Tracked and Hacked. A source found dead—his skull sawed open by NeuroChip vandals in a Dallas back alley. The sole witness? Reporter Ryker Morris, whose stubborn resistance to a different kind of chip—the globally mandated IDChip—cost him his job, apartment, and credibility. Ryker flees the gruesome scene, a young, homeless technophobe disappearing into a fast-paced city of augmented working stiffs and sexy chipped socialites.
But Ryker’s reprieve doesn’t last long. Under orders from a local hacker and tipped off by an invisible tracking device, the vandals kidnap Ryker’s best friend, leaving only a blood-soaked wallet behind. Even worse, they inject Ryker’s brain with a refurbished NeuroChip. Without money or resources, he must find his friend and deactivate the corrupt NeuroChip, before the twisted hacker who programmed it gains full control over Ryker’s own thoughts.
Anna L. Davis is an author and editor living near Dallas. Her debut novel, Open Source, is the first in a series of sci-fi thrillers with cyberpunk elements—featuring human microchipping, brain implants and twisted hackers. Anna has a bachelor of science in biology from UT Dallas, worked as technical editor for a peer-reviewed international psychiatric journal, and published various forms of nonfiction before catching the fiction bug. For more about how she ended up writing edgy science fiction, check out this article, “From Housewife to Cyberpunk: My Writing Journey.”
I was lucky to be introduced to Anna at the DFW Writers Conference, where she talked about marketing without selling your soul. It was a great class, and I loved the concept of her book, so I immediately pounced her and asked if she’d be willing to talk with QFT. I’m so glad she said yes!
First of all, Anna, I have to say that your tag line “she becomes a coffee-guzzling cyberpunk writer who feeds on biotech mayhem” has to be one of the most genius descriptions ever. We’ve linked to your article above about your writing journey, but could you give us a little insight into why you’re so drawn to cyberpunk themes?
ALD: Thank you! And yeah, I’m afraid to say most of my desktop belongings are forever tattooed in coffee stains. Perils of writing, I guess. As for my fascination with cyberpunk? Like so many others in my generation, I fell in love with technology early in life. An enchantment stronger than almost anything else, tech quickly seduced my mind and budget, but then—quite hideously and without notice—it turned against me, betraying my best interests. Now that I’m an adult with tech-addicted children of my own, I write cyberpunk to do my part in taking back the fallen digital castle.
Open Source came out earlier this year, and its focus is cyberhacking, yet because it relates to brain implants, it’s also biohacking, correct? Is there often overlap between the two genres? What sets cyberpunk and biopunk apart from each other? In what ways are they similar?
ALD: There are a lot of ways the punk genres overlap. Most readers associate cyberpunk with William Gibson’s 1984 Neuromancer, but the term was actually first coined in 1980 by Bruce Bethke, who wanted a title for his short story series about a teen hacker who gets into trouble with his parents. Cyberpunk as a literary genre basically means “high tech and low life,” with a focus on the rebellious, anti-establishment side of human nature (a quality often best exemplified in teenagers). Cyberpunk can be completely virtual (like Tron), physical (like Terminator), or a combination of both (like Matrix), and may or may not include cybernetics. Biopunk, on the other hand, always incorporates some form of implanted, invasive biotechnology.
I have to confess, I was reading your Twitter feed and it was like this wonderful rabbit hole of government conspiracy theory and weird science and NSA attacks and digital trends. It’s fascinating, and you’ve told us a bit about what draws you to these topics, but I couldn’t help wondering if you feel a social responsibility to talk about it? Or is it just for fun?
ALD: When I first joined Twitter in 2012, it began as a fun way to connect with other writers and tweet about coffee with like-minded caffeinated souls across time and space. The world has changed since then—and I along with it (oh, my…how I’ve changed). Now I try to use my Twitter platform as a positive force against what has clearly become widespread media censorship and governmental corruption, often by researching and then retweeting/boosting breaking news that might not make it into our mainstream media. And yes, when the mood strikes, I do still tweet about coffee.
What scares you the most about ways that bio and cyber sciences are evolving?
ALD: Lack of effective information security terrifies me. The rate at which we’re adopting connected medical technology, including sensitive data like electronic health records, far exceeds our ability to secure it. Hackable biotech isn’t a joke—it’s a worst case apocalyptic scenario that only belongs in fiction. Plus…if a self-aware, artificially intelligent machine wanted to destroy humanity, we’re making it way too easy. And then all the humans said, “Hey, Skynet! Go ahead and hack into my family’s health data. Don’t forget about the pacemakers and IV drips!”
Ha! Funny, not funny. Adopting new technology faster than we can secure it is a really fascinating observation. You’ve published a lot of nonfiction, and with your medical and biology background, do you see yourself writing any other types of fiction?
ALD: I have a few pet projects that I use to buffer my creative intensity. One of them is a coffee shop mystery series (with a sci-fi twist, of course). I also fantasize about someday writing tame women’s fiction about adorable house cats who bake cookies—but with the way my brain works, the cats would probably end up staging a cyberwar to escape domestic tyranny by hacking into webcams and other online household devices. I’m a cat owner, so to me this seems horrifyingly plausible.
