In the last few months, a number of sci-fi writers have had their older novels rereleased. Gareth L. Powell’s 2011 space opera The Recollection recently got a tenth anniversary edition [which you can read more about here], while Gavin G. Smith’s 2017 zombie survival novel Special Purposes: First Strike Weapon was also reissued as Spec Ops Z [which you can read more about here]. But as Guy Haley explains in the following email interview, his collection Richards & Klein (paperback, Kindle) — which pairs 2011’s Reality 36 and its 2012 sequel, Omega Point — isn’t just the same stories in a new package.
I’d like to start with a little background. Who are Richards and Klein, what do they do, and when and where do they live?
Richards (just Richards, as he’s always pointing out) is Class 5 artificial intelligence. Otto Klein is an ex-special forces cyborg, and a veteran of the Brazilian war. Together, they run a security consultancy, which covers everything from private investigation work to small conflicts. They live in the early 22nd century, in a period of time after global warming, plague, technological advancement, and geopolitical upheaval have reshaped our world. Though Otto is German, their primary base of operations is New London. Their work takes them all over the planet and sometimes beyond, to the Solar colonies.
Is Richards installed in Klein?
He is not. All A.I. of whichever class in this reality are tethered to “base units”: the hardware which allows them to exist. However, they generally live through “sensing presences,” inhabiting whatever system will accommodate them. They are computers after all. Some favor non-humanoid vehicles, like the coroner Lincolnshire Flats, others, like Richards’ sibling-five Promethea, live more or less permanently in virtual realities. Richards is a real world kind of guy, and favors a Zwollen-Hampton android carriage, with a hat and trench coat. He’s a bit obsessed with film noir detective dramas, and dresses accordingly. In the stories he does inhabit several other forms, however.
And is there a reason why Klein in German as opposed to British or Japanese or from suburban New Jersey but now lives in Los Angeles because he hates the cold and loves the food?
Not really. He’s just German, because some people are. I knew a German dude at the time. He influenced me, probably.
Richards & Klein collects the two books about them that you wrote: 2011’s Reality 36 and 2012’s Omega Point. What is Reality 36 about?
Reality 36 is about the murder of a famous scientist, once prominent in the sentient rights movement. The problem is, he was murdered more than once. This ties in, somehow, to the forbidden virtual world of Reality 36, which is a RealWorlds Reality, one of a number of game worlds that were declared off-limits at the culmination of the sentient rights movement that saw higher animals and all self-determining A.I. given full freedoms as individuals. The idea is that virtual gaming worlds became so realistic that the creatures within were effectively self-aware. Rights for Orcs, freedom for Elves. That kind of thing. It also didn’t help that virtual gaming was so addictive it led to massive social problems. For both reasons it is therefore now heavily regulated.
And then what is Omega Point about, and how does it connect to Reality 36, both narratively and chronologically?
Omega Point follows directly on from Reality 36, as the murder turns out to be part of something larger, which I can’t go into without spoiling it, but it’s pretty big. They are, in effect, one story, which is why I’m so excited to have been able to rerelease them as a single volume.
It sounds like the stories in Richards & Klein are cyberpunk sci-fi mystery tales. Is that how you’d describe them?
They are sci-fi detective stories. Kind of. They’re not strictly cyberpunk. Although the world the story is set in shares many commonalities with classic cyberpunk, it is not as dark as that. I’m a fundamental believer in humanity finding its way, so there’s a sense of optimism cyberpunk lacks. The stories are also humorous, because I couldn’t help myself, besides there’s a lot of funny stuff happens in real life. That’s also not very cyberpunk.
Interestingly, I’ve been reading Flashback by Dan Simmons recently (one of my favorite authors). That book was written and published at about the same time. I’ve had it sat on my shelf for a decade, and finally got round to it. There are a lot of parallels between the two stories, though the tone is completely different.
And are there any genres that apply to Reality 36 but not Omega Point, or vice versa?
Not really. They’re part of the same thing: plausible, near future speculative fiction with a heavy crime injection, and a humorous twist. Omega Point talks a lot about the philosophy of sentience, the soul, and the nature of reality, but that’s as a culmination of the story, and is therefore present in both.
I like world building, I have this thing called “whole cloth world” theory, about creating universes that seem real. My aim with these books was to make the world seem like a plausible extension of our history. If world building is a genre, then these are it.
Of course, any time you have two guys solving mysteries, people are going to compare it to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. But do you think Richards and Klein are like Holmes and Watson?
They are, and deliberately. However, the character dynamic aside — Richards is the thinker, Otto less so — the stories don’t owe much else to [Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan] Doyle. I’ve written a Sherlock Holmes story in his style, so I reckon I can say that with confidence.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Reality 36 but not on Omega Point? And are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Omega Point but not on Reality 36?
I was trying to do my own thing, really.
No, hang on. Neal Asher’s Polity stories, which feature a society much further in the future that is ruled by A.I., had an influence. I love his books. Part of the genesis of this was me idly wondering how his civilization came into being.
There are also some similarities with Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon in terms of technology and the investigative component, but they’re more accidental.
How about non-literary influences; were Reality 36 and Omega Point influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Probably, but not directly. I’ve been into sci-fi and fantasy since I was very little. I’ve been into gaming almost as long. I was a journalist on SFX, the science fiction magazine, for nearly seven years, then I edited gaming magazine White Dwarf and after that another sci-fi mag, Death Ray, so I am totally steeped in this stuff. But there’s nothing I specifically saw that made me think “I want to do that.” Richards & Klein springs more from an appreciation for the sci-fi genre as a whole.
And how do you think writing Reality 36 and Omega Point influenced the books you wrote afterwards?
I’ve written more than thirty novels and novellas since then. Reality 36 was my first book, Omega Point was my third. I made some newbie errors when I wrote them that I like to think I’ve ironed out since, but I learned a lot writing them.
Now, Richards & Klein collects the two novels. But there was also a novella called The Nemesis Worm and a short story called “Ghost.” Are The Nemesis Worm and “Ghost” included in Richards & Klein?
They are not, simply because it was too big. However, if Richards and Klein come back in some form, then I’m sure I shall revisit both the tales. I’ve asked for Nemesis Worm to be taken down for the time being, as I’d like to rewrite it. “Ghost,” however, is still available. It is set immediately before the events of Reality 36.
Speaking of rewriting, are the versions of Reality 36 and Omega Point the same in Richards & Klein or did you rewrite those stories at all?
Now, this is where it gets interesting. I have wanted to revisit these books for a long time, as I love the characters, but if I’m honest I don’t think the original version did them justice. In fact, rewriting them was the whole point of the rerelease to me.
Newbie errors, you see.
So what changes did you make?
I read all my reviews and I remember that a few people were annoyed that the story of Reality 36 didn’t “finish.” Although the murder is solved, it leads onto the “something else” in Omega Point. This surprised me, because I’ve never minded sequels. So, my first desire was to present this as one complete story to eliminate that weakness.
Then the stories didn’t quite match up satisfactorily, at least to me. I had lots of cool ideas while writing the second book that should have been foreshadowed in the first. So that was the second desire, to blend the two novels smoothly into one another, so that they follow on naturally and properly. I have done so. The plot is far tighter as a result.
My writing has improved in the last decade, so I updated my prose. Some things have happened in the world that I didn’t predict, so I’ve included them, although actually, I was pleased with how much I managed to get right.
The biggest changes are to Omega Point, as I made most of my mistakes there. A large part of the second book was taken from a novel that was almost published, but which fell down at the last hurdle. I was kind of in love with it, though, and wanted my baby to live. Now, the idea of using this world I’d created as the virtuality that Richards finds himself in in Omega Point was sound, the execution was…not. Omega Point was packed full of ideas, scenes, and characters that I had lovingly crafted and desperately wanted to use but which actually didn’t serve the story well at all. The balance was off between the real world and the virtual world segments. Worst of all, my need to show off all these fantastical happenings rather robbed Richards of any agency. When I reread it, he was just along for the ride, a pair of eyes for the reader to look through at my genius! (Note: Not genius).
