I’m thrilled to have Matthew De Abaitua on the blog today to talk about his new book, The Destructives!
Also, courtesy of the lovely folks at Angry Robot, we’ve got 5 copies of The Destructives to give away, and it’s open worldwide!
Will you tell us a bit about The Destructives and what inspired you to write it?
The Destructives is about what happens after artificial intelligence. Or, as it is known in my novel, emergence. Emergence causes a social and economic collapse called The Seizure. But the emergences themselves help humanity recover, and then they abandon the Earth for a megastructure in a solar orbit called The University of the Sun.
The novel follows a recovering addict called Theodore Drown who is working as a lecturer at the University of the Moon. Theodore is followed everywhere by an emergence called Dr Easy, who is studying one human life from beginning to end. Theodore is asked to investigate an archive from just before the Seizure, and what he discovers leads to him to a point at which he can either save humanity or stay true to his nature and destroy it.
The idea came from watching Don Draper in Mad Men. A self-sabotaging, self-created individual working in an industry that was predatory. I wanted to do Mad Men in Space.
What makes Theodore such a compelling character? Why do you think readers will root for him?
Theodore is raised by his grandmother Alex Drown, a character who appeared in my two previous SF novels The Red Men and IF THEN. Alex is an expert in AI and dealing with augmented individuals. She takes in her grandson because her daughter does not survive her addictions. When we meet Theodore he is working on the moon and in recovery from his addiction to a drug called Weirdcore. The side effects of weirdcore include emotional deadening, and in this state, Theodore carved spirals into his cheeks.
These were inspired by Bester’s Gully Foyle with his facial tattoos. Across the course of the novel, Theodore is learning to feel again.
As for whether readers root for him, well the last third of the novel throws that all into question.
What kind of research did you do for the book, and what is your writing process like?
The Destructives traduces a theory of consciousness by psychiatrist and neuroscientist Giulio Tononi of integrated information. I interpret this in the novel to infer that consciousness of lower levels of integration appears throughout the universe but it’s only when it reaches a particular quantity that we think of it as being a human property. So when Theodore takes weirdcore, he thrums along at a lower level of consciousness. Or when the AIs emerge, they do so through a process of integration and have no creator as such.
I wanted to set a story in the solar system because we know so much more about it then when I was a boy. High-res photos of the surface of the moon, and the geysers of Europa: the 21st century observations of the solar system helped me get into the terrifying but sublime landscapes out there.
Have you always wanted to write fiction?
I like writing a lot. I wrote a non-fiction book about camping that was a great pleasure to research and assemble, and when you fashion something that is true, you incur responsibilities that can be both wonderful and terrifying.
But fiction really thrills me. For what I can get away with making up. The willful strangeness of it. And how, if you have been thorough in your imaginings, then your fiction is like a layer of sweat on a place and a people.
What’s one of the first things that you can remember writing?
Easy. I wrote two stories when I was 7 and 11 and they were both published in a small magazine. One was about being shrunk and then running around a train set. The other one was a long science fiction story based on a Commodore 64 game called Galactic Trader. I was very encouraged in my writing by a primary school teacher and that stayed with me.
What authors have influenced you the most, in writing, and in life?
My first great influence is Alan Moore. I’ve read his stories all my life and have been lucky to interview him three times, conversations that helped me commit to my writing. Will Self has influenced me in writing and in life too. In writing, I took from him the satirical conceit that can power a story. In life, I worked with him as a young man and received generous lessons in the literary life.
My other significant influences in writing are Saul Bellow’s prose, Neal Stephenson’s Cryptomnicon, Michael Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time and every single thing about Ursula Le Guin.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
I get as much pleasure out of re-reading as I do reading. Although I enjoyed William Gibson’s The Peripheral so much first time out, I doubt I could match that a second time.
What are you currently reading?
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Late to it, I know. And I’m about to start Charlie Jane Anders’ debut novel All the Birds in the Sky.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I have published my second and third novels only seven months apart. That may sound like I’m a hack but really I am writing out of years of research and notes made since I published my first novel The Red Men back in 2007. I know what I want to write next and am beginning that process.
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About The Destructives:
Theodore Drown is a destructive. A recovering addict to weirdcore, he’s keeping his head down lecturing at the university of the Moon. Twenty years after the appearance of the first artificial intelligence, and humanity is stuck. The AIs or, as they preferred to be called, emergences have left Earth and reside beyond the orbit of Mercury in a Stapledon Sphere known as the university of the sun. The emergences were our future but they chose exile. All except one. Dr Easy remains, researching a single human life from beginning to end. Theodore’s life.
One day, Theodore is approached by freelance executive Patricia to investigate an archive of data retrieved from just before the appearance of the first emergence. The secret living in that archive will take him on an adventure through a stunted future of asylum malls, corporate bloodrooms and a secret off-world colony where Theodore must choose between creating a new future for humanity or staying true to his nature, and destroying it.