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MetaGame Paperback – November 9, 2010
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Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Sam Landstrom
Question: MetaGame takes place in a futuristic world where biotech, nanotech, gaming, and "religion" merge to blur the lines between fantasy and reality. How did you dream up the story line?
Sam Landstrom: Funny you should say "dream," because that’s literally how it started. One night I had a vivid dream in which I was a devil in a ghetto apartment complex and was being hunted by the police. The whole idea took off from there. Gradually, I built a world around that single scene. For months, I fleshed out the world in a private blog with over 60 posts with titles like "Fashion," "Economics," "Religion," "Lingo," "Work," etc. I continually worked to hook these together logically, keeping in mind that one aspect of this futuristic society would influence the others. Once I felt I had a reasonable world, I hung a plot outline on it (including my dream scene). As I wrote the book, the world continued to evolve; in fact, the present book has only a slight resemblance to those early blog posts I created two years ago.
Question: You’ve previously worked in a lab programming robots to help sequence the human genome. Did this experience and background knowledge play a role in the story?
Sam Landstrom: At a high level, yes. Back in the lab, before I got interested in software, I wanted to be a genetic engineer. I felt then, as I do now, that biotechnology will eventually become ubiquitous in our lives and so I wanted to help design that future. At the same time, I wondered what exactly that future would look like. To me, being able to engineer the living is an incredibly powerful technology that can do wonderful things for humanity, but, at the same time, elicits in me a primal dread... just the sort of stew I like for fiction! Obviously, I’m not the only one with such an outlook, since biotech is a sci-fi staple.
I don’t include lab techniques or techs from that job because they would be far obsolete in the future. Heck, they’re completely obsolete now, and it’s only been 10 years! Given this, the technology I wrote about is a wild extrapolation, an entertaining guess, really. About all I tried to convey in the book from my time at the lab, in a literal sense, was the genuine passion and intelligence I observed in those who work in this field.
Question: What research did you do while writing MetaGame?
Sam Landstrom: Most of the research I did was related to confirming that the future technologies presented in the book are even theoretically possible and how they might be implemented. For example, how can a machine read and write to a person’s mind? With difficulty, as it turns out! Luckily for my readers, I only used this research to color my descriptions and confine the scope of these future technologies, not to provide in-depth specifications. Thanks to this balance, I think MetaGame gets to stay in the hard sci-fi category while remaining, first and foremost, an entertaining book.
Question: What authors or books have influenced your writing?
Sam Landstrom: Lucky for me, the public school system forced me to read 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451. These books were more about sociology and philosophy than technology, and they taught me that sci-fi did not necessarily require aliens or spaceships.
In addition to these stand-alone books, I really enjoyed the Dune series by Frank Herbert because he built up a fully realized universe that included components of religion, politics, economics, and even ecology. Dune had a big influence on MetaGame.
I have heard from several readers that MetaGame shares elements with Neal Stephenson’s work. This might not be a coincidence since I read The Diamond Age and Snow Crash before writing MetaGame. Good stuff.
Question: MetaGame fits solidly in the sci-fi/cyberpunk genre, but also weaves in philosophy and thriller writing. Have you considered trying your hand at other genres in the future?
Sam Landstrom: Yes, in fact I’m writing a fantasy novel now. Magic, monsters, infinite dimensions, a high school kegger.. You get the idea--not hard sci-fi, but entertaining and, hopefully, a bit thought provoking.
Question: Have you always wanted to write? What other careers have you pursued?
Sam Landstrom: I’ve wanted to write off and on over the years. When I was really young (like 8-9 years old) I pumped out books; however, these quick reads emphasized pictures over writing. The art sported a lot of guns blazing, swords swinging, blood spraying, heads flying through the air, etc. I went to a hippie school that wasn’t big into formal education. I remember my older cousin reading one of my books, after which he told me, "You need to start a sentence with a capital letter and end with a period." First of all, I didn’t know what he was talking about and second, who cares? I didn’t understand why he wasn’t praising me for the awesome action scenes. I mean, you just didn’t see that kind of stuff in books I found in the library, much less at school! I like to think my writing has improved since those days, although my grammar could still use some work. Thank God for good editors.
As an adult, I’ve had many different career interests I considered pursuing, including underwater archaeology and neurology. When I started college, I actually went in with the intention of becoming a doctor, but quickly discovered I was more into the science of medicine than the actual application of it, hence the degree in molecular biology. Aside from working in software (my current career) and in biotech, I spent a lot of time on the water as a deck hand, first on a passenger ferry, and then on a small cruise ship in Alaska. I was really considering a life at sea. However, it turns out I was ill suited to the regimen of a sailor’s job. Captains were not impressed with what I thought were creative solutions to problems, nor with me setting my own priorities.
Question: What's next for you?
Sam Landstrom: I’m sort of writing three books at once--the fantasy novel I mentioned earlier, as well as a prequel and sequel to MetaGame. I’ve made the most progress on the fantasy, so that’s what I’ll likely finish first. On the side, I also started developing a smart-phone application that is a virtual boyfriend for young women. I hope to make him handsome and charming, even as he speaks in a computer-generated Stephen Hawking voice. I’ve heard you can get a long way with flattery, so I’m hoping a phone can successfully use the same strategy. I’m not sure when I’ll finish that, if ever. By the way, I’d make a virtual girlfriend too, but giving men what they want through a phone (or any media) is too easy.
