Hello all and welcome to the seventh in our series of Author Interview Plunges. Today’s guest is science fiction author and talented artist Toby Weston. Toby’s current titles include SINGLUARITY’S CHILDREN VOLUME I – DENIAL and VOLUME II – DISRUPTION (you can read an excerpt beneath the interview). Everyone, please stand up and give Toby a big round of applause.
Toby Weston is a British author and technologist. He is an optimistic futurist and writes in the genre of hard science fiction, exploring dystopian, utopian and metaphysical themes. His work weaves action, adventure and philosophy and is frequently funny, often irreverent and occasionally bawdy. His books are grounded in science, but he is prepared to take excursions into the fantastic; exploring artificial intelligence, animal consciousness, quantum ontology, and Vedic mysticism.
Toby and I talked about the future of publishing, how do you find a book worth reading, why there’s a shortage of good stuff out there, the pros and cons of going to a traditional publishing house, how writing is like painting, using an Advanced Reader Team, why Amazon reviews are important but are increasingly untrustworthy, how a one star review can tell you a lot, about changing who we are as a species.
You can find links to Toby’s current books in his Singularity’s Children series on the right or at the bottom of this post (depending on your device). Toby has completed Singularity’s Children Volume III – Conflict and is at work on the as yet unnamed Volume IV in the series, something we discuss in the interview.
You’ll also find links to Toby’s sites underneath the video. And please comment both pro and pro. Okay, con, too, if something really peeves you.
Excerpt from Singularity’s Children Volume II – Disruption
The pattern was relentless: a click, followed by an irregular rattling whirring, that went on for minutes. It put the mind on edge, like listening to a voice when phlegm catches erratically on its words, wincing at each warble, wishing for a cough to clear the congestion.
No noise made it in from the city outside; yet, for a soulless, hermetically isolated hotel room, it was incongruously cold and draughty. Erratic gusts from the air conditioning fluttered the curtains occasionally, letting the neon colours from the city’s ubiquitous visual insanity seep through. Footsteps and voices from the corridor broke the silence or joined the whirring, depending on the air conditioning’s position in its eternally looping cycle.
Ben was willing himself to sleep, but each click or happy chuckle from returning guests in the hotel corridor was seized by his jet-lagged brain as an excuse to rev up back to full wakefulness. It was late. As the hours ticked by, the chance that he would not sleep at all increased, raising the stakes and throttling up his anxiety.
He looked over at his Spex lying on the table by the bed, set to show the time, two sans serif numerals shining out of each lens. He stared mindlessly at the faintly glowing symbols. It was 3.03 am. The last number flipped to a four, then a five…
Something on the bedside table moved suddenly and he started. In a sudden panic, he called for illumination. The room’s lights came on in time for him to see little spiky legs scuttle across the surface of the table and out of sight. A few moments later, he saw them again, scooting across the hotel room floor.
“This in Benjamin Baphmet, room 4182. There’s a cockroach in my room.”
“Oh, so sorry to hear that, Sir!” said a female voice. “We can move you immediately.”
“Its three in the morning. I don’t want to get up in the middle of the night and move bloody rooms.”
“I understand. I can send up a boy with some spray…”
“Are you a human?” Ben asked impatiently.
“Yes, Sir, I am. Is there anything else I can do for you, Sir?”
“Really? You don’t sound it.”
“Yes, Sir, really. I am Hualing.”
“Okay then, Hualing, please pass along the message to your supervisor that I will not stay in a hotel that is infested with insects. I will check out tomorrow.”
“I am really sorry to hear that, Sir, but I will pass on the message to my manager.”
“Yeah, well then, I will try to get back to sleep! You are shitting on my day here, Hualing. Do you realise that?”
Ben hung up before he could hear the remainder of Hualing’s sincere-sounding apology.
He probably managed to get some sleep between four and six, but it was difficult to tell. Eventually, a gentle clicking from his Spex terminated limbo, and he got up out of bed, showered and got dressed.
His auto was just pulling up through the feather gate as he stepped out into the multi-storey atrium. The gate’s fronds parted to let the vehicle through, sealing again behind it. He hadn’t checked out. He couldn’t be bothered. He guessed all the hotels in Shanghai would have cockroaches, anyway. Ben didn’t like the city much, but it was not an opinion grounded in specifics. It was more a default racist position, emergent from a privileged traditional upbringing and an inherent superiority complex. He would admit that it was cleaner and worked better than European cities—the feather gate, designed to keep out polluted air, was more habit than necessity now—but he was a product of the old school, and his institutionalised cultural narcissism wouldn’t let him acknowledge that Çin was booming.
