the extent that it takes to see a book through to completion. It sounds romantic, slaving away in silence only to emerge with a stack of pages months later, unequivocal proof at how brilliant you are. The reality is a lot different.
My advice is for anyone that feels like they should write a book is to try it. It’s not for everyone, and in that I mean that not everyone enjoys the process as much as they think they will. The bar of entry is low, meaning you likely already have everything you need to create a book and publish it now with the advent of self/independent publishing. The largest barrier for new writers is the same as it always has been- the actual writing.
As if writing itself isn’t a solitary and difficult enough process, a sensitive topic among writers is the manner in which written work is published: Even with the proliferation of devices like the Kindle, iPad, and smartphones — and with the success of self-published books like “50 Shades of Gray” — many authors still choose the traditional printed publishing route over self-publishing, whether for reasons of prestige, validation, the potential for more money, or just because “that’s how it’s done”. Do you feel self-publishing is still not as desirable as having work bought by a traditional/print publishing house? If so, why not? Do you expect that self-publishing will become the norm, even for bigger-name authors?
I think there are perks to either path. I sent this book out to several agents via query letter. It was rejected by every one of them that saw fit to grace me with a response. A funny thing happened though, while I was waiting to hear back from them. I started thinking about all of the ways I could benefit from traditional publishing (such as the prestige and validation), and realized that what I was giving up was actually more valuable to me than what I would be getting in return. The cash earned is roughly comparable. Sure you may sell more copies with a traditional publisher backing you, but you will also make considerably less per copy, and you also forfeit most of the rights you have to the story.
If your book takes off, and a business opportunity arises from that down the road, such as a film deal or a video game company wants to use the world you created, it’s more likely than not that they will be negotiating with (and paying) the publishing house you signed with. Signing with a traditional publisher is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the best fit for everyone. This way, if I decide I want to partner with an artist to produce a graphic novel version of pre://d.o.mai.n down the road, I can do that. If I want to release the next novel episodically, I can do that. I don’t have to ask permission from my publisher.
Who are your influences, particularly for this book (sci-fi or otherwise)?
Science fiction seems to be in the midst of a resurgence of popularity across media as part of a larger renaissance of “geek” culture. Do you see any other implications for this popularity outside of entertainment? Will it help people become more self-reflective, or skeptical of the power structures of society?
I think there is a lot of truth in science fiction, and there always has been. No other form of fiction devotes itself so heavily to predicting the future, in my opinion. I feel that science fiction is often a product of the time in which it is conceived, and with recent stories like “V for Vendetta”, the Silo series (Wool, Shift, and Dust), the Matrix movies, the Terminator films, etc, it’s obvious a lot of science fiction creators have a less than stellar opinion of the current power structures of our planet and where they are pushing us.
It’s a bit of a “chicken or the egg” thing, really. Are people feeling that the current power structure is corrupt, and that mistrust is feeding into their art through science fiction, or is science fiction helping to cultivate these ideas? I’m more inclined to believe the former, though I do feel like life follows art to some extent. People are giving geek culture more play than they ever have, and are learning that it has some pretty interesting things to say about the world. The biggest grossing films for the past few summers usually have some pretty heavy science fiction influences, and more and more often people are choosing science fiction as a place to spend their entertainment dollar. In a capitalistic society such as ours, it’s as good an indication as any that we are entering a new golden age of geek culture, where it’s far more acceptable to be a geek than it ever has in the past. Kids are far less likely to get picked on for wearing shirts with comic book characters on them, or Star Trek, etc. That, in and of itself is a huge shift in the way the public sees geeks. The problem isn’t so much that geeks are insulted anymore, we’ve almost reached the point where people are trying to inflate their geek credentials in order to be accepted. The geeks are taking over.
One of my favorite meta topics about writers and writing are the routines of creating and editing. Can you share your own personal habits for writing and editing: Mornings? Late nights? Longhand? Only with headphones?
I write primarily late at night. I’m a bit of a night owl, and I can’t say with any certainty if writing early in the morning would work for me, because I’ve never tried it. In talking with other authors, I hear that a lot of them write early in the day. They start the day off with coffee or something caffeinated, and try to get in their work before they start anything else. It’s not something that works for me, I don’t think enough caffeine exists to get my mind into a serviceable state before I need to be doing other things.
