Exclusive Interview: “Hybrid Heart” Author Iori Kusano
While many writers follow the edict that you should write what you know, it can be a double-edged sword, as a good story in which something bad happens might make you think, “I hope this is something they don’t really know.” It’s where I found myself while conducting the following email interview with author Iori Kusano about their cyberpunk sci-fi novella Hybrid Heart (paperback, Kindle), which they call a “cautionary tale.”
To begin, what is Hybrid Heart about, and when and where is it set?
You know, my “about” doesn’t even touch the plot. So I will say that what happens is that an idol singer in Tokyo two emperors from now has just the most incredibly shitty month at work, but what it’s about is years and years of deep personal rage bubbling to the surface.
Where did you get the idea for Hybrid Heart?
As I’ve navigated growing a career and the public presence that it seems to necessitate, I’ve had to think more mindfully about image cultivation, narrative control, and parasociality. I needed a way to talk about how hateful it is to exist in public that wasn’t just scribbling FUCK OFF all the way down the page, and it eventually occurred to me that idols experience much more intense versions of the same pressures that I’m under.
Is there a reason you set it in near-future Tokyo as opposed to the far future?
I go where the vibes take me.
Hybrid Heart is a cyberpunk sci-fi story. But are there any other genres at work in this story?
Hey, “cautionary tale” totes counts as a genre, right? I’ve been explaining it to my IRL friends as a light novel, which is a kind of pulpy short novel form in Japan. The reason I identify with that particular label is that the general popular opinion of light novels is that they’re not that deep, and if they are that deep then it certainly wasn’t on purpose, which is something I’ve been accused of.
Now, Hybrid Heart is your first novella, though you’ve had short stories in such journals as Apex Magazine and Uncanny Magazine. Are there any writers, or stories, that you think had a big influence on Hybrid Heart but not on anything else you’ve written?
The stories with the biggest influence are only stories insofar as tabloids and social media are their own genre of fiction. I’m specifically thinking about the years of rumors that followed [actor / singer] Kago Ai around before she got Fridayed and was forced out of UP-FRONT AGENCY [her talent agency] and how [actor / singer] Fujimoto Miki had to make a blog post apologizing to her audience for rear-ending a taxi. I’m thinking about the guy who got [actor / singer] Sashihara Rino demoted out of [the Japanese idol group] AKB48 because he told a tabloid they’d dated and how no one was willing to believe her when she said he was lying. The writers with the biggest influence on Hybrid Heart are the anonymous forum posters who trashed these girls for “betraying” them.
You also write poetry, and have had poems in the journals Goblin Fruit and Through The Gate. How do you think writing poetry — and, one assumes, reading it — may have influenced how you wrote Hybrid Heart?
I’ve never considered that. Unforch, I don’t generally think about poetry when I’m sober. You’ll have to remind me about this one at a convention someday.
And then what about non-literary influences; was Hybrid Heart influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? The story sounds like ones we’ve seen in tons of movies and documentaries.
That’s the wrong question. The right question is, what was happening around you that you needed to digest via writing? Because it’s not particularly about media for me, unless you count that video of Minegishi Minami crying while she apologized to her fans for having a boyfriend. My non-literary influences were: existing in a world where people projected their weird, arbitrary expectations and fantasies on me because they decided I was female; adults who should have considered what was in my youthful best interest and, like, extremely didn’t; chance encounters with disillusioned former idols and family members of current idols; the super-duper fucked up way that women and people-deemed-women-by-third-parties are regarded as a public utility.
Cyberpunk sci-fi novellas can be stand-alone stories or part of larger sagas. What is Hybrid Heart?
Absolutely a stand-alone. I don’t have the patience or the emotional fortitude to write series.
Earlier I asked if Hybrid Heart had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip the script, like you kids don’t say anymore, do you think Hybrid Heart could work as a movie, show, or game?
I think it works best as a game. Rei’s work cycle is a nice base on which to build a gameplay loop…but she so seldom knows her schedule in advance that it’d be very easy to disrupt the loop with lots of nasty surprises. I also think that the use of nonskippable cutscenes and dialogue “options” that have no actual bearing on the direction of the story can really drive home to the player how little power Rei feels as she tries to navigate her career.
And what kind of game should it be?
It has to be a rhythm game for mobile. You’d play the songs to unlock story chapters, and there would absolutely be a gacha for Rei’s different costumes. I would want Bandai Namco to handle it, but Bushiroad could probably do a good job, too.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Hybrid Heart?
My cover is by the excellent and very rad Natsujirushi, a genius character designer who also makes VTuber rigs. I highly recommend her work.
Finally, if someone enjoys Hybrid Heart, what cyberpunk sci-fi novella of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
You know, if you liked Hybrid Heart, the next thing you should do is put down the books and go sing something that moves you. Go watch a VTuber streaming and study how they work the chatroom. Get on apps like REALITY and mock up a basic rig for yourself. Aside from the bit where people open their Twitter feeds directly from their brains, most of what I wrote about is already happening, so like, go play in the space. Find out who else you can be when you’re not your own face. I think we’d all be a lot healthier if we put in a few more buffering layers between our public presentation and the actual public.