Today, I'm introducing my inaugural interview on the blog! On my Couch of Questioning, I have the excellent Matt Doyle, author of the tech-noir novel Addict.
Matt’s novel centers on an outwardly tough PI named Cassie Tam who accepts a seemingly open-and-shut case of a virtual reality addict’s overdose, but instead stumbles into cold-blooded corporate intrigue and the community of tech-shifters (think furries but with cyborg animal personas).
I found the idea of tech-shifting exciting and original, a twenty-first century take on the prolific trope of were-animals. Where did the idea come from?
It was actually a combination of a number of things.
In part, it stems from my love of Urban Fantasy, and shifters in particular. I really wanted to incorporate some of that into my work, but I find that I’m generally more comfortable writing sci-fi. Even so, I thought that the future setting would be a good starting point for putting an original spin on the character type. The problem was, I wanted there to be a logical reason that the characters choose to do this. If it’s tech based, not to mention voluntary, it can’t come with the caveat of passing the shifting along through a bite, right? The answer came to be while I was still making notes for the mystery.
A little while before I started writing, I saw a documentary called Secret Life of the Human Pups. It basically followed a group of UK pet-players with a focus on one person who roleplayed as a puppy. I knew a little bout pet-play before the documentary, but it was still a good learning experience. It was also nice to see the scene portrayed in such a positive light, with a focus on it being non-sexual for the majority who take part. Like Cassie’s client Lori in Addict, those it followed used puppy-play as a means to unwind and escape from life’s foibles.
So, I started working with the idea of replacing PVC and leather with tech, and came up with the metal exoskeleton idea. The more I looked at it though, the more I realized that it was a concept that had the potential for being combat ready, if it allowed users to avoid crawling around on their hands and knees. That in itself was easily incorporated. I was a 90’s kid, and almost every popular cartoon, comic or game in my youth featured anthropomorphic animals. By that token, most people I knew fit the definition of a furry - a fan of anthropomorphic animals – though they never likely knew it. The difference was, a lot of my peers moved on to other things, while I still read Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, play Sonic the Hedgehog and watch Space Jam alarmingly regularly. It was actually in my teens that I first heard about the furry fandom, and I’ve been around it – admittedly in a more lurking capacity due to my own shyness – since the late 90’s.
I’ve built fursuits before too (one full, one partial), and there are plenty of online tutorials out there if you go looking. One type that is perhaps less well-known is the quadsuit. It’s basically a fursuit that allows you to walk around as a quadruped. There are some really stunning ones out there, ranging from real animals to Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon. The way that the Tech Shift Gear works is in part based on quadsuits and stilt style digitigrade legs.
From there, I figured that it would be kinda obvious that the tech had its roots in fursuiting. That presented a problem because I really liked the pet-play angle for Lori and the way it tied into the overall mystery. Like Lori herself says though, it is classed as a fetish, despite being non-sexual. That’s a label that’s been placed on the furry community a lot, despite it not being the focus of what the fandom is. I wanted to avoid accidentally adding to that association, so I came up with the three F categories for Tech Shifters: Furries, Fetishists and Freaks. The idea was to create a clear separation – Furries took the gear on and tended to stick to humanoid suits for fun, Fetishists were a separate group who mostly used quadrupedal suits as a way to wind-down, and Freaks were the catalyst for the changing laws around psychological testing so as to avoid a repeat of the bloodshed caused by those who used the gear for bad reasons.
For anyone interested, there are some fursuiters that have incorporated tech into their fursuits already too. Beauty of the Bass has a working speaker system in there’s so that they can play music and do voices. Meanwhile, Kaiborg Studios have done masks with digital displays for faces. It’s wonderful to see innovations like that, I think. When I look at work like that and then see Tech Shifting referred to Mecha-Furries, it really does make me smile. I love that as a classification.
I loved the idea that your tech was sci-fi in its creative scope but familiar enough that people will easily recognize it. I know from your profile that you’re a gamer. It’s so easy to immerse yourself in the high-res games now available, almost like a double life. Does gaming impact you as a writer?
