With a mix of fantasy and cyberpunk sci-fi, you’d expect Wayne Santos’ The Chimera Code (which is out now for Kindle, and will be released in paperback on November 10th) to be influenced by games and anime. But as he reveals in the following email interview, this story was actually inspired by a very specific tabletop RPG.
To start, what is The Chimera Code about, and when and where is it set?
The Chimera Code takes place in a very different 22nd century Earth. It’s about one of the premier combat mages of the day, Cloke, and her Chimera Unit, the military slang people use to refer to combined arms teams of mages, cyborgs, and hackers all working together. Cloke usually sells her services to the highest bidder, but she gets a request from a very special client and finds that even though this might be a financially expensive venture, the payout is well worth it.
The book itself is a globetrotting one, so readers see a little bit of what 22nd century New York, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Prague, and even Near Earth Orbit is like. This is a world that was on track for a typical cyberpunk future, and that progress got upended by a third world war, which was a civil war or revolution across multiple nations, not government versus government, as many had expected. Then that chaos was further upset by magic suddenly working, a singularity that no one saw coming.
Cloke and the society she lives in are the results of a generation or three finally striking an uneasy balance between advanced cybernetics and simulation technology on one side and people that can alter weather patterns or hurl fireballs on the other.
Where did you get the idea for The Chimera Code, and how did the plot evolve as you wrote it?
There are two major influences on The Chimera Code. The first and most obvious is a tabletop RPG from the late ’80s and early ’90s called Shadowrun. That game took the world of Blade Runner and then threw in dragons, dwarves, elves, hackers, and street samurai and blended it all together. I always wondered what that world would have been like if only magic had come back, not the magical creatures.
The next big influence was me trying to work out what that world would be like at the street level. I wrote a story about a teenager from the slums who could work magic and was running with gangs. The kid got challenged to a street duel by some college guy from MIT who was slumming it. After writing that story, I always wondered what happened to that kid, and The Chimera Code ended up being the answer.
The plot for the story evolved like most of mine do, a few major events that popped up in my head, with little connective tissue between them at all. The fun part was seeing how those events finally lined up. I knew what the climax of the story was going to be as I started, but I had no idea how Cloke ended up in that situation and kept writing to find out.
The Chimera Code sounds like it’s a cyberpunk fantasy tale. Is that how you’d describe it?
Cyberpunk fantasy is probably an accurate term. Science fantasy is more generic, but that would probably still apply. Personally, I think of it as “cybersorcery,” which was actually the filename I used for the book while I was writing it.
I think cybersorcery is probably the most specific and accurate term because the book really is a mash-up of cyberpunk and the sword & sorcery genres. Cyberpunk is already pretty well defined for most modern readers, with the corporate intrigue, hacking, and dystopian elements, but sword & sorcery is a specific, less common departure from traditional high fantasy. Where Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings is about high stakes that affect the fate of all of the Middle-earth, classic sword & sorcery like Conan is often about some guy just trying to make his way through the world and having to bust a lot of skulls to do it. The stakes aren’t world-altering, the threat of violence is always there, and the magic is often pragmatic and utilitarian to get things done, rather than miraculous and jaw-dropping with how awe-inspiring it is when it manifests.
And yeah, the filename for the next book is also just “Cybersorcery 2,” so… y’know… consistency.
The Chimera Code is your first published novel, but you’ve written short stories as well as TV scripts, ad copy, and magazine articles. Are there any writers who were a big influence on The Chimera Code but not on anything else you’ve written?
Absolutely. One of my biggest inspirations is William Gibson. This guy pretty much defined the cyberpunk genre, but I never got a chance to really see how his influence manifested in my writing. The Chimera Code was the sixth book I’d written. The previous books were all more or less in the urban fantasy genre. I’d always wanted to write something cyberpunk, but for many years lacked the confidence, because of how dense and detailed Gibson’s writing and world-building were, and that was my gold standard.
So my earlier books, I thought I’d go easy on myself and start with familiar contemporary environments that I’d gleefully wreck with fantastical elements. Those books did not find homes, though I still hold out hope for some of them in the future. So The Chimera Code was actually supposed to be the last book I’d write before throwing in the towel and making do being a professional writer of things other than novels. Because it was supposed to be my last book, I decided it was time to finally attempt something Gibsonian, so this book has a Gibson influence I never really got the opportunity to try in previous writing.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games? Did any of them have a big influence on The Chimera Code? You’ve mentioned a couple already.
So many non-literary influences that it’s hard to know which are the important ones to point out. The two biggest media for non-literary influence are probably video games and anime. Both of those were central pillars for me growing up besides books. Of course, visually, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is one of the biggest cinematic influences on me and every other cyberpunk writer out there.
But anime is where I inhaled a lot of cyberpunk. Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed, Ghost In The Shell, and Black Magic M-66 are major touchstones. There also elements of Bubble Gum Crisis and even Izcer-One, Project A-Ko and Cowboy Bebop laced into the DNA of the book. And eagle-eyed readers will probably spot a nod to Neon Genesis Evangelion here and there.
