SciFi Month day 26, time for another exciting log from yours truly, the “IT guy” down in engineering. I’ve just come from turning a laptop on and off again and resetting a network hub so I’m feeling pretty good about my work here on the SFM spaceship. Indispensable.
Today, I’m heading over to the most important department on the ship, the Speculative Enhancement Department. These brilliant minds are in charge of extrapolating mission conflicts and resolutions, handling crew interactions, along with essentials necessary to the social success of the overall exploration mission. Some of these essentials may include
illegally sneaking alcohol onto the ship. I do not confirm or deny whether they’re doing a fantastic job at that too.
We have with us Craig Hallam, author of many exciting books but highlighted among them, for our celebratory scifi month, stands Oshibana Complex, a cyberpunk novella that reflects on gender, individuality, capitalism, and expression of identity.
Keep scrolling to read more about this intriguing story and Craig’s work!
Meet Craig Hallam
Craig Hallam is an author whose works span all corners of Fantasy, Sci-fi and Horror.
Since his debut in the British Fantasy Society journal in 2008, his tales have nestled twixt the pages of magazines and anthologies the world over. His Gothic Fantasy novel, Greaveburn, Steampunk trilogy, The Adventures of Alan Shaw, and the dark short stories of Not Before Bed have filled the imaginations of geeks, niche and alternative readers with their character-driven style and unusual plots.
Recently taking a short break from fiction, Craig has chronicled his experiences of living with depression and anxiety in Down Days, a blog followed by thousands of people across the globe that will be released in book form in August 2019. Now, back in the fiction saddle, he’s completed a cyberpunk novella featuring non-binary, gender neutral characters in a world where reality and virtual are blurred and humanity reaches toward the final stage of its evolution.
He hopes to see you hovering above one of his pages in the near future.
- Welcome, Craig! I’m honored to have you reporting for duty on the SciFi Month spaceship. Welcome aboard and please, make yourself at home. Just be careful with the alien plants, they have an appetite. As a way of introduction, can you ask the main character(s) of Oshibana Complex to describe you?
Hi! Thank you so much for having me. I never thought of what I’d actually be like in Shika-One CIty. This is tough!
Xev would probably say that we’re very similar. We’re both happy to keep our heads down as much as possible unless something stands against our principles and then we’re wolverines.
Marsh would say I’m too hasty, take too many risks and should keep my trap shut.
Teks would probably just shake es head in that fatherly worry way.
- Oshibana Complex is described as “an experimental, philosophical science fiction adventure about friendship, reality, and the final evolution of our species”. How have you approached these subjects and themes in the novel? What do you believe the final evolution of our species looks like?
I’ve always believed that the best characters aren’t huge easy-to-spot archetypes. And that characters should be subtle and nuanced. So I wanted to start there. Not every friendship is between people who are similar, either. I have a firm belief that the best relationships are when two people can grow from knowing each other. That’s what I wanted from Xev and Marsh. They’re so different, but they kind of need each other.
The nature of reality has always been fascinating to me. The more we learn about the universe, the less I’m convinced that reality is a solid construct that can be defined. Most of what happens in Oshibana Complex is about perspective and making your own reality.
Everything is filtered through the characters’ Access, which displays shams (a little like holograms that play only in your head) not only over buildings but over people as well, you can look like anything, be anything, just with a trick of technology. They also immerse themselves in the game, where they can create their own modules to overlay over the virtual world. All of this is as real to them as the table I’m sitting at is to me. Of course, until someone annoys the city and their Access is revoked. Then a new reality produces itself.
And finally, evolution. I honestly believe that the human race is it’s own worst enemy. I doubt I’m alone in that idea. But what I really wanted to focus on in Oshibana Complex was the idea that our traditions and out-dated social constructs are what hold us back.
Our assumptions about how people should behave, what a relationship looks like, how we should dress and act. All of these things are just made up by one kind of person and others obey. Even though many problems with gender, sexuality and race have wiped away in Oshibana Complex, there are still some things that hold humanity back i.e. what society should look like.
People should work, there should be a hierarchy, money needs to exist. And the people who designed the city’s AI, Euripides, were so blinkered by their own traditions that they stopped the programme from saving humanity. Until Xev sets it free.
- How did you take the real-life landscapes of gender and explore them from a futuristic perspective? Do you think non-binary genders will continue to evolve, helping us find new ways to explore our shifting identities and society itself?
I honestly think that an ungendered society is the only way forward for humanity. Until we get rid of these arbitrary constructs that we’ve made for ourselves, we can never really start looking to the bigger picture things. I think there should only be one category of person, sexuality, gender, or race: the self. That one individual, exactly who they are, and that people should be able to form that idea of themselves and evolve it however they want.
