Today I am interviewing M.R. Carey, author of the new science-fiction novel, The Book of Koli, first book in the Rampart trilogy.
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DJ: Hi M.R.! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
M.R. Carey: For sure. I’ve been writing my whole life, but I only started doing it as an actual career back in 2000. Before that it was a hobby, and my day job was teaching English at post-16 and adult education levels.
I started out writing exclusively comic books, because that was where I got my break, but I gradually branched out from there into other forms of writing – novels and short stories, then screenwriting, radio, console games… The last two don’t appear on my resume because I didn’t get on with them all that well.
I always write in genre. My comfort zone stretches from horror through dark fantasy into science fiction. Even when I write comedy, which is very occasionally, there’s always a fantasy element. I have no interest whatsoever in writing what has come to be called literary fiction.
DJ: What is The Book of Koli about?
M.R.: It’s a post-apocalyptic narrative, set a few centuries in the future. Our current world-spanning civilisation has fallen apart for many different reasons. There was resource depletion, which caused resource wars. There was a catastrophic decline in biodiversity. The climate broke down, in spite of our best efforts – and throwing science at the problem mostly made things worse. In trying to make plant species hardier and more resilient, we’ve created forests of killer trees that trap and feed on anything that moves.
As a result of all these crises, the human population has spectacularly declined. The survivors live in small, isolated communities – so small that they’re probably not even genetically viable in the longer term. The level of technology has gone back to something close to a medieval level – except for a few precious pieces of tech salvaged from the old times. The people who wield this tech are known as Ramparts, and the protagonist of the book, Koli Woodsmith, desperately wants to become one. But it’s very much a case of “be careful what you wish for…”
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Book of Koli and the series?
M.R.: One of the biggest influences, although only in the sense of very general inspiration, was Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. The events and themes of The Book of Koli don’t have very much in common with those of Twain’s book, but they’re both narrated by young men with very limited literacy. Given that Koli’s voice came first, and that to some extent I built the story around him as the protagonist, that’s not a small thing.
It’s also pretty much impossible to write a post-apocalyptic novel set in Britain without being in the shadow of John Wyndham. I wasn’t consciously thinking of The Chrysalids or Day of the Triffids as I wrote, but there’s no doubt at all that they were in the back of my mind – as was John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy.
I think it’s fair to say, though, that most writers are sublimely unaware of their most important influences. The things that steer our ship are the things that have sunk below the level of our conscious minds, into our creative DNA.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
M.R.: I think Koli is the nicest protagonist I’ve ever written. He’s just a thoroughly decent human being. He gets things wrong sometimes, but he always tries to do what’s right and if he makes a mistake he doesn’t let himself off the hook for it. He looks out for his friends – and on a couple of significant occasions he even does his best by his enemies. He’s an innocent, and it’s always interesting to look through an innocent’s eyes. We see things that he doesn’t, sometimes, which can make for an interesting parallax.
After Koli the most important character in the story is probably Monono Aware, a dead Japanese popstar who has been resurrected as the host AI in a music console. Monono is very different from Koli. Her knowledge base is different, and her personality is a million miles away from his. She’s smart and laconic, emotionally cool and distant where he’s impulsive and earnest. She’s a good foil for him – and she has an arc that takes her in some very interesting and unexpected directions. Well, I hope they’ll be unexpected.
DJ: Aside from the main characters in the story, who is a favorite side character or a character with a smaller role in the story? Why?
M.R.: There’s a character we meet at about the halfway point of the story, who like Monono is based in technology rather than flesh and blood. It’s an armoured tank, referred to (incorrectly) by some of the other characters as Elaine, and it’s in a pretty sad state when we encounter it. Crippled in an ancient war, it sits on a river bank and challenges everyone who passes by, but it can never move again and will never be able to complete its mission. I added it as a grace note, but then decided to take its story a little further in the other two books. There was something there, in the AI’s hard-wired stoicism, that spoke to me and made me come back to revisit it.
