In his new novel The Synapse Sequence (paperback, Kindle), writer Daniel Godfrey envisions a world in which artificial intelligence is used to fight crime, while others think scanning memories may be a better way to go. But while Godfrey calls his story a science fiction crime thriller, it’s clear he’s thinking it might not be fiction for long.
To begin, what is The Synapse Sequence about?
The Synapse Sequence is a crime thriller that takes place in a future London, at a time where the police are using A.I. to a greater and greater extent to both detect and solve crime. Against this backdrop, a start-up company is seeking to demonstrate the value of using the memories of witnesses to work out “why” crimes occurred, rather than just “when” and “what” happened. The Synapse Sequencer is a piece of tech which allows the memories of witnesses to be patched together into an environment which a detective can explore.
My protagonist is Anna Glover, a former air crash investigator who is presented with an intriguing case: a girl has gone missing and the most valuable lead to her whereabouts is her foster brother, who has been beaten into a coma. The focus of the novel is very much on how the two competing technologies — A.I. and memory interaction — are deployed to crack the case.
Where did you get the idea for The Synapse Sequence and how different is the finished novel from that original concept?
I agreed the outline with Titan Books just after [his 2016 novel] New Pompeii was published, but had been thinking about the idea for some time. I’ve been very interested in the idea of working with witness memories. I also had the basis of my protagonist: I thought an air crash investigator would make an interesting detective.
The way I approach near-future fiction is to try and work out how the wider world might develop alongside the main idea behind the novel. I don’t think there’s any getting away from the fact that A.I. is going to play a greater part in our lives, so it seemed natural to set up a police system that used these sorts of emerging technologies. The finished book plays more on the conflict between the two technologies more than the outline, otherwise it’s pretty similar to what I agreed with my editor.
You said earlier that The Synapse Sequence is a crime thriller, though it’s also clearly a science fiction story. But is there a subgenre of sci-fi, or maybe a combination of them, that describes this novel even better?
I like to give my science fiction books different flavors: New Pompeii played around with conspiracy theories and my second novel, Empire Of Time, was set-up to include some cloak and dagger antics from cold-war spy books. The Synapse Sequence mixes ideas from science fiction and crime. But essentially all my books are science fiction.
Obviously, The Synapse Sequence is not your first novel. But are there any writers or specific books that were an influence on The Synapse Sequence but not on your earlier work?
A friend asked me recently how I was able to switch from books with a lot of historical detail, to one in which I’d essentially created an entire setting from scratch. The rules are surprisingly similar: you don’t want to info dump but at the same time need the reader to feel the world is complete. I guess the answer is that I read quite widely: so as well as a lot of science fiction and fantasy, I read a lot of non-fiction, crime books, thrillers, historical epics. It all goes into the big creative pot.
How about non-literary influences; did any movies, TV shows, or video games have a big influence on The Synapse Sequence?
I get most of my ideas from non-fiction, and can find these books as “page turning” as any thriller. Quite a lot of the background to The Synapse Sequence was built from scientific journals and employment studies looking into the impact of A.I. and automation. I mixed in some historical elements from early twentieth century labor relations. You obviously can’t cut yourself off from movies and TV, but I find these are more useful from a standpoint of seeing how stories are constructed. They also mean that certain ideas are well established in the readers mind: I didn’t need to go into the mechanics of autonomous vehicles, etc., within my book.
As you know, some sci-fi novels are stand-alone stories, but others are parts of larger sagas. What is The Synapse Sequence?
One of the bizarre things I found when reading reviews of New Pompeii is that people assumed it was the start of a series, when I’d actually sold it as a stand-alone novel, though with a sequel commissioned much later. The Synapse Sequence is very much a stand-alone book because I had a very specific story I wanted to tell. I may well return to the overall world, but this isn’t one which leaves the reader hanging. There’s no excuse to wait for the rest of the series: it’s ready.
Earlier I asked if any movies, TV shows, or video games had influenced The Synapse Sequence. But has there been any interesting in making a movie, show, or game out of this novel?
I’m a bit out of the loop on video games, though I used to enjoy puzzle games, with a particular favorite being Day Of The Tentacle, which shows my age. I could see a game based around seeing snippets of information and piecing it together. But if anyone wants to make a TV show / movie or game out of it, that would be great.
If they did, who would you like to see them cast in the other main roles?
A-ha! This is the interesting thing about books is that so much lives inside the head of the author or reader that isn’t on the page. In fantasy books, this can also relate to how individual names / places are pronounced. As such, it’s not something I’ve really thought about…though I think Jessica Chastain [Zero Dark Thirty] would be excellent in the role of Anna Glover.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Synapse Sequence, what would you suggest they read next?
I like moving from one thing to another, rather than keeping to the same track. So recent books I’ve enjoyed are Defender by GX Todd, Escapology and Virology by Ren Warom, Shattermoon by Dominic Dulley, and The Rig by Roger Levy.