Like other writers, Temi Oh has been fascinated by a myth. Specifically, the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. But unlike other writers who have chosen to put their own spin on a myth, Oh (as she says in the following email interview), “… also wanted to write a book that was informed by my background in neuroscience.” The result is More Perfect (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), a sci-fi retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Photo Credit: Osita Nwegbu
To start, what is More Perfect about, and when and where does it take place?
At age thirteen, Moremi opts to receive an implant that will connect her brain to the Internet and grant her access to the minds and dreams of others. She believes that the technology will cure her loneliness and depression forever, until she meets Orpheus, a young dream-hacker. Their happiness is soon snatched away when Orpheus is arrested for a crime that he is predicted to commit in the future, and the lovers must fight to escape their fate.
More Perfect is a reworking of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Did you set out to rewrite that myth, and More Perfect is what you came up with, or did you have the idea for More Perfect and realize it was kind of like the myth, might as well go for it?
I had a couple of seedlings of ideas for this novel. I’ve been fascinated by the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice since childhood. Orpheus tries to rescue his dead wife from the underworld, but fails when, at the last minute, he looks back to see if she’s following him and she disappears forever. It’s a story about Orpheus’ hubris, hoping that death will make an exception for the person he loves. I discovered that the ending was more tragic than I knew. After Orpheus fails to save his wife, he is torn limb from limb by maenads, his head is torn off, and floats down a river singing and telling prophecies. It was such a dark and striking image to me, I wanted to use it in a novel.
I also wanted to write a book that was informed by my background in neuroscience. I’ve always been interested in dreams. I had this idea about a device that allows users to share dreams and a wife who must travel into her husband’s unconscious mind to rescue him. In this version, the underworld is the inner world of nightmare.
More Perfect also, as you just alluded to, deals with the issues of social media and big tech. Was that something you wanted to explore at the beginning, or did it evolve as you wrote this story?
I wanted to write a story about a device that allows users to share dreams and memories; in this story, it’s called the Pulse. After I imagined it, though, I realized that there was a much bigger story to tell about how this technology would change society, about privacy and about human agency.
More Perfect is set in near-future London. Is there a reason you set it there, and then, as opposed to, say, in near-future Los Angeles or far-future Greece?
Because I love London! Whenever I travel, I like to list, in my head, all the ways that London is the greatest city. But maybe it’s only the greatest city because it’s home to me. My grandma has lived in London since the early ’70s, in the same part of Clapham. I went to university here, my daughter was born in the same hospital as my sisters. I feel as if every good thing that’s ever happened to me, happened to me here. I try to set almost everything I write in London, and the great thing is that it’s filled with so many kinds of people, and so many little worlds that I still feel spoiled for choice.
It sounds like More Perfect is a dystopian sci-fi story…
I don’t know if dystopian is the word that I would use. I tried to make it as recognizably our world as possible. (Though, a lot of aspects of our world are dystopian!)
More Perfect is your second book after Do You Dream Of Terra-Two?, though you’ve also written short stories, an issue of Black Panther, a short film called Murmur, and episodes of the shows Silverpoint and Castlevania: Nocturne. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had an influence on More Perfect, but not on anything else you’ve written?
I reread Lauren Groff’s Fates And Furies a couple of times while writing this book. I loved the language and the characters. It’s an interesting meditation on marriage that inspired me.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games?
My friend introduced me to Hadesdown, the musical about Orpheus and Eurydice a couple of years into my writing this book. I’d listen to it a couple of times whenever I was about to dive into a big edit, and it felt like setting a metronome ticking in my head.
I also loved Inception. Aspects of this book probably came out of my sense that I wanted to spend more time in a world like that.
And then, to flip things around, do you think More Perfect would work as a movie, a TV show, or a game?
I think that novels make better TV shows in general. The pacing is more similar. With an episode something like the structure and length of a chapter. Novels are better at endings than TV shows though. A novel can’t end abruptly or once the story engine has run out of steam, as TV sometimes does.
And if someone wanted to make More Perfect into a TV show, who would you want them to cast as Moremi, Orpheus, and the other main characters?
I really don’t have a strong idea. A couple of actors I love who fit Moremi’s description are Ayo Edebiri [The Bear] and Jessica Williams [Fantastic Beasts]. Nneka Okoye is an actress who also does a beautiful job voicing Moremi in the audiobook. I once met a man at a party who looked exactly the way I imagine Orpheus would look but he was a doctor, not an actor…
Also, given that you’ve done it before, would you want to write an episode of the show?
On one hand, I really enjoy writing for TV. On the other hand, I spent so long in this world. Mazes and labyrinths are a recurring motif in this story, and whenever I dived back into it it’d feel as if I was trapped in one again.
Finally, if someone enjoys More Perfect, what novel or novella of someone else’s that’s a sci-fi rewriting of a classic story would you recommend they check out?
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. It’s a retelling of Antigone that bares frighteningly real parallels to a story that was in the news a couple of years later.