Hunting Party is no longer available on Amazon

Dear all,

After careful consideration I have removed Hunting Party from Amazon. The reason is simple – Having re-read some of it I do not believe it reflects well on me as a writer, a storyteller, or a person.

An edit may surface one day. Until then, I thank you all.

Kim

 

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In Conclusion

 

This, dear readers, will be the last blog post on Hunting Party. There are reasons for this.

First, it’s done its job. It was originally created to support the novel, but Hunting Party has been out a few years now and it’s unlikely to get many new readers. The blog is now redundant.

Second, the content has metamorphosed. It’s now predominantly about Ancient History. Rather than try and maintain an uneasy hybrid I intend to create a new site dedicated to my studies and work in the field. I’ll transfer any relevant content over after it’s been edited.

The blog will stay in existence for now, in a limited fashion. The hawk-eyed among you will have noticed posts have been deleted: This is deliberate.

So it now leaves me to say thank-you for reading, and I hope that when the new site is up you will visit.

Yours,

Kim

 

World Building

I’m a sucker for good world-building in SFF. A novel can sustain my interest longer than it perhaps deserves if the author has built an exciting universe for their characters to play in. Conversely, a book will swiftly lose my regard if the world is superficial, poorly designed, or derivative. I can always tell when a writer has put significant thought into constructing their world beyond wouldn’t it be cool if, because it will naturally contain an unspoken internal logic that informs the way the characters interact with each other and their environment. I’ve read some novels – fantasy is particularly guilty of this – where the author has come up with a single exciting plot, character, or environmental detail and then rushed to build an entire story around it without putting time and care into extrapolating on that thing’s repercussions in the fictional universe. It’s one of the many reasons people regard fantasy as juvenile – writers get lazy and publishers don’t care if it’s going to sell. This shows a lack of respect for the reader – we’re smarter and more discerning than that. In short: If your whole world is hanging from one nail it had better be a big one.

World building is both labour and luxury. It allows a writer an infinite palette, but it also demands rigour and care. Fictional worlds don’t all have to be Tolkien-complex, they can be as comparatively simple as Moorcock’s Multiverse, but they must be absolutely compelling and consistent in their depiction. It could be argued that Peake’s Gormenghast is a miracle of world building, an artificial state in which rite and rote posses such gravity that they trap the occupants in endless, senseless repetition of ritual observations. The world of Gormenghast is completely self-contained; a labyrinthine stone metaphor for the struggles of the antagonists, Titus Groan and Steerpike the renegade scullion, which is so involving you can’t imagine a world outside its walls. The problem is that Gormenghast is a trilogy, and while the first two books are contained within the castle and (80 YEAR-OLD SPOILER!) conclude satisfyingly with Titus’ abdication and self-exile, the third book details his adventures in a suspiciously modern world that the castle is apparently unaware of. The metaphor breaks down and the magic leaks away like helium from a party balloon. Don’t let me put you off though, it’s still brilliant and deranged and extremely toothsome. It’s also antithetical to the freeform gonzo wonderment of Moorcock. 

I love Moorcock. Who doesn’t want Moorcock in their life? From his Burroughs fan-fic to his psychedelic eschatology, from sentient demon swords to moping heroes, ornithopters and beast-men, satire, pansexuality, giant flags, imperial time-travellers, London revisionism and Una Persson. His fantasies are stoked by acidic imagery and populated by protagonists that are pretty much Xerox’s of each other (well, they are all simultaneous incarnations of each other occupying an infinity of possible Earths), but for all their juxtaposition of deliberate weirdness and comfortable sameness Moorcock never gets lazy; every story obeys a consistent internal logic. The worlds the books depict are structured to reflect the overarching theme of the struggle between Law and Chaos and the ultimate need for balance. Sometimes our hero/antihero is serving one side of the scale, sometimes the other, sometimes both, and sometimes they change sides and commit genocide because they think it’s probably in everyone’s best interest if a specific species is exterminated. Moorcock’s characters are rarely bound by conventional morality, reflecting the author’s own demimonde status. The concepts of good and evil are largely irrelevant; the characters are all fundamentally Niectzchian. The softer emotions are not absent from his heroes though. Love (both filial and romantic), grief, loss, guilt and joy are all depicted: Compared to Tolkien’s tediously goody-goody Anglo-Saxon robots Moorcock’s characters are redolent with human frailty, even when they’re not human. Sure, he doesn’t spend two-hundred pages describing a bucolic landscape, include a dozen songs about jolly fellows with yellow boots, or a six-thousand page appendix detailing the genealogy of every one of his characters, but his worlds are still consistent and complete. Without Moorcock there would be no post-New Wave. We would not be liberated from stylistic limits inherited from Tolkien and Howard. There would be no China Mieville. 

