Persona Cracked is a series that explores the intersection of artists, their work, and social media. My next guest, Mark Everglade, is the pen name of an author of three science-fiction novels, Hemispheres, Song of Kitaba, and the forthcoming, Inertia, as well as several short stories. While Everglade’s work and literary interests resound solidly within the sub-genre of cyberpunk, his activist orientation as a writer has prompted him to recently explore newer, emerging sub-genres within science fiction, including solar- and hope- punk. Everglade holds a master’s degree in Sociological Conflict Theory and resides in Florida with his wife and four children.
Why do you use a pen name? And why is there no autobiographical information about you on Amazon or Goodreads? Are you too cool for big tech?
I write under a pseudonym because free speech is under fire, among other reasons. For instance, a certain state recently passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in a controversial move that gained national attention. The bill has far reaching impacts for suppressing free speech ranging from health education communications to education, and is a targeted mechanism to promote shaming, requiring teachers to report to children’s parents anytime they even suspect a child might be gay, subjecting that child to abuse and disownment, which encourages toxic masculinity as a defense mechanism against the state.
An equally concerning example from that state is the new constitutionally-violating House Bill HB7, “Individual Freedom.” The bill prevents any discussion of one race being oppressive towards another currently or historically. It makes it illegal to defend affirmative action in education or to discuss slavery reparations in school, providing strict penalties for doing so. Teachers and other individuals can now be charged for discrimination for talking about White privilege or anything inducing Whites to feel “guilt or anguish,” as the bill puts it. Considering that the Federal Government owes 12 trillion in reparations for slave labor, of which a minimum of 4 trillion is needed to make a significant impact, this bill is ill-disposed, a reversal of societal progress, and a perversion of everything decent. But notice I still am reluctant – even under a pen name – to directly call out the state in question due to my associations with it.
Bills are often named things like ‘freedom’ when they are suppressing it. If you can prime the interpretation, you can get people to cheer for chains. Bills also carry threats far beyond their wording, and set precedence.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about two types of peace – the type that comes from quieting dissent, and the type that comes from truly addressing the underlying issues. We have never experienced that second type in our nation as a unified whole.
(As far as author info on Amazon, they’ve been slow to resolve an issue on providing me access to the account my publisher created to edit it.)
Your Twitter profile mentions that you are neurodivergent, and according to your web site, “I was born a simple boy, simpler than the complex people around me. I studied them to reduce that complexity, becoming more complex myself in the process.” What is the nature of your neurodivergence, how has it impacted your worldview, and what strengths and challenges does it bring to your writing?
I was diagnosed with autism of a greater than average severity. I also have narcissist tendencies I must control. When the Jungian shadow self isn’t acknowledged, it just becomes stronger. There’s a movement in psychology gaining some momentum to view narcissism as a pervasive developmental disorder like autism, which would be interesting if upheld in the way we view many celebrities and politicians.
There is an interesting relationship between simplicity and complexity. Systems develop complexity to reduce their complexity, becoming more complex in the process. Example: a social norm is violated repeatedly in hundreds of different ways making it difficult to determine what a punishment should be, so a law is created which simplifies the adjudication. But that law requires a whole industry of lawyers, judges, and paralegals to interpret it, adding to social complexity. I feel like I was the same way, trying to simplify all the complex social norms by coming up with what I call workflows through trial and error, but applying them to a variety of situations becomes a challenging interpretation for some people on the spectrum.
A workflow might be as simple as saying goodbye when someone says it to you. But applying it becomes complex at times. For instance, if you say goodbye and return to that person later and leave again, do you owe a second goodbye upon the second departure, and how long does the first goodbye last, and how many feet constitutes vicinity of presence? So yeah, I offend people sometimes amidst the calculations.
When writing, it took decades before I could write dialogue, though other elements like systematic plot flows came naturally. For years, I wrote never describing anyone’s body language. If you see body language in my writing such as “he nodded, while leaning forward,” it was added after the fact. Autism does make it challenging to know how much detail to provide the reader to ground them in the scene as well, but give me a complicated article on planetary rotation and boom, I’ve mastered the content enough to base a novel on it in no time. Granted, if you’ve met one person on the spectrum, you’ve only met one person on the spectrum, as we’re all quite different, and it’s just a label.
