Exclusive Interview: “Blind Spots” Author Thomas Mullen
Read enough murder mysteries, or watch any cop shows or movies, and you’ll inevitably hear a police officer say that the victim, “Never saw it coming.” But what if no one ever saw it coming because they were blinded by the murderer? This is the idea behind Thomas Mullen’s new novel Blind Spots (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), in which something caused people all over the world to go blind, and while they’ve since compensated with cybernetic implants, a murdererous hacker is now taking advantage of these devices. In the following email interview with Mullen, he discusses what inspired and influenced this cyberpunk sci-fi noir mystery thriller.
Photo Credit: Kate Lamb
To start, what is Blind Spots about, and when, where, and what kind of a world is it set in?
Blind Spots is a speculative crime novel set in an unnamed city in the near future. In a world in which all mankind lost the ability to see, people now can see again thanks to devices (“vidders”), implanted in their temples, which download visual data directly to their brain. But now someone’s figured out how to hack it, committing murders while blacked out of others’ vision, like a human censored bar. Our hero, a detective, needs to figure out who is doing this and how…as the bodies pile up.
Where did you get the idea for Blind Spots?
Many years ago, I happened to read two novels in quick succession that made clever use of redactions and censored content. One was a CIA spy thriller called An Ordinary Spy by Joel Weisberg, who later became the showrunner for The Americans, and one was a literary novel from Iran, Censoring An Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour. In both books, parts of the story are censored by black bars, so the reader doesn’t know what it is that’s being kept from them. Somehow, from there I got the idea of a killer who could move around looking to all the world like a black censor bar, redacted from everyone’s view. I liked the idea, and from there I sketched out the world that could make such a scenario possible.
Did you ever consider having it be a different sense that people lost?
No, it was always a vision thing; the working title for a while was even Visions. Because the book idea sprang from the idea of visual redactions, I never considered a different sense. As one character notes, “we are such visual creatures.”
In a similar vein, the press materials say the blindness was caused by a virus…
Actually, it’s never stated in the book whether it was a virus, or a weird mutation, or a chemical agent, a government plan, a military weapon, etc. I leave that part unexplained, and I leave it to the reader to wonder. And yeah, it would be a different kind of story if this was something people could “opt in” to or not. Though, actually, several characters choose not to get vidders, on principal, including the protagonist’s sister. The argument they have about this is one of my favorite scenes in the book.
Blind Spots sounds like it’s a cyberpunk sci-fi mystery thriller. Maybe with a bit of noir. How do you describe it?
It’s all of the above. I’ve always loved stories that straddle borders, cross lines, mix chemicals, cause trouble.
So, how mysterious does this get?
It wouldn’t be a good mystery if I thought people could figure it out. Some might, and that’s part of the fun, but I hope it’s sufficiently mysterious to keep people guessing and — more importantly — turning the pages.
Blind Spots is your seventh novel. Are there any writers, or stories, that had a particularly big influence on Blind Spots, but not on anything else you’ve written?
This novel owes a lot to Philip K. Dick. Not only his literary works, but the many films that were adapted from them, and which came out in my childhood, teen years and young adulthood, like Blade Runner and Minority Report. As were similar movies, like Children Of Men and Strange Days. I like that not-so-distant-future vibe when crossed with crime and / or mystery, and I wanted to try my hand at creating something like that.
What about Jose Saramago’s Blindness? Did that have any influence on Blind Spots?
I did read that while I was working on this, just to make sure I wasn’t treading on ground someone else had already covered. But it is a very, very different book, in so many ways, which was reassuring for me to discover.
Now, sci-fi novels, mysteries, and thrillers are sometimes stand-alone stories, and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is Blind Spots?
Stand-alone, definitely. Could I ever write a sequel? Maybe, sure. Never say never. (And the book does end with an ambiguous moment, which leaves the door open for more stories.) But prior to this I had just written three books in a historical crime series called Darktown — which may continue one day — so I wrote this deliberately to do something different.
A moment ago I asked if Blind Spots had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Blind Spots could work as a movie, show, or game?
I’m always interested in these possibilities, sure. That’s the world we live in. And this is a very visual story, so I think it has great potential for TV or film. I think it would be up to a great director or showrunner who has a vision of how to capture this world and this strange way of seeing, and I’d certainly love to see that happen.
And if someone wanted to adapt Blind Spots into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Mark and the other main characters?
I usually don’t think of actors when I write. In this case, though, because it was inspired by some films, I sometimes found myself visualizing Clive Owen from Children Of Men, or a forlorn Michael Fassbender [Alien: Covenant]. And when it comes to the protagonist’s partner, I weirdly kept thinking of Tom Sizemore, who was in, among other things, Strange Days, and who sadly just passed away.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Blind Spots?
That it’s awesome! (No, seriously, it’s always so weird to promote one’s work…) In a lot of ways, this is different from my last few, as it’s not historical crime. But I’ve dabbled in speculative fiction before, and a lot of my books cross genre boundaries. I think fans of my past work will find a lot to love here, as it has the same attention to character, prose, and setting, plus a fast-moving plot that poses questions about issues happening in our world today.
Which makes for a good segue to my last question: If someone enjoys Blind Spots, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?
If they’re in the mood for historical crime, Darktown and the following two mid-century Atlanta books. If they want to go more speculative crime, The Revisionists, my post-9/11 spy novel that also features a time traveler. If they want speculative and historical crime (the rare trifecta!), The Many Deaths Of The Firefly Brothers, about Depression-era bank robbing brothers who keep coming back from the dead. And if they care to read about another pandemic — the 1918 flu, to be specific — my first novel, The Last Town On Earth tackled that now eerily relevant topic.