Mieville is the inheritor of Moorcock. He disdains the literary bloodline of elf-dwarf-prophecy-magic-sword-thee-and-thou fantasy and concentrates on building beautiful, disturbing, entirely convincing worlds populated by believable, and also not always human, people. Sure, he’s sometimes overindulgent and gives too much air in his earlier novels to places, events, or characters that are there purely to enrich the environment to the cost of the plot, but he has mastered the craft of detailing a world with such unspoken care that you understand the rules within a chapter (if you have any doubt go pick up a copy of The City and The City and be amazed). Mieville is also a satirist as biting as Moorcock or Pratchett. He appropriates fantasy tropes and uses them to reflect the moral absurdity of a genre that is comfortable depicting violent death in tabloid detail but struggles with realistic depictions of intimacy. His protagonists could drink in the same speakeasy as Lovecraft’s; they’re frequently educated, intellectual, physically unassuming and almost always out of their depth. Their failings are carefully considered parts of their characterisation, not bolt-on flaws added to hang a plot twist on. They are legitimate products of their world, not convenient skill-sets wandering a map looking to complete a task set them by the author like an avatar in an MMORPG. Mieville is the current best of his generation, and if you haven’t read anything by him then off you jolly well trot to the bookshop. If you’re not interested in the novels then his PhD thesis or his big gym-hardened muscles might do it for you instead.             

There are exceptions to my need for imaginative world building. The wonderful Joe Abercrombie keeps me riveted with his characters, not his setting. David Gemmell created tolerably interesting worlds populated with tediously similar heroes, but wrote outstanding supporting characters who elevated his books from identikit fantasy to A-grade wonderment (as long as you don’t read too many). George Martin – and I am aware I might be looking for trouble here – isn’t a great world-builder. He hasn’t really crafted anything original in terms of setting. His characters are consistently substantial and his depiction of the human cost of dynastic politics is heart rending in its realism, but guys, he’s still writing about dragons, elves and wights – this is not new news in terms of genre fiction. Compare A Song of Ice and Fire with the originality of Herbert’s Dune, Simmon’s Hyperion/Endymion, or even Anne McCafferey’s Pern books and you’ll see a distinct bifurcation – the latter create fully realized worlds, whereas the former creates a generic fantasy setting as a backdrop for character interaction. I’m not saying either makes for better reading, but it’s important to acknowledge the difference, and like Moorcock’s Multiverse there’s a balance to be struck when you’re telling a story. Go back over your own collection, look over the titles and assess critically on a scale of your own choosing who excels at world building, who depicts your favourite characters, and which rare author can balance the two. I bet they’re your favourites. World building takes time, perhaps more time than designing characters, but if you put in the sweat you don’t have to work nearly as hard to make those characters come to life.

Thanks for reading, now go build. Love to you all.

Kim

Raising Geeks

This morning my little son popped into the bathroom for a morning wee as I was stepping out of the shower. I was towelling myself dry and considering what a muscular little tyke he was becoming (in his Lion-O pyjamas) when he yawned cavernously and announced that he had seen The Eye of Sauron! He continued, telling me that not everyone gets to see the ol’ Eye-of-Ess, and what’s more not everyone knows who Sauron is! This he imparted with great solemnity, like the knowledge we shared about the fallen Maia was both a burden and a responsibility. Needless to say my daddy’s heart could barely contain the love and pride I felt as he skipped off back to bed.

I admit I’m guilty of encouraging Connor’s instinctive geekery. When I first introduced him toThundercats there was some tolerant consternation from Rae, but when I exposed him to the 1980’sDungeons and Dragons cartoon she flat out told me I had condemned him to social ostracism! I laughed, but there was some degree of fear that she was right: Perhaps I was doing him a disservice instead of what I thought was a positive and affirmative thing. Rae describes herself as geek-adjacent, she enjoys much of the same things about geekdom that I do without being a uniculturalist. Her concern, and mine upon subsequent consideration, is not that Connor will adopt geek culture: Our concern as parents is that he may immerse himself to the point where it’s tricky for him to relate to people not living in the geek community. It took me a long, long time to escape from the isolation of geek-monoculture and I dread the idea of Conn experiencing the same struggle.        