Autism impacted my worldview because it allowed me to study society in a systematic manner without personal experiences and emotions biasing my judgment too much, allowing for branching logic to extend in myriad directions simultaneously across an almost visual field. That’s not to say autistic people have no emotions, as the stereotype maintains; many are the most emotional people I’ve known.
You seem to be every bit a scholar of science fiction as you are a writer of it. In this interview/article, “Is Cyberpunk Dead?”, you speak with Bruce Bethke, who coined the term ‘cyberpunk’ in a story about teenage hackers published in 1980. You also use Google analytics to help determine the current popularity of the genre. Finally, the article leads to a discussion thread on Hacker News related to this overarching question, which currently has more than 155 comments. How does your tech savvy, marketing skill, and formal and informal education inform your role as a writer and scholar of science fiction?
I often wonder if it’s important for writers to be writers at all. I’ve watched masterful works like T.K. Young’s Chawlgirl Rising get relatively little attention while “see Spot run” type books sell off the shelves. Ninety percent of the work isn’t writing, its graphics and marketing, advertising and editing, running analytics, compiling budget proposals etc. Basically, everything one would do to run a business. From a numbers standpoint, you’re better off being a great businessperson and a mediocre author than the other way around.
As a sociologist, I’ve been interested in the research on how dystopian literature impacts people’s perceptions, in addition to studying the level of violence in cyberpunk literature. There are many positive impacts that any literature that challenges the status quo have been documented to have. The most interesting discussion recently was with a social psychologist from Australia who asked me for feedback on the definition of science fiction used in psychological research, and that involved everything from studying the Aristotelian commentary on techne, to reviewing how the genre term is used in common vernacular.
Part of what drives my curiosity is that I want to know my work is doing more good than harm, and any time we write a violent scene we need to be cognizant of that.
Below is the opening paragraph from your first novel, Hemispheres, in which the synopsis begins with the descriptor “light is currency:”
How can the use of figurative language create atmosphere in fiction writing, and what advice would you give storytellers whose prose appears tone-deaf, to help them improve the reading quality of their tales?
My advice is to understand your genre’s conventions. In science fiction, I received some complaints that my early prose like Hemispheres, which contains chapters I wrote 25 years ago, was too metaphorical. In sci-fi anything goes, so metaphor can often be mistaken for truth.
Example, in a beta version of one novel I was asked to review read, “He stepped onto the train and was in another world.” The author meant to show the character being unfamiliar with the homeless lifestyle that was present on the train, but when you’re reading sci-fi you don’t know if he actually went through a portal!
Metaphor isn’t usually an issue though unless the metaphors slow the reader down. It’s common to see 20 metaphors in the same paragraph, but we skim over them if they’re familiar. Statements like his paycheck vanished into thin air after receiving the bill are metaphorical, but so trite that you can read them with ease. Unusual metaphors should be used only a couple times per page, though in fantasy readers do seem to appreciate a much more eloquent, classical writing style full of the rich imagery metaphors provide, so know your genre.
Regarding being tone-deaf, if I understand your use of the term correctly, writers want to be famous, and so they aren’t speaking of political issues in their writing or social media posts to avoid alienating their fanbase. The larger the author, the stronger this effect is. This is why most cyberpunk written by the big publishers reads like privileged, poser nonsense, and why you gotta get underground in the indie community to get the real shit.
Your June 14th Twitter post regarding the recent release of your novel, Song of Kitaba, in which a woman must grapple with a government that strips thoughts from people’s minds and makes them public, was promoted online as an example of ‘hopepunk’ and gained wide attention with more than 210 retweets 668 likes. Why do you think this post has been so popular, and what does it say about your own brand of science fiction and hopes of contributing to the larger pantheon of this genre?
