One of the most frustrating things about pop culture writing is when a creative person denies that something they’ve done is similar to what someone else has done. “Yes, it is a first-person shooter in which you’re a genetically-modified super soldier in power armor who shoots aliens on a circular world, but it’s nothing like Halo.” But in the following email interview with cyberpunk sci-fi writer Lauren C. Teffeau about her new novel Implanted (paperback, Kindle), she refreshingly doesn’t deny that her story is, in some ways, similar to the movie Johnny Mnemonic and the William Gibson story that inspired that film.
Photo Credit: Kim Jew
I always like to begin with a plot summary. So, what is Implanted about?
The book is about a young woman named Emery Driscoll, who’s blackmailed into working as a courier for a shadowy organization, and what happens when the life she was forced to leave behind comes back to haunt her after she’s left holding the bag on a job gone wrong. Action and adventure abound, along with high-tech gadgets, light espionage, romance, and hard questions about the future.
Where did you get the idea for Implanted and how different is the finished version from what you originally envisioned?
The domed city of New Worth came to me first; a constrained environment built by dire necessity. I started thinking about how such cramped conditions could become more bearable, which led me to the idea that everyone who can afford the technology enjoys limitless connectivity to distract them from their surroundings. Then I started thinking about the implications of those things and worked my way down to finer grain details. Implanted was originally written as a young adult novel but, in consultation with my agent, we reworked it as an adult novel, which allowed me to age up my protagonist and make her a bit more realistic as a character.
Implanted is a science fiction novel. But are there any subgenres of sci-fi, or combinations of them, that you think describe it better, besides cyberpunk?
It’s definitely cyberpunk in that many of the characters have subdermal neural implants that allow them to stay in constant contact with the network and each other. But I would also consider it to be climate fiction — cli-fi or solarpunk — given the fact that so much of the storyworld and plot revolve around climate change and what happens when the worst comes to pass. There are also elements of “soft” science fiction. I have a master’s degree in mass communication and worked as a university researcher for a couple years after I graduated, and that social science background informed a lot of my assumptions in building the story world. Finally there’s a very strong romantic subplot, which puts the book into science fiction romance territory as well. So yeah, there’s a lot going on, and I’m grateful that Angry Robot [the book’s publisher] really got what I was trying to do with the book.
Are there any writers or specific stories that you feel had a big impact on Implanted?
I’ve always enjoyed cyberpunk as a genre, but while those stories made me think, they didn’t necessarily make me feel welcome. I wanted to write something that wasn’t as emotionally sterile as other entries in the cyberpunk genre but still present an interesting examination of technology and where it’s taking us. So in some ways it’s more of a reaction and reinterpretation of those same tropes.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have a big impact on Implanted? Because the plot reminds me a little of that Keanu Reeves movie, Johnny Mnemonic. Or, rather, the William Gibson story “Johnny Mnemonic” that inspired it [from his short story collection Burning Chrome].
You’re not wrong. In fact, at some point I was describing the book thusly: Take Johnny Mnemonic, add a dash of Person Of Interest, mix with Logan’s Run, and wrap it all up in a Blade Runner-meets-solarpunk aesthetic. I loved James Bond growing up and have devoured a lot of spy-tinged stuff over the years. I’m also a huge video game fan — though I’m usually a console release behind — and tried to make the action sequences in the book as vibrant and exciting as the video game experience.
Now, as you probably know, some science fiction novels are not stand-alone stories, but are instead parts of larger sagas. What is Implanted?
You could certainly read Implanted as a stand-alone book. But the characters and concepts are rich enough, other stories are begging to be told in this world; stories I hope to tell one day. There’s nothing official at the moment, but I’m hard at work sketching out the next steps.
If you do, what are your plans? Are you thinking it’ll be an ongoing series, a set number of books…
Stand by. My website is the best way to stay up-to-date with what’s going on with me.
Earlier I asked if Implantedhad been influenced by movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting Implantedinto a movie, show, or game?
There’s nothing formal in the works, but I think it’s a strong contender for a movie or TV series adaptation, but I might be slightly biased. Domed cities, secret organizations, high-tech gadgets? What’s not to like? I did another interview recently for Unreliable Narrators, and they thought it could work as a video game too, which got me thinking. Ultimately, writers write to reach others, and any way of expanding my story’s range is great.
If Implanted was to be adapted as a movie or TV show, who would you like them to cast as Emery Driscoll and the other major characters?
I think Amandla Stenberg — Rue from The Hunger Games; Starr in The Hate U Give — would be a great contender for Emery. And someone like Bobby Naderi, who’s had parts in Prison Break and more recently Bright, for Tahir.
And if it was a game…?
Definitely an action/adventure game with an emphasis on stealth and non-violent takedowns where you can’t simply shoot your way out to make it doubly difficult. Aspects of the gameplay found in Hitman, The Last Of Us, and the rebooted Tomb Raider games come to mind as well as the worldbuilding scope of the Deux Ex franchise.
Finally, if someone enjoys Implanted what similar sci-fi novel would you suggest they check out next and why that one?
Gah! This is hard because I try to write books I have trouble finding on the shelf. I like action, I like romance, and I like stories that have weight to them too, and that combination is hard to find sometimes. I think many other Angry Robot titles mash up adventure with important themes and questions about the world in interesting ways. Walter Jon Williams’ Aristoi is a great examination of some of the technical questions I explore in Implanted set even further out into the future. If you are in the mood for quality science fiction action and romance, Rachel Bach’s Paradox trilogy is great. I haven’t read it yet, but Vivien Jackson’s Wanted And Wired is a cyberpunk romance that was nominated for a RITA [the Hugos of romance], and is next on my to-be-read pile.