That’s a difficult one. I do game, quite regularly in fact, but a lot of my go-to titles aren’t part of the realistic looking high-res end of things. Don’t get me wrong, stuff like the newest Resident Evil looks stunning, and Halo at its graphical best is beautiful. Most of my favorites are 2D though, like the older games in the Sonic series or the anime-influenced BlazBlue series of fighters.
That being said, heavy gaming use, in particular with things like the current generation of VR headsets, did form part of the basis for the concept of VR addiction. When you look at how real things like the aforementioned Resident Evil look and then combine that level of quality with online business, you can see where the two could combine into a world with addictive qualities, especially if you’re forced into a position where you spend much of your time as part of that world. It’s like how people spend their lives on social media, but more immersive. In truth, that was as influenced by Mamoru Hosoda’s Digimon: Our War Game and Summer Wars animated features as gaming though.
Looking at it objectively, gaming probably had more of an impact on my first series of novels, The Spark Form Chronicles. Those books drew on a lot of things I loved as a kid; card gaming, wrestling, anime and so on. The story followed a group of card players who were taking part in a major tournament. In that world, the game they played was treated like a major sport, and they all played characters for TV appearances, had flashy wrestling style entrances and did backstage interviews. The matches themselves were played out by holograms, similar to the YuGiOh anime, but I wrote them to be like a mix of pro wrestling and fast based video game battles – I was a pro wrestler for almost ten years, and have played beat ‘em ups since I was far too young to do so, so I had plenty of experience to draw on there.
One of the holograms, Carnival, also kinda had a gaming influence. She was an AI that claimed to be alive, and while she never had a POV chapter, she’s the most popular character there. Despite being of non-human design – she’s an anthropomorphic wolf/rabbit hybrid – her relationship with the character of John Forrester is kind of similar to that of Cortana and Master Chief in Halo. I hadn’t actually played the games at the time that I was writing it, but I knew of the story, so I think that that crept in subconsciously.
Let’s talk Bert for a minute! CAW! As you know, I’m completely enamored of this little creature. Can you explain to readers what Bert is? I want one for Christmas.
Ha! I love Bert. Like Carnival, he doesn’t have a POV chapter, but he’s become really popular with readers. Honestly, I hoped that people would like him, but I had no idea how well he’d go down.
Bert is a Familiar Unit. In Cassie’s world, flesh and blood pets still exist, but with the city of New Hopeland being one that was built to be tech-focused, it makes sense that electronic pets would be popular. In a way, we already have them now with all the new toy dogs, cats and other beasties you see advertised every Christmas! Familiar Units are a little different to Furbys and Hatchimals though.
They usually come with one of two default settings: Family Class and Protector Class. Family Class units act like the pets we know and love, while Protector Class units are primarily given to the police and military units to take the place of dogs. So, while Family Class Familiars are tolerant with kids and show some affection, Protectors Class Familiars are set to guard and meet aggression with aggression times ten.
Now, Bert is a little special. For one, rather than going for a standard house pet design, Cassie had him built to look like a little beaked gargoyle (that was entirely because I was, and still am, on a Disney’s Gargoyles kick). She also requested that he came with hybrid programming. She needed a Familiar that would be useful on tough cases, but that would be safe to have around her apartment/office. What that means is that Bert is capable of providing back-up and acting as an intimidation tool, but that he’s also more than a little cheeky. He’s basically the snarkiest cat in the world crossed with a loyal guard dog.
One reviewer did mention that Bert was interesting because he gives the impression of having some sentience and that they wanted to see that explored more. It’s an important thing to note, and there will be more on that, but don’t expect it to be a quick story arc. Bert has more behaviors to display in book 2, and the plan is to perhaps broach why he acts the way he does in book 3. The main thing is that he’s adorable and he’s here to stay.