I would read that! Open Source is a great, fast-paced thriller. It’s so fun to read. And it has one of the best teasers ever—“his skull sawed open by NeuroChip vandals in a Dallas back alley.” Every element of that is awesome. Could you tell us a bit about your process for drafting Open Source?
ALD: Thanks! What eventually became Open Source didn’t begin as a work of fiction. After becoming a stay-at-home mom in 2002, I spent a lot of time on the web researching topics I’d studied as an undergrad at UT Dallas, including trends in biotech, biosurveillance, and electronic patient identification. In 2009, a blogging friend suggested I try writing fiction (until then, I’d only written news and other forms of nonfiction), so naturally my research found its way into my writing. Learning how to craft a compelling story was a whole different monster, though. Try, fail, try, fail and try again. Because real-life biotech moves at a dizzying pace, I eventually created a violent dystopia where criminals physically hack biotech implants out of their victims with actual saws and drills. Plain ol’ data hacking just wasn’t fictional enough.
And it’s the first in the Enhancement series, right? Any teasers you can give us about what’s coming next for Ryker?
ALD: Yes, the Enhancement Series is an all-encompassing universe including full-length novels and several spin-off short stories. Book two of the series, INSIDE SOURCE, is on track to release March 2017. As with most of my titles, Inside Source is a play on words. This time Ryker goes inside the prison system (but please hold all questions about how or why)—so maybe something like Blade Runner meets Shawshank Redemption? That’s all I can say for now.
That sounds amazing, and I can’t wait to read it! If you could cast Ryker Morris for a film version of Open Source, which actor would play him?
ALD: That’s a difficult question, and my only non-answer here, because I don’t want to limit the reader’s perception of Ryker to a particular race or profile. A Texas native in his early twenties, Ryker Morris is an intelligent, rookie investigative journalist who ended up homeless and unemployed because he refused to get IDChip. For most of the story, I imagine Ryker looks like one of those guys who sit on street corners asking for money—the scruffy, dirty ones we all try to ignore. But don’t let his hoodie and overgrown facial hair fool you…
Okay, shotgun round!
Favorite book: Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
Favorite author: Stephen King, C.S. Lewis
Books you’re currently reading: It by Stephen King; The Rook by Daniel O’Malley; Notes from Underground by Dostoevsky; the Book of Matthew (Bible, NIV); Artificial Intelligence (1984) by Patrick Henry Winston
Favorite movie: The Princess Bride
TV shows you enjoy: Mr. Robot, Revolution
Things you do for creative inspiration: Quiet meditation, loud music, reading (sometimes all at once, but I try to reserve that paradoxical combo for creative emergencies only).
Plotter or Pantser? Pantser, which means I spend a lot of time revising.
To finish up, I’d like to ask a few writing-specific questions.
What are your writing routines? Anything essential to the process, besides coffee? 🙂
ALD: You’re going to hate this answer, but here you go: time. Hours and hours of time at the keyboard alone, tucked away from my family and friends, just myself against the void. Coffee and good music are essential parts of this routine, but try as I might, I can’t escape the sheer quantity of time this craft demands.
For you, what is the hardest thing about writing?
ALD: I’ll call it “The Dark In-Between.” That span of time after I get the initial idea, but before I can think of the words to explain it—when the concept is like a huge mess of sticky, underdone homemade play-dough in my mind. It’s excruciating.
What is the easiest thing about writing?
ALD: That glorious space after the dark in-between, when words seemingly appear from somewhere beyond the ether. Granted, they might be awkward and clumsy words—I’ve actually had nightmares about hackers reading my early drafts before I have time to revise—but that feeling when I finally focus my formless thoughts into cohesive sentences? BLISS.
How do your roles as editor and writer influence each other?
ALD: It’s a challenging balance. My writer-self creates new worlds, while my editor-self destroys them. Eventually they both sit down and get along, usually after a good deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Yet one thing I know for sure, the writer won’t play unless the editor goes away. The writer-self walks alone.
Best piece of advice for aspiring authors?
ALD: Don’t let anyone tell you to stop writing. Ever. Writers are born to write—they bleed words when wounded and exhale them with every breath. Also, it’s worth noting that writing is not synonymous with publishing. One is a calling, the other—a business.
Best piece of advice for life?
ALD: Look for meaning and purpose in the margins (of life, art, books, news, society, your own soul…)
Is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t included?
ALD: You’ve put together a terrific list of questions. I can’t really think of anything else. Normally I’d say something like, “stay cybersmart,” but since I’m currently sorting through the chaos that is my digital life after the recent Yahoo hack, I’ll refrain from offering advice except to say that everything is hackable. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.
Anna, thank you so much for your time. I’ve heard you speak a few times now, and I love your energy and enthusiasm for writing. You seem to genuinely care about your audience, and I’ve loved getting to know a bit more about you and about cyberpunk.
ALD: Thank you for having me on Quantum Fairy Tales! Happy writing, everyone. 🙂
Thank you, Anna! We appreciate your insights, and we can’t wait to continue watching you as a writer.
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