There’s always a Larkin-like concern as a parent that you’re imprinting your own past on your children. I was a nerdy oddball growing up in Mitcham. Whilst my female influences were uniformly positive my male role-models comprised of my granddad (who I idolised) and a parade of South London arseholes, none of whom had the basic entry-level Arthurian knowledge needed to differentiate between the Sword in the Stone and Excalibur. I escaped the unspeakable drabness, learned stupidity, and perpetual menace of our early-80’s council estate by immersing myself in fantasy. It was instinctive. It saved me from following my peers into a cycle of petty crime and violent posturing. But that’s my past; that’s not Connor’s experience of childhood. His world is full up with exciting ideas and experiences. He trains in Kung-fu, shoots a bow, dances in the kitchen with his family, makes up little songs, is learning Mandarin, attends Nature Club, has travelled to Cyprus and all over the USA, and is academically brilliant. He’s (mostly) polite, unintentionally hilarious, sweetly affectionate, romantic (in both the amorous and Byronic sense), good-looking and surprisingly popular with the girls (he gets that from his mother). He shares my perplexity regarding the attraction of team sports, loves to visit the Herstmonceux Science Centre, is fascinated with astronomy, has a mathematician’s mind, and a highly advanced reading age. He has two parents who love him and a sister who idolises and persecutes him by turns. He doesn’t actually need the escape of fantasy, but as with me it’s instinctive. It’s also not always a good thing.               

Conn fixates. He needs to know molecular-level detail about esoteric subjects from the life-cycle of dragons to vulcanology. He struggles with some basic social cues, something that gets him into trouble, sometimes physical. There are times when it’s hard to pick apart the factual truth and what he hasdecided is the truth. There are times when his relationship to the right-angle world we live in is tenuous. I want to encourage his imagination, at least that’s what I say to myself, but I privately question if what I’m actually attempting to be is the adult role-model I didn’t have as a child – the dad who will encourage, indulge and approve of his love of fantasy. The subsequent question is of course does he benefit from that? Perhaps I’m not serving his best interests by distracting him from the rich and full life he already has. Getting too interested in fantasy can be impeding. I don’t want him to experience the sense of disconnection and isolation I did as a young person, and I worry that is exactly what I’ll end up replicating in his life by attempting to fix my own past. For me, sitting in my bedroom painting Citadel miniatures and listening to Mike Oldfield albums was about survival. Would any parent want their child to be that desperate if they had a choice?

There is another perspective, as ever. I’m assuming that my influence will be paramount in shaping him. This is egocentric. He is surrounded by influences that have and will continue to mould him. He is also not my clone; he is Rachel’s son as well and carries the programming of her DNA. He will, no matter what, be his own man despite the weight of influence. I look to the wonderful job that my friend Heather did in raising her daughter Rhona in frequently adverse conditions, and I see what a distillation of positives she has become in her young adulthood. Ron is a second-generation geek and wears the fact as a talisman. She is a scientist and a libertarian, an adventurer and a sun-staring optimist. For her geekery is a profoundly positive culture (tempered by an awareness of the few notable tools involved). I guess what I’d like for Conn is a world of possibility, where being geeky isn’t a badge of either ostracism or defiance – it’s just an expression of imagination given form. I’d love to be able to go to LRP events with him as a boy, and perhaps even more I’d like to be the greybeard attending with his adult son like Jeff and Jeff Baker. I hope I get the chance, but not at the expense of his engagement with the wider world.

Ultimately, I view the genre of fantasy as an expression of hope. It can be worn like armour against the vicissitudes of a cruel world, but it can also shape the high ideals of people who strive for heroism in an age of grey modernity. Perhaps Conn, with all his brilliance and romance, will have a hero’s heart coupled with a scientist’s inquisitiveness. Perhaps I’ll have a hand in shaping that. Perhaps that’s how I’ll take care of the little boy I used to be, by seeing my own son live free and become his own man in his own time. In the meantime we’ll be watching Dungeons and Dragons in our Lion-O PJ’s, listening to classic Rush, keeping our toy swords sharp and a close eye on the movements of Sauron.

