You guessed it, the Asylum brings you another SPSC special interview, celebrating some of the authors who’ve joined the fierce competition. Today we sit down with Craig Lea Gordon to discuss his cyberpunk entry, ARvekt. The book blew all judges away with its fantastic cover and ended up climbing the ranks as one of our own semifinalists!
Craig Lea Gordon is a science-fiction author from Whitley Bay, in the United Kingdom. He fell in love with Science Fiction at a very early age.
His earliest memory is of bawling his eyes out on a Saturday morning when a shabby looking robot called Metal Mickey appeared on TV. It wasn’t anything to do with the low budget production values, but instead because it had displaced Battle of the Planets, his favourite sci-fi program. Shortly after, he insisted that his parents christen their Ferguson Videostar by recording Battlestar Galactica.
From the age of six, a good Christmas was defined by whether or not Star Wars was on TV. At 12 he made his Mum rent him a copy of Robocop. At around 13 years old he discovered Philip K. Dick and switched from reading his Dad’s Dick Francis and Alistair MacLean novels to devouring science fiction. Nearly 30 years later, he still isn’t sated.
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When the brain hackers abduct you, she’s the one who saves you. But what if she can’t save herself?
Tannis Ord is a black-ops cyborg assassin. A highly-trained human-weapon, dedicated to hunting down the last of the brain hacking syndicates.
There’s just one problem…
Her mind was broken from a psychotic episode. Neural reprogramming erased her trauma, gave her a fresh start. But when an old brain hacker cult resurfaces, and a sentient AI is set to govern the entire human population, she starts seeing things. Horrors nobody else can… Innocent citizens abducted from the streets in broad daylight. But is the AI behind it all? Now she doesn’t know which one to trust…
Or reality itself?
Welcome to the Asylum, Craig. Thank you for joining us for this SPSFC special! Grab a chair but mind any stray knives. To start things off, can you introduce yourself in your main character’s voice?
A vortex of red voxels appeared, coalesced, and combined to create a translucent androgynous form. It spoke, the timbre of its voice fluctuating between male and female.
“I’m afraid Tannis is unavailable at the moment. She is attending [REDACTED] due to a relapse in her [REDACTED], caused by [REDACTED]”, said Ix.
“However, as humanity’s AI guardian and protector, I can introduce Craig. All his thoughts, memories and emotions are available to me via his ARvekt, as if his brain itself can be spun up to answer your questions.
Craig Lea Gordon is a science fiction writer from Whitley Bay, in the United Kingdom. He started plotting out ARvekt in 2014, taking 7 months to pull it all together, and wrote his first ever words on the 28th of November. Before that, his main creative endeavor was making Techno music. Years later, he sold all his equipment, and was content putting out the odd mix, but a burning desire to pursue a creative career was still present. Because he loved reading so much, he decided to try his hand at writing. After all, how hard could it be? He soon learned the hard way, but his editor Harry Dewulf, kept him on track, and seven years later ARvekt was released.
In hindsight, that seems like an extraordinarily long time to him, but he did tackle a lot of additional obstacles on the way. Such as writing and releasing 10 short stories, a prequel novella to ARvekt, two more, currently unreleased but coming soon, prequel novellas. A stand-alone dystopian novella which is due out in February, and two more stand-alone dystopian novella’s one of which is in first draft stage, the other in planning. As well as learning all the intricacies of self-publishing and trying to grow a following on Patreon.
Through all that, he feels as if he has finally discovered his style. High-concept, character driven, what-the-fuck-is-going-on sci-fi, where he absolutely refuses to tell you what is going on, and you need to work it out for yourself.
In his spare time, he loves reading, PC gaming, cycling his fat bike on the beach, and still putting out the odd DJ mix.”
Ix’s avatar bursts apart in an eruption of red voxels, forming the Queen’s Book Asylum logo, and then fades away.
A perfectly in-theme intro for the Asylum…What draws you to science fiction, Craig?
I can’t explain it, but I’ve always been drawn towards science, and the application of technology. For me, it’s the eternal hope that our ingenuity as a species will save us from our past, and pave the way for a brighter future.
Even when I discovered Techno back when I was a teenager, it’s because it was touted as the music of the future. It’s where my head’s been ever since watching Star Wars when I was 6. And over the years, it’s been reinforced time and time again by all the books and films that I’ve consumed.
Nowadays from a writing perspective, technology is always the driving factor. I start all my stories from a What If. I’d love to tell you what it was for ARvekt, but that would totally spoil it. I love forecasting into the future, and imagining what technology could come next. A career as a futurologist would have been perfect. So that’s always the starting point for my stories. And then what science fiction allows me to do, is to imagine how it will impact the world, society and my characters. Conversely, my stories are at odds with my personal hope that science and technology can save us. I use it to torture my characters, and expose humanities weaknesses.
Can you describe ARvekt, bullet-style?
- A tortured protagonist
- Augmented Reality
- An AI Guardian
- No info dumps
- No hand holding
- Instant reality
- A complex plot
This book drops us right off at the classic cyberpunk ambient: gritty, bloody, grim. All the good stuff! What sets it apart from others in such a bountiful genre?
Firstly, I think it’s the focus on Augmented Reality, which I haven’t seen explored much in other works. That technology, via the ARvekt, allowed me to look at some classic Cyberpunk themes, such as transhumanism, reality, consciousness and memory.
