An interview with Jon Wallace

Jon Wallace is a science fiction author based in London, England. His debut novel, "Barricade", is published on June 19 2014 from Gollancz. A review of that book can be read here.

Michelle Herbert spoke with Jon a week before the book’s publication.

Would you class Barricade as dystopian or post apocalyptic, or perhaps a meeting of the two?

It is a definitely a post-apocalyptic novel, set after a nuclear war.

However, there are flashbacks to the dystopia that created the post-apocalyptic world. That’s because Barricade is told from the perspective of the ‘bad guys’, and I wanted to explore the dying civilisation that spawned them. That way I could give some context to their society, and show that perhaps the bad guy tag isn’t always that easily applied.

I found Barricade a very grim novel. Why did you choose to focus the story on the Ficials (artificial beings) rather than the Reals (Humans)?

It’s a grim setting alright, but the story is exciting and funny and full of colourful characters.

I focused on the Ficials because I wanted to approach the post-apocalyptic novel from this ‘bad guy’ perspective. When I started on the book I wasn’t totally sure I would stick with that approach, but the more I wrote of Kenstibec (the main character) the more I thought it worked. It was interesting to look at the world through the eyes of a character with no regard for life, love or morality.

He has these very cold, pre-conceived ideas about human history, and all his experience of our behaviour leads him to think us a redundant species. His kind was created to help salvage our crumbling civilisation – but as far as he is concerned it was a lost cause: we wouldn’t listen to Ficial advice, only fought harder to preserve a flawed system: therefore we had to go.

On his own, you’d get tired of him – but that’s where the main human character is so important. Through the course of the book he spars with Kenstibec, with pretty funny results, and challenges Ficial notions about humanity: he is resourceful, cunning, and possessed of enormous reserves of strength. He shows that for all his faults, man retains a capacity for great accomplishments.

What was it that inspired you to write this story about artificial intelligence? Was its source the over reliance on technology that can already be seen in the 21st Century?

I was probably inspired by a creeping sense which I think most of us share in some measure: That as a species we’re failing to respond to the threat of planet-wide catastrophe; that instead of using technology to deal with it, we’re using it to more efficiently spy, kill and shop – and that last-minute emergency measures might hasten the end, rather than prevent it.

OK I’m beginning to see where your ‘grim’ comment comes from…

Regarding Ficials, I wondered how they came about? Are they cloned or bred from human cells, taking away the human emotions to only be logical and rational thinkers?

Well, that’s a tough one to get into as this is explored a lot more in Books 2 and 3. The main thing to say is that Ficials are defined mostly by their symbiosis with nanotechnology, and by altered brain chemistry.

Barricade is based in the UK but there was not much information given on what has happened to the rest of the world. Was this done on purpose, to allow the reader to imagine how bad the rest of the world has become? Or will you go into more detail in future books?

A lot more detail comes about the rest of the world in Book 3, but yes in Barricade I wanted to hint at total chaos overseas before the war, and leave the reader to imagine what state it might be in now. It is certainly the case that before the war Ficials were born, bred and limited to Britain, making the UK a pariah state.

On your website it mentions that Barricade will be a trilogy and, without giving spoilers about the end of the first book, will this be looking into the far future or will it be focused on characters we have already met?

It will introduce new characters, but Kenstibec will still be telling the story.

What book would you say inspired you to become a writer?

The one that always jumps out is Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. It was the first book I couldn’t put down.

What one question would you like to answer that you’re never asked?

“How does it feel to be a millionaire novelist with nothing to do but lie on the sofa all day, eating cookies and writing?”

That would be nice, but I’ll not be asked it unless I sell a lot of books.

My answer would be “great”, by the way.

Thank you for your time.

You can find out more about Jon on his website, or follow him on Twitter @Jon_Wallace.

Our Jon Wallace reviews

Steeple by Jon Wallace

Kenstibec is a Ficial - a genetically engineered artificial life form; tough, skilled, hard to kill. Or at least he was. He's lost the nanotech that constantly repaired him. Life just got real. Just like it is for the few remaining humans in this blighted world - the Reals; locked in a fight over a ruined world with the Ficials they created to make Utopia. And now Kenstibec must take a trip to the pinnicle of our failed civilisation. The Steeple is a one thousand storey tower that looms over the wreckage of London. It is worshipped, feared and haunted by attack droids and cannibals. And the location of a secret that just might save Kenstibec's life.The only way is up.

"Steeple exceeds the first volume of its trilogy in terms of character and plot. It is fast paced with a lot of interesting action set pieces, but it also gives us the time to find out a lot more information about the word before the events in Barricade. Steeple is focused on a smaller geographical area than Barricade and this gives us a better understanding of what is left of the human population and the everyday world that they have to live in. Steeple has really left me wondering what chaos Kenstibec will bring to the third book and Jon Wallace’s imagination has shown me that if the sky’s the limit, Kenstibec will find a way to bust through it."

Read our review

Rig by Jon Wallace

‘My nanotech is dead. By definition I am no longer Ficial. On the other hand I don't experience your emotions. That makes me inhuman. Like I said: neither one nor the other.' Caught in a world that is too busy destroying itself to care for anything except how to exploit the weak, Kenstibec is the ultimate outsider: he used to be invulnerable but now he's just a killer with no-one to kill for. But when the old world is ending everyone needs a reason to live, someone to live for. Kenstibec is on a quest. A quest that will take him across a freezing ocean and into the cold heart of a new world order.

Read our review

Barricade by Jon Wallace

Kenstibec is a member of the 'Ficial' race, a breed of merciless super-humans. Their war on humanity has left Britain a wasteland, where Ficials hide in barricaded cities, besieged by tribes of human survivors. Originally optimised for construction, Kenstibec earns his keep as a taxi driver, running any Ficial who will pay from one surrounded city to another.

The trips are always eventful, but this will be his toughest yet. His fare is a narcissistic journalist who's touchy about her luggage. His human guide is constantly plotting to kill him. And that's just the start of his troubles.

On his journey he encounters ten-foot killer rats, a mutant king with a TV fixation, a drug-crazed army, and even the creator of the Ficial race. He also finds time to uncover a terrible plot to destroy his species for good - and humanity too.

"I found Barricade to be a fast-paced action adventure, full of dilemmas that need to be overcome. The book left me with many questions, two of which were: Why is there always fear of the unknown? Does being logical mean you always know best? These questions not only relate to this story but also relate to the world around us."

Read our review