The Big Idea: Christopher Hinz
Christopher Hinz is seeing the re-issue of his Paratwa Trilogy of books (of which Liege-Killer, the cover of which is above, is the first), and on the occasion of their re-release, Hinz has a letter he’d like to share with the universe, about the books, humanity, and the state of the world.
It would be most appreciated if you’d hold off on a nuclear-biological Apocalypse until 2099. Not only might I then be considered prescient for also selecting that date in the Paratwa Trilogy, I would be long departed, thereby dodging the flesh-morphing flash-bangs and organ-shredding biotoxins inherent in the event itself.
OK, perhaps mass extermination tinged with humor shouldn’t serve as kindling for a Big Idea. But that’s the only way I can wrap my simple earthbound mentality around such a scary, larger-than-life scenario. When writing science fiction, however, I operate on a different level, an emotional safe space from which the apocalyptic can be grandly prophesied.
To be accurate, the “remastered” editions of the trilogy (Liege-Killer, Ash Ock, The Paratwa) released this week by Angry Robot Books are post-apocalyptic. Humanity’s descendants, having learned to regulate technology’s worst excesses that sparked Earth’s abandonment, live peacefully in the Colonies, huge orbiting cylinders. But then an enemy from the past, a Paratwa – a genetically engineered assassin with a single mind inhabiting two bodies – is revived from cryo sleep and embarks on a killing spree. The colonists, overwhelmed by the savagery of a creature whose kind were believed wiped out, awaken two Paratwa hunters. The brilliant hacker and tormented soldier possess long-lost skills, yet soon realize that hunting down the assassin is only the beginning, and that a cabal of fanatic Paratwa has been manipulating humanity for centuries.
Remastering the three novels transcended initial estimates of the work involved, ultimately turning into a six-month-long, 1,330-page project. But considering that the original Liege-Killer, the standalone lead-in to the trilogy, was published thirty-plus years ago, maintaining relevancy for a contemporary readership was needed. Significant technological, scientific and social changes occurred since the 1980s. Back then, cellphones and the fledgling internet were for early adopters, the human genome had yet to be sequenced and the first exoplanet lay undiscovered. Most computers were clunky and desk-bound, and the engaging delights and concomitant nastiness of social media remained untapped. Streaming was what water did when it flowed downhill.
As for a real-world apocalypse, back then it seemed far-fetched. True, nuclear armageddon remained a hovering presence since the first A-bomb test in 1945, and less-than-enlightened 80s politicians like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were perturbing the zeitgeist with militaristic posturing. Nevertheless, the 1980s overall felt like a more positive and uplifting decade.
Fast forward to today, where a hefty segment of the populace believes we can’t avoid going down for the dirt nap, and that’s not even considering the possibility of a rogue meteor or comet doing us in. Global warming, environmental degradation, species extinction, emotionally unhinged politicians – it’s enough to make a poor earthling seek permanent escape by begging Elon Musk for a berth on one of his Mars colonization vessels.
The belief that Earth is on a downward spiral partially accounts for what seems to be an ascent of 80s-era SFF. Not only series like Stranger Things, where the story itself occurs within the decade, but the continuing popularity of classic movies of the era, such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Back to the Future, not to mention those dueling franchises beginning with the word “Star.” Notable on the literary front in the 80s were books like Hyperion, Neuromancer and Ender’s Game. Although tending to feature darker themes than their visual comrades in arms, they still managed to hint that somehow, things would turn out OK.
Such positive viewpoints no longer seem as common in our era. And yet, the skeptic in me has to ask, “Are we truly doomed? Is 2020s civilization really going down the tubes?” No matter how much the world might seem on the precipice of disaster, divergent factors need to be considered.
Like negativity bias. Humans are wired to be more significantly impacted by things that are unpleasant and harmful than by those which are agreeable or emotionally neutral. This partly accounts for why the media prioritizes the bad over the good, calamity over exultation. Today this effect undergoes unprecedented amplification by the internet as well as by traditional news outlets. For instance, little attention is paid to the roughly 100,000 flights that take off and land safely across the globe every day, whereas a single plane crash becomes a wildfire meme dominating multiple news cycles.
And then there’s nostalgia syndrome. Every generation at some point begins to cherish the vibrancy of its youthful days, which consequently impels revivals of the eras those individuals came of age. I recall 1960s retro being prominent in the 1990s. Could sentimentality for the 1980s now be enjoying its 15 minutes of fame? And if so, are memories of 80s youthfulness producing a converse effect, elevating a gloriously imagined past while dimming the horizons of a workaday present?
Related to nostalgia is the aging factor. As the years flash by, varying degrees of disappointment and cynicism can take hold. Maintaining a pragmatic and hopeful outlook becomes an increasing challenge. Inevitably, even those with glass-half-full attitudes can’t prevent at least some drops of precious optimism from spilling out.
OK, Universe, after reevaluation, here’s the Big Idea manifested. Instead of choosing a date for our apocalyptic termination, how about an indefinite postponement? Give us a chance to peer at things that were, are and will be through lenses less clouded by the arrhythmic shudders of a media-mad world. Whatever your decision, however, please know that I shall continue appreciating the past, cherishing the now and forecasting the unimaginable.