And it’s those themes applied to Tannis, the main character, that I believe also sets it apart from other works in the genre. As I said above, I basically use the technology to torture her in a very specific way. It’s a very personal journey for her. She has to overcome not only herself, but also the world that has been created by the application of AI and AR technology.
That world, that futuristic London, is both torn apart and rebirthed by an AI war, under the thumb of an artifical counsciousness. What did this concept of “peaceful robot overlord” allow you to explore?
Once I had my What If for ARvekt, and I started on the research journey, I read a lot about AI, Artificial General Intelligence and the singularity. That’s when I came across an article about forestalling the singularity through the use of the “peaceful robot overlord” concept. I didn’t want to go down the evil AI route, so this concept allowed me to explore how it could be implemented. How it would interact with society. How society would react to having a peaceful overlord. And also how people would interact with Ix on a personal level. Tannis in particular relies on Ix, both in connection with her investigations, but also emotionally.
Tannis’ POV immerses the reader in a vibrant hurricane. She’s very sensorial person, which is an interesting contrast to her profession. How does Tannis’ trauma play into her character, the story as a whole, and what challenges did you face writing it?
Her trauma is central to the whole story. When I was constructing the plot, and piecing it all together, that was the focal point. All the other characters were built around Tannis, and what she has been through. She was who I thought of first. She is the What If. Although I’m still not telling you what that is.
The challenge was feeling like I understood two key things. How a brain functions. And how psychosis affects people.
Because the ARvekt is grown in from birth and wired directly into the brain, I needed to understand brain functionality. What all the parts are. What they do. What happens if individual areas malfunction. Key parts of the plot are built upon this knowledge, even though it’s not always on the page.
The research into psychosis began with the symptoms, the causes and effects. But I also read a lot of anonymised case notes with real patients, psychological evaluations, and how it manifests into human behaviour. I didn’t feel like I was qualified to write about how the trauma impacted Tannis and her reality, until I’d been able to empathise with how this really affects people.
We love a well-researched world. Tell us about a piece of worldbuilding featured in ARvekt you’re most proud of.
It has to be the layer of augmented reality that Ix controls. I had a lot of fun imagining how I could create a utopian vision of the world through the use of wondrous AR. A world that would appear to be a joy to live in and experience. Where every corner of the city could contain a delight that would brighten your day. I wished I could have added more, but I didn’t want to overdo it.
I do however have some great ideas for the sequel. Especially with visiting different cities and imagining how AR could accentuate and symbolise them.
The book immediately caught the SPSFC’s judges eyes because of its stunning cover but the journey inside earned it a place in the semifinals. It’s been a hell of a ride! What made you join SPSFC and what have you taken from the competition so far?
It was a writer friend who told me about it. And I just thought why the hell not. I was spamming F5 the day that the form opened. As an unknown self-published author, it’s incredibly hard to get visibility and traction. I figured this could be a great way of getting my book noticed. Then I realised that it meant a lot of people would get to read it, and I’ve been nervously awaiting the results ever since.
It’s been really nice feeling part of a community. Not only the writers, but the judges too. Getting to understand exactly how much work and effort you all put into this.
I’ve also enjoyed helping some of the other writers take steps into helping with their own visibility and traction by running a BookFunnel promo to help them find new readers. I definitely want to do that again with all the semi-finalists.
Thanks for the kind words! It’s an honor to read your work, Craig. Personally, the comp’s made me ponder my relationship with stories. What do you think makes a good story? Are there any books that inspired you to discover and/or reinvent your writing?
A mind-bending plot and amazing characters. They’re the two things I enjoy most when reading. That’s what I’ve tried to bring to my own writing. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick has been very inspirational on the head-mashing plot front. And I adore how Dan Abnett melds visceral action with characters you fall in love with. Reading the Gaunt’s Ghosts series is a perfect example of this. Honestly, as far as feeling the pain of character death, George R. Martin has got nothing on Dan Abnett.
I’m very envious of how Iain M. Banks constructed Use of Weapons. And also the way Daniel Keyes deploys Charlie’s syntax in Flowers for Algernon.
Now, we have to let you go, but where can readers find you online and what are your writing plans for the future?
So writing plans first. The sequel to ARvekt is in progress. It’s taken a while to thrash it all out. But I’m really happy with it, and feel it’s a satisfying conclusion to Tannis’s journey. So I’m actively writing that now.
Then there are two more prequels in the Instant Reality series already written. They focus on Starr and Vayne, and go into more detail of their world of brain hacking. I’ll probably look to release them after the ARvekt sequel is out.
Obey Defy, which is a stand-alone dystopian novella, is out at the end of February 2022. That’s like a mish-mash of 1984, Possessor, Logan’s Run and Equilibrium. It’s about body hijacking, control and surveillance. All the fun things.
Then I’ve got another stand-alone dystopian novella written, but it needs editing. That focuses on rebuilding a ravaged world, and the extremes humanity has had to go to in order to do that.
There’s two chapters written of yet another dystopian-feeling novella. I want to do something a bit more radical with the story structure for that one, but I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with my editor yet.
And finally, sorry, I’ll probably put all the newer short stories that are currently exclusive to Patreon into my existing anthology, The Acid Suite. And I’ll re-release it. So, plenty to do!
You can find me on my website here: https://www.craigleagordon.com/
Socially, I’m more active on Twitter than anywhere: https://twitter.com/CraigLeaGordon
And if you want exclusive early access to all my stories, then my Patreon is at: https://www.patreon.com/craigleagordon
Thank you for your time, and happy reading!
Grab a copy of ARvekt by Craig Lea Gordon