Everyone has had a moment where they wished they could see into the future, even if it just to find out what happens in the new Matrix movie. But in his speculative techno thriller The Future Is Yours (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), writer Dan Frey postulates that it may not be the best idea, especially if you like having friends. In the following email interview, Frey discusses what inspired and influenced this epistolary novel, as well as the HBO adaptation currently in the works.
Photo Credit: © Casey Gates Frey
To start, what is The Future Is Yours about, and when and where is it set?
The Future Is Yours is sci-fi book that takes place today, in the Silicon Valley of 2021. It’s about two best friends, Ben and Adhi, who invent a revolutionary new technology: a quantum computer that can connect with itself, and the Internet, one year into the future. They form a startup to bring it to the world, and they achieve all the riches and fame they ever dreamed of…but their technology threatens to basically destroy the world, erase the concept of free will, and unravel their friendship in the process.
Where did you get the idea for The Future Is Yours, and how, if at all, did that idea change as you wrote this story?
The idea was born in 2018, while watching Mark Zuckerberg testify in front of Congress, when I was struck by a few things. The sheer scale of the impact of Facebook, and similar platforms, is staggering; they have the power to alter both geopolitical power and the wiring of the human brain. Second, it was clear that Congress, and our entire system, was woefully ill-equipped to address the issues new tech presented. And third, it was clear that Zuckerberg was just a very fallible young guy — intelligent but awkward, cocky, but well-meaning — and I was interested in getting at the human story behind some of these tectonic shifts that tech had been causing.
Of course, high-concept what-ifs are my storytelling playground, so I wanted to explore those ideas through a new technology. And I had this thought, “It’s like these guys own the future,” which eventually spiraled into coming up with a twist on time-travel narratives, in the context of the modern tech industry.
How the idea evolved is interesting. The book is written in an epistolary form, but initially, it wasn’t going to be a novel at all. I conceived of telling the story in an experimental multimedia format that would be entirely online — Twitter and Instagram accounts and a website for the fictional company, plus the blog of one of the characters — for audiences to find and experience non-linearly. But it became an unruly proposition to create all that media, and guide people into and through it in anything resembling a coherent fashion. I may have abandoned it entirely if not for the fact that my wife wisely encouraged me to consider that the story might be a novel.
So, is there a reason you made Ben and Adhi BFFs as opposed to a couple or cousins or something else?
I’m interested in the ways male friendship works. Men often have trouble talking about their feelings, and as a result, I’ve found, adult men form deep bonds by working together. Doing something, building something, brings us together. Which is great — but it also opens up problems, because you run the risk of feelings intruding upon the business, and the business creating all kinds of hard feelings. A friendship can birth a successful business, but the success can often end up killing the friendship.
It sounds like The Future Is Yours is a cyberpunk techno thriller. Is that how you’d describe it?
I’d call it a grounded tech-thriller. It’s science fiction, but it’s also a modern-day rags-to-riches story. I was consciously borrowing the model of the “overnight billionaire” narrative that’s been popularized by Silicon Valley success stories (like Zuckerberg’s) and rise-and-fall stories (like Adam Neumann of WeWork).
The Future Is Yours is also an epistolary novel, in that it’s not written out, but is instead told through emails, texts, blog posts, and so on. You touched on this earlier, but why was this the best way for you to tell this story?
A few reasons. It was a way to capture the spirit of the tech world and the people who inhabit it. So much of our communication today is mediated by technology, it was a great way to immerse myself in both the language we use online, and the limitations of those media. It was also a way to make the story as grounded as possible, so it feels like you’re stumbling on real documents. It also makes for a fun and surprising read, since you never know how the next piece of information will be delivered.
Now, while The Future Is Yours is your first novel, you’ve previously written some screenplays as well as the audiobook novel The Retreat. Are there any writers, or perhaps stories, that had a big influence on The Future Is Yours but not on anything else you’ve written?
The Future Is Yours was inspired by some the Michael Crichton tech-thriller books I grew up on. Jurassic Park, Sphere, Prey. And also some epistolary-style big-idea novels like Max Brooks’ World War Z.
What about Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants, which is also an epistolary novel. I saw the mutual admiration society you guys started on Twitter.
I love Sylvain’s Themis books, which are closer to the “oral history” style of Max Brooks’ books. Sylvain blurbed The Future Is Yours, and I reached out to him, hoping to just meet another writer. We hopped on a Zoom; turns out he’s a great guy, and we overlap on all kinds of nerdery.
How about non-literary influences; was The Future Is Yours influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
The Social Network is a big influence; The Future Is Yours is largely a riff on that story, but with a time-travel element added.
On the sci-fi side, I love mind-fucky takes on time-travel: 12 Monkeys (and La Jetee, the French film it’s based on). Primer.Looper.
Now, sci-fi books and techno thrillers are sometimes stand-alone novels, and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is The Future Is Yours?
It’s written to be a complete and satisfying story in and of itself, and the next book I’m writing is totally different.
But…I do have an idea for how to continue the story in a really cool way, something I’ve never seen done in a sequel before. So, if the book connects with people, I’d love to write a follow-up.
As I mentioned earlier, you’ve written some screenplays. First, have you written anything we might’ve seen?
No, but it’s happening right now. I worked on an animated series that’s currently in production, and a feature that’s about to start — but both projects are other people’s IP, and not yet announced.
What about the adaptation of The Future Is Yours that HBO and The Batman director Matt Reeves are doing, which they’re calling The Future. Are you writing any of those scripts?
I’m currently writing the pilot myself, and am an executive producer on the series.
But I don’t want to write all the scripts. One of the biggest advantages to doing it as a series is a chance for creative collaboration, and I’m excited to get to the next stage of the process — a writers room — so I can bring a bunch more brilliant people into the sandbox.
Adapting the book as a series is an interesting proposition because of the epistolary form, but we’ve got the perfect director (Aneesh Chaganty, who did Searching and Run) to do something stylistically that we’ve never seen before on television.
Now, you will obviously have no say in what kind of bagels they have at the craft services table, let alone who they cast, but if Reeves asks, who would you suggest they cast as the main characters and why them?
I’ll stay out of casting specifics for now because the names I have in mind are not super-famous movie stars, and they shouldn’t be. There are meaty roles for young up-and-comers here.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Future Is Yours, what epistolary novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next and why that?
For fans of the epistolary genre who have not already, I wholeheartedly recommend Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which holds up remarkably well for having been written in the 19th century and adapted ad nauseam. The construction of it helps you reimagine yourself into the headspace of not being saturated by countless vampire stories; it’s a delight.
And for a more recent take on the genre — one with some elements reminiscent of The Future Is Yours — I highly recommendThis Is How You Lose The Time War by Max Gladstone and Amal El-Mohtar, which I’m glad that I discovered only after having written my own book, because otherwise I may have been discouraged from embarking on a time-travel epistolary myself. It’s that good, weaving an epic romance in with smart mind-blowing time shenanigans.