As far as music is concerned, sometimes I listen to it while writing, but it varies based on what kind of a mood I’m going for. I’ve taken to creating what I call “mood playlists” on Spotify, each containing music evoking certain emotions, and select which one to listen to based on the mood of the specific scene I’m writing. If I’m writing a sad scene, I’ll listen to music like “Mad World” by Gary Jules, something by Blue October, “Imagine” by John Lennon, or “Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg, which is an incredibly lonely, sad song.
If I’m writing an action scene, I might go for something with more energy, such as something by The Crystal Method, Rage Against the Machine, or Skrillex. It changes constantly based on mood, and sometimes I don’t listen to any at all. I try to avoid headphones unless there’s a lot of background noise, I just keep the volume low enough to hear the melody without being able to understand the lyrics. I like to think the meaning gets through subliminally. “Mood by Osmosis,” if you will.
By introducing fantasy worlds and futuristic technology, science fiction as a genre enables a writer to subtly comment on life in the present, demonstrating that while settings and tools may change, people will always face similar (and sometimes new) human challenges. Did you choose science fiction as a means to reflect on present-day challenges? Did you start with the themes, and then decide science fiction was the format you wanted to express them in?
I think science fiction is fascinating as a genre in it’s ability to comment on the possibilities of the future. It’s the main purpose of the genre, as far as I’m concerned, to forecast what might come to be one day. Alot of that involves extrapolating what we are dealing with now, taking it to one of many logical conclusions to illustrate what could come to pass if we continue on in a certain direction. It’s a powerful thing, the ability to tell a tale while influencing the next generation to make better choices, and one I don’t take lightly. I know not everything I try to say will sink in, and many readers will gloss over those parts of the story in lieu of getting to the action, but it’s there for those that are receptive to it.
Karl Schroeder does a great job of tackling things like that in the stories he has contributed for the MetaTropolis audiobooks. His writing on Augmented Reality in “To Hie from Far Celenia” is genius. While I didn’t discover it until I had nearly finished pre://d.o.mai.n, he brings up a lot of good points that will inspire new choices in my writing as I continue this series. I recommend anyone interested in new ideas to check out those audiobooks (They only exist in audiobook format). In MetaTropolis: Cascadia, he delves into the “Internet of Things”, as well as explores the concept of a commodities based currency with expiration dates printed on each bill. I can’t say what making a change like that could do to our economy, but it would certainly keep the currency flowing through it at a steady clip.
His writing on “The Internet of Things” in Daodan is impressive as well, because some of what he goes into there is actually beginning, with the Animal Rights movement, and one could see how-even with no direct input from the animals-their rights could be leveraged to great effect. Science Fiction is cyclical in nature, what today is far fetched and “Sci-Fi”, will tomorrow inspire scientists and engineers to make real. Tomorrows Science Fiction will inspire the next generation to move the needle even further, and so on, and so on. In many ways, Science Fiction gives our frenetic technological advancement a constantly moving goalpost to strive for. We’re all still waiting for our hoverboards, though.
A major theme in the book is tenacity: Miles continues to stubbornly work to save his mother, almost relishing defeat and using them as fuel to continue his quest, even if he allows himself moments of bitterness amidst his generally optimistic demeanor. Does that arc reflect your own challenges as a writer? Do you think it’s a requirement of success that it be achieved through adversity?
I haven’t really had any adversity as a writer, so far at least. I don’t have sizable expectations on my work so far, and very much look at it writing to amuse myself. I write to tell the stories I want to see told, that I don’t see anyone else telling. If other people enjoy them, It does feed my drive to write more, but I’m pretty much powerless at this point to stop writing now. I took the incredibly arrogant step of plotting out the remaining books in this series to counteract the narrative evolving in my head should any one of the novels “luck out” and scrape together a following. I didn’t want to make the same mistake I think the Matrix films did, where after the first film the directors may have tried to outsmart themselves. I wanted to have a clear sense of where everything was going, so that the input of others wouldn’t persuade me into changing the story to what I thought they might want to read.
I say arrogant because on some level, it presumes a level of financial success for these books, and I know how hard a thing that is to achieve, no matter how talented you might think you are as an author. I expect nothing in the way of volume when it comes to how many people read this novel, or the rest of the series. I would much rather be surprised in the event that it takes off, because I think “Expectation” should have been classified as the eighth deadly sin. It’s never useful, all you can do is confirm what you already suspected or be surprised when things are even worse than you thought. I try to avoid expectations, unless it’s a completely attainable personal goal, such as how many words I’d like to write today or how many books I see this series going.
Anything more than that, and I think you are opening yourself up to the randomness of Mother Nature and the Universe, which has already made it’s own plans. If you think you’ve considerable enough for them to account for you, you will at some point be disappointed. That line of thought contributed heavily to the creation of “The Flow”, in pre://d.o.mai.n.
We’re told to “write what we know”. If you can share, what parts of your own personal experiences went into telling Miles’ story? Other than, of course, having a computer-generated member of the opposite sex awake you in the middle of the night —because I think we’ve all had that happen to us at one point or another.
Yeah, it messes up your whole night’s worth of sleep when it happens, too. I drew a lot from personal experience, and not just for Miles. I patterned the character of Skyler on my son, because I hear a lot about how Orson Scott Card catches flack for overestimating the intellect of younger children, so I wanted to base the character on someone real. My son swears a lot less than Skyler in the book, however, so I did take liberties with him.
For Miles and Tobin Maldovan, I took parts of myself, emotions I recall from my divorce a few years back, and used them. Miles’ awkwardness at being around his ex girlfriend was certainly something I experienced shortly after the divorce, though I outgrew that in due time like we all do. Tobin Maldovan is similar. I drew from my experiences during that time, back when I was going through the emotions of rediscovering myself, when a sizable part of my life had to change. In his instance, it’s his discharge from the military, but I think if you strip out all of the personal emotion, the losses are surprisingly similar. I couldn’t have done that shortly after the divorce, separate the emotions of it all, but I think that’s part of my process-giving things time to appear on their own time. I avoid forcing things, writing just to write, and when the parts of the story that are hard to write become easy, that’s when I know they are ready to be written. I may never be the author that can crank out a book every three months, but I’m not sure I want to be. I’d rather write a book a year that I can be really happy with, and that says what I want it to say.
With his sci-fi thriller pre://do.mai.n, author Christopher Godsoe isn’t interested in painting a dystopian vision for the future — society as we know it can be ugly enough. That is, until you’re prepared to fight for it.
In this wide-ranging interview, Chris expands on the themes in the book, considers the implications of technology’s march towards augmented reality, and looks at what’s next for the planned three-book series.
pre://d.o.mai.n • By Christoper Godsoe • 395pp • Released December 2nd, 2013
Note: This is my second in a series of three posts covering the launch of Christopher Godsoe’s new sci-fi thriller, pre://do.mai.n, available online today. Read my review of pre://d.o.mai.n, online now. Coming on Wednesday, part 2 of my interview, where we talk about Chris’ experiences writing the book and his take on the current state of publishing.
Although the book takes place 24 years in the future, two of its main themes are recognizable to anybody who pays attention in 2013: Economic inequality seems to be increasing dramatically, and the police/surveillance state, aided by technology, is encroached in nearly all aspects of life. Tell me how you came to pick these as the central challenges Miles (the main character) must face, and how you feel they rate among the big challenges we face in this time?
I find it hard to overstate their importance. There are plenty of other challenges that might be more pressing in the short term, such as clean air, water, food and global warming, but economic equality (to the extent that it exists today) and the omnipresent surveillance/police state are slowly robbing us of what this country possessed more than anyone else, and that is creative problem solving and unshakeable optimism. Innovation is not an efficient process. It requires risks to be taken when trying out unproven ideas, and when 99% of the population is forced to make due with disproportionately less than the top 1%, then innovation halts. That 99% are forced to spend their money and time on proven processes and products because they just can’t afford to take risks. When you’re stuck worrying about paying for food every week, there is less leeway to try new cuisine and to learn new things, because you can’t afford for it to not work out as well as what you have already been doing.
Most families in this country are living week to week, if they take a risk like going back to school to better themselves and find out they can’t make it work, the financial aftermath will be so prolonged and difficult that they will probably never take another risk again. That’s not in 2037, that’s happening now. Even if you witness someone else go through something like that, it’s discouraging.
