When aliens colonize Earth, it’s often so they can take our natural resources or enslave our people. But in his new sci-fi novel Landscape With Invisible Hand (hardcover, digital), writer M.T. Anderson imagines a world where invading aliens have made Earth part of their economy. Though in discussing this novel with Anderson, he revealed that this book isn’t about the invasion, or even the invaders, but how we’d react to be the ones who’ve been invaded.
Photo Credit: Sonya Sones
Let’s start with the basics. What is Landscape With Invisible Hand about?
It’s about a young artist, a kid named Adam Costello, who’s going around painting American landscapes a few years after an alien colonization of the Earth. We’ve become a backwater in some other species’ economic empire. The story is told entirely through descriptions of Adam’s artwork. We watch how Adam’s own family — and, in many ways, the human race itself — is falling apart and struggling to define itself as its new financial masters, the vuvv, look on.
The plot makes Landscape With Invisible Hand sound like it’s a bit lighthearted, and not a hard sci-fi novel. Is this the case?
I would say it’s satirical. And therefore, quite serious in some ways. It’s certainly not concerned with the science of alien invasion. What interests me is how human society would be changed if our world were colonized. How would we react? How would we find dignity and self-respect?
What writers or specific novels do you feel had a big influence on Landscape With Invisible Hand, but are not big influences on your other novels or your writing style as a whole?
I love those high-concept satirical sci-fi writers who, while writing about other worlds, are really writing about our own home on Earth. I guess I’m thinking of people like Kurt Vonnegut, William Tenn, Thomas Disch [The Genocides], Shaun Tan [The Arrival, The Rabbits], Liu Cixin, Stanislaw Lem, the brothers Strugatsky, and Ray Bradbury [The Martian Chronicles].
What about non-literary influences? Are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had an impact on Landscape With Invisible Hand?
Visual art had a huge impact. The book talks about landscape art of the past. The weird fantasy landscapes of the Old Masters, in particular, with their blue castles perched on impossible crags in the background.
I was also very influenced by a lot of graphic novels, especially sci-fi ones: the art of people like Jean Giraud [a.k.a. Moebius], Shaun Tan, who I mentioned above, Serge Pelle, and the team behind the Image Comics series Prophet. Incredible work that redefines the look of science fiction.
And this is my last “influence” question, I swear. When it came to the aliens, what influenced how you made them look and behave? For instance, did you ask a scientist what real aliens would be like, or did you model them after such TV-loving aliens as Lrrr and Ndnd from Omicron Persei 8?
I’ve never made the acquaintance of Lrrr or Ndnd; I just tried to think of something that would look as little like our typical image of invading “grays” as possible. I think it’s incredibly unlikely that other life we encounter will be humanoid in shape. Why do we keep thinking that two legs are better than three?
Landscape With Invisible Hand is a young adult novel. But young adult novels seem to fall into two categories: novels that are just for young adults, and novels that are for all adults, they just don’t have anything inappropriate for young ones. Where do you feel Landscape With Invisible Hand falls, and why did you decide to write it this way?
Nowadays, young adult novels don’t have to pull back on “inappropriate” material. It’s just a question of who you imagine you’re writing for. In my case, I wanted to write for the angry young artist types, the nerds who see life from a different angle than other people, and want to see their world reflected.
Then do you think that old adults might enjoy Landscape With Invisible Hand as well? And I mean really old, like 49-years-old. Maybe one who’s really into Star Wars and Rick & Morty and Rush and Japanese curry…
Well, as that pretty much describes me, I guess so…
Good, good. As you probably know, publishers of sci-fi stories love it when a book is part of a series. So, is Landscape With Invisible Hand the first book in a series or a stand-alone novel?
I meant for it to be a stand-alone book, a one-punch satire. I can see exploring that world more, though I don’t have any plans to do so right now.
I asked earlier about movies, TV shows, and video games that may have influenced Landscape With Invisible Hand. But has there been any interest in adapting Landscape With Invisible Hand into a film, show, or game?
It hasn’t come out quite yet, so that kind of discussion hasn’t started yet. I think it would work best as a show or a movie, since it could be really visually striking, these American scenes with the bizarre vuvv structures jutting up out of them.
At the same time, I don’t see it as a game, since it’s not so much about external action as people trying to find their way in a world where revolution and violence would be utter suicide, given the superiority of alien tech.
Finally, if someone enjoys Landscape With Invisible Hand, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
Definitely Feed, my other satirical sci-fi novel, which is about a world in which consumers have internet connections installed directly in their heads, so we’ve all become morons with a constant flow of advertising gushing through our thoughts and dreams. It’s probably my best-known book.