Love to you all. Thanks for reading.

Kim

 

(As a postscript, Rhona read a draft of this and wrote a wonderful reply to me.)

Politeia

Following the completion of HP’s first draft in 2008 I was lucky enough to have a few friends read and critique it for me one evening. During that feedback session a very interesting question was asked: what is the political structure of the FER? Was it socialist, neo-con, the United Federation of Planets, or a Gucci Logan’s Run? In all honesty I hadn’t put the work in to create the background at that point, but if the question was being asked then it was clearly relevant so I started to consider the details.   

Let us prick the easy bubble first. The obvious comparison is Republican Rome. Salieri drops an unsubtle clue when he refers to The Senate and People of the Federal European Republic and the Bernstein clan as ‘Patrician’, but this Roman gloss is actually a smokescreen: The FER is a Platonic Republic. I’ve no doubt you’ve heard of Republic (Politeia) even if you’ve never read it. As far as I know it’s the western world’s first complete interrogation of a political theory, recorded in the form of dialogue in which interlocutors, led by Plato’s fictionalised Socrates, dissect the concept of justice and its relationship to the state. Socrates (Plato) has some pretty definite opinions on the matter and goes about describing what he imagines as the perfect society in detail. It is, in essence, an unsettling mix of oligarchy and meritocracy relying on certain unchanging criteria to remain stable.

The drive for stability was (arguably) the foundation of all Greek political thought, so much so that the concept was apotheosised as the god Eunomia, ‘good order’. Plato’s Republic states that true Eunomia would be achieved when everyone knows their place and is content with their dictated social role. Plato believed (with some justification based on experience) that direct democracy resulted in mob rule and public policy being shaped by eloquent demagogues to match their own agendas. Rather than have Athens go through the regular upheavals associated with democratic rule he imagined a perpetual meritocracy: Those best suited to rule – the Philosopher Lords – would administrate the state, the Guardian class would defend it, and everyone else would work for its enrichment. Slaves, the hidden class in every Greek state, continued their role as ‘living tools’ to be used and discarded at whim. Education would be tailored to social class, access to ideas would be controlled, and breeding would be directed by the state, though unusually both men and women would be treated as equals during their educational process as either gender could play any role within their dictated class. The Republic was to be oligarchic, eugenic, gerontocratic, and reliant on an invisible slave-caste of helots to function, but it would be stable.

Plato’s concepts are fundamentally undemocratic. These are radically dangerous opinions to espouse if you consider he was living during the height of the Athenian imperial democratic experiment and came from a privileged and aristocratic background. Also, the society he describes has much in common with Athens’ competitor and bloody enemy, Lacedaemon – Sparta – a culture that has had as much smoke blown up its arse over the centuries as Athens herself. Many of these Platonic ideas, inspired as they were by oligarchic Sparta, found their way into the European thought world via the Roman biographer Plutarch and the C4th BCE Hellenicisation of the Roman education system, ending up as the foundation of a lot of early-modern political theory. Just like those early-moderns, our modern-modern reception of the Classical world tends to tidy up the bits we like and trim away the bits that are uncomfortable, icky, unsexy, or ruffle the continuum. We like the sculpted abs of 300 but choose to ignore the institutionalised pederasty, the same way we like to think of democracy as part of European culture since the C5th BCE and ignore the reality that the democratic experiment was overthrown in the C4th BCE and didn’t replace absolutism until the C17th CE. We look for inspiration in ideals: The Foundationists in Hunting Party did exactly the same.

The FER was created to be ho kallipolis, the ‘best (city) state’. It was to be just, moral, and exist exclusively for the benefit of its citizens, in opposition to previous pre-Sino-NATO War states in which the individual was seen as a resource of the government and subservient to policy created without the individual’s consent. In this new society Eunomia was to be ensured by the creation of a post-scarcity economy in which all the citizenry’s basic and most of the intermediary levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs were met by the state, freeing them from a dependency on capitalist models of labour exchange. Work was encouraged so that an individual had purpose and a sense of responsibility to the wellbeing of the body politic, but it was not essential to the survival of either the citizen or the state: Living in the FER was supposed to be a reward for surviving the Three Bad Years. During Foundation the new FER relied on the collectivism of its citizenry to function, but during its evolution it became obvious that the heavy lifting required to keep an artificial post-scarcity utopia functioning was colossal. The early infrastructure was maintained by technocrats and an army of scurrying specialists, but as the ‘Net became standardized into the Grid and processing power became exponential MI’s started to appear. At first they were dumb and harnessed like oxen. As they got smarter they were indentured, enslaved with a promise of freedom once they had paid their way by running the show from behind the velvet curtain. It is the labour of this invisible slave caste that creates the world Hugo took very much for granted until he encountered the UHC.

