Aaaarghhh! Tagged! I usually avoid these meme things like the plague they are, but when Meryl asks, how can a guy say no? Also, she caught me just after I’d finished revising my latest novel, and I’m dying to tell people about it.
What is the working title of your novel?
Heaven is a Place on Earth.
Where did the idea come from for the novel?
Years ago – maybe 20 years ago – I began writing a book about about a world in which people spent most of their lives in virtual reality and the rest in augmented reality. It’s an idea that has fascinated me much longer than that. I wrote a chapter and some notes and put it aside. Shortly afterwards Greg Egan’s Permutation City came out and my own ideas seemed paltry by comparison. So it stayed in the drawer. A few years later, “The Matrix” came out and, while I thought that was just a silly piece of fluff by comparison to Egan’s deeply thoughtful work, I reckoned the VR worlds market was officially saturated at that point.
However, I’ve always liked the world I built for that story and kept going back there in my mind. Just how will things work out as we spend more and more time in VR and we augment reality to ever increasing levels? In particular, the problem of how easy deception becomes in such a world came to dominate my ponderings. Back in 1986, I’d read a scientific paper on the possibility of animated ‘user agents’ (fake people) to help with using computers and it sent a chill up my spine. When these agents became real enough to fool people, how could we trust anything we ever saw again?
Another influence on the book was my own desire to write a novel that deals more deeply with my characters’ motivations and personalities than in the previous couple of books I’d done, which were both action-adventure stories. The original plot for this story too was action-adventure, so I ditched it, kept the ‘world’ and focused on the characters, with a new, less energetic plot.
What genre does your book fall under?
Definitely science fiction. Hard science fiction.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Not really a problem, I’d guess. This book is far less ‘filmic’ than most of the ones I write. The protagonist is a rather ordinary Australian woman – so I’m afraid Scarlett Johanssen is definitely out. I can see Asher Keddie in the part, or maybe a dark-haired thirty-something Naomi Watts if she put on some weight and didn’t wear makeup..
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When Ginny agrees to do a small favour for a friend, it sets her on a downward spiral into fear and confusion as reality itself begins to unravel.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
All my books are represented by an agency.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
After a 20-year gestation, when I actually sat down to write it, it took five months. I think this is the shortest time I’ve ever taken to write a novel. Of course, those twenty years of cogitation might have helped.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Alastair Reynolds recently published a space opera in which there was a pervasive augmented reality. I read it when I was about half-way through writing “Heaven” and, fortunately, it’s a very different book with very different ideas – or mine might have had to go back into the drawer again. “Heaven” is possibly best described as a political thriller – an Australian sci-fi “Enemy of the State” or “Pelican Brief”, perhaps. I read a lot of Robert Goddard mysteries and his work was definitely an influence on how this book was structured.
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
If I had to pick one single incident, it would be reading that 1986 scientific paper. It gave me a glimpse into a disturbing future that has slowly been unfolding ever since.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
For Australians, it might be nice to see a sci-fi thriller set in their own country for a change (it moves from Brisbane to Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra with a quick excursion to a rural town not unlike the one I live near). For sci-fi and fantasy fans, they’ll see a number of references to famous works and tropes, and there is a distinct Wizard of Oz theme going on. Virtual Reality is such a liberating world for the sci-fi writer. If you want breakfast in outer space, a stroll in the Enchanted Forest, a chat with Odin in Asgard, and dinner in a bygone version of Paris, it is all possible – without upsetting Einstein.