Posts are going viral nowadays across the board but no one can figure out how or why. It’s almost random. Many economists have retired early, unable to provide proper advice in a market where a tweet about GameStop and AMC theaters results in sudden thousand-fold gains, or where dog-headed currency impacts markets. It’s chaos. Let me offer my tweet as an example of this randomness. Yes, the post advising the book was coming out that Friday went viral, earning about 40,000 impressions and generating tons of excitement. But the actual book posts that Friday with the purchase link earned maybe five retweets. Random.
Regarding hopepunk, people like to be on the forefront of something new, but there’s little new under the sun and I worry these subgenres are diluting the presence of dystopian fiction, but I do play it up on the marketing side. All marketing is based on the illusion of novelty and the disservice that somehow you’re incomplete without an external way to define your ego (Kitaba calls this out in one of my ads).
You next novel, Inertia, scheduled for release later this summer, is described on your web site as containing elements of both cyberpunk and solarpunk. In the story, a father and daughter must solve an ecological crisis using technology. In our current age, driven by a climate crisis and economic and social insecurity, is it sufficient for sci-fi writers to churn out dystopian tales without providing a mechanism for optimism and change? In your opinion, how much ‘hard’ sci-fi, based on real scientific and technological solutions, should be gracing our speculative fiction nowadays?
With COVID, everyone talked about lessening the curve, taking active measures to buy us time and disperse the disease’s impact over a wider timeframe. With global warming we must do the same, combining both action with getting the word out through our fiction. Unfortunately, a single corporation has more impact in this regard than entire cities. For inspiration, each person must act as if what they do is what Kant called a maxim for all things. Just assume if you do something like recycle that everyone in the world will. Assume if you litter that everyone else is doing the same thing. And actively solicit your politicians to enforce regulations upon these industries, to invest in research, and to promote telework and other fuel-saving options.
However, the challenge is when even 69,040 studies, according to Steven Pinker, have confirmed global warming is happening, but people still deny the problem exists. In sociology we discuss the socially constructed definition of the situation; if you can control what is termed to be, and not be, a problem, you can get people to ignore anything you like.
Jurgen Habermas, one of the ten most influential intellectuals alive, showed that this is part of a crisis of science’s legitimization that naturally flows from economic crises like rising inequality. When people stop believing in science, then the government’s legitimization is the next to go, which we saw on January 6th in D.C. and with the “drain the swamp” rhetoric. This all ends according to his Crisis Theory in a crisis of motivation that’s currently represented by the Great Resignation. So all these things, global warming, inequality, a misogynist, diabolical dictator taking U.S. office, we know they’re connected, but our voices aren’t heard. So yeah, we try to reinforce the message with art. If art is for anything other than promoting social change, it’s vanity, and I think Habermas’ old associate Theodore Adorno at the Frankfurt School would have thoroughly agreed.
As for technological solutions, I generally prefer they’re written by scientists who can pose plausible solutions, though that does sound a bit elitist. When such scientists write sci-fi, however, the writing is often so dry and devoid of characterization that it makes the genre as lifeless as the barren planets it describes.
Are the gods, old or new, with us or against us? How do you know?
Like Buddha, I will write off the question respectfully as having no relevance. The true question isn’t a metaphysical one, it’s psychological. Why do we care? If there’s gods or no gods, for or against, it’s speculative and makes little difference. What’s certain is that we fear mortality, want greater meaning in life, need a rest to look forward to, want reassurances and to know what to expect, and don’t want our suffering to be in vain. That’s what makes us question the gods, and those are things that we can work on.
With that said, I believe in a oneness that I call Tao but which has many names in many faiths. It is beyond all dichotomies, neither for nor against, for everything is ultimately one. There are many drops of water in an ocean that may rise into epiphenomenal waves of experience, but that doesn’t change that they’re part of a single body of water. Realizing this, we place aside our ego and national identities and work to protect this oneness, starting with the weakest in society, just as water flows to the lowest quarters giving life as Lao Tzu wrote.
No society is richer than the poorest person in it. If I can capture that idea in my fiction, then that discourse is hopefully half the battle.
Thanks for the thoughtful questions!
Thank you for sharing your story!
Ryan Hyatt, May 27, 2022