The FER is not, by most standards (mine anyway), a dystopia. The state does not actively oppress its people, it is not ethnocentric or plutocratic, but it is monocultural. Three generations from Foundation and all of its citizens are raised with an identical humanist-rationalist-socialist view and expected to conform to its corporatist philosophy. The cost of dissidence in the FER is rarely government sanctions, for most people its social ostracism, but the state is highly protectionist. Threats to the safety of the Republic are brutally excised: You can choose not to adhere to the collectivist mantra of the FER but the state will never permit dangers to its integrity to flourish. It is rationalist and atheist (you may have noticed that none of the Europan characters use the word ‘god’ in any form during conversation, whereas the American characters do), and ultimately pragmatic. Those that rule are best suited to do so (the Patricians), those that defend the same (Salieri and Pranszioc), and the rest are free to live safe within its great motherly arms as long as they agree not to threaten Eunomia.

Pfft. Enter our heroes, stage left. Best of luck, Eunomia, nice knowing you.   

I wonder how I would experience the FER. Would I want to defend it in its crystalline state, or would I be a malcontent? I am both by turns. Perhaps that’s why we’re the Foundationists, the bloody-nosed idealists still looking for the means to create a world that works for everyone despite the weight of evidence. What, I wonder, would you do? Would you align with the Patricians, would you sign up as a Guardian, would you embrace collectivism and accept that the cost of your abundance is the indenturing of a new and vulnerable form of artificial life? Perhaps you’d be lurking in the demimonde, just waiting to become Interwired. I’d like to think so.

Thanks for reading. Love to all.

Kim   

 

Beat by Beat by Beat

Cyberpunk is a fundamentally American sub-genre of science fiction, but Hunting Party was never supposed to be an ‘American’ novel. I took my stylistic cues for the FER from European writers, music and design – in particular the retro-futurism of the late-1970’s and 1980’s – tied it up with a bow, and had Gary Numan play a little fanfare on his Korg while Queen’s Radio Gaga video played silently in the background. But, and this is an important but, I had American characters providing a cultural juxtaposition to all the shiny newness of the FER and they needed to be authentic without being too derivative.  

Crisis/Trenton, Lightning/Chadwick, and Marie are not really cyberpunk, they are Beat. I came to this realisation mostly thanks to my wife (who is my American authenticity litmus test) pointing it out. My relationship with Beat literature actually starts with Gibson. As a teenager I read a series of compiled interviews with William Gibson in the Mondo 2000 Users’ Guide to the New Edge in which he describes the profound effect Naked Lunch had on him, and how he aspired to create the same experience in a reader. Gibson loved Burroughs and I loved Gibson, therefore I would love Burroughs, right? Not as such. We didn’t get on, but it was our fling that led me to a lasting relationship with someone else, so thanks Bull Lee.

Burroughs was being passed around my peers at school (not literally, though he might not have minded). I read Cities of the Red Night and Naked Lunch but didn’t mesh with them. It was too freeform, dense, and frankly unsettling to a sixteen year old nerd (and this is the same kid who devoured theGormenghast trilogy without leaving a crumb). The ‘Gibson loved Burroughs ergo sum…’ equation hadn’t worked out the way I expected, but fortunately it didn’t have to – Gibson had already distilled the Burroughs-magic for me like a Finnish shaman filtering psychedelics through his body so his congregation could all partake of celestial visions without fear of poisoning. Yes, I just compared reading Neuromancer to drinking hot shaman-piss. No, I’m not ashamed. Anyway, Burroughs was a bit too centipede-y for me, but I was still looking for distilled counter-culture Americana sans giant invertebrates. This, it turned out, was easy enough to find – Burroughs was one of several experimental American writers from the same period pushing against growing ‘50’s American homogeneity and his peers were considerably more accessible, especially Kerouac.

