It’s hardly surprising that a number of recent science fiction stories have explored what the world might be like if we don’t do something about global climate change. But in their new cyberpunk sci-fi novel Gamechangers (hardcover, Kindle), L.X. Beckett explores what the world might be like if we do something about global climate change, but doing so may have caused a newer, and possibly bigger problem.
To begin, what is Gamechanger about, and when and where does it take place?
Gamechanger starts in 2101 Paris, with an @Interpol raid on a meet between a public defender named Rubi Whiting and her client, Luciano Pox. Pox has been soapboxing against the ongoing and largely successful global effort to remediate climate change. The world has gone green and humanity has survived…but Pox claims bad things are coming, and makes himself very unpopular online by swearing Earth needs martial law.
When the police show at their meeting — and Pox skips! — Rubi finds herself desperately trying to prove to the government that her client is merely a disturbed and vulnerable man in need of help. @Interpol’s top two theories? Either he’s a terrorist-built A.I., looking to undermine remediation, or he’s the Singularity itself.
Pursuing the truth takes Rubi from Paris to London, and from there to the outlaw ruins of what used to be Miami in the ruins of the U.S.A. Along the way, her virtual life — as an action player in VR sims — intrudes unexpectedly on Rubi’s lawyering reality. Somehow her sexy gaming arch-nemesis, Gimlet Barnes, gets attached to the group looking for Pox. Despite Rubi’s fervent vows to take legal work seriously, give up gaming, and forget about a certain smokin’ gone-viral ingame kiss the two of them shared, Rubi learns she may have to go toe to toe and sword to sword with Gimlet to help Pox, and to fully reveal the truth about whether Earth’s fragile recovery is indeed under threat.
Where did you get the idea for Gamechanger and how, if at all, did the story change as you wrote it?
Gamechanger started for me with an earlier project, my F&SF novella Freezing Rain, A Chance Of Falling. In it I conceived of three future generations following the Millennials and GenZ: the Setback Generation, the Clawback Generation, and the Bouncebackers. The Setback generation is the one growing up right now, experiencing the effects of large-scale climate change impacts biting big holes in the infrastructure and economy. In the Clawback, things get very bad and there’s a global consensus on fighting tooth and nail to prevent human extinction, even if it means radically changing how we all live.
By the time Gamechanger happens, and Rubi reaches adulthood, things have started to get better. Rubi is, in fact, among the first adult members of the Bounceback generation, kids who don’t remember the dark days of the Clawback, and who believe both that we’ve balanced the ecosystem and that things from here are going to just get better.
Having written that first Setback story about Drow, I jumped over the horrors of the Clawback and into the much more upbeat Bounceback for Gamechanger.
Gamechanger sounds like it’s a cyberpunk sci-fi story. Is that how you see it?
Cyberpunk is totally appropriate. Solarpunk and hopepunk also apply, and Gamechanger has been referred to a couple times as a hopetopia. I love that word hopetopia, though the Bounceback generation doesn’t live in a world where everything is hearts, puppies, and flowers. The economy’s tightly regulated, young people still don’t have an easy path to fulltime work, it’s a zero-privacy culture, and there’s a global rationing system in place. There’s a minimum standard of living and you can have anything you want in VR, pretty much, but your physical perks are limited.
As you mentioned, you previously a wrote a novella in the same fictional universe, Freezing Rain, A Chance Of Falling. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that were a big influence on Gamechanger but not on Freezing Rain?
You mention Neal Stephenson in the next question, and I have to say that compliment warmed me to my toes. I have always loved his early work: Zodiac and Snow Crash particularly. But much of the reading for both the novella and Gamechanger was non-fiction rather than fiction. Climate science stuff; tech innovation stuff, and feeds like mashable.com.
The original title for that novella was going to be Of Things, as in “Internet Of Things” — every single person who read it told me I couldn’t do that. And the inspiration came, in part, from my reading about tech innovators who are trying even now to find opportunities to put all our things online usefully: toothbrushes, bikes, eyeglasses. This combined, within my imagination with other articles about online shamings, which fascinate me. I read a great piece about a service that rehabilitates the online profiles of people who’ve been attacked on the Internet, it blew my mind.
I’m very interested in the rub of generational conflict, so the portion of our culture that seems to currently take delight in baiting the Millennials — telling them they don’t own homes because they have bad avocado toast habits, for example — and trashing them in various ways was part of what gave rise to the Setback / Bounceback / Clawback progression. That’s why the main character in Freezing Rain, Drow Whiting, falls afoul of a pervy, predatory ancient GenX-er.
What about non-literary influences; did any movies, TV shows, or video games have a big influence on Gamechanger? Because the press materials say it’s like “Neuromancer meets Star Trek” while one of the reviews compared to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Though that review also said it was like a pinball machine, so…
Years ago I was a game reviewer for a large corporate retailer (guess which one!) and it meant I played a lot of first-person shooters and MMORPGs. My answer to at least one “Where were you when this big world-changing event happened?” is “in game, buying spell components.”
