The Movies That Influenced The Memory Hunter

I wrote this new book, The Memory Hunter. It’s an absurdist cyberpunk book, a retro thing, and to make it absurd, I borrowed heavily from every imaginable trope in the cyberpunk genre. (You should go buy it.)

But to be honest, I haven’t read much cyberpunk. I mean, I love Snow Crash, and I’ve read a fair amount of Philip K. Dick’s work, which is sort of “granddaddy-of-cyberpunk” and predated the big 80s/90s movement headed by Gibson and others. What really moved me during the writing of this book was film. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, which was a time rich with high-concept science fiction blockbusters, the pre-CGI era of big-budget films about our inevitable near-future, which of course never happened.  But I loved that stuff, the action stars of the day, in a sound stage in Burbank done up to look like the surface of Mars.  I’d rent those movies from Blockbuster, and watch the VHS over and over in late-night marathons with my college buddies.

And I dreamed of a cyberpunk future, because I lived in what I thought was the start of it.  I used the Internet before there was a web, telnetting into BBSes and FTPing text zines like Phrack, reading all of the tales of hacking and connecting to faraway mainframes. I lusted after X Terminal workstations, and saw the GUI unix computers as the next step.  Soon, these graphical displays would become 3D, turn into headsets, and we’d all jack into this total immersion virtual reality.  The game Doom came out, and I knew it would happen soon. And then it didn’t.  The Web came out, and became commercial and dumb, and here we are, looking at stupid articles about 5 Ways To Lose Weight For The Holidays By Eating Blue Foods.

That’s why I wrote this book, so the dream would not be dead; it would be in an alternate reality.  And that reality is based on my memories of these old VHS classics.  Here’s my list.  I’ll try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible, so when you go buy my book the plot won’t be spoiled.

  • Blade Runner – The gold standard of noir-inspired cyberpunk. I honestly didn’t get into this PKD-based classic until much later. When I bought my first not-family-shared VCR right after college, this was one of the first VHS videos I purchased. I’ve read endless books on the making of it (Future Noir is the best one) and you can get wrapped up in the “Deckard is a replicant” thing.In this book, I borrowed a lot of the imagery of this movie, the futuristic yet beaten-up city, the constant rain, the neon lights and Japanese-inspired architecture.
    One of the tropes that Blade Runner used that I remember from the 80s was this idea that the Japanese were taking over the world, that they were flooding us with technology and buying up all of our real estate and would eventually run the planet.  It’s something prevalent in many 80s movies like Gung Ho, and almost every 80s comedy had a geeky Japanese guy who could barely speak English for humorous effect.  (Caddyshack, Revenge of the Nerds, etc.)There’s also a lot of plot borrowed from this movie, but in an indirect way.  Most noir movies follow a very similar Chandler-esque three-act plot, and use tropes like the fallen protagonist with a troubled past, the female love interest, the big switcharoo, and so on.Oh, and spinnercars.  You’ve gotta love a good hovercar.
  • Total Recall – “GET YOUR ASS TO MARS!”  Man, I loved this movie when it came out. I didn’t see it in theaters, but a friend had a copy recorded off of HBO, and after watching it once, I rented it and watched it constantly.  I popped in the DVD recently and wrote about it, and it didn’t hold up at all.  The technology was all wrong, the miniature models looked really bad, and the acting was super-corny.  But, I love all of that. I remember every little line that Ahnold said, the way the secondary characters acted. And you’ve got the PKD mojo again, with the script being (loosely) based on a story of his.I borrowed heavily from this movie.  The concept of memory implants is there, along with the idea of mining colonies on other planets worked by indentured servants who end up getting screwed up by their mega-corporate overlords.  I also stole the common PKD trope of robot-controlled cabs, and the evil Big Boss.  I also wanted to use some of the outdated technology in this movie, like video phones, CRT monitors, and dot matrix printers.
  • Johnny Mnemonic– This movie is so bad it’s good, even though it flopped so badly, it was the beginning of the end of the cyberpunk genre.  There were some capable actors that did poorly, some stunt-casting that didn’t work out (Henry Rollins, Ice T) and a bleak look at 2021 that’s now incredibly dated.The big trope I swiped from this movie was the visual look of The Net, the idea of putting on a headset and swiping your arms in the air to move around blocks of “data” or whatever, or travel down an Information Superhighway of vector graphics and neon grids.  I also borrowed the concept of memory couriering, carrying around data in an implant for later retrieval. And my book has IDES, a degenerative disease that slowly rots away implants, something similar to nerve attenuation syndrome in this movie.
  • Sneakers – I lovethis movie.  It’s probably one of my favorite films of all time, and I remember seeing it at least a half-dozen times in the theater. It’s not a cyberpunk movie, but it’s a good thriller with enough high-tech stuff in it that it really hit hard when I saw it back in 1992.I borrowed a lot of plot-based tropes from this. There’s once again the fallen hero scraping by in a bad job.  (“It’s a living” / “Not much of one”)  There’s the weirdo expert in the field.  The “calling the CIA and tracing the trace” bit, or at least the pacing and tension of that scene, is something I use in act three (and don’t want to spoil – go read the book.)  I also used a big switcheroo like they did.  And the concept of “who is the enemy, really?” is one I loved to use.
  • Honorable mentions – here are a few that either don’t have to do with cyberpunk or that weren’t something I watched back in the day, but that also inspired my plot:
    • The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep – I’m not a noir guy.  But after reading about Blade Runner, I knew I had to get back to the source, so I read and watched The Big Sleep, and then to figure out what Chandler ripped off, I read and watched The Maltese Falcon. My plot outline is so similar to Sleep, I probably shouldn’t publicly admit it. But almost any noir is.  I borrowed a lot of tropes here: detective in a crappy office, fallen from his old job; wise-ass secretary (but in my case, it’s an intelligent AI program); the case that’s too good to be true; the employer that turns on you; the damsel in distress; getting captured and beat up at the end of Act 2; it’s all there.  I prefer Chandler’s work because it’s a little more fuzzy around the edges and has some complexity.  (And don’t worry, this is the last genre book like this I’m writing, unless someone shows up with a huge check for the sequel.)
    • UHF – this Weird Al vehicle is a parody itself, but the evil boss is something I cribbed a bit.
    • RoboCop – A lot of people are going to see this one, and it’s a minor influence in the Prometheus story plot, which is totally different from what I’m doing.  Its near future is also a little more near than mine.  But the overarching OCP and a lot of the little sayings and slogans (“I’d buy that for a dollar!”) got their stink all over my novel.