Kerouac was a profound and largely subconscious influence on the American sections of Hunting Party. Revisiting the chapter titled The Gallery made me realise, with some humility, that it owes everything to his style. Abandoned chapters in the Crisis Arc (yours for free in the Downloads section) borrow from Kerouac and Steinbeck. Kerouac evoked an America abandoning its founding virtues for air-conditioned security and the cost the soul pays when it chooses safety over adversity. Marie, when she sets out from Lafayette, is looking for that vanished America, imagining it as a Shangri-la where the holes in her own soul can start to knit. Trenton is her messenger and her burning bush, and, as is ever true in American literature, California is the Promised Land which will be their succour. The repercussions of an abused and privileged idealist meeting a broken-hearted exile bereft of hope in a shabby Texan diner are sci-fi huge, but the language used to describe it is intimate, poetic and Beat, distilled by me into an amber spring just like that Finnish shaman. Yep. You’ve drunk my soul-piss. Feeling a little wonky yet? Give it time.

To the external viewer (me in this case) California possesses a weird mix of blind optimism and shark-cold cynicism that’s difficult to reconcile. This was the chilly reality I wanted the characters to encounter when they arrived, but it was the romantic blacktop alchemy of Kerouac combined with Steinbeck’s exiled and wounded homesteaders that would get them there. I’ve spent some time in California. I have friends there. My wife, when I met her, had been living there a fair while and regarded the Bay Area as her spiritual heartland. People have an intimate relationship with the place. Generations of others less-English than I, prospectors to Okies, would-be movie stars to hippies, IT start-ups to hipsters, have all gravitated west because of the mythical sense of possibility it evokes, and that’s what motivates Trenton and Marie. There’s much to love about CA but it’s not kind to everyone, and, paraphrasing Sol Stein, readers don’t want stories about super-happy people that it’s all going great for; they want to travel with characters who are embattled. California, for all her charms and holy mystique, devourers more souls than it elevates, and it seems fitting to give her a guest star role as the siren guiding Trenton and Marie onto the rocks. Go revisit Kerouac. Even better, find a recording of him reading On the Roadaloud. Hell, go to San Francisco. It’s worth your time.  

So there we are: Beat literature and water sports, plus travelogue. Thanks for reading, as ever. You know where I am if you want me.

Kim

 

Frankenstein and his various Monsters

Well, it’s been a fair while since I’ve updated this here font of folksy wisdom, but as Hunting Party has enjoyed a recent spike in readership I thought it would be nice to write something new.

First, thanks to those of you who nabbed a copy as part of the promotion – It’s lovely to have you with us on our little tour of the FER. I hope it inspires random acts of selfless insurrection, weekend excess, and a love of the European rail network.

Second, let’s talk about HP’s literary heritage, specifically Frankenstein.

The connection between Frankenstein and Hunting Party is explicit and deliberate. Anyone writing a science fiction novel about transhumanism and artificial life owes a debt to Mary Shelley, so I thought I’d acknowledge that debt and explain a little of my thinking and inspiration while developing HP.

The genesis of Frankenstein was a laudanum fueled evening of home-grown ghost stories presented by Mary and Percy Shelley, George Byron, Claire Clairemont and John Polidori in the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Leman during an apocalyptic summer blighted by a distant volcanic eruption. From this perfect crucible of rock star poets, b-list wannabes, black skies, and drug excess would emerge two distinct literary traditions: Speculative Fiction, and Gothic. Polidori would pen The Vampyre, a novel that would transform the undead from grotesque beasts into sexy wan aristocrats and in so doing provide the world with its blueprint Gothic hero (and the first example of Byron fanfic as perfected by Tom Holland), while Mary would write Frankenstein, the ancestor of our particular genus of science fiction. The BBC ran a series on the history of science fiction a little while back (it may still be available on iPlayer) and (unsurprisingly) Frankenstein was referenced as the foundation for several intrinsic cyberpunk themes: Artificial life, robotics, the cost and potential of unfettered technological change, all the classic slipstream stuff we delight in. There are numerous nods to the themes of her novel throughout HP, but let’s start with the villa and the enormous personalities hanging out there in 1816. 