Since I wrote these ten years ago, I’ve done so much. I’ve edited books, planned huge, multi-author series, and been part of large writers rooms. I’ve worked under pseudonyms, in shared worlds, and released my own fiction. I’ve published many stories and learned a lot on the way, so when I cast my older, wiser eyes over Omega Point, I saw that a lot of it had to go. I remember, I was redrafting one chapter, wondering how I could get it to work properly, and I thought, “You know what, this can just go in the bin,” and so it did, along with lots of other extraneous material: places, events, some characters, you name it. The floodgates opened, the scissors flashed bright.
In redrafting these books — and they are total redrafts — I ended up cutting out about 40,000 words of text, and adding in around 20,000 new words. If you’ve read the novels before, you’ll find this omnibus edition to be quite different. It’s sleeker, quicker, more balanced, more consistent, just superior in every way, but most important of all, the characters drive the story throughout.
Besides that, there are numerous smaller changes. I reordered the chapters, tweaked the chronology of events, altered some of the characters… It was a lot of work.
I have say at this point that I was very, very lucky to be able to do this. Opportunities like these don’t happen often, but I’m so glad it did. I was never happy with the originals. I am happy with these.
Once more, this is basically a new book. I can’t stress that enough.
Now, as far as I can tell, you didn’t write about Richards or Klein after Omega Point and “Ghost” came out. Why not?
There are a number of reasons, but they all boil down to the same thing: sales. Reality 36 sold almost enough for the publisher to warrant continuing the series, but not quite. Like, it was within a few hundred. So many books come out now and there are so many other pastimes competing for readers’ attention, that it is a bit of a crap shoot if your book is successful or not. Obviously, it helps if the book is the best it can be. Richards & Klein now is.
A couple of external factors did me no favors. The cover of the first book was last-minute-compromise awful. Most damaging, Reality 36 came out right at the height of the book piracy wave that hit in the late 2000s. I got really quite depressed to find Reality 36 on download site after download site, and I genuinely believe that it adversely affected my early career. That’s not so much of an issue these days, thankfully. The book companies have caught up with the possibilities of new technology. People want to pay for things, if you can give them what they want, how they want.
After the originals, I wrote lots of other books, with increasing numbers for the Warhammer gaming worlds, so wasn’t about to start writing novels the publisher had said they did not want. I had a baby son and I needed to be paid. I’ve been a professional writer for a long time, so if there is no income for doing something, no matter how much I love it, then I won’t write it.
Has Richards & Klein got you thinking that maybe you should bring them back?
I have always wanted to go back to them, and I have been told that if this omnibus sells enough copies that will happen. It’s actually a fairly modest figure, so it’s a definite possibility.
I did write one other Richards & Klein story called “The Sharks Of Europa” a couple of years ago for the Sharkpunk 2 anthology, but sadly the book was canned. I also wrote part of a novella for fun, His Master’s Voice, which I would like to finish. (I didn’t finish it because I needed to do paying work, so that illustrates my point above).
But I have loads of ideas. At least two more novels and a bunch of short stories. If I had my way, I’d release The Richards & Klein Casebook, a collection which would include a reforged Nemesis Worm, “Ghost,” “The Sharks Of Europa,” His Master’s Voice, and a few other shorts. Then I have a killer (literally) novel idea for a 22nd Century serial killer story with a disturbing twist.
Earlier I asked if Reality 36 and Omega Point had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. Has anyone ever expressed interest in adapting them into a movie, show, or game?
No, they never did. Here’s hoping, eh?
Do you have a preference?
In these days of Netflix and Amazon, an original streamed TV series would be grand.
If that happened, who would you want them to cast as Richards and Klein…assuming, of course, that Robert Downy, Jr. and Jude Law aren’t available.
I always had Tim Roth [Pulp Fiction] in mind for Richards. Otto would have to be a stocky, bullet-headed type in the [Die Hard‘s] Bruce Willis mold, but not Bruce Willis, he has too much twinkle. Otto’s far more dour than that.
Finally, if someone enjoys the stories in Richards & Klein, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
I would definitely suggest Champion Of Mars. That is set in the same universe, and references some important events common to the background of both books, specifically, the Five Crisis (you’ll have to read the book to find out what that is).