Anyway, that’s a good starting list. Hope you get a chance to check out the book – I need to go fall down a rabbit hole of old movies.

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My new book, The Memory Hunter, is now out!

I’m happy to announce that my new book, The Memory Hunter, is now available!

This book is a bit of a departure for me.  I wanted to try writing a plotted novel with a conventional structure. The book is a retro cyberpunk book.  I know cyberpunk is supposed to be dead, but I had some fun getting around this. I wrote a book that appears to be penned in about 1981, with all of the usual futuristic predictions of that era’s great science fiction, which of course never happened.  So it’s chock full of flying cars, robots, intelligent computers, memory implants, and huge Japanese corporations that rule a world that has rebuilt after a nuclear war with the still-existing Soviet Union.  It’s a dark comedy, full of my usual brand of absurdism, but it’s also a solid noir thriller.

I’ve got a page with a description and all of the details here. Go grab your copy here:

A preview is available on the Kindle and on Smashwords.  I also sent out a slightly longer preview of the first chapters to my mailing list.  Didn’t get it?  Maybe you should subscribe.

Thanks to everyone who helped me with this, especially John Sheppard and Joseph Hirsch, who beta-read and edited for me.  I hope you enjoy this!  And if it’s not your cup of tea, don’t worry.  I’m already 30,000 words into another absurd and bizarre book that gets back to my usual brand of writing.

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Atmospheres, alternate covers

I have a new book.  It is called Atmospheres. I posted about it the other day.

I hate coming up with covers for books. And when one says “make a book cover” that really means two things: coming up with the concept, and executing it. 99% of the “we make book covers” places on the web can do the second part, and honestly, I can do the second part. I’ve been photoshopping people’s heads into enema bondage porn screenshots for a long time; it’s not that hard to lay out a cover, once you know what you need.

And that’s the part that sucks: coming up with an actual design, an idea. If I wrote stupid murder mystery books and knew it was Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the revolver, I’d throw “revolver” into a stock photo site, pay the five bucks, pick some pretty colors, and done. But I write abstract books that can’t be summed up in an icon like that.  (I know, “maybe you should write murder mysteries.”  But seriously, fuck that.)  My dream would be to have an agent or publisher or majordomo of some sort who I trusted, who would take the manuscript, come up with a cool title, execute on the cover, and sell the damn thing.  But all of those are my job. And I’m finding that even if I pay someone to do part of that, I can’t really get what I want.

Case in point: this time, I went to fiverr and found a design firm to do the cover.  They were in Bosnia, so it was cheap, and they did a good job if my book was a Tom Clancy techno-thriller.  (To be fair, this was a rush job, and they didn’t see the actual book.)  Anyway, here’s what they came up with:

Like I said, it looks okay, but doesn’t really fit.

