In his new science fiction novel The Rig (paperback, Kindle), writer Roger Levy mixes a murder mystery, extreme sports, and social media. But in the following email interview, he also cites the real-life experience of being attacked on the street as having as also having a big impact on this noir sci-fi novel.
To start, what is The Rig about?
It takes place in a distant solar system, on a cluster of planets colonized by humans who fled a climatically guttering Earth. The Rig is a double narrative, one a mystery that starts with a spree killer tracked down by a paxer — a cop — and the other charting the rise of a vast criminal organization, The Whisper,controlled by two very unusual childhood friends. The hero is a writer, Razer, who works for AfterLife, which is more than just a social media organization, holding humanity together and giving it a focus. It gives them a reason to be good, and the possibility of a return from fatal disease or injury, and the chance to vote for the cure or healingof others. Razer begins to realize she is being manipulated, though, but doesn’t know why or for what purpose.
Where did you get the idea for The Rig and how different is the finished novel from that initial concept?
Small thoughts and ideas came slowly together. A few scenes take place in The Chute. The idea for that came from skateboarding and skiing, and I kept adding risk until I had the most extreme sport I could imagine. A friend who’s a geologist in the oil industry gave me the idea for the climax of the tale and a sense of the environment. For AfterLife, I looked at the idea of a post-theistic society, and how the benefits of faith might be provided by social media, and what might happen then. On top of that, I had ideas for a few interesting characters like Tallen, who has a suicide impulse that protects him from suicide. And then I just rigged the whole thing together — and that was another thing. The word in the English language with the most distinct meanings is set. I liked the idea of using “rig” in the same way, exploiting all the word’s uses.
The Rig is a science fiction novel, but is there a subgenre of sci-fi, or maybe a combination of them, that describes this novel better?
I don’t think there is. It’s not high-concept, though AfterLife is high profile and high-def. There are no aliens, though there are some very unusual humans and machines. There are soft and social sf elements, which I guess you’d expect in a book that looks at social media. I like the idea of sci-fi noir. Can it be that?
Sure. The setting of The Rig is a desert planet, but you can’t set a sci-fi novel on a desert planet without conjuring images of Arrakis from Dune and Tatooine from Star Wars. In deciding how to depict the desert planet in The Rig, did you look at Dune and Star Wars, or did you look to real deserts?
That’s misleading, since Bleak is more an inhospitable wasteland than a classical desert. But I grew up with Dune, so thanks for reminding me of a wonderful book. I used to calm myself before exams with the mantra, “Fear is the mindkiller…” I can still recite the whole thing. I still do, actually, and it still works for me.
The harsh aspect of Bleak is its terrible oceans and storms, and an example of that is its hosting of The Chute, which is a huge tornado-seared underground pipe ride that you launch yourself into, wearing only a freefall flight suit.
Now, The Rig is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Rig but not on your earlier work?
Well,The Rigis about writing and stories when it isn’t a thriller. As I’ve said, my main character, Razer, is a writer and talks about what it is to her, and her alter-ego, Kestrel Dust, is an anagram of the name of by far the most famous modern American oral historian. And towards the end is a small reference to Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics, which is somewhat sci-fi and magnificently metafictional.
What about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have a particularly big impact on The Rig?
The scenes in The Chute are very visual and video gamey, I suppose, and it’s fairly hard to have a female action hero who has no elements of Lara Croft or Nikita or Salt, for example, though Razer is not a clone of any of those. When I started writing my humechs, Beata and Lode, I found myself thinking of Huey, Dewey, and Louie from Silent Running, which as a kid I loved.
The other influence, if you can call it that, was my experience of being attacked on the street just before Christmas 2004. I was nearly killed, as were several others, mostly more seriously injured than me, and one man was killed, very sadly. I later got to see the event on CCTV. It drove home to me how we construct memory to fit the need for narrative, how brave and kind people can be, and how much we need and have a need to support each other. The experience interrupted my final work on Icarus [his 2006 novel], and put my writing on hold for a long time. Memories of that episode are in The Rig, as they were in Icarustoo, and will surely continue to feed my writing.
Earlier I mentioned Dune and Star Wars, both of which became much larger sagas. Are you thinking that may be the case for The Rig as well?
I’ll leave it as a stand-alone novel right now. However, while the end of The Rig leaves nothing unresolved, it does give a view through a new window, which I might explore later.
So has there been any interest in adapting The Rig into a movie, TV show, or video game?
There’s been a little interest, and one door remains slightly ajar, but there’s nothing definite yet. It’s been suggested that The Rig might make a good Netflix-type series, since its structure fits the form of freestanding episodes — Razer’s stories — with the overarching mystery as a longer narrative theme.
If The Rig was to be adapted into a Netflix show, who would you like to see them cast in the main roles?
As a movie or TV show, Elizabeth Debicki [Guardians Of The Galaxy 2] as Razer, Cillian Murphy [Batman Begins] as Alef, Paterson Joseph [Timeless] as Pellonhorc, and Tom Hardy [Mad Max: Fury Road] as Bale.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Rig, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?