Monday, August 20, 2012

Cyberpunk in a Fedora: An interview with Suzanne Van Rooyen

Today I'm talking with Suzanne Van Rooyen about her dystopian tech-noir, Dragon's Teeth.


1) Tell us about your book.

Well, in a nutshell Dragon's Teeth could be classified as dystopian tech-noir. Decoding the genre tags, what that means is that the world has suffered an apocalyptic event that leaves pockets of humanity run by a variety of governments. My story concentrates on two: the cybernetic playground of New Arcadia and the theocratic nameless city. Although the tie between these two cities across a divide of almost half a century isn't immediately apparent, the individual characters from each era are in fact tied closely together. You can expect genetic engineering, cybernetics, indoctrinated soldiers, a seedy city underbelly, government conspiracies and an ever so suave detective, replete in fedora and trench-coat, who ties the whole story together.

2) How did you approach your world-building process?

This really happened in two stages. First, the bleak Scandinavian setting for the nameless city and then the over-the-top playground like setting for New Arcadia. I tried to make the two polar opposites of each other. For New Arcadia, I just let my imagination run wild, conjuring setting according to my character. I definitely tried to build the individual worlds around my main characters - what would they want, need, love and despise in the world? And so the scenes were born. I had a better idea of what my nameless city would be like from before I started writing. New Arcadia, however, developed along with my characters.

3) Tell us about your lead, Cyrus.

Cyrus is complex in that what you see is definitely not what you get. He's got a dark and violent past that he tries to bury, tries to hide beneath his 1940s veneer. He's not the typical hero and certainly doesn't play by the rules, but he has integrity and lives by his own honour code.

4) What made you decide to combine a somewhat classic detective archetype with a cyberpunk setting?

This happened entirely by accident. I was taking a literature course at the time and we had just started analysing noir works. I fell in love with J. M Cain and Raymond Chandler and so Cyrus was born. The main idea for the novel had always been cyberpunk in the same vein as films like Equilibrium and shows like Dark Angel. The hardboiled element just seemed to fit and Cyrus, once he appeared in my thoughts, demanded the limelight in my story, and so he got it.

5) Do you think the spread of the Singularity concept and its ideal of  transcendent technology will influence people's desire to read things like cyberpunk that draw more firmly from our current interface with  technology?

Hm, that's a really difficult question to answer. I've read articles about how 'boring' the singularity concept has become because of its ubiquity, although many still aren't even aware of the singularity concept or what it really is. As for influencing readers, I'm not sure. Some may avoid cyberpunk because they've had enough of the theme. However, given the current technological climate, I think cyberpunk still has a place in science fiction despite its ageing moniker. Looking at the slew of new releases particularly in the YA category, the human relationship with technology is definitely still a leading theme so cyberpunk is holding its own as a subgenre. Whether that's directly influenced by the singularity concept, I honestly couldn't say.

6) Are there any authors who have influenced your work?
Sure. The two big ones are Neil Gaiman and David Mitchell - not so much in terms of content but rather in how they create their worlds and use language to paint their stories. My main science fiction influence is Philip K Dick, primarily because I saw many of the film adaptations of his work before I read his stories. I've been more influenced by film in the science fiction genre than literature to be honest.

7) Can you tell us about any of your future projects?

My next project is Obscura Burning, a YA science fiction novel about quantum entanglement. That's due for release in December from Etopia Press. I've also just signed with an agent for a YA cyberpunk novel tentatively titled Daughter of the Nether, which I'm hoping will find a home with a publisher in the next couple of months. There are a couple of other works in progress at the moment, all science fiction and tending towards cyberpunk.


Thanks, Suzanne.

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