Corrupt, centralised totalitarian regimes had proven to be the most competitive at the game of eco-apocalypse. The world had spiralled down towards a financial black hole, but Çin’s centralised power structures had enabled the country to skirt the event horizon. Ben knew only a little of the brutal measures the population had endured. Farmers had crops confiscated, first-tier cities suffered terrible rationing, and areas deemed non-strategic or politically uncooperative were left to fend for themselves. Elites and strategic human resources were relocated. Refugees were shot. Millions starved. But the ruthless application of herd before individual nationalism had allowed the country to slingshot out the other side of the Great Global Contraction and it was, once again, the powerhouse of the world’s economy.
The Forwards had tried to adopt the model, but were too squeamish to make the tough calls. Instead of balls-out violent oppression, they opted for media-delivered pacification and token-provided welfare.
Ben got in and the car slid into traffic. They stayed above ground for a few hundred metres, shuffling intricately, until their auto had found, and magnetically joined with, a few other vehicles going in the same direction. Then, all the autos, arranged as a single mini-train, disappeared into one of the narrow, single-lane tunnels. While the car flashed along underground towards BHJ’s office, Ben checked his messages and caught up on his feeds. Avicons and emoti slid across his eyes, while a soothing feminine voice spoke through his earbuds.
#License Extension @A3_Afaf:
Ben hazrat, I humbly report to you that with the assistance of Alla¦h and solta¦n-e bani¦ a¦dam, we are making strong progress. The WTO decision to uphold the Mosquito’s right to express their heirloom genome allows us full autonomy to negotiate the terms with New Jersey and New Orleans. May it please Alla¦h Exalted that the high incidence of Malaria and Dengue in the bordering jurisdictions provides us with a dominant negotiation platform for establishing a no-bite agreement. I fully anticipate a successful resolution and your role or that of your colleagues should not be overlooked. Proclaim the glad tidings to your father.
May all the lives of your family be prolonged.
Adil Afif Al-Afaf
#FRIEND_SPOTTER_FILTER>@keith.wilson_9 #OurBoysDown @TheBritNewsPaper:
Sixteen British soldiers were killed when ZKF terrorists attacked a military transport in a disputed area of Eastern Osmaniye yesterday. One injured soldier was reported captured and another, identified as Keith Wilson [@keith.wilson_9], is still missing.
The attack came amid demands of increased ZKF autonomy, with strong rejections coming from both the Caliphate and the Osmanian Empire. There has recently been an eruption of violence across the area. A…
Ben had only been paying partial attention, but when his Spex tagged a mention of his former employee and old school chum’s name, his eyes flicked back into focus, and he scrolled back up to re-read the article. Keith was missing, presumed dead—the stupid arse. However, despite his instinctive reaction to glibly hate on Keith’s assumed incompetence, Ben felt a fleeting unfamiliar pang of loss.
A faint, dull noise, too refined to call a clunk, indicated the cars in front and behind had detached. Out of the back windscreen, Ben watched the lights of the vehicle recede gently. A soft acceleration and a change in the geometry of the lights streaming by outside indicated his car had drifted into a side tunnel.
He was angry and tired. He didn’t like travelling out to the branch offices. He had once enjoyed it; he had loved lording it over provincial BHJ peons, but even this simple pleasure had lost its charm. Also, he suffered from the growing realisation that Shanghai had grown well past the point where it could be considered a minor franchise. Shaun, his one-time assistant and old school victim, now ran BHJ’s fastest-growing region.
The market for brainwashing software in Çin had remained protected until recently. Compliant media and Astroturfed grass roots nationalism, in combination with shock and awe domestic oppression, had served the state well, limiting appetite for more modern methods. More recently, though, a prolonged and heroic effort at high-level courting from BHJ had thawed the ice somewhat. Through Shaun’s expert supervision, the package of analysis modules and media avatars had been finessed and localised, ready to woo Wu and his committee. The presentations at a series of workshops, arranged and sponsored by BHJ at some of London’s most luxurious locations, had been a runaway success with the people who mattered in the Party. Some of the inscrutable octogenarians had even chortled and nodded approvingly at the punch lines suggested by BHJ’s Virtual Media Sages.
Fucking Shaun had hit a home run!
