NOVEMBER 9 2019 2:30 AM
IN 2116 AD, THE NATION STATE IS NO MORE. THE WORLD IS RUN BY A NETWORK OF GIANT CORPORATIONS, EACH RULED BY A TRIUMVIRATE OF CHINESE WOMEN. CHINA'S INCREASING ECONOMIC DOMINANCE HAS BEEN CEMENTED, THEN EXPANDED INTO THE POLITICAL; RISING ASIA BESTRIDES THE PLANET, THEIR HEGEMONY CAPITALIST RATHER THAN COMMUNIST.
FOR MANY, THIS IS GOOD: THEY FLOAT IN A BRAVE NEW WORLD-ESQUE BUBBLE OF MONEY, TECHNOLOGY AND MINDLESS PLEASURE-SEEKING. FOR OTHERS, NOT SO MUCH: THE REUNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS TORN APART BY WAR; MANY PEOPLE ELSEWHERE ARE MIRED IN POVERTY AND EXCLUSION, THOUGH NOT OFFICIALLY ADMITTED BY THE SYSTEM.
PERHAPS MOST SIGNIFICANTLY, WOMEN AND MEN HAVE SWAPPED ROLES, WITH THE FORMER TAKING CHARGE OF EVERYTHING AND THE LATTER LIMITED TO KEEPING HOME AND LOOKING GOOD. IT'S AS IF GLOBAL SOCIETY STEPPED THROUGH A MIRROR AND CAME OUT REVERSED. MEANWHILE, IRELAND IS NOW KNOWN AS IRELAND-CORPO: A RELATIVELY WELL-OFF THOUGH POLITICALLY INSIGNIFICANT NODE OF THE ALL-ENCOMPASSING NETWORK.
THIS IS IRELAND AS YOU'VE NEVER SEEN IT BEFORE. AND NUMBER GAMES IS IRISH FICTION AS WE'VE RARELY SEEN IT.
FOR ALL OUR LITERARY ACHIEVEMENTS, SCIENCE FICTION HASN'T FEATURED HIGHLY. I CAN'T THINK OF ONE HIBERNIAN EQUIVALENT TO WILLIAM GIBSON, PHILIP DICK OR URSULA LE GUIN. DUBLIN AUTHOR OWEN DWYER MAKES A VALIANT EFFORT AT REDRESSING THAT IN NUMBER GAMES. THOUGH NOT WITHOUT SOME FAULTS, HIS NOVEL IS CONSISTENTLY SMART, THOUGHT-PROVOKING AND WELL WRITTEN.
HIS HERO, AND OUR LENS THROUGH WHICH TO EXPLORE THIS STRANGE NEW PARADIGM, IS LI: A YOUNG MAN WORKING AT A LOW-TO-MIDDLING LEVEL IN IRELAND-CORPO, WHO SPENDS MOST OF HIS SPARE TIME TAKING DRUGS AND FLINGING HIMSELF INTO RECKLESS SEXUAL ADVENTURES.
HE'S A LIKEABLE SHMUCK; THE KIND OF GUY WITH JUST ENOUGH DEPTH TO REALISE HOW SHALLOW HE IS. HE DRIFTS THROUGH HIS EXISTENCE WITH A VAGUE SENSE OF DISSATISFACTION GNAWING AT HIS PSYCHE.
WHEN HE MEETS TATTOO (AMUSINGLY, HE TAKES AN AGE TO BOTHER LEARNING HER REAL NAME), LI IS THROWN INTO A GLOBE-SPANNING SERIES OF ADVENTURES - PERHAPS MISADVENTURES IS CLOSER - WHICH GRADUALLY REVEAL THE TRUE NATURE OF THE CORPO STRUCTURES, AND THE MISERY MASKED BY IT.
DWYER'S STORY JUMPS FROM DUBLIN TO MANCHESTER, ATHLONE, CARLOW, CAPRI AND, FINALLY, SEATTLE. THE FUTURE OF HUMANITY HAS, THROUGH HAPPENSTANCE AS MUCH AS DESIGN, ENDED UP IN HIS HANDS.
VOLUME IS GEDEMPTTHERE'S A LOT TO ADMIRE IN NUMBER GAMES, PARTICULARLY HOW WELL RENDERED IT IS: THE TEXTURES, RHYTHMS, SOUNDS AND EXPERIENCES OF LIFE IN 2116 ARE EXPRESSED WITH SHINING CLARITY. AND DWYER WRITES REALLY NICELY, WITH CHOICE PHRASING, PROVOCATIVE OBSERVATION AND, FOR THE MOST PART, VIVID CHARACTERS WHO FEEL REAL, EVEN IN THIS WEIRD ELSE-WORLD (LI'S BROWBEATEN DAD IS A MINOR BUT ESPECIALLY GOOD EXAMPLE OF HOW CHARACTERS CAN CHARM AND SURPRISE).