That was why the characters in Oshibana Complex have shrugged off some of these things already. It was my way of showing that it can be done. And also the writing itself, being non-gendered, was my way of showing people that a story can be free of gender expectations and still be a good story. Readers can relate to a character, and a person, because of their personality and their actions without having to know what’s in their underwear.
- How does the book discuss the concept of individuality, and how that’s affected by both our appearance and a society that standardizes and monetizes it?
The main way is that every person in Shika-One City is a synth (a clone) and there are only a few DNA templates still in existence. That means that most people in the city are biologically the same person. Seeing your own face on the street isn’t only a possibility but an hourly occurrence.
That has a profound effect on the individual and their self-worth. If anyone can be physically you, and a new you can be made with ease if you should be shredded (a punishment which is exactly how it sounds) then what are you worth? The answer that most people would give is “nothing”. But Xev’s actions show that once everything else is taken away, someone’s character is what really matters.
Also, there are still some elements of standardised appearance in Shika-One City. They are usually to do with the workplace and therefore money (or XP in the case of Oshibana Complex). This is one of the ideas that humanity can’t seem to get past and I wanted to show that the future, unfortunately, might still be that way even if the idea of what money IS has changed. That’s why uniforms are still worn in work places. Everything about your individuality, your skills and personality, are stripped away and made blank. Then, in Xev’s case, a sham is laid over you to adhere to each customer’s preferences and e can only speak in company policy scripts.
That removal of a person’s humanity by rendering them less than an individual has been done in slavery and propaganda throughout history and still exists today. They make the person a commodity, like a cabbage or a bicycle. Xev breaks away from that, after the Access is taken away.
- You’ve previously authored gothic fantasy, steampunk, and dark short stories. What was it about cyberpunk that called to you?
I was actually into Cyberpunk before Steampunk. Growing up in the 80s was a great time for music, movies and books that showed that darker vision of the future and asked important philosophical questions about where we are going next as a species. That kind of question fascinates me so I guess it was inevitable that I would loop around to Cyberpunk and start asking my own questions at some point.
Everything I write has realistic characters who don’t always do the right thing or get what they want, a representation of some aspect of mental health (a subject close to my heart), and a little philosophy. Cyberpunk is a great genre to write that kind of thing.
- Thinking about your expansive range of genres had me curious; what are some of your inspirations and how have they influenced your eclectic writing?
Absolutely everything. Movies, music (especially music), things I’ve read, conversations I’ve overheard. I’m a bit of an obsessive hobby collector and I’m not a fan of rewatching, rereading or whatever. That means I’m constantly looking for new things to try. I like the plot to come first, then the character and then I think about what kind of world would suit the story. There are some stories that I just couldn’t tell in Victorian England or out in a Gothic Fantasy City. And similar to our discussion about individuality and categorisation earlier, I would hate to be the kind of author who only wrote in one genre, one series or whatever. I’d get bored rigid.
- You’ve chronicled your experiences with depression and anxiety in Down Days, which started as a prolific blog and then developed into a book. Why did you decide to publish it as a book, how was the process of this transformation, and what do you hope readers will take from reading it?
To be honest, I only wrote it for me. It was a kind of catharsis. I use my writing to get my emotions out and really explore my psyche so it seemed like a good idea. But then I let my partner read it and all of a sudden I realised that if I wanted people to be open about their mental health and for the stigma to reduce, I had to be the change I wanted to see.
I know, that sounds a bit…fortune cookie. But I wanted people to read Down Days and firstly feel less alone, secondly feel like they might have the ability to talk to their loved ones or doctor about what they were experiencing. And in order to do that, I had to share my story and hopefully let them know it was ok.
To my extreme surprise, people liked it and it hit the bestseller list in the US and UK. I’ve had so many messages from people who have said that it helped and that’s the best reward an author can ever have.
- Lastly, do you have any other projects in the making you can tell us about?
Ugh. Far too many hahaha. I’m currently working on the last book in my Steampunk trilogy, The Adventures of Alan Shaw. I’ve also written a comic book about a pair of dimension-hopping heroines which is with the artist as we speak. Other than that, I’m planning the next set of books. I have a few ideas for short gothic novellas set in my home county of Yorkshire and a Dark Fantasy series as well after I wrote Emi and had an absolute blast writing it.
- Definitely some things to look forward to 🙂
Get your copy of Oshibana Complex at…
Add it on…
If you have the means to, consider buying me a ko-fi in support of the blog and my work!