The car slowed, the forward inertia counteracted perfectly by the rising incline. The tunnel lights changed from a blur to a succession of flashes; they emerged and merged with the surface vehicles, elegantly matching the reduced speeds of the above ground traffic in a ballet of kinetic mechanics.
Had he been drinking, there would have been barely a ripple in his glass. At this thought, his hand was already reaching for the cabinet, but the sun blasting through the haze and the tinted windows reminded him it was only eight-thirty in the morning.
It wasn’t raining, so Ben let the car drop him outside the building rather than plunging them into the basement carpark. BHJ had the thirty-second and thirty-fourth floors of the sixty-storey building, barely a poplar in a skyline of redwoods.
Ben resented being made to wait outside his father’s office. Shaun was inside with an important delegation of officials. Although Ben had arrived only fifteen minutes late, a good performance he had judged, the meeting had already started. He had been about to open the door and barge into the inner office, but the receptionist—polite, pretty, and pig-headed—had refused to be persuaded and had blocked the door and then shown him to one of the deep, leather seats.
When he was offered a drink, he asked for green tea, despite hating it. While he was waiting, he did more reading about Keith and his unit. It sounded bloody awful; again, he felt a pang of empathy and, even more inexplicably, the taste of jealousy.
The door opened and Shaun stepped out. He glanced at Ben—not a trace of emotion showing on his face—then back to the smiling cluster of Çin government officials who were emerging. Ben’s father was last out. He looked over at Ben and, seeing him, shook his head almost imperceptibly. As a gesture, it barely registered, but conveyed a megaton payload of disappointment. Shaun introduced Ben, referring to both his corporate title and familial relationship to BHJ’s CEO. A big round of smiling, bowing, and handshaking ensued. One of the officials noticed Ben’s pink MinxyMouse socks and laughed, making some remark that was left untranslated, but set off a smattering of tittering. Ben’s Spex claimed not to have understood, so he just smiled and joined in the laughter.
Shaun excused himself and led the group to the elevator. More smiling and bowing while the door closed.
George turned his back and stalked into his office, turning his head a fraction to check Ben was following.
“What the hell is wrong with you boy?” The door had barely shut.
“What? Being a bit late for a meeting? Fifteen minutes? Come on, Dad, it’s not the end of the world!”
“The end of the world was years ago, and it made us a lot of money!” George had raised his voice, recapturing a trace of the destructive force it had carried when he was a young man. Now he was forced to cough. It was a dry hacking which went on far too long before, red in the face, with watering eyes, he finally dislodged the mucal irritant.
His body’s weakness seemed to annoy him further. He sat behind the large desk, recovering, resting his elbows on its dark wood and resting his dappled forehead on his translucent fingers. With his bulging, veined head, Ben was struck by how his father looked simultaneously astonishingly old, but also foetal. George looked up with his cold, ancient eyes.
“The stakes are higher this time. Do you get any of what is going on out there, lad?” he said, waving vaguely at the door.
“Life? Recovery?” Ben tried.
“War.” His father stared at him until Ben had to look away. His eyes escaped through the window, off over the glass towers projecting into the low-hanging, orange-tainted morning haze. “It’s war. Us against them. Do you know who us is, or shall I spell that out, too?”
“The company, BHJ, the shareholders, right?” replied Ben. “It’s a safe bet you don’t mean me, your family!”
“I mean us, the Haves!”
“Oh, Christ, that is crass, even for you, Papi,” Ben said, feigning a childish voice.
“Ben, you need to finally understand this stuff. Look at your stupid socks!”
Ben did. MinxyMouse, in blue, against a cornflower-pink background. They had been a present from an ex, before she became an ex. Perhaps, they were a little too Dress Down Friday/Office Christmas Party for an important government meeting.
“Sit down!” shouted George. “I feel like I am explaining the birds and the bees again.”
“I must have missed the first time,” replied Ben, “because all I remember of the birds and the bees was my biology teacher running out of the class in tears.”
“Shut up, Ben!” The older man smacked his flat palm down onto the table with a colossal clap. Ben was genuinely shocked; his father so rarely lost his cool.
George had stood to shout, and now abruptly sat down again, breathing heavily. “My God, if your grandfather was here!”
Ben noted the pulsing vein at his father’s temple and the tremor in his hands.
Eventually he continued. “He would never have had a conversation like this with me. You are right, this is crass. Such things should be implied. We grew up knowing the terms of our privilege. But I admit it is different now; all the subtlety is gone. Everything blatant. I can concede it’s partly the Sages. They can’t seem to cope with ambiguity. But you should be able to. You are a Baphmet, so here goes…”
Ben quietly sat in one of the chairs facing his father. He was only partly following the words, too preoccupied by the old man’s sunken face and mottled skin to pay full attention.
