Ginger Nuts of Horror
‘Behold my epic, futile waste!’
Jon Wallace’s new novel, Rig, takes place at sea. Part of the story is set aboard The Ark, a luxury ship populated by the super-rich survivors of nuclear war. The Ark sails in a perpetual circle about a huge oil rig, where poorer survivors toil in its service.
Here Jon discusses how super yachts and oligarchs helped to shape his scifi – and why Donald Trump makes it all feel a bit close for comfort.
As a science fiction writer you watch the march of Trumpism with a kind of rubber- necked awe. This ludicrous caricature of oblivious greed has won the Republican nomination, lending the election the character of a rejected story idea given life; a dystopian satire discarded as too blunt an instrument. A reality TV host as President? Nah, that’s a bit too on the nose.
Yet here we are, watching as the ship of state glides toward an iceberg that we needed no lookout to spot; one that has been lit up in garish neon, dominating the horizon, daring us to come on. ‘Hard a port!’ scream the sane, tugging at the wheel. ‘Never! Steady as she goes!’ reply Republicans, preferring to perish faithful to their suicidal course, rather than admit doubt and live.
Why the tortured nautical metaphor? Because Trump, however much we might try to redefine him, is an oligarch; one of that twisted caste of nationless other people that lords it over our threatened world. And it is the super yacht, more even than the skyscraper, that epitomises the brazen tyranny, dislocation and sickness of oligarch kind.
Trump owned a yacht for some time, its name reflecting his breed’s total dislocation from humour. The name Trump Princess begs to be mocked, and doesn’t care: ‘Go ahead, loser,’ it says. ‘Show me your superyacht and maybe I’ll give a damn.’
Trump purchased the Princess from a Saudi Arms dealer. In its previous life it served as a set for rogue Bond production, Never Say Never Again, where it was named Flying Saucer - a more fitting title for a vessel constructed specifically to leave planet Earth. With on board cinema, disco, swimming pool and hospital, bedecked in that chilling mix of beige and gold, it was once the largest vessel in the world.
Now it’s way down the lunatic league table. The President of the UAE’s Azzam tops the current list, running 180 metres long, with its own submarine and missile defense system - a real Bond villain’s floating lair. Yet another yacht project will reach even longer - costing more than a billion dollars and funded by an unknown party - but revealingly carry fewer guests.
To the scifi author, compelled to imagine the near future, these sea monsters augur poorly, urging us towards dystopian speculation: oligarchs are not the benevolent princes of a connected world; quite the contrary. They live proudly apart from men, as mad tyrants. For what is the superyacht but a symptom of a corrupted mind, the advance stage of a kind of wealth-induced dementia? How oblivious and obscene they are, bloated with excess capacity, as the dispossessed perish in desperate little rafts in the Med.
How then, asks the author imagining the near future, can we imagine a better world within capitalism - when those who claw their way to the summit of the system find only madness? As writers we can at least console ourselves that these monsters make for great characters, as incestuous and batshit as Pharaohs: it’s fun to imagine how the madness took hold; probably through the awful dawning realisation that death cannot be bought.
The monsters try to overcome mortality of course, surrounding themselves with the young and beautiful, torturing their skin, teeth and hair into more and more freakish impersonations of youthful vigour. They board their Flying Saucers and attempt to leave time and man behind, to fuse their identities with their yachts and become something more than human.
Sometimes the superyacht seem like a deliberate challenge to decent society: ‘Behold my epic, futile waste!’ they scream at the shore. ‘And there’s nothing you can do!’ Somehow, subconsciously, do they wish for a storm that will dash them to pieces? Are they begging us to board their galleons, plunder their holds, and leave them burning wrecks?
If so, they’ve been disappointed. No matter how brazen the display becomes, we still don’t take up the challenge. Maybe that’s why Trump sold his yacht and entered the Presidential race. He came back to dry land to be put out of his misery. He wanted some bold hero to slay the creature he had become. Instead he has been raised up, within grasp of the highest democratic office in the world. And what conclusion should he draw from that? That his followers are mad too? That they too wish it all would end?
My third novel, Rig, is set in a world where a mad president has nuked his own country. This is a very different President to Trump, but possessed of the same hypocrisy, prejudice, and aversion to science.
In this future, oligarchs like Trump live aboard The Ark, a huge luxury sanctuary for the insane and mega rich, sailing in a perpetual circle about the Arctic Ocean. They orbit a giant oil rig, where their fellow men toil in their service – but with the arrival of anti-hero Kenstibec aboard the Rig, they might finally see that secret, suicidal urge satisfied.
Rig concludes the Kenstibec series, which started with Barricade. The books are perfect for fans of dark, action-packed, funny science fiction.
Jon on facebook and twitter or visit his website.
Published by Gollancz, June 16 2016, Trade Paperback £16.99 / eBook £8.99
A fast-moving, filmic and violent SF thriller, perfect for fans of Jack Campbell - The Road meets Rogue Trooper.
Barricade introduced the artificial lifeform, Kenstibec and they saw him reduced to the level of humanity. Now Kenstibec must fight his way to the home of the man who created him and the other Ficials, the man who tipped the world into war and sealed humanity's fate. Can Kenstibec win a future back for man?
Jon Wallace has written a series of short, high-action yet thoughtful, SF thrillers. Controversial, yet full of dark humour, these are rewarding SF thrillers that echo the pleasures of noir and bring a sharp new perspective to British SF.
Praise for the series.
"Jon Wallace keeps the pace up, delivering intense set pieces alongside plenty of twisted humour and bone-crunching violence"
"A taxi ride, in Jon Wallace's scintillating debut novel, becomes an epic trek through a near-future Britain ravaged by conflict and nuclear war...the end of civilization has seldom been such gruesome fun"
The Financial Times
"Jon Wallace, I warrant, is one to watch"
Jon Wallace debuted with BARRICADE in 2014. The novel sparked controversy and divided reviewers but also won vociferous fans. He has had short stories published in Interzone. Before writing full time he worked in marketing in the charities sector. He currently lives in North London with his wife and is available for interview and to write articles.