WHERE NUMBER GAMES FALTERED, FOR ME, WAS IN WHAT AFICIONADOS TERM 'WORLD-BUILDING'. NOT SO MUCH THE BROAD STROKES - IT'S NOT TOTALLY IMPLAUSIBLE THAT THE CHINESE WILL RISE TO THE TOP OF THE PILE, WOMEN WILL GAIN ASCENDANCY OR CAPITALISM WILL SUPPLANT DEMOCRACY.
BUT I DIDN'T FULLY BUY SOME OF THE DETAIL, PARTICULARLY THE SWAPPING OF SEX ROLES. WOULD MEN AND WOMEN REALLY SLOUGH OFF MILLIONS OF YEARS OF BIOLOGICAL CONDITIONING JUST LIKE THAT? WOULD WOMEN IN THIS PUTATIVE FEM-TOPIA BE AS SEXUALLY AGGRESSIVE AS SOME MEN ARE NOW? DO BASIC HORMONAL REALITIES NOT PRECLUDE THIS?
ANYWAY, SMALL QUIBBLES; AND LI IS AN AGREEABLE HERO, WITHIN A STORY OF REAL AMBITION AND VERVE, TO MAKE YOU OVERLOOK THEM. KUDOS TO LIBERTIES PRESS FOR TAKING A SHOT ON HOME-GROWN SCI-FI, AND HERE'S HOPING NUMBER GAMES IS MERELY THE FIRST OF MANY.
NOVEMBER 9 2019 2:30 AM
I was asked recently where the idea for my book Number Games came from. It’s very difficult to pinpoint inspiration. In my case there seemed to have been a lot of different strands of thought playing around in my head over time, which came together as a result of a trigger. The trigger was a conversation I had with my son about the cutthroat nature of the singles scene in London, where he was living and working at the time. His experiences, as well as stories he told me about friends of his, made me think about the role prejudice plays in our interaction with one another. The use of Social Media exaggerates and amplifies our inclination to accept or reject one another for the most superficial of reasons. And I’m not just talking about size and shape. All sorts of other bizarre stuff from hairstyles to clothing to jewellery comes into brief consideration before a potential candidate is swiped to rejection oblivion. This got me thinking about how brutal and isolating prejudice can be, to both the victim and the perpetrator. It was bad enough in my day, when you were left trembling with disappointment in a phone box, but at least you were given a reason. (I’ve been told this by friends of mine).
Secondary sources have always been a great resource. Great books give great perspectives and books like Gulliver’s Travels, Number 9 Dream by David Mitchell and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale were particularly inspirational for me. These novels contain alien landscapes against which the protagonist’s natural beliefs are scrutinised. By using such a device, the authors were able to interrogate their own ‘real life’ societies in an interesting and inoffensive way. You can get away with a lot if you base your book in the future, the past or in some strange land, and, you can challenge readers to think in new ways. Jonathan Swift was ahead of his time when he wrote Gulliver’s Travels in the 1720s and the book is still ahead of its time today. His use of satire is extraordinary. Which got me thinking. We’re all so uptight and defensive in this age of political correctness – wouldn’t it would be interesting and possibly funny to reverse our roles. Why not reverse the whole world? We are all, or I am at any rate, slaves to our preconceived notions. But what do we really know or understand? Very little, probably. The big idea behind Number Games was to rethink that which we think we already know by challenging prejudice. By writing the book I found no answers, but I discovered a few new questions.
Getting published is ridiculously difficult. It’s a Catch 22 of not getting anywhere until you’re known and not being known until you get somewhere. If you renamed The DaVinci Code and sent it surreptitiously to 1000 publishers, it would probably end up on the slush pile of 999. Many classics from To Kill a Mockingbird to Ulysses were famously rejected time and again. Rejection is a fact of life for writers – we have to learn to live with it. In my case, I’ve had more rejections than a pimply kid at a disco. In my experience it is a timely and futile exercise to continually send cold submissions to Agents or Publishers. So, what do you do? The most important thing is to keep writing what you want to write and not allow yourself to be discouraged or distracted. But be practical. It helps to seek guidance from someone who knows more about the industry than you do. I sent the book into Vanessa Fox at Writing.ie for an appraisal. She gave me valuable advice and we worked through the manuscript together over a period of a month or so. Vanessa was good enough to recommend publishers who would be interested in that particular type of work and even sent an introductory email to one or two. This generated genuine interest and my rejections improved in quality – the manuscript was actually being read. I sought and listened to feedback and continued to try to improve the work. I researched publishers, readers and agents and wrote personalised submission letters stating why I felt my book would be right for them. I entered competitions. I met other writers and industry people by going to Festivals. Eventually Sean O’Keefe from Liberties Press responded to a reworked submission, resent a year after an initial rejection. We met and agreed a deal. I should probably be looking for an Agent, but I’ve been happy with Sean who has been particularly supportive and professional, editing the manuscript and giving me pointers.
(c) Owen Dwyer
Owen is a prize-winning short story writer and fiction author. Aside from Number Games, he wrote the Agitator, a novel written in the first person of a repentant psycho-killer, which was published in 2003.