Anyway, my two biggest time investments in desktop MMORPGs were probably Asheron’s Call and World Of Warcraft, and I think savvy gamers will see these influences. I also had a chance to work a little bit with the creative team responsible for League Of Legends a couple years ago, and learned a lot about esports in the process.
In Gamechanger, these kinds of big shared universe adventures replace the film and TV industry entirely. Competitive and sporting sims are co-created by gaming companies who field opposing teams to duke it out in RPGs. Anyone can subscribe to a team and play a full adventure, but the very first run of a campaign is treated like a red-carpet premiere event, with celebrity players occupying the big roles and subscribers logging on to play extras and cannon fodder.
By the way, is Freezing Rain, A Chance Of Falling included in the printed or digital versions of Gamechanger?
Actually, the novella is available now at Curious Fictions, for free (though readers can tip if they choose). It’s also in Neil Clarke’s The Best Science Fiction Of The Year Volume Four and in Forever 54.
Now, you’ve said that Gamechanger is the first book in a series. What can you tell us about this series in the sense of whether it’ll be an ongoing thing or a set number of books like a trilogy?
I’m imagining three books at present. The second is called Dealbreaker. I’m enjoying the skips-a-generation aspect of what I’ve done so far, so rather than picking up the story right after Gamechanger ends, the next chapter hops a couple more decades and takes up with a character who’s only nine years old in the first novel.
In my mind, it’s Gamechanger, Dealbreaker, a third book called Starmaker…and then I’m not sure. I am on the verge of turning in the second book, so fans shouldn’t have to wait too long.
And where then does Freezing Rain, A Chance Of Falling fit in?
Freezing Rain, A Chance Of Falling is definitely a prequel. Its protagonist, Drow Whiting, is the elderly, adoptive father of my legal aid lawyer slash gamer, Rubi. Drow is in Gamechanger, as is his sidekick, a piece of sentient fanfiction named Crane, but he is an old man and he’s got a lot of baggage that dates back to what I put him through in the novella, not to mention his subsequent survival of the Clawback. On the upside, he’s the last of the old school rock stars. Famous AF.
As you know, some people will wait until all three books are out before reading any of them, and some will then read them all in a row. But is there any reason why you think someone shouldn’t wait to read Gamechanger?
There are so many reasons to read it now. It’s fun. It’s action packed. It’s a book about how our kids and grandkids can inherit a world that’s still worth living on, and I don’t know about you but I need regular doses of reasoned optimism in my life, to combat the things that hit me every day in our current news cycle. And though this is first and foremost meant to be an entertaining novel, that’s only half the story. My goal with Gamechanger wasn’t to just pat us all on the hand and say “It’s all gonna be okay.” It tries, at least, to go on at “And here’s how we get there.”
Earlier I asked if Gamechanger had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But has there been any interest in making a movie, show, or game out of Gamechanger?
I did have a little interest in Freezing Rain, A Chance of Falling not long ago — there’s a producer out there who said many ego-gratifying things about it and me being brilliant. But until one has a contract in hand and a check in the bank, such things tend not to mean much. And even the contract and check doesn’t guarantee it’ll end up on someone’s screen.
(Producers of the world: please do send checks, with or without guarantees!)
That said, Gamechanger has a lot of characters and storylines, and I think the narrative complexity would lend itself better to a series TV format or a video game than a single motion picture. As someone who has written a few screenplays and TV pilots, I can’t help feeling it’s more Game Of Thrones, structurally, than Hunger Games.
Okay, if Gamechanger was to be made into a TV show, who would you like them to cast in the main roles?
An editor asked me for a stunt casting list not long ago and, redacting for spoilers, here’s part of what I came up with:
Rubi Whiting: Letitia Wright.
Drow: Kenneth Branagh (he’d have to do an Eastern Canadian accent! And sing!)
Crane: Sean Pertwee.
@Interpol Agent Anselmo Javier: Oscar Isaac.
Misfortune Wilson: Gwendoline Christie.
Tala Weston: Joanna Lumley.
A couple reasons why: as Shuri in Black Panther, Letitia Wright nailed the smart, the passionate, and the moves in every single fight scene she was in. And if the only Branagh you’ve seen is the spectacular meltdown at the end of Wallander…well, what more reason do you need?
Finally, if someone enjoys Gamechanger, what cyberpunk sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next while waiting for Dealbreaker to come out?
I’d get them all over to Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous, which is amazing and wonderful and hard-hitting and all the good things, plus it has prescription piracy in Saskatchewan. And then maybe they should go on to her new book, The Future Of Another Timeline. That’s what I’ll be reading the minute it’s hot off the presses.