What are 3 things readers should know about your world in Countermind?
- It’s pretty much your standard near-future, post-privacy dystopia. You know the drill: Secrets are illegal and all communications are monitored by an all-seeing cryptofascist government. Cheery!
- The twist is that telepaths also live in this world, having first emerged onto the scene shortly after World War II. About one out of every million people is a telepath. Of course, the government wants to track, monitor, and regulate them, too. Fugitive and criminal psychics are handled by Countermind, an elite agency of nontelepaths trained in a classified school of “counter-psychic” techniques.
- Those are the two big ideas, though there’s plenty more going on as well. There’s neuroscience and conspiracies and quantum physics and video games, and other, weirder stuff I don’t want to spoil. I treated Countermind like it would be the last book I’d ever write: I threw in every crazy idea I thought would work with the story rather than save it for later.
Share 3 things you love about your characters in Countermind.
- Mostly how alive the characters felt to me. I hardly had to do any work building Alan Izaki and Jack Smith into being, I think because I was able to channel parts of myself into them that don’t normally get expressed. The nice thing about fiction is that you can give free reign to more extreme behaviors than you’d permit yourself in real life: Alan is my angry and hot-tempered side, while Smith is my cool and conniving side. (It’s no surprise they don’t get along.)
- I was worried about whether all the craziness of the plot would drown out the characters’ voices, but that doesn't seem to have happened. From the first scene I wrote, when Alan is breaking into a pawn shop and Smith tries to arrest him, both of their plotlines were self-directed. Events from that point forward were driven by their efforts to outmaneuver each other, with neither man aware of the larger forces in play.
- Beyond these two jackasses, I really wanted to make Countermind more of an ensemble novel. Everyone needed their own motives and skills and regrets and arcs, and they often worked at cross-purposes. When characters run wild like this, plotting a story becomes less like moving chess pieces and more like chasing cats with a camera. This was another case of me being more ambitious than wise, especially for a first novel, but I think it worked out and I love all their stories.
What are three of your favorite science fiction novels?
- A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle) was probably the most important science fiction I read when I was little. It showed me that you can marry high-concept ideas to a human core. The best science fiction is still, at its heart, drama. That’s why, with all the crazy ideas in my book, I tried to make sure the focus was on the characters.
- Neuromancer (William Gibson) has been discussed so much that it’s hard to think of an original way to praise it. It gave birth to a new genre that blurred the lines between thrillers and science fiction, between humans and machines. Countermind, a sci-fi thriller that uses telepathy as an allegory for information technology and privacy issues, wouldn't be possible without Gibson.
- Trouble and Her Friends (Melissa Scott) is another novel that made my own story possible. Scott showed me that you can have cyberpunk with badass queer protagonists and you don't have to qualify or explain why, and that you can maintain all the grit, noir, and jadedness (and hope) of mainstream dystopian fic. This was a liberating, exciting lesson to learn, and I'm grateful for it.