DJ: What is the world and setting of the Rampart trilogy like?
M.R.: It’s a world that’s still living out the repercussions of wars and catastrophes that nobody living can now remember. In some ways, it’s a world that – without knowing it – is in a terminal decline. The villages and settlements of humankind have lost touch with each other because the world outside their fences and barricades is so incredibly hostile and dangerous. Year on year their birth rates go down, and without some kind of intervention they’re heading for extinction. But that’s not a thing that most people recognise or accept, and so it’s not a problem that anyone is trying actively to solve. Until Koli. My naïve and largely clueless protagonist decides he’s got to save the world, since nobody else is doing it. And Monono decides to help him.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Book of Koli?
M.R.: Probably it was exploring and mapping Koli and Monono’s relationship, which in the end comes to be a defining thing for both characters. But there were also some dramatic scenes that I really had fun writing. For example there’s a moment when Koli has to escape from an underground encampment of religious fanatics, and another scene where he goes head-to-head with a man armed with ancient, lethal weaponry. I think they both came out really well as action scenes.
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began the Rampart trilogy? The Books of Koli is only the first book, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
M.R.: Well the biggest theme, running through all three books, is the balance of power between humanity and the rest of the biosphere. I hope people take away a sense of urgency, and a willingness to speculate about radical ways forward. I mean, ways to pull out of the death dive we’re in and repair the damage we’re doing to the natural world.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Book of Koli that you can share with us?
M.R.: Koli is much given to sharing little bits of homespun wisdom, and I use him as a mouthpiece for a lot of my own views. Some of my favourites are:-
– There’s only ever one day that matters, and it moves along with you.
– Life is nothing but change, even when it seems to stand still. Standing still is a human thing, like a defiance we throw, but we can never do it for long.
– I did what fools always have done since time was time, which is I pissed in my own milk and then complained about the taste of it.
DJ: Now that The Book of Koli is released, what is next for you?
M.R.: I’m starting to noodle with an idea for a new novel that will be more horror-inflected. I’m also working on a movie adaptation of one of my novels, and some other TV and movie pitches. And the hardcover collection of my comic book miniseries, The Dollhouse Family, comes out in September – around about the same time as the second Koli novel!
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
I’m on Twitter a lot – Facebook not so much – and I answer questions on Goodreads. I’ve also got an Amazon page, which is at https://www.amazon.com/M-R-Carey/e/B00NGCIG46?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1588078618&sr=8-1. And you can always find news of my latest releases via the Orbit website.
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Books of Koli and the Rampart trilogy that we haven’t talked about yet?
M.R.: Well there are two trans characters, one of whom – Cup – is hugely important to the story and takes a more and more prominent place in it as the trilogy unfolds. I felt like I had a good handle on who she was and where she was going, but I was aware that whenever you’re writing outside your own experience good intentions will only carry you so far. I decided I needed to find a sensitivity reader, and I asked Cheryl Morgan if she would be prepared to take on that task – knowing that she already had a ton of things on her plate and would most likely not have the bandwidth. But she said yes, and it’s been absolutely amazing to work with her. She brought such a lot of insight and understanding into the story, and enriched it in more ways than I can count.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
M.R.: Absolutely my pleasure! I’m sure we’ll talk again…
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***The Book of Koli is published by Orbit and is available TODAY!!!***
Buy the Book:
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About the Book:
M. R. Carey is a writer who is equally at home in a wide range of media. His previous novel The Girl With All the Gifts was a word-of-mouth-bestseller and is soon to be a major motion picture based on his own screenplay. Under the name Mike Carey he has written for both DC and Marvel, including critically acclaimed runs on X-Men and Fantastic Four, Marvel’s flagship superhero titles. His creator-owned books regularly appear in the New York Times graphic fiction bestseller list. He also has several previous novels, two radio plays and a number of TV and movie screenplays to his credit.