In the following email interview, writer Kieran Shea discusses his new cyberpunk sci-fi novel, Koko Uncaged (paperback, Kindle), the latest in his Koko Martstellar series after Koko Takes A Holiday and Koko The Mighty.
For people unfamiliar with this series, what are the Koko Martstellar books about, what is Koko Uncaged about, and how does it connect to the previous books, Koko Takes A Holiday and Koko The Mighty?
The Koko books are about being true to your nature, that no matter where you think you can run to, no matter what sublimation or mask you wear, in the end you can’t escape yourself.
In this novel, we find Koko at the nadir of her existence. Believing her partner Flynn has been killed, and on her way back from being shanghaied to the moon, she brutally thwarts a space hijacking to save herself. The hijacked vessel’s owner, Bogart Gong, is so impressed by Koko’s actions he presents her with an offer she can’t refuse. Knowing that her former employer the Custom Pleasure Bureau has declared her dead, Gong recruits Koko to be his bodyguard and gives her new identity. Meanwhile, bounty agent Jackie Wire is hot on Koko’s trail and plans on taking her revenge. Many of the threads from the previous two books are set aflame and burn like fuses until the novel’s climaxes. Along the way there’s much lampooning of corporate pettiness, political hucksterism, media saturation, sports, ice cream, and so forth. I jam a lot in there.
And how often do you have to explain to people that no, these books aren’t about that gorilla in San Francisco that knows sign language?
Not often. Many authors find titles vexing. Sometimes you get lucky and pull a real doozy down from the creative ether. A savvy reader once observed Koko Takes A Holiday sounds a tad Winnie Watson-ish, which I thought was hilarious. Like, “Oh, she’s going on holiday! What fun! But wait…eye-munching bounty agents and mass televised suicides from airships? As you probably can imagine, I’m a huge fan of irreverent whimsy.
So aside from the San Francisco Zoo, where did you get the idea for Koko Uncaged and how different is the finished version of the story from that initial concept?
Well, originally Koko Uncaged was much bleaker, a real spit-filled dirty ashtray of nihilistic despair. Fortunately, my editor and agent talked me into making some appropriate changes. The way the novel concludes now is a great place to take Koko in a new direction if I ever want to write another one of her escapades.
Like the previous books in this series, Koko Uncaged is a cyberpunk sci-fi story. But are there any other genres or subgenres — science fiction or otherwise — at work here as well?
More than any other genre, science fiction has the greatest potential to present satire. Adventurism is all well and good, but stories without some kind of message, subliminal or outright, have always left me flat. Writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers…I think have a privileged position, you know? There’s an obligation, especially now, to speak truth to power. The trick is to craft critical ironies with panache. There are so many sacred, diseased cows roaming society’s pastures, relieving themselves in our freshwater streams of being. Take aim at the cows that rile you up the most and mow them down without mercy.
Funny thing, when I pitched Koko Uncaged, I needed to describe a new character in detail, President Mermao of the South American Coalition. I believe I portrayed him initially as a real megalomaniacal piece of work, a huckster and misogynist elected on a populist platform. If you crossed the late Hugo Chavez with the current weasel occupying the White House, I said, you might get a line on President Mermao. This was back in the Winter of 2015 or the Fall of 2014, I believe, long before the fecal fusillade of the 2016 election.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Koko Uncaged but not on Koko Takes A Holiday or Koko The Mighty?
Yes. Some years ago I read The Driver: My Dangerous Pursuit Of Speed And Truth In The Outlaw Racing World by Alexander Roy. It’s nonfiction memoir, and it’s fantastic. Ever since then I’ve wanted to write a book with a high-speed race of some kind.
How about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that you think had a big influence on Koko Uncaged?
Essentially, I was weaned on The Road Warrior, Blade Runner, reruns of the Marx Brothers, and the productions of Gerry Anderson. Like most, my brain is a warm slush of influences. And for the record I prefer pinball machines to video games. Yeah, I know that sounds analogue as hell, but there’s this one machine at an arcade I am obsessed with…
As we mentioned, Koko Uncaged is the third book in the Koko Martstellar series. But what can you tell us about this series?
Both Koko The Mighty and Koko Uncaged start off with a précis to get the reader up to speed, kind of like a narrator in an old serial relaying the story of the film so far. For now, it seems the series has reached its end. But then again, sunsets are illusions. As I said earlier, Koko is in a really good place to evolve as a character.
Earlier we talked about the movies, TV shows, and video games that influenced Koko Uncaged. But has there been any interesting in adapting this series into a movie, show, or game out of this novel?
Yes, there has been interest, but in the saturnalia of mass media tastes and interests fluctuate.
And which of those would you prefer it be?
A movie would be cool, but an anime might be more practical given the settings and globe-trotting involved.
But it’s all lightning in a bottle, and I’ve other things to worry about.
If the Koko Martstellar series was to be adapted into a movie or anime, who would you like to see them cast in the main roles?
My writing style has been described as “cinematic” so I’d be lying if I said I haven’t imagined certain people taking on these roles. Maybe the call would be to cast the most enthusiastic people, those who get what the series is about, who aren’t afraid of bending the rules.
Finally, if someone enjoys Koko Uncaged, what would you suggest they read next?
I had a lot of fun writing Off Rock, my standalone novel released last year. It’s a breezy beach or long flight read. Nothing grave, just having zany fun with a heist novel set in space. As Jason Sheehan at NPR put it: “There was a time when nearly all sci-fi read like Off Rock — when everything was about Zack Spaceman, a rocket ship, and calamity. And even if the genre has matured over the decades, become more respectable and more complex, sometimes it’s good to remember where we came from, to touch back on the classic dilemmas and take a ride with a guy, a girl, a gun, and some ill-gotten gold, while all around us, the world falls apart.”