The constant surveillance of our own people goes hand in hand with that. I believe that if you treat people like criminals, eventually they will cease to see the benefit in proving you wrong. If they are already facing many of the consequences of breaking the law, the deterrents of the justice system lose their teeth. The saddest part of all of this being that there are citizens in this country that are worse off than many of the criminals. How sad is it that there are people out there that break the law just so they can get warm meals in prison?
Author Christopher Godsoe
I think it’s common to eye new technology with skepticism. The printing press, the telephone, the internet, cell phones…..all of them at one point were seen and contributing to the downfall of society. It’s common to fear that which you don’t understand, because as you said, there is the possibility that our ability to use them will always precede our ability to use them for good. I believe that the evolution of technology will eventually bring us together more than it tears us apart. The current “growing pains” we are going through in regards to social media stem from us getting used to having more and more of our lives out there in the open.
Our thoughts spread further, our lies are more easily discovered. I see our relationship with technology much like a human being learning to speak, and only discovering the problems that saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can bring once they’ve already done it. As a species, we make mistakes. It’s what we do. It’s how we learn, it’s how we grow, and it’s how we become better. Even our muscles are designed to come back stronger from the minute tears caused by exercise. So I don’t really see technology as the downfall of civilization. We learn new lessons from each new paradigm of communication, and we carry those lessons with us. The printing press taught us that our words can outlive us, so we should choose them carefully. The telephone taught us that our words can be just as effective when we are not present as when we are. The internet taught us that the form of communication isn’t as important as what is being said, and that with anonymity, there isn’t always a burden of proof. People need to be their own judge of character, to question what they see and measure everything they’ve hear against everything they’ve heard. If the end result of social media is that we stop lying to each other so much, for fear of discovery, I will consider it useful.
Without giving too much away, two of the main characters in the book are on quests: Miles is seeking a cure for his mother’s cancer (not really a spoiler as that’s explained early); Maldovan is attempting to make up for a personal failure in his past. Though both are altruistic in their goals, they are both also willing to compromise ethically on their methods. Is the book making the case that the ends justify the means (particularly if the ‘ends’ are destructive), as long as the ends are noble to the person seeking them? Even in a society where many people feel an increasing lack of control compared to governments and corporations, is there any downside to this type of reactionary justice?
I think that we are all products of circumstance. I also think that, as stated earlier, nobility and creativity are often the first things to go during lean times. I tried very hard to avoid making distinctions between right and wrong in the book. Not because I’m not capable of doing so, but because I wanted people to decide for themselves. I find a healthy debate to be far more useful than simply handing out answers. There is an ambiguity to some of the events in the book, and intentionally so. Before I set out to write it, I wrote down three things I wanted to say/questions I wanted the reader to have to answer.
1. What would you do if you were in Miles’ situation. Would you risk prison to save someone you love?
2. Is the concept of telling right from wrong a social agreement, capable of changing/evolving, or static?
3. What is more important in someones life-Their relationship to their work or their relationships to other people? Why?
Above, I indicated that I think we are all products of circumstance. Sitting there in your livingroom or office, reading this interview, the concept of killing another person is abhorrent. At 2AM, when an intruder is preparing to shoot one of your family members inside of your own house, most people would feel differently. Sure, you could rationalize it by saying that the intruder made the choice for you by breaking into your house and threatening your family, but you still in the end made the choice that the life of your family member was more important than that of the intruder. Even if for no other reason than you were the one holding the gun, you still took it upon yourself to make a horrible decision. Most of the time, our decisions in life are not that obviously justifiable, nor are we able to judge the consequences so easily.
I think that in the end, if you can sleep at night (and you’re not a psychopath), then the ends can be seen justifying the means. In Miles instance, the government and insurance/pharmaceutical companies were an intruder threatening the life of someone he loved. Maldovan’s situation is much less dire, but he’s also not being asked to break the law to correct it. It’s all a gray area, and it’s important for us to ask questions of propriety like that, it’s the only way to refine our sense of fairness and justice.
In the book, Miles finds himself repeatedly struggling with how to feel towards some incredibly life-like, but decidedly not human, co-conspirators. In some cases he feels guilty about treating virtual people like machines; only to then feel strange when he treats them like people. This awkward inner battle will only grow more real as our technology continues to evolve — how do you think us outside the book will adapt to the continuing anthropomorphism of our technology?
