The Big Idea: Chris Kluwe

There aren’t a lot of people who are both a published science fiction author and also a pro-level athlete — but Chris Kluwe is one of those, and more besides. But in addition to the things he is, there are the things he is not. Both of those matter for his new novel Otaku, how it’s written, and who its protagonist is.


Today I’d like to tell you about the big idea for Otaku, my first traditionally published sci-fi novel, which I began as a love/hate letter towards gaming, but eventually turned into so much more.

More specifically, Otaku started as a middle finger towards Gamergate, in that I wanted to write a Gibson-esque thriller that “Pepes4Trump69YOLO420” would start reading as a firmly established cis-het white male power fantasy that they immediately identified with, and then once the protagonist was revealed as a half-black half-asian bisexual woman with a lock of dyed blue hair, their brains would recreate the scene from Scanners so quickly that their brain matter could coat a ten block radius.

What can I say, I like to piss regressives off.

After writing a couple chapters, though, I realized that there were many other things I wanted this story to be.

I wanted Otaku to be a story about climate change, and what that actually means to the social fabric, because that’s the reality of the world our children are going to inherit. Ever since reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, I realized that any future story set in our reality had to take into account the fact that we’re changing our environment, and not for the better. Otaku is set in Miami, and the reason why is that if you talk to any sort of risk assessor, they’re going to tell you that Miami is absolutely fucked. Like, 100%, the-water’s-coming-and-there-ain’t-shit-you’re-gonna-do-to-stop-it-fucked, and to me, that’s an interesting setting because there are so many places in the world that humans live that we shouldn’t, yet we persist anyways. If Miami goes underwater, I don’t think the human reaction is going to be to leave, because we never leave.

We adapt.

We built levees in New Orleans, and skyways in Minneapolis, and tornado shelters in Oklahoma, because we don’t care if the planet is trying to kill us, our desperate will to survive in even the most inhospitable conditions is a constant throughout human history. When the waters rise, we aren’t going to abandon the coasts, at least not at first. We’re going to fight it as long as we can (because a lot of rich people like their beach houses), and it won’t be until way after the fact that we realize fighting the sea is a losing proposition that the wealthy will retreat inland.

Miami’s skyscrapers won’t last forever, their gleaming steel frames looming out of the sparkling blue, but they’ll last long enough for generations to grow old and die in them.

I wanted Otaku to be a story about inequality; the rich staying dry while the poor scramble not to drown; the majority oppressing the minority because that’s the way it’s always been; the woman being told her place via violent misogyny because games are a man’s world and how dare you challenge that. The grinding, brutal inequality that pervades our world at such a granular level that it takes an effort of will not to burn it all down in the hopes of finding a single ash of justice, the voice of the priest who tells you to suffer while you’re alive because everything will be better once you’re dead.

“But Chris,” I hear you say, “you’re a cis-het white dude who made a bunch of money playing football! What the fuck do you know about inequality?”

That’s a valid concern. I don’t know a lot about inequality vis a vis personal experience and it would be wrong to claim otherwise. As John has written about on this site before, I have the world on the lowest difficulty setting.

However, I can talk to other people, those who have experienced the shittiness of being a woman online, of being a black queer gamer, of trying to navigate a dick-centric world, and when they tell me I’m wrong about something, that a character wouldn’t react that way, I can fucking listen.

Then I can make sure my story reflects their truth, because it is the truth.

I wanted Otaku to be a story about obsession, because having been both a professional athlete as well as a top-tier gamer (World of Warcraft, 3rd in the U.S. for Burning Crusade, Flying Hellfish represent), there isn’t actually a lot of difference between the two. Both demand hours of preparation, menial tasks that no one on the outside cares about (practicing punt drops; grinding consumables) yet are essential to the final product. Both reward those who can focus on a task to the exclusion of all else, even if it means broken friendships and families, because the willpower to shut out the world is what separates the champs from the chumps.

Both are merging, slowly yet surely, as we strive to recreate the real in the digital with perfect 1:1 fidelity. Pong joysticks gave way to N64 rumble packs gave way to Beatsaber wands and the future just keeps rushing towards us like a freight train. Ten years from now, who knows how we’re going to play.

Above all, I wanted Otaku to be a story that I was proud of, and I am. I think it’s a story that reflects where our society is now and where our society might go if we’re not careful (minus the swordfights against killer robots, but hey, you never know), and it would be an honor to me if you’d consider reading it.

See you in the real, chummer.


Otaku: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Follow the author on Twitter.

8 Comments on “The Big Idea: Chris Kluwe”

  1. I would offer a small defense to Mr. Kluwe. To say that he has the world on the lowest difficulty setting is very humble, but he must be fair to himself and admit that becoming one of the 1612 people in the world at any given time to be on the roster of an NFL team does not happen by luck. He worked extremely hard to get there. Granted, he was afforded the time and ability to do the work, but he still had to do it himself.

    Not only that, but he earned riches because of that hard work and didn’t lose himself. In fact, he gained a level of wisdom not typical of the men of his profession.

    Anyway, I’m glad he’s humble and his humility is refreshing, but it’s also important to give credit where credit is due.

    I look forward to reading his debut novel.

  2. Especially like the ‘lowest possible setting’ remark.

    That being said, I think I will have to pick this up because, even at the lowest possible setting, the author is way down the curve in terms of what he has accomplished in the real. We’re talking about multiple deviation units.

    Can it interest someone who thinks William Gibson’s best work is now instead of thirty years ago?

  3. I already read the book and I really enjoyed it. It can definitely interest anyone that enjoys Gibsons work (older and newer). Well written, good action, lots of messaging that will likely zoom over the original targets heads… I preordered it because I follow Chris on twitter, what he says and does in the real is definitely reflected in the book, and this is a good thing.

  4. I first encountered you when you guested on Spellslingers and I thought “wow, this guy is actually pretty cool, even if he runs Blue.” Then I saw a preorder link for your book and was like “wait, he writes books too?” And this pitch you did sold me on it.