About the Author
Author Sam Landstrom studied molecular biology at the University of Washington before working at a DNA sequencing lab that helped sequence the human genome. Presently, he works in the software industry. MetaGame is his first book.
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Top customer reviews
I really wish the author wrote another SF novel. This one is not perfect, mostly it could use some extra work on characterization, but it's quite novel and thought-provoking. Basically, it packs a bit of "philosophy", sometimes a tad obvious, into a light and engaging story. Is the plot the greatest thing since sliced bread? Not really, but this is welcome change from the endless rehash of vampires, zombies and space marines more commonly seen in cheap Kindle SF and the author has a lot of room to grow.
Now, one thing you have to accept with it is that it is quite gaming and social-network oriented. You don't have to like those subjects to appreciate the story, but you need to be willing to see them put front and center. Oh, and a relaxed attitude towards religious musings is helpful as well.
You also need to tolerate a story which throws you in the middle and expects you to gradually puzzle things out. This is fairly common in SF, but if it gets on your nerves than MetaGame is quite possibly not the book for you. Slang is used right away, but typically gets explained a bit later on*. Sometimes with exposition, true.
- Work and life as a game. If you work in software, one buzzword we hear nowadays is "gamification", i.e. making mundane work less tedious and more engaging by adopting videogame reward strategies. Buzzword it is, definitely, but it has been taken to its logical extreme here.
- Popularity-driven life. That's the Facebook/Twitter aspect. Especially in the beginning, it is really emphasized. For example the scene at the congregation of a "church", after our hero kills an acquaintance and gets big rewards for it. I think the book would have been even stronger if it really emphasized this aspect, but that's also a big risky item to take on meaningfully.
- Should human clones/androids be treated as slaves? The core subject, in many ways. Well-done, but face it, hardly the first time it is done in SF. The bit where reality is essentially re-written is intriguing however.
- If someone or something can control your environment, grant you life and death and reward you with eternal life, would you be correct in considering them as God? I don't think so, but the characters in MetaGame certainly do.
Dystopian? Utopian? A mix of both, sometimes self-consciously so.
* "Grinding" for example is a term commonly used in current videogames for a repetitive activity you carry out not to achieve a specific goal or further the story but rather to gain more experience or treasure. "Spanker" (not sure if it a real-life term), seems to be the frivolous-only counterpart. Both are used early on, but only explained later.
Opening these pages takes us far into the future, where The Game is everything. Think of your favorite MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role-playing game, for you noobs), but live, and ongoing at all times. That's pretty much how the world of MetaGame is. Micro-chipped brains can link everyone together, like trolling Facebook 24/7, but with better search parameters. Everything you do can be done for game points, and everything, including plants, people, and created objects are covered in nanosites, creating a "...three-dimensional map of the world that software could easily understand...marking moving objects in real time..."
The more game points you have, the more prestige you carry, granting long-youth, long-life, and possibly even immortality. Points are earned for everything, including everyday "job" type duties, including software engineering/programming, medicinal research, law enforcement, etc, so every aspect of an individual's life has become a "game," thus creating "flow," in turn generating happiness for all. For those who like games as we know them today, they are available, though frowned upon from a societal stand-point, as they are thought of as lazy. These games are called Spank Games, and require literal, physical movement to play. "Sloth is a sin [therefore] spank games require physical movement [so they at least enhance physicality]..." To play spank games, one must jack into a world-wide virtual reality, where the game is played superimposed over the real world. Watching a spanker can be entertaining, as they typically look ridiculous while they're embarking on whatever game quest they happen to be involved with.
Our main character, D_Light (many of the characters have gamer-tag-like names), is one of the top ranking gamers in his Family. After an intense Rule #7 (a randomly implemented game where any gamer is allowed to kill (literally) another, and be granted 1/5th the victims total game points), D_Light finds himself the #1 points earner for the day. This circumstance offers him the opportunity to be involved in a monthly MetaGame, (known also as Divine Quest or House Crusade); a game offered only to nobility. Comprised of a series of games, not even the participants know what the quests will be until they are starting them. More a cultural phenomenon than a traditional game, the MetaGames take place in the real world, versus the software constructs of the electronic worlds.
Teamed up with Lyra & Djoser, the nobility invited to participate in the Metagame, along with their bodyguards, Amanda (a product, I thought of as a cybernetic robot) and Brian, a chip-on-his-shoulder meat-head type, we follow the group through their MetaGame, which leads them into the depths of the OverSoul's cultural constructs.
What I really enjoyed about this book were the references to the reasoning behind the creation of the culture this book takes place in. Real psychology, like that of Mihaly Cskiszentmihalyi's idea of Flow, were used by Mr. Landstrom to create a very believable culture. I'm an origin story lover, so thoroughly enjoyed the chapter prefaces that told the back-story. Thinking about it more as I write this, I may not have enjoyed the novel without these insights...
If you're a gamer, or a tech person, you may enjoy this novel just for the sheer joy of reading about the universe the story takes place in. I definitely did. If you like a good onion peel of social constructs, this could do it as well. There's even the hint of a love story, but not enough to overshadow the rest, and definitely the build-up of "what the hell is happening!" that will make you want to continue to the end.
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