Thursday, July 28, 2011

Author Interview: Michael Shean, Shadow of a Dead Star

Today I'm interviewing Michael Shean, author of the science fiction noir, Shadow of a Dead Star.

1) Tell us a little bit about your novel.

Shadow of a Dead Star is at its core a story about a man who finds himself caught between the world he knows, the world he wishes it could be, and the world that it truly is.  Thomas Walken is an agent of the Industrial Security Bureau in late 21st century Seattle; his job is to keep illegal technology out of the hands of American citizens.  Most of that technology comes out of Wonderland, the nickname of a future Thailand who allows criminal laboratories to operate within its borders.

At the start of the book, Walken’s job is to intercept a trio of ‘Princess Dolls’, which are little girls who have been kidnapped and transformed into sexual toys for the wealthy and corrupt.  The interception is successful, but when the girls are forcibly taken from federal custody things go very badly very fast.  Suddenly he is on the defensive as everyone connected to the girls starts coming up dead and all his leads dry up.  And that’s only the beginning; as Walken attempts to find the truth, he will find not only his career in jeopardy but his mind and even his soul as well.

2) What inspired your novel?

Many things, I suppose.  I wrote this in 2009 when I was at a particularly angry place in my life, and a lot of the same emotions I experienced then ring throughout the novel.  Isolation, frustration with oneself and with one’s place in society, dissatisfaction with the status quo - Walken hates the people he works so hard to serve, after all, and at the time I felt a lot of that.  I’ve always loved speculative fiction of all kinds, as well as mysteries and noir, so this was a way for me to express my frustration about society and people in general as I felt them at the time.  As I still do, really, though I’m in a more mellow part of the cycle at the moment.

3) Cyberpunk is a subgenre that has seen its relative popularity wax and wane since its inception, particularly with the more recent influence of extreme transhumanist concepts such as the Singularity.  What drew you to this subgenre? Did you have any concern about modern science-fiction fans accepting a new cyberpunk setting that meditates more on the dark side of transhumanism?

Let me first say that I never really had cyberpunk in mind when I wrote the book, but it seems that’s certainly how it turned out.  Now I’m a child of the Eighties, and when I was growing up many of the same forces that worked to establish the cyberpunk genre were in full swing when I was old enough to appreciate them.  The uncertainty of the Cold War, an emerging superconsumer society, etc. - many of these same elements have returned over the last ten years, and a good portion of the American population seem to be either blithely ignorant or very cynical about the change.  That’s something I want to talk about with a greater audience, and the near-future milieu is perfect for this purpose.  As for the darkness of the book, I find that too much of science fiction has become very ‘shiny’, and the message - if there’s one at all - gets lost under an overly polished presentation.  Darkness is a sucker punch; it makes you pay attention.  It’s my hope that Shadow does the same.

4) Dystopic technologically advanced industrial settings filled with moral decay are hardly unknown in science-fiction. What sets your book apart from others?

If anything sets this book apart from others in its genre, I hope it is the way the setting and the characters interact and share a common richness and brutality lacking in other works.  As I said before, I’ve found that in recent years a lot of science fiction has become simplified and overproduced - dystopian science fiction doubly so.  The setting shared by Shadow and other books is hardly rare, but in a great many instances it is romanticized to the point of becoming toothless or irrelevant.  Dystopias exist because people are screwed up, because they have problems, and it should be as organically portrayed as the people themselves.

5) This book is part of a trilogy. When you started writing it, was that your intention?

Absolutely.  The Wonderland Cycle was always planned as a trilogy; it’s just too big of a story to be contained in one or even two volumes.  I’ve always thought that the best stories come in threes, so I wanted to give the story behind the Wonderland Cycle a similar arc.

6) As a native of Washington state I was intrigued by your choice of Seattle over places like LA, NY (or even Tokyo). Why Seattle? The cyberpunk/urban fantasy role-playing game Shadowrun made Seattle as the basis of its setting. Any influence from that?

Well, it’s true that when I was a kid I did read some of the RPG material, but that wasn’t the reason for my selection.  My fiancee hails from the Seattle area, as do several of my friends, and it’s such a strange and interesting place; it seems a garden of the bizarre, and it just captured me that it’s someplace that the ultimate antagonists of the Cycle might take root.

7) There is a lot of gritty subject matter in this book. Although it seems vital for exploring the thematic issues you raised, were you ever worried that you were making your story too dark?

Not terribly.  Hell, if anything I was afraid it was too tame!  The next book is even darker, and I hope that those who have read Shadow will come along with me for an even stranger ride.


His book, Shadow of a Dead Star, is available for purchase as an e-book at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Kalipha Linden said...

Those are some really insightful and thought out questions, which is wonderful to see. It's a pleasure when an interviewer spends the time to get to the heart of a book's themes and issues, rather than serving up a one-size-fits-all questionnaire. Huzzah to you, sir!

J.A. Beard said...

Thank you for your kind words. I've been striving to improve the quality of my author interviews, so I appreciate the feedback.

CherylAnne Ham said...

I love the cover of this book and I've been wanting to try out some cyberpunk.

Great interview.