Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June Feature: Nanopunk by Nathan McGrath

The Big Freeze. A third of Earth’s population dead. Alister, a teenager orphaned as a child, discovers he's not the last of his family; his sister, a top nano-scientist, is alive and he sets out to find her. With an uncanny ability to hack into any network, he soon has Secret Services and Lycus hunting him. When cyber-militants offer to help, his search for his sister takes an even deadlier turn.


Nathan, would you care to tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

I'm a Londoner, born and bred. I left school with few qualification and moved from job to job: factories, warehouses, shops, roadie, waitering, all manual unskilled work. Encouraged by friends who noticed I read a lot, I went to college as a 'mature student' and really got into it. I studied psychology, anthropology, psychoanalysis, film, Literature and have a bunch of qualifications including a Masters in Information systems. Most of my working life has been spent working with troubled kids and teens. I'm a gamer; Marvel fan, sci-fi fan (natch') the main cook in the family. I live with my partner and teenage daughter in Finchley.

As an avid gamer, I loved the technology in your world. It seems that you are also an avid gamer. Were you hoping to appeal to that demographic, or was that just a happy accident?

Both really, I started off with a Commodore 64! Since then I've stuck with Sony and have had all versions of the Playstation. My daughter’s picked up the bug too. In addition to the PS3 still have the PS2 which we use for Guitar hero and a few racing games I've pre-ordered the PS4 and Infamous Second Son. I'm thinking about also pre-ordering Killzone Shadow Fall; having completed all the previous games in the series. I have stacks of games. (around 40) Mostly FPS and RPG. Things like Modern Warfare, Assassins Creed, Uncharted, Resistance, Final Fantasy, Fear, Burnout, MGS, as well as the ones I mentioned earlier.

I'm fascinated by the idea that gaming has significantly changed the way we approach or 'read' things like books and films. Traditionally the book, film or play had to 'hook' us in using one or more of a variety of techniques; but the emergence of more powerful graphics engines/cards , greater disc capacity and powerful processors has allowed developers to put the 'reader' into the very heart of immersive story driven games with rounded, richly formed characters and complex story arcs. It goes without saying that gaming has introduced a 'hook' far more powerful, immediate and compelling than anything a book can provide.

So it's no surprise the mantra 'young adult market is very difficult' is often heard amongst literary publishers and agents; I suspect it may well be because they are still stuck on the 'traditional' narrative form and story structure. It's not enough to get the reader to somehow identify with the main character or some other aspect of the story. There is a need to tell a story in a style that is in some way congruent with today's reader and where they are at.

I'm the first to admit I'm far from being an AAA author. I like to believe I've produced something good enough to sell that most people into the genre will enjoy reading, especially gamers. 'Lightning Seed' ramps up the action in a similar vein.

As a science fiction geek, I love love LOVE the nod to Leonard Nemoy, though I’m curious. Why Spock and not a fellow UK’er like…Patrick Stewart? 

Spock has the logical 'voice', and it helped me with the speech style and character. It was a real buzz to see him in J.J's Star Trek. I often have a sci-fi movie running in the room while I'm working just to create an atmosphere.

While we’re on the subject, Kirk or Picard? Or Janeway? 

Always Kirk. IMO William Shatner clearly enjoyed the part, he brought something unique to it that made the show fun to watch.

The world you built is largely internet-dependent, probably even more so than it is now. Is this how you imagine society will operate in the near future?

By the internet I take it you mean not just:
(1) the day to day internet of public and private networks providing access to information, applications and various services, but also
(2) the total global communications network that includes
(2A) all layers of surveillance, traffic (data) and Data mining and the application of complex pattern / relationship / probability algorithms by:
(a) governments (for security, resource management, scientific and other research)
(b) corporations (for all kinds of research, marketing and product development, etc.)
(c) private military firms
(d) all the others I've not mentioned;
then the answer to your question of Internet-dependence is yes; it's already happening anyway.

Where did the idea for the Soft Machine come up? It’s prominent in the book & is your domain name. Will it be making an appearance in the sequel?

The idea of the SoftMachine outfit is a convergence of technologies already being developed in labs around the world. As you know convergence in technology is commonplace. Everything is becoming 'smart': phones, televisions, clothes, cars, fridges. I just pulled together some of today's technologies like smart fabrics, networked clothing etc.

As for the Nanoparticles inside Alister I converged developments in nanotechnology, neuroscience, genetics and bioengineering. In a world where we can 'borg up any part of our body, body-based built-in wifi is already here - just not as tiny genetically engineered, wi-fi enabled, nano-borged computers in the brain and central nervous system.

The Softmachine outfit is like a sixth sense - layered over 'touch'; and like the other senses, is linked directly to his brain and nervous system which, like the internet, is data driven.

The choice of the name 'Soft Machine' is an obvious reference to William Burroughs who used it in reference to the human body and how control mechanisms invade it. The outfit does become part of Alister just as the nanoparticles do: the nanoparticles being the interface between Alister's psycho-physical needs (to protect himself, stay warm/ dry, move faster, hide etc) and the required form the outfit takes. The SoftMachine is clearly an integral part of him. The outfit does return in the sequel though it is secondary.

In your mind, just how much did the Big Freeze affect Alister’s world, and is this something you imagine could happen in our future?

Science tells us we're going in the opposite direction with climate change and global warming; I'm inclined to believe it. So The Big Freeze in 'Nanopunk' is the opposite of what scientific evidence is indicating. In the story, the Big Freeze killed off a third of the world's population, even more of the wildlife. Food from the land is extremely scarce hence the towering 'Hive farms' and farm domes. I didn't want a totally apocalyptic scenario. I wanted a world that reflected the strength of our hope, resilience and capacity to work through disasters and rebuild. So the story is set around eleven years after the Freeze when society is getting back on its feet.

I like the fact that the romantic aspects of the book are less than secondary in story, that it remains true in the structure of Alister looking for his sister Julia. Will the romance get a little more play in Lightning Seed?
I'm really glad you picked up on that and did so in a positive way. Having worked many years with kids and teens, I used what I learned to try and make Alister's character and his arc - as well as the peers he interacted with - more realistic; well as much as it could be given his disposition and circumstances. The 'bond' between Alister and Suzie is a central driver in Lightning Seed and, although there is a 'relationship' between the two, the story is pretty rough on them; in fact they still barely manage to spend much time together. I'd be interested in your thoughts about that.

What can you tell us about your future?
What, me personally? Nothing grand. Like most people I'll carry on working, doing what I normally do and enjoying life when I can.I'm working on the third and fourth in Alister's story arc; again very different from Lightning Seed. The third is a serial killer sci-fi set in London and the fourth where his world is completely turned inside-out. I'm also working on a prequel. I'll continue reading, researching; cooking and baking and looking forward to the PS4 and more Marvel Movie Mayhem.

Thank you for joining us, Nathan! Nanopunk is a very interesting read. Can't wait to pick up Lightning Seed!

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