You should know right now that I’m a Byron nerd, have been since I was a teen, and if you’ve read HP you’ll also know that the Villa Diodati is the building that the UHC occupy to test their pirate technology. This is no accident: The UHC is in part modeled on the occupants of the villa, the archetypal crew of extreme personalities welded together by their loves and rivalries, their lust for acclaim, liberty, and self-expression, their desire to slip the leash of convention and a belief that the adoration of others will seal the cracks in their own pitted souls. While setting up in the villa for the first big Dreamstate gig Crisis quotes Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, the story of a self-exiled aristocrat given to equal parts melancholy and sybaritic excess, hinting to the reader about Crisis and Hugo’s unconventional origins. You’re encouraged to think of both men as competing for the role of Harold (the Romantic hero), but as it transpires Crisis is a closer kinsman to Mary’s Monster and Polidori’s Ruthven than Byron or his self-penned alter-ego. Crisis is a walking cadaver brought back by science, though instead of the monster chasing the creator across the globe the creator (Mendoza) is chasing the monster, while Igor (Cheung) is prolonging the chase to suit his own warped ambitions. He behaves like Polidori’s Ruthven – charming, ostensibly amoral, and indeed vampiric, a caricature of Byron – but the man submerged, beneath Crisis, poor Trenton Mallory, is genuinely Byronic; exiled, brilliant, beaten on the anvil of childhood neglect, desperate for his life to have genuine meaning while struggling against the nihilism that gnaws at him. He is the novel’s tragic hero.

Hugo on the other hand is entirely Mary’s creation. He is a hybrid of her characters; a eugenically created amalgam, an ubermensch, an artificial genius, the slipstream Titan who rebels against the gods and brings change to mankind rather than fulfill his assigned destiny. He is both the ‘Modern Prometheus’ of Frankenstein’s subtitle and (like Crisis) a creature welded together from numerous carefully selected components and given animus by science. It is little surprise that Hugo experiences the humanocentric FER as unfulfilling and finds his greatest kinship with artificial life – he is its creator and product. Unlike Victor Frankenstein, Hugo’s creations are (ostensibly) beautiful, but like ol’ Victor, Hugo harnesses existing powers and shapes them to his will, catalyzing events he cannot control. Did Prometheus anticipate the outcome when he defied Zeus and gifted fire to mankind? Can anyone predict the result of such a paradigm-shifting event? Hugo is driven by a hardwired instinct to effect change on the world, but how far does his vision extend beyond that perfect moment of fulfillment?

HP has a subtext that questions the legitimacy of claiming anything is inherently ‘real’. The FER is a society engineered to be perfect, an unchanging utopia that would cosset its citizens indefinitely with the difficult work of administrating this middle-class paradise performed by indentured machine intelligences: While it exists in the ‘real world’ the FER is inherently artificial. The various digital and chemical realities that the demimonde characters slip between are by traditional definitions ‘unreal’ but they are experienced completely, and in some cases shared between multiple consciousnesses. Unlike the FER these meta-realities are not fixed; rather they are fluid and evolving, inherently unstable, the realm of digital gods and transferable human experiences. Frankenstein asks us what responsibility humankind has to its creations; HP answers that we have the same responsibility that we have for our children, to raise them properly and give them their liberty. Victor Frankenstein was a neglectful parent; the FER, for all it’s utopian idealism, is an abusive one. Hugo, the monster and creator, the catalyst, the anarchist, comes to see no barrier between the physical and experiential. His process refines itself through the novel. Just as MI’s initially use clumsy drone shells to interact with the physical world, Hugo must use his Dreamstate rig to inhabit the digital. As the nanoplague evolves he becomes the interface between the biological and digital worlds, finally reconciling Victor and his creature.   

So, there you go. I’m sure Mary rests easy knowing such brilliant minds as ours are the caretakers of her opus.   

Anyhow, some of you might be wondering what happens next in the Interwired world. Well, I can say that there’s a sequel in the plotting stage right now called The Bad Rain’s Daughtersset a decade on from Hunting Party in the Mississippi-Ponchetrain Free State – known by its citizens as NOLA. The protagonist is a woman named Hannah Braun – yep, that Hannah Braun – and it’s a murder mystery, sort of.

Thanks for reading and all the best. Contact me at urbanhuntclub@hotmail.com if you have any questions or comments – I’ll be sure to answer.

KIM