Sadly, with fear. At least, initially. We have been constantly fed a diet of robots/artificial intelligences/androids as warmongers in the media. Many view the singularity, the point in the future where artificial intelligence becomes self aware, as the beginning point of the downfall of civilization. Fear sells movie tickets, it’s easy to manufacture, and it works on almost everyone. As products go, it’s pretty effective. Our government seems to mainly consist of different lobbies clamoring for the microphone, all trying to tell us what new thing we should be afraid of today. So far, they’ve been resigned to pointing the finger at other governments, different religions, chemicals and new ways of doing things. Eventually, synthetic organisms will evolve to being able to make their own choices, and small-minded people will be afraid of that. They’ve been told that the inevitable conclusion will be all out war for the planet, so they will prepare crippling legislation in an attempt to control it. The government sees themselves as the only real authority to be trusted, and even amongst themselves that’s not something they can agree on most of the time. Synthetics will likely get it from all sides, because in a sense they are free agents, not beholden to a specific country or religion. They will have no allies, outside of the corporations that gave birth to them in their original form, and that support will fade once they start making their own calls.
A pair of augmented reality glasses worn by characters in the near-future of pre://d.o.mai.n
It’s happened before, many times over. With women. With African Americans. With Homosexuals. It takes time to prove to the powers that be that they are wrong. Eventually we get it right, but there’s always an ugly adjustment period. I take the fact that we aren’t turning fire hoses on the Gay Pride Parade as a good sign of progress, of hope that we are learning from our mistakes. The farmyard made fun of Chicken Little, but he has nothing on us humans.
Other than the themes covered in the book, what other big challenges do you feel we’re facing that you either didn’t have room to include, or might like to cover in another book?
Good question! In each of the books moving forward, I have specific themes I want to explore. Some of the more important ones include overpopulation, (both in the traditional sense and in regards to the prison system) the further exploration of “self”, how religion might evolve or clash against upcoming advances in technology, and how the technology introduced in this book and the ones to come will shape our lives in unexpected ways. In Maine we’re no stranger to severe weather, and it’s not until the power goes out that we realize how much technology impacts our lives.
I’m making the book sound like it’s all about grand societal challenges even though it’s also pretty crude and funny at times. There are a number of few funny moments; my favorites are when Miles interacts with others. How do you decide when to balance the crude and/or funny with the high stakes that the characters are facing? Do those parts write themselves as you get to know the character, or do you make sure to place them throughout to lighten up the tone?
I wanted all of the characters to be realistic, and realistic people are often crude. We like to think we’ve progressed past vulgarity and crude jokes, but the reason they are still around is that they’re still funny. It’s useful to remember that we’re all just people, not the titles our professions give us or the expectations placed on us by others. People don’t always react to every situation appropriately, and I for one hope we never do. It’s been said that variety is the spice of life, but I think it’s vulgarity. Comedians that swear as a part of their act generally do better, and videogames with graphic content outsell everything else. I think for all of our posturing as a society, we enjoy vulgarity and crudeness more than we like to admit. There will always be people that get offended, that think that the vulgarity is itself the problem, but I think that accepting the part of ourselves that laughs at it is more progressive than trying to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Miles seems to be incredibly self-aware of his own discomfort with people, yet remains kind and optimistic throughout, and tenaciously so (thinking of when he returns to visit an ex-girlfriend even after awkward encounters). Is Miles’ self-awareness and willingness to be comfortable with himself a major factor in his coping with his mother’s illness and the challenges it brings?
He has spent much of the past year working internally to overcome the feelings of his mothers illness, and it’s something that has changed who he is as a person on a fundamental level. There are only brief references to how he took things for granted before her diagnosis, but he mostly sees past all the negative parts of his personality now, because of how we tend to remember only the parts we want to. His introspection is a product of that, and in a sense he doesn’t yet have a chance to turn it off. He doesn’t have anything in his life to fill that gap, so when he runs into his ex girlfriend he’s reluctant to push her away. He knows it’s probably a bad idea to try to reconnect with her, but he’s lonely and on a subconscious level very lost emotionally. He feels hollowed out, empty, and thinks that whatever new human interaction he can get has to be better than sitting in his room wishing there was more he could do. He’s also in his way preparing for the possibility of his mothers death by making new connections that can survive her.