So, off to do my own thing.  I started pulling pictures out of Aperture and throwing them into CreateSpace’s cover creator. First up, a metal grate, snapped on the Lower East Side about a decade ago, with a little manipulation:

That was okay. It looks like a Penguin reissue of an old Paul Auster book, maybe. Next, I tried with some plane wreckage I snapped in Alaska:

That’s okay, but doesn’t entirely do it. I gave the fake hipster urban decay thing a try with a picture from inside an abandoned train station:

That looked a little too much like a city college’s poetry anthology. Meh.

I was going through pictures from Hawaii, looking for some Eraserhead-esque industrial waste. The first thing that came to mind was the sugar cane factory in Maui:

I fucked around with that a while, and eventually lost the smokestacks, keeping only the clouds.  Smash that to black and white, grain it up a bit, and here’s the mockup of what eventually happened:

Another thing that changed, after the fact: I originally intended to use the new matte cover finish that CreateSpace offers. I ordered a proof, then proofed digitally and took the book live, ordering another copy from the Amazon page. That book arrived before the proof did, and there were a few things I didn’t like. First, the trim was weird; when I sat it next to a copy of Thunderbird, it was maybe an eighth inch shorter. I have a whole shelf of POD books that are nine inches tall, and they do not vary by an micron in their height, but this one did, radically. Also the cover was slightly crooked, with part of the front image on the spine. And the cover stock itself felt “wavy” and cheap, like a photocopy on thick paper.

So, I changed it to a glossy cover. Hopefully the varnish makes it a little more durable. I wasn’t sure about the trim size thing, and then the proof came in the mail, and it was the right height, with the right spine. So, maybe the first one was just someone asleep at the wheel.  Either way, if you were one of the few people that ordered immediately on launch day, you have a rare collector’s item.  Put it in mylar and maybe it’ll be worth a lot someday.  You’d get a better ROI if more people bought the other book, so do me a favor and tell all your friends.

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So I published a new book

Okay, it’s done.

It is in print and on the kindle.

It is called Atmospheres.  It’s 242 pages. It’s hard to describe.

About a year ago, I started writing this experiment, which was a collection of almost ambient scenes, brief snippets of no story, just outbursts of emotion or scene. I wanted to eventually link them together in some way, but it became more important to simply generate the pieces each day. When I worked on finishing Thunderbird and doing all of the steps of publishing it, I needed to continue writing something, and that’s where the beginning of Atmospheres started.

I’ve always had a minor obsession with Jim Jarmusch, and I often listen to the soundtrack to Broken Flowers when I’m writing.  One of the songs on there is an edited clip of the Sleep song “Dopesmoker.” I’d been vaguely familiar with them from a million years ago when I used to write about death metal, but wasn’t fully aware of that particular album. I’d read an interview with Jarmusch where he talked about being preoccupied with that album, so I got a copy, and then I became locked into it.

If you haven’t heard it, the album is one song, a 63-minute stoner metal song that’s essentially one heavy riff played over and over, talking about a caravan of weed-priests crossing the desert to Jerusalem with their magical hashish. The lyrics are corny, but the song itself is an hour of pure hypnotic sludge, and puts you in a trance mode. And while I did not imbibe in the titular substance discussed in the song, I made it part of my process. I’d sit down every day, put the song on repeat, and completely lose myself in it, writing about whatever escaped from my subconscious thought onto the page.

Within a few months, this brought out an incredible pile of 500 word chunks, some perfect stories, some absolute junk.  But it amazingly brought out some common threads through the manuscript when I pushed them all together.  There’s a scene in the Naked Lunch movie where Ginsberg and Kerouac (or facsimiles thereof) go to Interzone to visit Bill, and  find an apartment filled with scattered random notes (and heroin), and that’s what the book read like before I started editing.

This is by far the most challenging read of any of my books.  It has a story arc in three acts, but it doesn’t have a conventional plot, which will throw a lot of people.  But it contains a lot of brutally honest writing that cuts deep, and it was a lot of fun to write. If I had to compare it to anything I’ve done, it’s a lot like Rumored to Exist in ways, but I think the pieces are darker with a lot more thickness to them.

This is my tenth book, which is a strange milestone to reach.  And every time I finish one of these, I fall into a deep depression and a brief panic, first as I wade through all of the production steps of releasing one of these things, and then as I try to start the next project.  And I have no idea how to sell this book or what’s next, so I’m not prepared for this. But, I need to keep working, so I will.

Anyway, check out the book, and let me know what you think. If you have any wise ideas on helping me to get the word out, or if you’d be kind enough to forward on this post, that would be awesome too. Thanks for everyone who helped me to get this thing done, especially John Sheppard, who did a ton of editing and reading for me along the way.

Okay, on to #11.

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