Video games were also a big influence, just because of the way some games, especially the bigger, triple-A, open-world games, let you explore and interact, and kill, so much stuff. The more recent Deus Ex series made an impression because it’s a cyberpunk game. But other SF games like Mass Effect and even the original Neuromancer adventure game that came out back in the late ’80s were formative experiences on how to interact with these worlds, and the kinds of interesting things could come from the interactions.
But even non-cyberpunk games were important for giving me a lot of ideas not just about the world, but the “rules” of a world, and how systems, like magic, might work. Games like the various incarnations of the Final Fantasy series, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, or the Persona series are great at portraying “progression,” and fun ways for people to use magic and other abilities.
Now, as you know, both cyberpunk stories and fantasy novels are sometimes stand-alone tales, and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is The Chimera Code?
The Chimera Code is very much like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, in that this intended to be a series, although right now, I have no clear end in sight. The first book is pretty much stand-alone in that if another book were never written, it could comfortably be left there. I’m the sort that feels intense psychic trauma if I’m left with a cliffhanger, and I have to wait years to find out what happens next, so I don’t write those stories.
So, what can you tell us about this series in terms of how many books it will be, when they might be out, etc.?
I have a few specific, major plot points scattered across a series of books, but I’m very much a “discovery writer.” I fall into the same school as two of my other influences, Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, in that when I’m writing a first draft, I’m also a reader, plonking those words down to see what happens next.
So…that’s my roundabout way of saying, “I have no idea how many books there will ultimately be.” I’d say my approach to writing the series is probably a bit like older TV series such as Star Trek: The Next Generation or Babylon-5 back in the day. They’d have an ongoing narrative, either just for that season or for the entire series that was the main story, occasionally peppered with smaller, standalone stories.
However, the good folks at Rebellion and my wunder-editor Kate Coe were crazy enough to approve my name for the series, so The Chimera Code is officially book one of the WitchWare series. Because if you’re going to give your series a name, it may as well as be shameless, unapologetic, and kick classy, good taste to the ground with a spiked heel on its throat and spilled Japanese whiskey everywhere.
Earlier I asked if The Chimera Code had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting The Chimera Code into a movie, show, or game?
It’s still a bit early to be talking about the interest in adaptation. Some early moves have to be made first, so there’s a bit of “wait and see” on whether future developments will occur. And of course, if they do, then I probably wouldn’t be allowed to talk about it publicly until the contractually permissible time.
Right, right. But if it was going to happen, do you have a preference as to the format?
Because of my own influences, I would die of happiness if it got picked up and translated into some other medium. Rebellion itself not only publishes novels, they publish comics and video games, and I’ve been fortunate enough to interact with all three arms of the company. I think I can get away with hinting that, courtesy of them, some Chimera Code related stuff is coming out from another medium I’ve enjoyed over the years, so that’ll be cool.
In a perfect world, I would love to see The Chimera Code adapted into long-form TV, possibly by one of the streaming services. The special effects for a televised series are pretty much on par with cinema these days, but the ability to tell a story over dozens of hours, rather than just two, is the biggest advantage TV has.
Though if the Japanese turned it into an anime, I would die. I’d order a grossly inappropriate Cloke waifu body pillow first; then, I’d die.
If The Chimera Code was going to be adapted into a TV show, who would you want them to cast as Cloke and the other main characters?
As far as a performance with live actors goes for film and TV, there are a few inspirations. Cloke herself is a mix of Irish and Filipino, so naturally, in the eyes of casting, the only logical choice is Scarlett Johansson [Ghost In The Shell], but that would break me in half. I’d probably be happier seeing someone with actual Filipino DNA, like Amanda Westlake [Homeschooled] or Kristin Kreuk [Smallville], in that role.
Zee, who is the other main character in the novel, is androgynous for reasons made abundantly clear in the book. I think someone like Ruby Rose [Batwoman] would probably be great in that role.
Marcus rounds out the trio, and he’s a big, black, incredibly friendly, terrifyingly proficient mil-spec cyborg hailing from Liverpool, so if Dwayne Johnson [Jumanji: The Next Level] could pull off that accent, that’d be great.
I think he could. What if someone wanted to make it into a video game, who do you think should make and what kind of game should it be?
For games, there’s really only one answer, and that’s large, sprawling role-playing game, like Mass Effect or The Witcher III, or, of course, the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077. And the company that would kill me with joy if they were announced as developing it would be CD Projekt, who made both the Witcher series and now Cyberpunk 2077. Their games are amazing, and The Chimera Code would be amazing if they developed it.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Chimera Code, what cyberpunk fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read and why that one?
There are a few places that readers can go. I would always advise people to start with “the classics,” so Shadowrun, in addition to being a tabletop RPG that is fun to play, also made the jump to other media. You can play Shadowrun video games, with some more recent releases on PC, but you can also read Shadowrun novels. Shaken: No Job Too Small, by Russell Zimmerman, is available on Amazon’s Kindle platform, but a lot of the older books from the 1990s have remained in paperback.
If you want something a little more recent, Mage Against The Machine by Shaun Barger is pitched as “Harry Potter meets The Terminator,” and that book is nuts. It’s about a culture of magical wizardry, sorcerous types who hid themselves from the rest of humanity. Then humanity experiences the A.I. apocalypse and the wizards sit it, out hoping they’ll be ignored forever, and of course, they’re not. Mayhem ensues.