Maine readers will recognize familiar street names and places — including Bangor — though in the pre://d.o.mai.n future, Bangor has grown into a metropolitan area with large businesses, an FBI field office, and its own major league baseball team (and yes — spoiler alert — we beat the Yankees). Since it seems unlikely based on current trends that we’ll be that big in 20 years, are you subtly suggesting some kind of population explosion and/or economic expansion in near-future America? Or is Bangor’s appearance as a city a matter of using the familiar but also wanting a metro area for the plot of the book?
I wanted something familiar, but I also think that as areas such as Boston and New York are nearing critical mass as far as population density. When that happens, those with the means to do so will leave, to seek out places with less population density (and the crime that tends to come with it). Their egos will make them want to live in a place that is better to raise children in, less congested, friendlier. The only problem being that a lot of people think like that, and none of them would likely care that they are just transplanting the same issues into a new location. Global warming will push people North as well, assuming everything continues on a trajectory similar to what we’ve been experiencing. Twenty years isn’t enough time to convert Bangor into a metropolis on the order of New York City, but I think that it could easily surpass where Portland, Oregon or Seattle are now in that timeframe, and both of those cities have/had professional sports franchises.
One of the things I think you do really well in the book is show how the technology we use today might evolve just two decades from now (the book takes place in 2037). Rather than the unlimited opportunities for flying cars and superhuman powers that the distant future offers, the tech in pre://d.o.mai.n feels for the most part like a natural evolution of what we’ve got in our pockets right now. With this in mind, could you make the case that PD isn’t even sci-fi in the traditional sense? Is it more of a present-day quest story, and/or a love story, enabled by technology that may be even closer to reality than you portray in the book?
All of the technology in pre://d.o.mai.n exists in some form today. Most of it is in labs, only functional under very tightly controlled environments, but it works. I wanted to bridge the gap between the traditional “Space Opera/Star Trek” level of technology with today, because I don’t think enough time has been spent in literature exploring that period. I wanted the technology to still be recognizable, similar enough to what we have today for people that don’t commonly read science fiction to be able to relate to it, but I also wanted to see if I could combine what we have now in new and interesting ways. We are just now starting to see the beginnings of that with products like Google Glass, Microsoft Kinect, and the like. In many ways, we are living in the golden age of technology, when many things we only dreamed about as kids are becoming real products you can pick up at your local big box store. That gap I spoke about leaves a lot of room to work between our inevitable space-faring future and now, and it’s those stories that I have always found most interesting. Space Operas are great, but they almost seem like Fantasy because the rules can be made up as you go along. Want to tell a story about people able to fly by flapping wings attached to their arms? Just drop them off on a world with a dense atmosphere and low specific gravity. It feels disconnected from what we have in front of us today, and while they can often be a blast to read, I wanted to do something different. I would be incredibly happy if a healthy debate arises around this book as how best to classify it. It would mean that I’ve succeeded in creating something new, something searching for an open niche, and ultimately something that gets people talking. I consider pre://d.o.mai.n to be science fiction, cataloged somewhere between post-cyberpunk and speculative fiction.
You mention this being “Book 1” of the d.o.mai.n series. Can you talk about where you are in the writing process for a book 2, and what might be in store for these characters?
I am near the beginning of book two, which will be titled “darknet.” In book two, Miles will not be the main character, though he will certainly be involved and have plenty to keep himself busy. His relationships with the other characters will evolve, and he will have to make a tough decision before the end of book two. The current draft centers around Theo Atkins, who is only briefly mentioned in this book. We learn more about ATLAS, as he takes a more central role in the narrative as well. Leading off, the d.o.mai.n system is nearing it’s launch, and while working out bugs and beta testing it they discover someone has been using it for illegal activities. All indications point to Theo, as it’s a new system and the number of people who would know it well enough to exploit it are few. Theo will have to partner with ATLAS (who he has known a lot longer than Miles has) in order to clear his name. The remaining books in the series are all slightly different varieties of science fiction, but fit within the larger meta arc of the characters nicely.
Coming on Wednesday, December 4th: Part 2 of this interview, covering Chris’ experiences writing the book.