In the darkly humorous cyberpunk sci-fi novel Mickey7, worker’s comp isn’t a thing…and for a rather unfortunate reason. But job security must be because that story’s titular worker is back for, well, more work. In the following email interview, author Edward Ashton discusses what inspired and influenced the sequel, Antimatter Blues (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook).
For people who didn’t read it, what was Mickey7 about, and when and where was it set?
The short answer is that Mickey7 is the story of a man whose job is to die.
The slightly longer answer is that Mickey7 is a speculative dark comedy set roughly a thousand years in our future. The story is narrated by Mickey Barnes, A very average person who has gotten himself into the unfortunate position of serving as the designated Expendable on a mission to colonize a barely habitable planet called Niflheim. His role is to do every dangerous-to-suicidal job that comes down the pike, with the understanding that if he dies, his stored memories and consciousness can be uploaded into a freshly printed body. By the time the book picks up he’s already died six times, and he’s figured out that signing on for this gig was not his best-ever decision. Unfortunately, however, this is not the sort of job that you can leave. Ever. You can’t even die to escape. Believe it or not, things get worse from there, until Mickey finds himself having to choose between betraying his people and committing a war crime.
Did I mention it was a comedy?
And then what is Antimatter Blues about, and how does it connect to Mickey7, both narratively and chronologically?
In Antimatter Blues, we catch up with Mickey a couple of years after the end of Mickey7. He seems to be doing well. Summer has come to Niflheim. The colony has forged a tentative peace with Niflheim’s native species. Most importantly, Mickey is no longer in the Expendable business. He’s resigned from a job you can never resign from, which is a pretty neat trick. Unfortunately, however, it’s not going to last. A new winter is coming, and due to some poor decisions by Commander Marshall at the end of the previous book, the colonists don’t have enough antimatter fuel left in their reactor to get them through it. So, Marshall calls Mickey back out of retirement to get the fuel they need back from Niflheim’s natives, who have problems of their own and are not particularly inclined to give it to him. Ultimately, the fate of both species winds up in Mickey’s hands.
When in relation to writing Mickey7 did you get the idea for Antimatter Blues, and what inspired this second story?
My goal in writing Mickey7 was to produce a fun stand-alone novel that would be one-hundred-percent complete if there were never any other related stories, while also leaving an opening to do more with the story if the vagaries of the publishing world permitted it. So, I left the seed of Antimatter Blues at the end of Mickey7, knowing that it might or might not ever be permitted to grow. I never have all the details of a book down until I’ve actually finished it, but I had the basic plot for Antimatter Blues laid out even before I’d completed the first draft of Mickey7. In the same way, the seed of the next book is there at the end of Antimatter Blues. Will that one ever see the light? Who knows? Ask me again this time next year.
And this is going to sound like a joke question, but it’s really not: Is there a reason it’s called Antimatter Blues as opposed to Antimatter Rocks or Antimatter Jazz or something else with a musical double meaning?
Well, antimatter is the root of all Mickey’s troubles in this book, so blues seemed like the appropriate musical genre.
Mickey7 was a cyberpunk sci-fi story, with a bit of situational humor. Is that how you’d describe Antimatter Blues as well?
I think of Antimatter Blues as the skin of a dark comedy laid across the bones of a classic sci-fi adventure story. I took care of all the worldbuilding and philosophical underpinnings in Mickey7, so in this book I was able to get right to the fun stuff.
So, what writers, and which of their novels, novellas, or short stories do you think had the biggest influence on the humorous aspects of Antimatter Blues?
The plot and structure of Antimatter Blues have callbacks to older George R.R. Martin books like Dying Of The Light and Tuf Voyaging, among other things. The humor, though? I’ve definitely been influenced by writers like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, but if those guys are at nine or ten on the scale of grim to zany, I’d put my work at more of a four or a five. The closest analogues might be John Scalzi’s Redshirts or maybe Andy Weir’s The Martian, but I think for the most part the humor in my writing is just me.
Aside from all the writers you just mentioned, are there any others who had a big influence on Antimatter Blues, but not on any of your other novels, and especially not Mickey7?
That’s a tough question. I’ve read a ton of books over the years, and they’ve all had a cumulative influence on my voice and style. I don’t think I could point to one that had a specific influence on Antimatter Blues but not on my other books.
How about non-literary influences; was Antimatter Blues influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I don’t think so. The sorts of games I play are pretty orthogonal to the stuff I write about. Same for the (very limited) TV I watch, and the only really memorable sci-fi movie I’ve watched in the past few years was Everything Everywhere All At Once, which was great but also not really related to any of my writing.
And what about your adorably mopey dog, Max? What influence did he have on Antimatter Blues?
He influences everything I write, mostly by shoving his nose under my hands while I’m trying to type.
As we’ve been discussing, Antimatter Blues is the sequel to Mickey7. But I don’t get the sense from what you said earlier that Mickey7 and Antimatter Blues form a duology, or are the first two books of a trilogy…
I really appreciate your implicit assumption that I have some sort of a plan, but sadly it’s just not true. I pretty much drift through life like a jellyfish, digesting whatever happens to blunder into my tentacles. That’s an approach that I think is very adaptive for a midlist author. If you’re John Scalzi or N.K. Jemison (I would assume; I have not asked them) you can say to your publishers that you’re writing a duology or a trilogy or a seven book series and I’d guess they’ll smile and nod and away you go. I can’t do that. If I write a book intending for it to be the first in a trilogy, and then that book doesn’t sell, nobody is going to publish the second book, let alone the third. That’s why I’ve taken the approach I described above, where I leave openings at the ends of my books, but at the same time write them so that if there is never another entry in that particular universe nobody is going to feel that they’ve been cheated.
That said, do you think people should read Mickey7 and Antimatter Blues back-to-back or should they put some space in between?
I think it doesn’t make a huge difference. It’s good if you remember the general plot of Mickey7 when you’re getting into Antimatter Blues, but I’ve been told by folks who read Blues without ever reading Mickey7 at all that they were able to get right into the story without too much trouble, so if it’s been a while that’s probably okay.
I strongly encourage everyone to read both books, though. There are some details in Mickey7 that will help you to understand the importance of some of the stuff that goes on in Antimatter Blues, and there’s a lot of backstory to the characters that might be helpful as well. In fact, now that I think of it, you should probably purchase and read Three Days In April and The End Of Ordinary, too, just to be safe.
Now, normally this would be the point where I’d ask if your novel could work as a movie, TV show, or game. But Mickey7 is already being made into a movie, and by Parasite director Bong Joon-ho. Though he’s calling it Mickey 17 for reasons I assume will become clear when I watch the film. Given that Antimatter Blues is the sequel to Mickey7, have there been any conversations about making an Antimatter Blues movie, or at least not having Bong Joon-ho do something in Mickey 17 that would render that impossible?
I assume my agent is working on film options for Antimatter Blues, but I haven’t been involved in any of those discussions. He generally doesn’t present things to me until they’re done deals, so if anything is in the works there I suspect I’ll find out about it about twenty minutes before everybody else does.
And do you think Bong Joon-ho will change the sequel’s name to Antimatter Rocks or Antimatter Jazz or something else with a musical double meaning? And yes, this time I was joking.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Antimatter Blues?
It’s a fun book, but it’s also a serious one, and the ending made one of my beta readers cry. Also, if enough people are interested in a Speaker plushie we can definitely make that happen.
Finally, if someone enjoys Antimatter Blues, what similarly humorous sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
These are books I’d recommend to everyone, whether they liked my books or not, but I’d say Scalzi’s Redshirts, Jason Pargin’s Futuristic Violence And Fancy Suits, and Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera.