The main characters are Richards, a class 5 AI with a 20th century PI fetish, and Otto Klein, a retired German cyborg commando with issues. I like to say one is a machine that thinks it’s a man, the other a man who was made a machine. Others like to say that they are the Sherlock Holmes and Watson of the 22nd century. This is sort of true, but not really. Otto packs a much bigger arsenal than Watson and has more issues, Richards is both smarter and dumber than Holmes. They’re kind of detectives, although they call themselves security consultants, and take on everything from missing persons cases to small military actions.
In Reality 36 they’re investigating the murder of an artificial life rights activist who appears to have died three times, oh, and saving the world.
There are I suppose two strands of thought driving my book, indeed this entire world. Some SF should be, has to be, fun. It should be loud and brave and occasionally brash and cheeky. Not all of it should, of course, some of it should be contemplative and serene, but this time out I wanted to write something a little bit pulpy, and I think Reality 36 is that. In a good way, I hope.
The second strand is that of speculation. SF often focuses on one big idea (let’s talk Sol-local SF here, which R&K is, set on and around Earth, it’s only 2129, after all, and we haven’t reached the stars quite yet). In this form of SF, this big idea has transformed the world, be it the advent of techno-vampires, the use of robots to help at home, the use of psychics to solve murders or so forth. But this big idea often shunts everything else to one side. Films and books obsess over there one big idea, and forget that real life is much, much more messy. Now this works just fine when SF is an allegory, like a book I read recently, The Holy Machine, by Chris Beckett, but I didn’t want to write that kind of SF, not now, anyway.
Things keep on happening, hell, you can’t stop history. So in Reality 36, although AI might be my “big idea” (and not I hasten to add an original one), a lot of other things are going on in the background. Reality 36 is set in a world dealing with the toxic legacies of the 20th century – climate change, plagues, environmental degradation, new economic models, and major geo-political shifts have all taken place as well as all the whizzy new techno-stuff and its various fallouts. There are even new kinds of soft drink. It’s what I like to think of as a “whole cloth” world.
All this, as far as is humanly possible, I have tried to base on trends we see about us now. The technology in Richards & Klein is based in part on things I have gleaned from the popular press (I make no claims for the science!), and I think none of it (bar one or two intentional things) is impossible. Indeed, I think a lot of what features in the book will be possible a lot sooner than the 2100’s, but I set it then as it’s safely distant, and I will almost certainly not be around to be told how wrong I was. Although it would be nice if I were.
Thing is, SF is lousy at prediction, writers have got a couple of things right, either on the macro or micro scale, but SF is terrible at seeing medium scale trends. SF missed the microchip and the mobile phone. Let’s not even get started on SFs social modelling. Richard and Klein’s world is thus fallible, but I hope believable, and entertaining (important, that). Plus, stuffing it with background detail gives me much material for new stories.
That brings me on to the reasons for writing Reality 36. I’ve been fortunate enough, partly because of my job, partly because of persistent pestering, to have been given advice by publishers, agents and other authors on how to get something published. Some of that was technical, some of it was pure encouragement, and some of it concerned the brutal realities of the book market.
Y’see, unless you go to an editor with a really good idea, one that they can boil down to a soundbite to sell to all the other people in their publishing organisation – executives, marketing types, sales people, and so forth – before a book gets bought, they’re not going to go for it. And even if they do, all those other folks might well not. After years of writing stories about self-doubting, whining drunken Yorkshiremen, I sat down and thought hard about what might fit the bill to pay the bills.
Almost the first thing that popped into my head was “Y’know what, detectives are popular.” That might sound crass, but it’s the sad truth of it.
But Reality 36 is not a “forced” book, I didn’t make myself do it. You can’t write without enthusiasm, it’s just too damn painful as it is. Once I’d had the idea, I became excited about it, I thought that detectives operating in the future would enable me to write all kinds of really cool stories. Crimes touches everything, and it opens up a huge field of potential ideas. They get to work with all kinds of people, and by making them security consultants, all over the world. You’ll see that Reality 36 and Omega Point concern virtual realities, with a lot of the action in them taking place online, as it were. But don’t think that that is the be all of it, the action in these two initial books also takes in New London, Hong Kong, Siberia, the Ukraine, Los Angeles and the Rockies. Other stories (if picked up, which will only happen if you buy Reality 36, so please do) will see them investigate murders, track fraudsters, even go to the Moon.
I made another conscience decision, to rope in all the cool techie stuff that I’ve been reading about over the years, and that also gave me ideas for tons of stories. Once you stuff enough things into your head, stories emerge almost spontaneously, although you have to let it rot down first. Like a big compost heap, one writer told me, or as Alan Garner once said to me “training yourself to the process of ideation.” For me, this involves the odd twenty minute nap, and walking the dog. Once your brain is primed and ready, you really can’t help but generate stories. They just pop out. Everything becomes a story. Once you say “We have AI”, then you think, “Do they have human rights? Who fights for those rights? Who polices them? How easy will it really be for us to deal with an increasingly interactive, machine-dominated world? How much patience will these things have with us?” And so on. Some of the ideas I’ve had knocking about in my head for donkey’s years in search of a home – writing them down is essential, I bold them up on the word doc once they’ve been used. I note when I had them if I remember, and what they turned into. It helps train the brain, that ideation thing.
And then you get leftfield stuff like “Man, my dog is huge. What happened if a super-intelligent dog that looked like mine ran a media empire?” (I’m saving that one for later). In that way you I can answer that question that so annoys Stephen King “Where do you get your ideas from?” although for all his bellyaching about it, I notice he reveals where he got the ideas for the shorts in Full Dark, No Stars, which my wife just finished.
All this chugging away means there’s even more room in the wider world, beyond Richards and Klein. I have a novel out from Solaris, set in the same universe, next year. Called Champion of Mars, a goodly part of that book concerns the terraformation of the Red Planet, which is mentioned in passing in Reality 36.
Josh, the editor of this here blog, asked me if blending two genres – detective and SF– posed any problems. I have to say that it didn’t, in some ways it made it easier. I once read a very good article about detectives and SF by someone (er, I forget who) who said that SF and detective books especially follow similar patterns, primarily because a lot of SF also contains some kind of twist. Detectives lend themselves very well to story telling in any genre anyway. They find stuff out, so you the reader find stuff out. They figure things out, and piece a story together, which is handy, because you’re reading it. There are detectives in every subgenre because of this.
What else can I say? I fit into the sad pattern of many journalists who burn to write fiction. It’s my first book. I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was 18, have been trying since about 1989, and trying properly since 2001. I’ve been a journalist since 1997, mostly on SFX, then editing White Dwarf, onto a short-lived title called Death Ray. I would really like the opportunity to write more, and that’s up to you.
Thanks for your time, you’ve been great. I’ve been Guy Haley. And I still am.
You can read more about me and my work at guyhaley.wordpress.com