Science Fiction & Fantasy




Author Spotlight: Jeremiah Tolbert

Great to see another story from you in Lightspeed. Can you elaborate on the origins of “Men of Unborrowed Vision”?

I was fascinated by the rise of things like Occupy Wall Street and similar social movements. At the same time, I’m a tech nerd and the explosion of drone technology is also an interest. It seems like drones are set to invade our lives in a lot of ways. Maybe this will be one good way they can.

The idea of a virus that attacks our social natures arose from the basic question of “What could a motivated entity do to end protest movements permanently?” and grew from there as I explored the implications of how such a thing could work. The world in this story is only the beginning; it gets so much worse.

I originally wrote the story as part of a trilogy for the The Apocalypse Triptych anthology series, but John bought it for Lightspeed instead. I do still plan to continue to explore the effects of the virus in future stories, though.

I found this line interesting: “. . . there are two kinds of people: those who are excited about the future, and those who are afraid of it.” Maya certainly fits into the first category, while Adam (who makes the statement) seems to fall into the second. Where did these characters come from? Did the writing of these characters present you with any significant challenges?

I was first exposed to the idea of neophiles and neophobes by writer Robert Anton Wilson, and it’s a notion that has stuck with me ever since. I’m an unabashed neophile, but my personal belief is you’d have to be a little crazy to not be afraid of what the future could hold sometimes. On the net, I think I’m pro-new and pro-future. But there are some futures that I wouldn’t want to live in, Maya and Adam’s future being one of them.

They were both difficult characters; I am not a person of color, but Maya is, and so I wanted to avoid any pitfalls there and treat the fact with respect. At the same time, I did not grow up with the privileges of wealth like Adam, but I’ve known kids like him. It would be easy to treat a character like that with resentment, but I wanted to do better for him than that. Adam and those like him mean well, and that does matter to me.

The ending left me questioning the fate of these characters. I found myself hoping, although not necessarily confident, that Maya would successfully rally the people. Why did you choose to end the story at this point?

This particular story ends there, but I think Maya’s story continues. Things only get worse from there. If all goes well, you’ll be reading about Maya’s efforts to rally the people further. I expect she’ll be a street-level operative as well, helping protect and care for the infected who basically have to become shut-ins. Maya is community-minded almost more than anything else. It’ll be interesting to see her trying to divide her time and figure out where she can do the most good.

Congratulations on recently becoming a father! How have the challenges of fatherhood affected your writing and writing process?

Thank you! I’m typing this as he fusses and shouts at me for not paying attention to him. He’s a demanding kid, and it means the writing is moving pretty slow. It’s a struggle to find time for everything.

I think becoming a father has opened up my empathy a bit more, too. It’s too soon to say if that will be reflected in my writing or not, but I hope so.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about “Men of Unborrowed Vision”? What’s next for you?

Just that I hope libertarians don’t take their ideology’s role in the story too personally. The Men of Unborrowed Vision are extremists first and ultra-libertarian second. Most of the time, I think liberals like myself and libertarians have a lot of common ground.

In the start of the new year, a graphic novel I wrote called Nightfell will start publishing in weekly installments online. I’m very much looking forward to seeing it reach an audience. The artwork by artist Nicolas Giacondino is amazing. It’s been a wonderful treat to work on.

And as much as my son allows me to, I will be trying to write new stories, and maybe even get started on the next novel project. I’m trying not to get too ambitious now!

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Kevin McNeil

Kevin McNeil is a physical therapist, sports fanatic, and volunteer coach for the Special Olympics. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and The Center for the Study of Science Fiction’s Intensive Novel Workshop, led by Kij Johnson. His fiction has appeared in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Every Day Fiction, and The Dark. His short story, “The Ghost of You Lingers,” earned an honorable mention in The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Eight, edited by Ellen Datlow. Kevin is a New Englander currently living in California. Find him on Twitter @realkevinmcneil.