“First, it’s not fair. There is no such thing. Second, there is no way to opt out. Third, you may take what you can.” George paused, waiting for something from his son. “That’s it. So what follows?”
“Yeah, I get it. You make deals. You make sure you belong to the stronger team, and you try to win. Beat the competition. Win the deals.”
“Yes, but why, Ben?”
“To get the biggest pile of money?”
“But a fool and his money are soon parted.”
“Are you calling me a fool?”
“A fool is only the dumbest person in the room. Today, you were a fool. Or would have been, if you’d even made it into the room! It’s relative. Take Shaun; he was your assistant once, wasn’t he? And now, he’s my most successful VP. All because he is smarter than you.”
“Oh shit, that is cold. Why are you rubbing my face in that now?” Ben said, focusing on his father’s face again.
“Because he is smarter than you; he is better at his job. If you are not careful, he will take your—as you so crudely put it—large pile of money.”
“Are you threatening me or something? You’re going to disown me and give fucking Shaun my inheritance?”
“What do you think? Should I?”
“Because I am your son.”
“Right.” The old man stopped and held Ben’s indignant gaze. “That’s not very fair to Shaun, though, is it? I bet he is not entirely thrilled knowing he’s ten times smarter than you, but will never get my Mayfair mansion or a yacht in Monaco.”
“Yeah, poor sap.” Ben chuckled, relieved he wasn’t getting cut out of the will after all.
“But he will suck it up,” continued George. “There is no other way. Everything is stressed to breaking, and everything and everywhere already belongs to someone. Even the things that will exist have been sold dozens of times before they even get produced. Look at that rock. Still billions of miles away up in space and people are already trading its metals. Stand still for a second and someone hungrier and smarter will take everything you have put to the side.”
“Dad, I know this. Maybe you were too wrapped up in Shaun’s stellar rise, but I have done my share of kicking arse and pulling in deals.”
“I know; you were always good at sales. But that’s not enough anymore. Intelligence is a now a commodity we sell in bulk, not on the golf course or in upmarket restaurants. This is the game changer. Our Sages are intelligence by yard of server rack. That’s why Çin is so chummy, because of the control our Sages offer.”
“Yeah, and I do get that,” said Ben, using his infomercial voice. “That’s what we do. We sell Sages and Avatars to governments to help their citizens make the right choices.”
“Exactly, and the next generation we have waiting, once we persuade our slanty-eyed friends to ignore the UN and change their laws, will make all people into fools. You control these AIs, you control the people.”
“But you just said that’s us, right? We control the Sages. I don’t get it. If it’s war, who is the enemy?”
“Haven’t you been listening? The crowds of hackers, the Mesh, the Clans, FAC, stupid Niato and his fairy-tale Atlantis. All those idiots out there, building their out of control anarchist internet! The damn Have Nots, Ben!”
It was quite an admission.
“I don’t think Niato counts as a have not, Dad.”
“Might as bloody well be. Anyway, he’s worse. A damn class traitor standing with the rest of them. There will always be poor people, Ben.”
“That’s,” said Ben, making quote signs with his fingers, “King Niato’s point, though, isn’t it? There doesn’t have to be. That’s why they call it luxury communism.”
“Christ! You believe that clap-trap? They just want to take what we have and share it out amongst all their long-haired friends.”
Ben managed not to roll his eyes. “Okay. I will try harder. I get it. Look, I know I joke around, Dad, but I see what the stakes are. Maybe one day, I’ll find a nice girl…”
“Stop it,” George said, interrupting. “I am not your mother. Let’s finish this off. I have another meeting in ten minutes. Last piece of your lesson for today. This is the final new deal, because the Sages will run everything soon; whoever sets up the system sets the terms. This is the war I am talking about, and believe me, there will be a war, and we are going to win it. The only thing that matters now is making sure that, when this all works through, we end up with our rightful share.”
“The biggest slice.”
“Unless you want a smaller one? I am sure Shaun would appreciate a piece of yours.”
The son watched his father remove a handkerchief from an inner pocket and wipe away a chunky fleck of pink, marbled phlegm that the earlier violent hacking had ejaculated onto the desk’s dark green leather blotter.
“No, you are right, Dad,” Ben said. “I get it now.”