Today, I’m interviewing Vincent Scott about his debut novel, The Hereafter Bytes, coming out August 11, 2020. Let me give you the blurb for this comedic SF novel and then we’ll hop straight into the interview!
COME FOR THE CYBERSPACE, STAY FOR THE LAUGHS.
COME FOR THE LAUGHS, STAY FOR THE CYBERSPACE.
Romeo is a digital copy of his dead bio self—a ghost—in a spindly robot body. When Romeo’s friend Abigail—a dominatrix with a gift for uncovering secrets—tells Romeo she’s at risk because of dangerous info from a client, Romeo agrees to help her investigate.
Pursued by digital Golden Retrievers and a real-world assassin, Romeo slips in and out of cyberspace in a madcap race for survival. Can he unmask the criminal who threatens the integrity of cyberspace and the real-world economy before it’s too late?
Lynn: The Hereafter Bytes is described as a funny scifi novel. Can you talk a little about the stories that influenced you when writing the book?
VS: I think it’s impossible to delve into comedic genre fiction without being at least a little influenced by Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. Both authors did an amazing job finding the overlap between lighthearted hijinks and unsettlingly insightful social commentary. Outside of explicitly comedic work, I’ve got to give a great deal of credit to the influence of authors like Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, and Paulo Bacigalupi. While none of them are known for comedy, it was reading their work that drove home to me the power of writing scifi characters from places of vulnerability. I think books that deal with the future, especially a future in which not everything worked out perfectly, it’s easy to salve dealing with the hard issues of a world falling apart by making the protagonist a power fantasy for the audience. I think there’s a lot more artistic honesty in writing your characters from a place of doubt and confusion. They’re trying to navigate their world with the same level of trial and error as we navigate ours.
Lynn: Those are all some great influences to have and I absolutely agree with you on writing characters engaging in as much trial and error as we do. It sounds like your core approach to writing characters lends itself particularly well to engaging with some of the negative stereotypes about asexuality and aromanticism in general. Both robots and death are a prominent aspect of your main character, Romeo, and are some of the more persistent stereotypes we deal with. How does The Hereafter Bytes work towards subverting them?
VS: Yes, I love this question. It was very intentional leaning into those stereotypes. It’s a bit nuanced. On the first layer, I just thought it would be fun to drive home on a very literal level that there’s nothing about being a robot or dead that supplants your humanity. Romeo, the protagonist of The Hereafter Bytes, is in my estimation very human. He’s driven by love of his friends, fear for his life, and a desire to do the right thing. He’s a much better dead person that a lot of alive people running around.
Deeper than that, I also wanted the metaphor of “ghosts,” digitally duplicated dead people, in the book to extend beyond just asexual and aromantic people. My intention in exploring how society would deal with this new demographic was to tap into some uncomfortable truths about how society deals with many marginalized demographics. “New” sexual orientations, yes, but also refugees, facets of gender identity, people with disabilities, and really any instance where a group of people have been historically marginalized and then gain some kind of platform. We experience it a lot in the age of the internet. In the last couple of decades, we’ve had to tackle an uncomfortable truth about people with power. A big portion of the enfranchised don’t care about the disenfranchised until they are inconvenienced by them, or they can get something out of them. What better mechanism than having my fictional demographic have the characteristics so often used to dehumanize people? I needed the audience to believe this world would stigmatize this demographic, but also see that the demographic needed nothing more than some very reasonable changes to the society in order for them to be fully enfranchised and included.
Lynn: [nodding along] That’s a very good way to put it. I think that’s a common drive among marginalised creators, especially among writers working towards a more activist approach to writing. I’ve not seen many aromantic and asexual scifi narratives that don’t seek to show how marginalised people in general can be included so easily. Since I know this specific representation was important to you, are there any aspects of either orientation that you felt especially strongly about showing?
