NIGHTMARES ARE A DREAM COME TRUE
Boyhood night terrors provide inspiration for local writer’s dystopian novel Cypulchre
It may seem like a bit of a cliche to suggest the dystopian world Calgary native Joseph MacKinnon creates in his new novel Cypulchre is the stuff of nightmares. But in this case, it’s literally true. There were more literary influences for the 25-year-old author: The heady philosophical theories of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin about evolving consciousness; the forward-looking cyberpunk of William Gibson; the metaphysical madness of Phillip K. Dick.
But the most potent inspiration seems to have been the vague, visceral night terrors MacKinnon has had since he was a boy.
“They were so extreme that my parents would have to wake me up,” says MacKinnon, in an interview from his home in Toronto. “It was the first time I heard my dad swear, just trying to snap me out of it. But it was a deluge of information and simulation. All I can really remember was the numbers, letters and what seemed like wires. It’s like static on a television screen. You can’t place yourself in it. I think that’s where the jeopardy for individuality really lay: Not being able to set any horizon lines.”
Which is an underlying message of Cypulchre (Guy Faux Books, 316 pages), a sci-fi cautionary tale that shines a decidedly unflattering light on technology. It’s the followup to MacKinnon’s 2012 debut Faultline 49, an Edmontonset, alternate-history story about a war between Canada and the U.S. that erupts post 9/11.
The new book tells the story of exiled and disgraced genius, Paul Sheffield, who invented a virtualreality technology called CLOUD that has enraptured wealthy Los Angeles’ denizens and sent them into an individuality erasing “noosphere.” A mysterious entity has taken over, threatening the minds that are blissfully floating about inside. So Sheffield is forced back into action to save his estranged family and the rest of humanity from his creation.
“The thought occurred to me that data and memory sharing at a time, even now, when minds can conceivably be connected might mean the end of individuality,” says MacKinnon. “I used the family drama to explore that background threat of sameness. The noosphere seemed to be a perfect focal point. This hybrid, cyberspace and industrialized nirvana seems to some people a great idea, to me it seems like Hell. So I wanted to explore the positives and negatives.”
Exploring alternate realities is becoming a hallmark for the author. Faultline 49 reimagined Edmonton’s World Trade Center as the target of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which leads to a future CanAmerica war that finds George W. Bush sending troops into a revolution-charged Alberta. MacKinnon wrote it under the nom de plum David Danson, a fictional American war journalist in this parallel universe.
It added an extra layer of fuzziness but mixing this alternate reality with actual quotes from American politicians and right-wing blowhards such as Pat Buchanan
They were so extreme that my parents would have to wake me up. It was the first time I heard my dad swear … JOSEPH MACKINNON
and Anne Coulter about Canada.
According to the news release for Cypulchre from Guy Faux Books, the Toronto-based publisher and collective where MacKinnon sits on the editorial board, Danson was “summarily murdered” to sell the book posthumously. MacKinnon said he was happy to write under his own name.
“I figured it’s kind of vexing killing your pseudonym even if it sells books and lends itself to the alternate history,” he says. “I also found, the first time around, people didn’t believe me that I had written a book — even friends and family.”
So MacKinnon has kept busy under his own name. Earlier this month, he also released The Savage Kingdom with fellow Guy Faux artist Carlo Schefter, a pulpy fantasy novel about a First World War vet forced to battle neanderthals, Roman Legions and prehistoric beasts after happening upon a time fracture while out on safari.
MacKinnon says there is a possibility of no less than 20 such adventures using this character, who was initially conceived as the centre of a television series. Alas, their ambitions apparently overshot the realities of television production, particularly Canadian television production.
“We thought it would be a great idea,” says MacKinnon. “But (a producer), who definitely knew a whole lot more about television and production than us, said it would be a $1-million an episode and there’s no way that an author and an artist straight out of the gate could find that funding. But we had spent years work shopping each of these stories and so we had the stories and everything we needed for the novels. So now we’re pursuing that.”