I pegged Cassie Tam as a tough on the outside, gooey on the inside PI. Would you say that’s a fair assessment of her character? What’s her greatest flaw, and her crowning strength?
I would say so. She definitely has that tough exterior, which is needed given the different types of low-life that she has to come into contact with in her day-to-day work. The thing is, she’s built up that shell from a young age. During Addict, she mentions an incident that happened during High School, and you can start to see her taking on the tough role there. Throw in her early attempts at joining the police force and what happened there, and you can see where she’s needed to paint herself up that way.
It all plays into the other side of her personality though. The High School incident happened because she cared about what was going on. So did her issues with the police force. Her demeanor around people comes about because of the path her relationship with different people took. Then, there are her little quirks like the way she changes around Bert, or her loving horror movies despite them giving her nightmares almost without fail every time that she watches one.
I would say that he greatest flaw and her crowning strength are the same thing though: stubbornness. The thing with Cassie is that when she has her eyes set on a particular course, she is going to pursue it doggedly, no matter what. It’s flaw because it means that she constantly sets herself up to head into trouble. She doesn’t really understand the concept of backing down or stepping away when it’s clear that moving on is going to have repercussions, and doing that has led her into tragedy before now. At the same time, that stubbornness is a strength for her because it means that clients can be certain that, if what they want fits in with Cassie’s idea of justice, then that’s what they’re likely to get. She’s like the Terminator like that: she’s out there, can’t be bargained with, and will not stop until she gets to the point that she views as the end destination. Unlike Arnie’s iconic character though, she’s human, and she can be hurt. Which brings us back to it her stubbornness being cyclical in terms of whether it’s a good thing or bad thing.
In Addict (read my too-brief review of this fantastic book HERE), virtual reality has become a serious, verifiable addiction for many people. I can see how this would be very easy for me, and the signs are there in society as everyone’s attention is on their handheld screen or their gaming system. Is there a takeaway message in this that you’d like people to consider?
I suppose that it’s less of a message and more of a warning. I honestly believe that we’ll hit a point where offices are set up to act as hubs for VR based business. Even businesses that have historically been behind in terms of technology are slowly catching up. No matter how much you shift a focus to computers though, there’s always going to be the need for human contact because, even if you add in automated parts, businesses require a controller at different ends of things. And how does that contact come into play? Telephone calls are the preference for many, but my generation tends to like e-mail and text chatting. The current generation is gaining more of a reliance on things like Instagram and SnapChat, so when businesses start adapting to incorporate that, we’ll likely start moving towards VR meetings (with a brief stop on video chatting) as the next step up from teleconferences.
Now, think of the uproar when Twitter crashes or the PlayStation Network goes down. If the way you carried out business, be it as your job, or even just online shopping, incorporated enough similarities to the things that you love, it’s going to increase your exposure to stimulus. Get the right chemical reactions going in your brain, and you end up with the potential to gain either an obsession or an addiction with obsessive qualities.
The technological advancement of society is a good thing. But I do wonder if we could end up heading the way of the VR Junkies in Addict if we’re not careful. The thing to remember is that we need a way to disconnect sometimes, or we end up building up a reliance without even realizing it.
Thank you so much for stopping by the blog today! Addict and Matt Doyle’s other works are available on reputable internet book sites like Amazon and via his publisher, Nine Star Press. Please don’t steal from Matt if you find it on a pirate site. Do the right thing.
Matt, where else can your work be found, and where can people follow you?
Thanks for having me! It’s been an absolute pleasure rambling on. If people want to nab any of my books, or just see what sort of nonsense I’m spouting at any given time, there’s are plenty of places I can be found. My social media links are as follows:
NineStar Press: https://ninestarpress.com/authors/matt-doyle/
I’m most active on my site and Twitter. You can also find purchase links for all my books on the site at: https://mattdoylemedia.com/books/ Just click a cover and it’ll bring up the book details. For Addict specifically though, you can buy it at the following places:
NineStar Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/addict/
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/addict-matt-doyle/1126284684?ean=9781947139046