Earlier this year I blogged about a fresh young writer who was making waves as a writer in the cyberpunk genre. I’ve been keen to find out more about Jonathan Dotse and his Accra, Ghana-based work.
Recently I had the chance to work through some Q&As with Jonathan, and here are the results:
Q: Jonathan, What was it that first inspired you to write, and who are your biggest influences?
A: I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of virtual reality and how media can be used to transport the mind into another world. I began writing because it gave me the ability to create worlds that others could enter as if they had stepped right into my imagination and I showed them around. For that reason, most of my earliest attempts at fiction were interactive hyperlinked stories.
I owe many of my ideas to the ground-breaking work of countless writers and thinkers, so it’s hard to single out a few of them. My greatest single influence must surely be William Gibson, especially if the ripple effects of his work are taken into consideration.
Q: Can you tell us a little about what you are working on at the moment.
A: I’m working on a novel set in Accra, Ghana circa 2060 AD, at a time when clinical neuroscience has reverse-engineered the human brain and uncovered the inner workings of the mind. Two-thirds of the world’s population are implanted with biocores – organic computer interfaces between the brain and cyberspace which link billions of people worldwide to the Internet.
The novel explores the psychological consequences of mind altering technology through the interwoven stories of a data thief, a computer programmer, and a cyber crime investigator who are drawn inextricably into the heart of a dark conspiracy in one turbulent night on the streets of Accra.
Q: You’re pretty much at the beginning of your writing career. Given all of the changes in how writers are able to take their work to market in the 21st Century – in terms of self publishing, ebooks, blogging etc – do you have a particular route you want to explore getting your stories into the hands & heads of your readers?
A: Yes, I intend to make all my stories available online as direct-to-brain neural data downloads… No, I don’t have any brilliant publishing ideas, but I’m willing to explore a lot of the available options when the time comes.
Self-publishing is something I eventually want to try, but for now I need to gain some experience in the print industry, with their rigorous editors and marketing techniques and whatnot. I’m excited by all the possibilities, but I’m being also being careful to know exactly what I’m doing before I jump headfirst into anything.
Q: How is the timeline breaking down of this first Afrocyberpunk project? Do you have plans to publish?
A: I began writing this novel with nothing but the vaguest idea of a plot set in a futuristic North American city, saying to myself I would be done in two months, tops. One year and several plots later I’ve learned that I’m not exceptionally good at planning.
I currently expect to be done by the end of this year, but I keep my focus primarily on immediate issues in the development of the novel so that I spend as much of my time as possible making progress. When I have a completed manuscript I’ll be able to look to the horizon again and speculate as wildly as I like.
Q: Already your work has been highly praised by some the head honchos in the cyberpunk literary world. Can you tell us a little about that? Did that take you by surprise, and how has that positive attention made you feel about your future as a writer?
A: It’s been a surreal experience that on some levels I’m yet to fully acknowledge is truly happening. I was always confident that my ideas would receive a positive response, but I was completely unprepared for the scale of that response. The fact that it has all unfolded on the net only makes it more distant and easier to forget about for long stretches at a time. It may yet take me some time to get my head fully wrapped around the situation. Assuming this is all real and not some elaborate farce, I’ve definitely gained a great deal of confidence in myself and more than enough motivation to keep me grinding through the slow agony of writing a novel.
Q: If Accra is the setting for your current work, where do you think is the natural home of cyberpunk?
A: I think of cyberpunk as a condition that arises when fragments of a social system fail to adapt in a rapidly changing world; when governmental inefficiency and street Darwinism create a void big enough to hide a black market. Rather than having a home in the geographical sense, I expect cyberpunk to thrive in any place where technological advancement meets political stagnation.
On that basis, many parts of the developing world are ideal breeding grounds for cyberpunk, but it would be a stretch to say that this will remain the case indefinitely, particularly as these countries become developed. I also expect the arrival of new technologies to continually challenge the established systems, so I don’t think anywhere in the world is totally immune or automatically susceptible to cyberpunk.
Q: Can there be a life for your stories and characters beyond the written word…what I’m trying to say is, is there a movie tucked away in there somewhere?
A: My storytelling style has probably been influenced more by cinema than any literary genre and I’ve always felt that my writing could easily be translated to film. I actually think my novel is a great movie waiting to happen, but some might consider that a biased assessment, so in the end it’s not really my call to make. I do hope to see my stories end up as movies, comics, plays, or any other format. It’s ultimately my intention to produce work that transcends form and takes as many incarnations as possible, not to mention reaches as wide an audience as possible.
Q: Who are your writing peers?
A: I don’t particularly feel like I’ve accomplished enough to put me in the same peer group as any writers whose work I’m familiar with. It’s even more difficult considering I’m boxed in a rather curious intersection between several genres, but I do eventually hope to join the ranks of contemporary African sci-fi writers such as Nnedi Okorafor and Ivor Hartmann. As I haven’t published any fiction yet I still find it difficult to see myself as their peers.
Q: How do you envisage the future panning out for Jonathan Dotse?
A: I see quite a lot and in so much detail that I don’t really trust any of it, given my history with forecasting. I’m sure a lot will depend on what happens after the novel goes to print and on the chain of events after that. I very much like the 2060s Accra I’ve developed and plan to continue expanding it, whether in the form of short stories or a novel sequel. I can see myself working on some of my earlier hyperlink fiction projects which have waited long to be resurrected. I might find myself writing a complete interactive hyperlinked trilogy and a screenplay for the movie while I’m doing that. And it shouldn’t take more than a few months, tops.
I’m really excited about the quality of Jonathan Dotse’s work…no doubt a name to watch in the future.
HT to Jonathan for the image