In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Tobias S. Buckell to tell us a bit about the background of his story for Lightspeed, “Manumission.”
The character of Pepper appears in your novels and other short stories. Where in the “Pepper timeline” does this story fall?
This story comes sometime after “The Fish Merchant,” and before the story “Resistance.” And of course, well before the novels I’ve written.
What influenced your decision to tell this story in second person?
Originally this story was written in third person past, the usual choice for stories. There was a great deal of sparkle just not appearing, and I was looking for a way to get the story to pop for me as an author as I kept redrafting it. Often, when I’m having trouble with the sentence level work, I’ll change the tense or point of view in order to shake my habits up, and then turn the story back into the normal third person point of view and past tense in order to get it back to the standard. In this case, I liked the effect so much I decided to keep it. It really gave the story more impact, and it let me play with the narrative voice in ways I couldn’t. Since Pepper had his memory stolen from him, it also lent itself, I thought, to being a story the reader could slip into as a blank slate. So the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.
Why do you think memory loss is such a terrifying and sad idea? How do you approach writing a character that knows little to nothing about their past?
I think authors turn to it a lot because often we don’t know much about the character when we start writing a story. It is convenient. Sometimes lazy. But I love amnesiac characters, slowly discovering their past. It’s one of my favorite tropes, and I have a collection of books and movies featuring it, because it always works for me.
Mostly I became interested in it when I started reading about the fact that people are starting to figure out how to erase, block, and alter memories in labs. And I began thinking, since corporations are always viewing everything as a potential acquirable resource, why wouldn’t they own someone else’s memories? As a down payment on services? You can walk away from a house that’s been pledged as collateral, or savings. But your identity? They’d really own you.
ShinnCo owns Pepper by telling him that he can work his way back to his memories. What inspired you to feature such a manipulative company? What do they have to gain?
The more I read about modern corporations the more radically cynical about them I’m becoming. The idea that they’d use your memories against you, own them and in the process you, didn’t seem like that much of a leap. Everything discoverable is monetizable. They tried to copyright DNA strands. Why not take your memories and use them to keep you on a leash?
For those who might be new to your work, can you talk a bit about your background and using the Caribbean as a backdrop for much of your work?
I was born in Grenada, in the Caribbean, and spent time in the British and US Virgin Islands. So when I grew up, I didn’t see much in the way of the islands or people from other non-Western worlds in the science fiction I was reading. As a result, a large amount of my fiction features call outs to the Caribbean, Caribbean characters, and focuses a bit on ideas that come out of that area of the world.
What new projects do you have coming out that you’d like to tell our readers about?
My short story collection Tides from The New Worlds is floating around out there in eBook stores, as well as in a beautiful limited edition hardcover from Wyrm Publishing. Other projects are hopefully coming down the pipeline soon!
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