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INTERVIEW: PJ Manney Talks About (R)EVOLUTION, Technology and What Comes Next

Photo by Kevin Warn

Photo by Kevin Warn

PJ Manney is a former chairperson of Humanity+, helping rebrand the organization, launch H+ Magazine and organize the first multi-org conference on futurist topics, Convergence ’08. She authored “Why I Believe in Participating in the H+ Future” and “Empathy in the Time of Technology: How Storytelling is the Key to Empathy,” an early work on the neuropsychology of empathy and media. She has presented her ideas to groups like the Producers and Directors Guilds of America, NASA-JPL, The H+ Summit and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and is a frequent guest on podcasts including FastForward Radio.

Manney graduated from Wesleyan University double majoring in Film and American Studies. She has worked for over 25 years in the communications field: motion picture public relations at Walt Disney/Touchstone Pictures; story development for independent film production companies; and writing as Patricia Manney for the critically acclaimed TV shows Hercules — The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. She also co-founded Uncharted Entertainment, writing and/or creating many pilot scripts for television networks, including CBS, Fox, UPN, Discovery, ABC Family and Comedy Central.

Manney has just published her first novel, the near-future techno-thriller, (R)EVOLUTION with 47North/Amazon Publishing and writing the sequel, (ID)ENTITY. She lives with her husband and two children in Los Angeles, California.

Today, I chatted with PJ about her new book, (R)evolution, and much more.

John DeNardo: There’s much more to (R)EVOLUTION than the synopsis would have us believe. Can you tell us what the story is about?

PJ Manney: Yes, it’s a big story. I jokingly sold it to 47North as a “techno-epic.” (Surprisingly or not, that’s not yet an established genre description among publishers…) Beyond the “Count of Monte Cristo” near-term SF revenge story, it’s a meditation on politics, relationships, ambition, music, late-empire America, and the possible effects of neurological enhancement, if you don’t have time to do all the necessary ethical and experimental processes, because people are trying to kill you.

JD: Peter Bernhardt, the protagonist in (R)EVOLUTION, undergoes medical procedures to enhance his memory and brain functions. These scenes are discussed in a fair amount of scientific detail. How much research went into (R)EVOLUTION and making it believable?

PJM: A lot! All the technology described is in various stages of real research and development. I studied neuroscience, how brain surgery works, and talked to people in the field. I’m now an official neuroscience fan girl. But it was more than just scientific research. As you can tell by the book, I’m a generalist, so I know a little about a lot. Regardless, I needed extra research in many subjects, from cars to dolphins to Russian history to Las Vegas’ geography. Thank goodness for the Internet.

JD: Is that research something you enjoy about the writing process, or is it a necessary evil?

PJM: I love research — to a fault. I don’t know when to stop. I love to learn, expand my context of understanding and find the connections between things, even if I’m the only one who sees them… 🙂 That was a crucial character element to convey through the protagonist: there are interconnections between seemingly unrelated things, if you know where to look and have both the perceptive abilities and intelligence to see the patterns. Because intelligence is just pattern recognition. So increased intelligence means more patterns become apparent. That’s why the story encompasses so many topics, so the interconnected patterns become more and more obvious to both the protagonist and the reader.

JD: How did (R)EVOLUTION come to have one of the most stunning covers I’ve ever seen?

PJM: When my editor at 47North, Jason Kirk, asked what I wanted in a cover, I said I loved the surrealist SF covers of the 60s and 70s. These were the editions I read and influenced me. They portrayed humanity in fresh, beautiful and provocative ways. I also grew up in the art world and appreciated the images as the art they are. But we didn’t want a retro, Peter Max redux.

Instead, what is SF surrealism in the 21st Century? We dove deep into the Internet to search for the right artist to convey that attitude and that would translate well into a book cover. Jason found Adam Martinakis. Adam had a beautiful piece called “Love for Light” that captured the story and feeling we wanted and we asked him to rework it with us. He is designing the covers for (Id)entity and (Con)science right now and I can’t wait to see them!

JD: What was the biggest challenge (besides research) you overcame when writing (R)EVOLUTION?

PJM: The biggest challenge was keeping my butt in my desk chair and working around the distractions of raising a family, being a PTA mom, etc. I wrote this while my kids were in school or after they went to bed. One is now in college and the other has a year of high school to go, so I’m hoping I’ll have more time to write!

JD: Which speculative fiction writers and books got you hooked on genre?

PJM: Shelley (Frankenstein), Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land), Sturgeon (More Than Human), Pohl (Man Plus), Bester (The Stars My Destination), Asimov (Foundation Trilogy), Keyes (Flowers for Algernon), Herbert (Dune), Grimwood (Replay). Each of them wrote a book about the future of enhanced humanity that influenced my life. Even though it might not be considered speculative fiction per se, I’d include Trevanian (Shibumi), too. Shibumi is one of the cleverest and best genre novels ever written. I could argue that Nikolai Hel is an example of an enhanced human! That’s why I attempted a bit of a genre mash-up. I wanted to appeal to more than strictly SF or thriller readers. I tried to write the airport novel of the 21st C., so general audiences could go on a ride, yet understand the research that’s happening right now and the potential around it. Think of it as a big, rollicking, gonzo public service announcement for technological change.

JD: (R)EVOLUTION is just the first book in the Phoenix Horizon series. What’s next in store for the series?

PJM: Our protagonist has set into motion a new trajectory of history and technology. That’s what revolutions do. The unintended consequences of his actions will come to haunt him, his compatriots, and the world. And his present form at the end of (R)evolution is not the most conducive to kicking ass. He’ll have to rectify that. 🙂

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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