VS: I think the biggest thing I wanted to focus on was that a lack of interest in sexual or romantic relationships does not translate into a lack of interest in love. Found family is as vitally important to ace/aro people as to anyone. Romeo and Izy, the two ace spec characters in the book both take huge risks for each other and for their friend Abigail. They do this for the same reason that anyone makes sacrifices for the people they care about. Love comes in many forms, and every single one of those forms can drive us to be better versions of ourselves.
Lynn: Truer words. I really, pardon the pun, love the way we’re seeing more stories focused on other forms of love. One thing I think I’ve only rarely seen before is a snarky aspec character and Romeo sounds like a deliciously snarky fellow. Were you worried about how people might perceive his personality on the early stages of the book or were you always confident you’d nail that sympathetic snarky tone?
VS: The trick to snark I’ve found is always make sure more than half the jokes are at the snarky characters expense. Romeo is definitely someone with a barbed humor, but he turns that sense of humor on himself with twice as much gusto as he does on the world or other people. I find its hard not to feel a sense of affection for someone that sees what’s ridiculous about themselves.
Lynn: Oh, that’s a great tip, thank you! (I fail at writing snark.) Friendship, not romance, sounds like the core relationship in the book. Did you actively try to avoid things readers could interpret as romantic subtext or did you aim to recast those scenes as explicitly platonic?
VS: I definitely spent time as I wrote the book to try to make sure that all the dynamics felt platonic. I think romance is a wonderful thing, but I do find it unfortunate that platonic relationships can so often be forced in a romantic direction. Especially when the two characters are cis men and women, it seems like any level of emotional intimacy between them necessitates that the next step in their relationship must be romantic. “Just friends” is a mainstay in our societal vernacular that reveals how much we treat friendship as subordinate to romantic and sexual dynamics. “The Friendzone” another pejorative that means the same thing. I wanted the characters in this book to feel like their love for each other was powerful and entirely platonic.
Lynn: Uff, yes. Less of the forced romance, please. I love romance, but not everything needs to be one. I’m so glad that in the past few years we’ve seen multiple published stories explicitly centre friendship over romance, several of them explicitly aromantic. To my knowledge, very few of them are explicitly comedic in genre. How does it make you feel to know that you’re one of the first aspec comedy writers? What hopes do you have for the future of aspec representation?
VS: To be honest, I find the thought a weird mix of terrifying and hopeful. Terrifying in the sense that I hope I’m not holding down aspec comedy novels for long. Most of the ace/aro people I’ve met had a great sense of humor. Hopeful, because I want to see the world of novels continue to expand. I love this art form. The ability for novels to be so impactful in their storytelling but also for them to be so accessibly as a medium. As far as I’m concerned, that a bunch of symbols on a page can draw a reader into another world is the closest thing to magic we’ve ever discovered. The sad fact that in spite of how easy it should be to diversify the voices on the page, novels are still such a homogenous art form in terms of creators is heartbreaking to me. I want to hear voices from every facet of human experience. If I’m a tiny contribution to that, yay, but lets get even more, diverse voices on the big stage ASAP!
Lynn: I hope I didn’t add too much to that feeling of terror because I know it can be really daunting! I hope more aspec comedy writers will join you soon and that we’ll get to see more (comedic) books from other marginalised people too. We’re making small steps forward there, but the more the merrier. I’m really looking forward to exploring The Hereafter Bytes when it’s out. Thank you so much for your time. 😀
Vincent Scott tried writing his first novel at age eight and his first screenplay at age eleven. Fortunately for the world, all evidence of these works has been lost to time. After traveling the world, he can attest that people are very nice, when it’s convenient, and mostly do their best the rest of the time. He got a notoriously lucrative history degree in college. After knocking back dozens of six figure job offers, he settled on a safe career path as a novelist. If this whole writing thing doesn’t work out, he plans on joining a boyband and becoming the breakout solo act. Plan C is astronaut. You can find Vincent on Twitter.
And that’s it for the interview! The Hereafter Bytes releases on August 11, 2020 and is available both as ebook and print edition. The book was funded through Kickstarter, sailing through its goal and its stretch goals.