This is the first of a series of interviews with “writers I like” ™ – calling it “In the Lighthouse” for no other reason than my love of Pigeon Point Lighthouse:
Simon Royle is the author of TAG, a futuristic science fiction thriller concerned with a conspiracy to eliminate billions of “lesser” humans through a high-tech implanted ID chip. His vision of this not-so-distant future includes a virtual elimination of personal privacy, given up in exchange for the peace and security of a unified world nation. The political underpinnings of this kind of thing are not the main focus of the novel, as might be expected from such loaded terms (these are libertarian nightmare scenarios). Rather, the attention is focused on a hero and his companions, in a classic sci-fi style.
Simon has established a place for himself in the burgeoning phenomena of “indie publishing”, with an excellent website, featuring a comprehensive “indie reviewer” list and posting many interviews with indie authors (one time including myself). In my little series here, I’m trying to avoid the more typical questions, so I came up with the following, which Simon graciously replied to. My thanks to him and best wishes for the future.
1) Env, Envplex and rules of pronunciation
I enjoyed the way you built up a viable, generally realistic future Earth in TAG, with, among other essential elements, the general purpose “Dev” and “DevStick” (devices are certainly taking over the world these days). One thing that kept pestering during my reading was “how are you supposed to pronounce this?”, especially in regards to the words Env and Envplex. I had to split the “Env” into two syllables, as in En-vy. How about you? How do you pronounce them? Are there any other terms in TAG that you want to provide some pronunciation tips on?
I pronounce Env as one word as in Envy without the Y. Envplex, pronounced two syllables, split where you would expect it. Travway same thing – trav and way. Naturally Env is short for environment.
2) Telepaths and where did that come from?
There are a few key telepaths in the novel, but no explanation as far as I can recall. Usually someone mentions “mutants” or “freaks” or something along those lines, but Sharon, Jibril and others seem to be naturally telepathic as a matter of course. Did I miss something or did you just figure what the heck, that’ll come in handy so I’ll just go for it?
I think some (and maybe all) people are telepathic, but have “lost” the skill. Gabriel relearns this skill while with the Waarlpiri tribe who reside in the Arnhem Desert in Northern Australia. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence regarding stories of telepathy across the vast distances of Australia, by Aborigines. Jonah learns that he has this skill through his encounter with Gabriel (without spoiling the plot, I think there are obvious reasons why they both might have the ability). You have to make a judgment call on how much background explanation you want to put into these things, without slowing the pace and bogging the book down. I opted for “draw your own conclusion in many instances. My “back story” for Cochran is that she was trained from the time that she was recognized as a “special” child, by the Oliver Foundation for their nefarious purposes.
3) Sex scenes then and now
Reviewers other than myself have noted the several sex scenes (and some notable descriptions of female body parts in particular), and I had a couple of questions about that. I got a Heinlein feeling about those things and wondered if I was just way off the mark there. Also, I wonder if you have a different feeling about those scenes now that they’re out there and people are reacting to them? I’m sort of squeamish myself – I have only one actual sex scene in all of my books, and it was absolutely essential, the “climax” of the story, as it were – but I know it’s quite common and even expected more or less in movies and books these days, so I wonder if you felt a sort of obligation or if it was something you just like doing and wanted to do for its own sake?
So far, only one reviewer has touched upon the sex scenes as being “unnecessary”; again that is a judgment call. Before I get into the explanation – you are bang on with your Heinlein reference. Love most of what he wrote and followed his rules for writers too – so no more editing of the story for me. Writing sex is hard, but to me it is just another natural part of our world. I didn’t feel as if I was obligated to put sex in the book, I was just telling a story and the characters have sex at that point in the story.
4) Global conspiracies and the role of heroes in fiction and reality
The central plot of TAG is not too far-fetched, it seems to me. Recent history has many examples of organized mass murder, whether for crazed ideological motives (Hitler, Mao) or brutal power politics (Stalin, Saddam Hussein). These are generally conspiratorial in the sense that a smallish group of people are behind it, while rallying the idiot masses through fear or frenzy. I don’t doubt such things will continue to happen, in reality. One thing that seems to be different, in fiction, is the role of the hero. In the real world, there is never a hero who stops the madness. It usually requires a massive amount of bloodshed before all the kinetic energy is spent and general revulsion spits out the villains. I wondered if any particular massicide was a special inspiration to you – I was especially wondering if the Pol Pot massacres had any influence, with your Southeast Asian experiences?
There are to my knowledge two instances where mass killing of “intelligentsia” create a massive problem for the people that were left. One was Stalin’s purging of his officers and the other the “Killing Fields” of Cambodia – and the country is a mess now because of what was done. It will take centuries to recover. In Tag, the central issue and premise is Eugenics. The motive for the Tag is to “improve” the gene pool in one quick strike; an experiment in eugenics on a massive scale. I agree that the idea of a single person, or a small group of people, being able to stop such crimes, is largely the work of fiction.
5) The general and the personal
This is sort of an open-ended question. I have to admit that I liked your ‘Heavy Metal Harvest Dream’ better than TAG, and this is largely because I prefer the personal story to the general. I began writing – back in my twenties – by taking on big social issues (I was heavily influenced at that time by the social sci-fi writers of the 70’s – LeGuin, Brunner, Delaney among others). Of all those books I wrote then, only one survives to this day, and that one only because of certain peculiarities of style which still appeal to me. The rest are in boxes under the bed where they belong. You obviously felt you wanted to take on a huge general story and I think you pulled it off, but I wonder how you personally feel about these two strains of writing, and what your plans are for future writings in both of these directions.
I have many stories that I want to tell, and the range of genre is huge. I have to restrain myself not to start these, but rather to put the ideas in my scrapbook of thoughts for stories and be patient. My first priority is to finish the Zumar Chronicles trilogy and I am aiming to finish K:OS, the next book in the trilogy sometime this year. I write by the seat of my pants, very little outlining, usually just an idea (Heavy Metal was written in two hours and published in four :)) and then sit down and write. When I hit a hole I work the problem until I have a scenario that’s plausible to me and then continue. Like you, Tom, I write because I love telling stories and those stories just come to me; so I cannot say that I am tied to or prefer general or personal, sweeping sagas or detailed vignettes, just what is in my head at the time that I am sitting down to write.