One of the Courier's culture editors caught up with Miles M. Hudson on the promotional tour for his new science fiction novel 2089, set in a future where privacy is a thing of the past.
Hi Miles, could you tell us a bit about your role at the university?
I’m the physics PGCE tutor in the education department, so I teach the trainee science teachers how to teach physics.
Physics is quite different from creative writing. How did you get into writing?
I’ve spent a good few years writing physics textbooks for schools, but I really wanted to move into something more creative. Explaining the same physics concepts again and again… it is starting to get a little bit dull.
In a previous conversation you mentioned the NCLA – the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts. Did they have an impact on your writing?
Yeah. In the early stages of writing this book I had the background concept for the novel, but my previous publishing experience was in non-fiction. Whilst I think I’m a great writer, I wanted to practise and hone the craft, so I did a course with them. It was really good fun, more than anything else, but it was useful to this particular book.
2089 is published by Unbound publishers. Could you tell us your experience of using Unbound in relation to your previous novel, which was self-published?
My physics textbooks are traditionally published. When I wanted to move into creative writing, I originally wrote a detective story but I couldn’t get any publishers interested in that. Self-publishing is becoming popular and straight forward, so I published it that way. I found that I could sell the book if I made a lot of effort, but I wanted to spend my time on writing. When it came to 2089 I thought this ought to go with a proper publisher. But I had the classic debut author struggle, with rejection letter after rejection letter. In the end I finished with Unbound. They are a proper publisher, if you like, but their business model is different in that you crowdfund the expenditure to pay for the editing, cover design, that kind of business. I happened to submit it when one of their editors was looking for dystopian fiction, which is kind of the theme of 2089. It did then have to go through that whole crowdfunding phase, which realistically is almost more difficult than selling your own book, because you haven’t even got the actual book to hand over but you want the money upfront.
You mentioned your work as a piece of dystopian fiction. Would you really class it as a dystopia?
Yes and No. It’s a surveillance society, post-apocalyptic future thing. But I’ve very deliberately aimed it to be positivist. The surveillance is not the tool of some oppressive regime, it’s a sort of everyday part of life. One of the main themes I’m trying to get the reader to think about is whether it is actually a dystopia or in fact a utopia. So you’re quite right, you could argue that’s it’s just a jaunt through the countryside in the future.
It seems at times like it’s almost more of a communal, albeit authoritarian, utopia, rather than a dystopia - quite unlike the most famous dystopia, 1984, which your title begs a comparison to. Was that a conscious choice?
It’s definitely a nod to 1984. One of the fundamental points of 2089 is that everything you see and hear is surveyed – you are monitored and everything is published publically online. That’s the difference. Rather than Big Brother watching you, it’s everyone watching you. So while there are similarities, there are also differences. The working title was actually 2084. To be honest, I was never keen on that because I didn’t want the comparisons to be made so directly, but there is an element of comparison there. I guess it’s almost tipping my hat to George Orwell.
Could you talk about the background to your imagined world?
It’s set in a village near Gloucester. In my thinking about the history leading up to 2089 I organised – that’s the wrong word, I didn’t organise a global meltdown in society – but the history of my story includes just that. What sparked it was an expansive Panama Papers type exposé. People nowadays know that the wealthy and powerful are cementing their positions and that inequality is becoming greater. In my story the idea was that people were so incensed it sparked a sort of Arab Spring all over the world. That led to about a decade of war, famine and pestilence, so the population is reduced to about one percent of the population today.
Do you think this is a more realistic future, perhaps with more relevance to the present day?
I guess I did try to write a story where I could see each logical step as a genuinely possible future. I didn’t imagine a future at random, I carefully plotted out that sequence of events. During the course of the writing and publication, political events have almost overtaken me. Politics now is so crazy you can imagine anything happening! To a certain extent, the truth is stranger than fiction, as they always say.
There is a fantastic sentence about surveillance in 2089: “Scientists have proven that the audiopt feeds were a more accurate record than the visual and auditory perceptions than the actual person involved.” I wondered, in our time of increasing augmented and altered reality, and even the rise of Deepfakes, how relevant do you think this could be to today’s society?
That particular line actually came out of an idea about police witnesses and how notoriously unreliable and inaccurate they are, and how the memory plays tricks on us even when we are absolutely convinced of something. If everything you see and hear is recorded, then clearly there can be no argument against that. Now one thing that I didn’t explore is the concept of Deepfake material and whether you might find somebody hacking your recordings. So you’ve given me an idea of what might happen in the sequel maybe. But yeah that was where that came from, the idea that we are much more fallible than we would like to believe.
Is there the possibility of a sequel?
I’ve got quite an interesting plot idea which takes the audiopt surveillance system to a different level. I’ll probably have to sell a more copies of 2089 first to convince the publishers, I’ve definitely got a good idea for one.
Where can I buy a copy of 2089?
The Blackwell’s store on campus has stock, or both paperbacks and e-books are available on Amazon.
Is it slightly ironic that your book is being sold on Amazon, a company known to collect information about their customers?
Obviously, of course, if you were wandering around your house thinking out loud, ‘Oh that sounds like quite a good book, I ought to get myself a copy of 2089,’ then Alexa will probably have already have put it on your shopping list.
Maybe surveillance isn’t so bad for you after all?
Utopia or Dystopia? That’s what we are trying to work out!