Sunday, April 10, 2011

Interview: Nansi Kunze (part I)

Aussie author Nansi Kunze has kindly (and meticuously) answered my questions. I've been a fan of hers since I read her first published YA novel Mishaps (previously which I held a giveaway for). Dangerously Placed (which I've reviewd here) is her second YA novel which was released in March 2011. Hopefully, there's more to come from this awesome author in the future.

Both of your YA novels have a plot heavily based on science and technology. Why does the combination of science and YA appeal to you?

I write YA because it’s what I like to read. I hardly ever read books aimed at adults these days, because to me they just don’t have the same intensity. When I do read adult fiction, it sometimes even seems as though the authors have had this compulsion to include ‘adult’ elements – politics, substance abuse, adultery and the like – even when they don’t really mesh with the story or the characters, just to show how grown up their work is. Being a YA novelist, on the other hand, is really liberating: you can be as gritty or as light-hearted as you like! It’s hard to pin down exactly why science and technology appeal to me. I think it’s partly because I was a child in the 80s, when computers and hand-held games were pretty much the coolest things around, and I’m pretty sure some of it’s my husband’s fault! Back when we were in high school he introduced me to real gaming (I didn’t have a computer or a gaming system at home) and classic sci-fi writers like Isaac Asimov. I’ve been fascinated by things like robotics, IT and genetics ever since. What really amazes me is that speculative technology doesn’t appear more often in YA fiction, given how important technology is in teenagers’ lives.

Where did the idea for Dangerously Placed come from?

It actually started out as a short story called ‘To Detect and Surf’ which I wrote a couple of years before Mishaps was accepted by Random House. At that point I was trying to get short stories published as a way to make my CV look a bit more respectable when I was ready to submit one of my novels to a big publisher. I’d just had a very kind rejection letter from a sci-fi magazine editor in the US, telling me my latest story wasn’t for them, but that I should submit again because he liked my style. The mag’s website said that they were looking for ‘locked room murder mysteries’ for their next issue. I’d been playing a lot of Animal Crossing on the Gamecube at the time (yep, this was quite a while back!) and thinking about the allure of games like that, where you feel as though you’re almost living in a virtual world. It struck me that a virtual environment was a way in which someone could be in a locked room situation – theoretically sealed off from the outside world, yet in contact with people at the same time. I sent off the resulting story about a surfie boy on virtual work experience to the magazine, only to have it kindly rejected too (actually, the editor probably wondered why I kept sending him stories about teenagers when his magazine was clearly aimed at adults)! Dangerously Placed has a more complicated plot, a lot more characters and a female protagonist, but most of the basic concepts came straight from ‘To Detect and Surf’.

What process did you go through to create the very well thought out technology of Virk (where even virtually photocopying has a clear and logical explanation)?

Well, I started out with the kinds of ideas people had about virtual reality when I was a teenager: stuff like visors and gloves that gave you basic visuals and controls for gaming. The more sophisticated details of Virk came about through narrative necessity – I had to add things so that my plot would be possible! I wanted the virtual office to seem extremely real to the people working there (I guess I was influenced quite a lot by the holodeck technology in Star Trek, although what I write isn’t ‘hard sci-fi’ like that). So I gave them pressure-sensitive full body suits so they’d be able to sit on virtual chairs and shake hands with their colleagues; masks equipped with cameras so they’d be able to see each other’s expressions properly and so on. A lot of things still had to be fixed during the drafting and editing process, though. My husband suggested the moving floor as a way of creating a large virtual space without needing a huge space in reality, and my editor pointed out that a tight mask would squash everyone’s hairstyles! In the end, it was all created bit by bit as the story required each new technological element.

Dangerously Placed is set in the not too distant future (in my opinion). How far off do you think a technology like Virk?

I didn’t really think of Dangerously Placed as being set in the future when I wrote it. I envisaged the story as taking place in a year or two, perhaps, but that’s about it. A lot of the technology you’d need for Virk already exists – the ability to get a lot of people communicating and sending their images to each other from around the world is obviously nothing new! In a basic sense, the tactile elements of Virk are already possible too: remote surgery can be performed with robotic technology, for example. But the level of realism that Virk offers – the ability to feel the skin of a person’s hand as if you were shaking it in real life, or to experience a cup of virtual coffee tipping down your shirt – is basically just fantasy. I’d say something that complex is many, many years off at this stage.

See part II of this interview here.

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