An interview with PJ Manney, author of (R)evolution

pjmanneyPlease welcome PJ Manney to the blog! She kindly stopped by to talk about her brand new book, (R)evolution!
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Will you tell us a bit about (R)evolution and what inspired you to write it?

Peter Bernhardt is a bioengineer who is accused of the worst mass murder in history. His brain technologies are stolen and he’s left for dead. He uncovers a vast conspiracy at the heart of our country, which threatens to enslave the world. In the process, he augments his brain to kick ass, save humanity and question what it means to be human.

I am endlessly fascinated by the topic of human enhancement, but the story really started with a song: “The Boy in the Bubble” by Paul Simon. His song, about the moral ambiguity and unintended consequences of technology and those “millionaires and billionaires,” got a lot right. Peter Bernhardt processes information musically, so he solves problems and remembers things to an internal soundtrack, like my own daughter. That got me thinking… There are dozens of songs that ultimately inspired the story. Forty of them are included in a playlist at the end of the novel.

What do you think makes Dr. Peter Bernhardt such a compelling character?

He’s a good man who is must to do bad things for satisfy his revenge and to save the world from tyranny. Even with the moral ambiguity, we can relate to his desire for revenge. However, he goes to some dark internal places to save humanity and in the process, changes a great deal. He is not the same man by the end of the story. He’s always a surprise.

What kind of research did you do for the book?

(R)EVOLUTION is the product of a remarkable amount of research. I’m a generalist, so I know a little bit about a lot, but I had to know a great deal about certain subjects. Not only did I teach myself neuroscience, but recent cutting-edge research into neuroprosthetics, secret societies, dolphins, Russian history, and the entire oeuvre of The Beatles, among many topics. Trust me, I wallow in that kind of research. I can’t get enough. Thank goodness for the Internet.

When you started the Phoenix Horizon series, did you already know how many books you’d like to write, or did you just decide to see where the narrative took you?

The narrative took me there. When I got to the end of (R)EVOLUTION, it was clear to me that I needed to know what happened next. I didn’t know if I would feel that way. Luckily, my publishers at 47North felt the same way, as do the readers!

You have a background in film and TV, but have you always wanted to write fiction? Will you tell us a bit more about that progression?

I was born dyslexic and dyscalculic. When I was a child, those ridiculous and archaic psychometric tests said, “Whatever you do, don’t become a writer!” So as much as I loved storytelling, I didn’t believe I could write. I spent years developing material with movie and TV writers and often heard their agents say, “You should really try writing yourself.” Some success with TV writing gave me hope. Of course, I idolized the SF/F and thriller writers I grew up reading. And I had a story I wanted to tell that was best served as a novel. That became my goal: to tell my story as well as I could and hope others would enjoy it, too.

You’re a futurist and you’ve published articles on empathy and the future. There are a ton of books and films that offer a vision of a dystopian future, but what kind of future do you see for us (or hope to see)?

I’m not a fan of dystopian fiction. I’m a pragmatist-realist-optimist at heart and I don’t think it serves humanity to think it’s all going to end badly, no matter what we do. It’s also not indicative of reality. Throughout history, things get worse if seen one way… and get better if seen another. Simultaneously. There are very big changes ahead that will make us reconsider how we live, what a society should look like, and how we define “human.” It’s up to us to decide which changes are beneficial and which aren’t and how we can best optimize our future.

What authors or books have influenced you the most?

Alexandre Dumas knew how to tell a rollicking story that somehow taught an awful lot about history, politics, power, relationships, and the connections between them at the same time. As a big picture writer myself, that’s inspiring. He also wrote the best revenge story ever in The Count of Monte Cristo. In Trevanian’s masterpiece Shibumi, he de- and reconstructed the thriller genre better than anyone, while making it a parody. It’s an entertaining high-wire act I have yet to see done better. And finally, I grew up on a diet of SF writers who dared to describe fascinating visions of the future of humanity. Mary Shelley, Theodore Sturgeon, Daniel Keyes, Robert Heinlein, Frederik Pohl, Alfred Bester and many others are still my touchstones.

If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?

It would be a tie between John Crowley’s Little, Big and Ken Grimwood’s Replay. Little, Big was such a lyrical surprise, multiplied by the fact I grew up in the Hudson Valley where it takes place. It was like going home through fantasy and you can only be startled and moved by the punchline once. I read Replay as I turned 40, close to the age the protagonist dies (trust me, that’s not a spoiler). It’s the greatest SF novel about mid-life and finding meaning ever written. It was shattering the first time and should be mandatory middle-aged reading for those of a speculative (or not) bent.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading a lot of non-fiction research for my sequels, (ID)ENTITY and (CON)SCIENCE, like American Nations by Colin Woodard, War and Peace and War by Peter Turchin and Future Crimes by Marc Goodman. I’m also catching up with the Ramez Naam’s Nexus series.

What’s next for you?

The sequels to (R)EVOLUTION: (ID)ENTITY and (CON)SCIENCE. Those will keep me busy for a while!

Keep up with PJ: Twitter


About (R)evoltion:
Scientist Peter Bernhardt has dedicated his life to nanotechnology, the science of manipulating matter on the atomic scale. As the founder of Biogineers, he is on the cusp of revolutionizing brain therapies with microscopic nanorobots that will make certain degenerative diseases become a thing of the past. But after his research is stolen by an unknown enemy, seventy thousand people die in Las Vegas in one abominable moment. No one is more horrified than Peter, as this catastrophe sets in motion events that will forever change not only his life but also the course of human evolution.

Peter’s company is torn from his grasp as the public clamors for his blood. Desperate, he turns to an old friend, who introduces him to the Phoenix Club, a cabal of the most powerful people in the world. To make himself more valuable to his new colleagues, Peter infuses his brain with experimental technology, exponentially upgrading his mental prowess and transforming him irrevocably.

As he’s exposed to unimaginable wealth and influence, Peter’s sense of reality begins to unravel. Do the club members want to help him, or do they just want to claim his technology? What will they do to him once they have their prize? And while he’s already evolved beyond mere humanity, is he advanced enough to take on such formidable enemies and win?

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