Wayne Santos: Five Things I Learned Writing The Chimera Code

EVERYTHING’S FOR HIRE. EVEN MAGIC.

If you need something done, Cloke’s one of the best; a mercenary with some unusual talents and an attitude to match.But when she’s hired by a virtual construct to destroy the other copies of himself, and the down payment is a new magical skill, she knows this job is going to be a league harder than anything she’s ever done.

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Min/Maxing & Gaming Forums Work For Magic Too

I’m going to date myself immediately by admitting that the Atari 2600 was my first video game console. Since then, like many people that love video games, I’ve scoured the Internet for tips to get an edge in some of the games I play. This is known as “min/maxing” to some. In role-playing game terms for video games, this refers to the practice minimizing weaknesses while maximizing strengths.

In some cases, this also means finding exploits, glitches, or techniques that the game developers had never originally intended, but work out amazingly well if you’re willing to take the low road. I found I had the most fun with deploying magic into a cyberpunk world by thinking of it in those terms. Magic could have its intended functions, like hurling a fireball at an enemy, but when you’ve got it existing in a world with neural simulation and near-earth orbital space stations, there’s a lot of other stuff you can do with it too.

So I took the gamer approach to some of the magic applications, looking at particular combinations and applications. What happens when technology and magic interact, and now you’ve got new “rulesets” interacting with other rulesets? How can you break this? Is there an exploit you can use where one set of rules normally says something is impossible, but another can make it happen?

In the same way that people used unorthodox means to cheat in games, defeat copy protection on digital media, or just find ways to game the system, I tried putting magic and technology in the same room with some common goals to see how the two would fight or work together to achieve that goal.

I Think I’m A Carbon Fanboy

It’s not unusual for writers to go down the rabbit hole of research when it comes to novels. People writing historical fiction need to get those details right, and unless you’re already a master of quantum physics, engineering, rocketry, cybernetics, or programming, you’re doing to have to dig deep into a lot of areas if for some types of science fiction.

So for me, that ended up being a lot of materials research and getting embarrassingly excited about the future of carbon compounds. All the variants, like graphene, inorganic fullerenes, carbon fiber… it’s just amazing stuff. Who would have thought that the stuff you could theoretically collect from pencil shavings if you were patient enough was a miracle material? I’m still a little stunned that if I wanted some of the best combat armor in the world, all I’d need is a pocket knife, a couple of decades and several metric tons of pencils to get the raw material I’d need to survive a direct shot from gunfire.

Naïve Characters Don’t Have To Be Average

I think I first heard the term “naïve character” while listening to an interview with William Gibson. The naïve character is a very handy device in genre fiction. This is the person that is a stand-in newbie for the reader, and gets to ask all the questions the reader has like “What’s that? Who’s that? That thing the Evil Queen just said that made everyone gasp, what does that mean? How does your tech/magic/psychic eggplant work?”

In some cases, the naïve character is also the protagonist, so there’s a certain amount of “averageness” that’s built in to make sure this person is relatable. Neo in The Matrix is a naïve character who constantly repeats, “I have SO many questions.” Ellen Page, as Ariadne in the movie Inception, is another good example.

For The Chimera Code, I was already tossing readers neck first into an existing cyberpunk future, which would have been disorienting enough on its own. But then magic had been integrated into that world a few generations prior, so they were already getting the hang of this, and it made for some odd intersections of culture and commerce. That’s a lot to take in, and so I knew that functionally, I’d get a lot more room maneuver by having my naïve character to ask Cloke all the questions that needed asking.

But I didn’t want someone average and relatable in a world already as weird as this. Enter Zee, the nonbinary hacker. Zee ended up being so interesting that an automatic promotion to protagonist status became unavoidable. What once was strictly Cloke’s show became the Cloke & Zee act, and the fact that Zee had an agenda, a background, and all kinds of issues to deal with became a major highlight of writing. Zee was no longer just there to say stuff like, “Explain to me how this magic stuff works in today’s global economy,” although that stuff gets asked. Zee had agency, goals, and things that needed doing. So my naïve character ended up being anything but average, and in some cases, totally stole the show.

The Abyss Is Liberating

This novel is my debut, but it’s not my first book. It’s actually my sixth. I’d had the idea for this book forever—or at least since the 1990s—but I kept putting off writing it. At the time, I was really attracted to the idea of writing a cyberpunk book, but William Gibson, the author of Neuromancer and Godfather of the entire cyberpunk genre, was my gold standard. I wasn’t sure I could live up to the bar he’d established.

So over the years, I wrote a lot of other books instead, with fantastical elements in familiar settings. Urban fantasy was my way of getting my feet wet with weird shit, without having to create all of it from the ground up. I still love those books, and my very first novel still holds a special place in my heart, but none of them got published. They all helped me to find my voice, though.

So after many years of unsuccessfully trying to get a book in print, I stared down the barrel of considering that it might be time to kill the dream. I figured if I was going to quit, I might as well make my last book the one I really wanted to write. With that idea of making a kamikaze jump off a cliff, I finally committed The Chimera Code to the page. Believing that it was the last book I was ever going to write made a pretty big difference to how I approached it.

Does this mean I think I hit the bar I set for myself with regards to the brutal, beautiful, dense prose of Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy? I probably didn’t. But now I was willing to at least try for it. I was willing to finally make my own world from the ground up, instead of putting small bits and pieces of it in an established framework. And I was willing to take all the crazy moments I’d seen in comics, games, movies, and even anime, in addition to novels, and just throw them all into this one book. It was going to be my last book. May as well go out in style.

And now, of course, it’s not my last book, at least not for now. So I guess sometimes when you set your sights on ending with a bang, that’s really just the precursor to even louder things.

There Is No Shame In Not Drawing From The Classics

As a Generation X nerd, I did my time as a kid in the library looking at the giants of the SF genre, so I read my Clarke, my Asimov, my Heinlein, and of course, my Herbert. But I was also utterly blown away by things that, at the time, weren’t classics, like the upstart William Gibson, and Neuromancer novel.

More to the point, though, as a Gen X kid, I was also there when the damn broke, and all kinds of other non-SF-book influences came to the fore. Marvel’s Dark Phoenix saga in comics? Blew my mind. Blade Runner, Aliens, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn? Will be with me forever. The first bootleg, 12th generation copies of Japanese cartoons that people were calling “anime”? I devoured Akira, Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, Bubblegum Crisis and so much more. And video games were like falling through the wardrobe into Narnia. You could do stuff here! You could interact! I got the Babel Fish in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure! What manner of sorcery was this?!

That’s all my way of saying that when I’m writing something now, I’m just as likely to pull from Haikyuu!!, a volleyball sports anime, as I am from Horizon: Zero Dawn, or Blade Runner 2049. It’s a much bigger world now, and while I still adore the stuff, I find in books today and will happily lose myself in the worlds of Charlie Jane Anders, or N.K. Jemisin, or even go back to Asimov, Clarke, or Gibson, I’m not letting them be the sole influences on what ends up on my page.

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Over the years, Wayne Santos has written copy for advertising agencies, scripts for television, and articles for magazines. He’s lived in Canada, Thailand and Singapore, traveling to many countries around South East Asia. His first love has always been science fiction and fantasy, and while he regularly engaged with it in novels, comics, anime and video games, it wasn’t until 1996, with his first short story in the Canadian speculative fiction magazine On Spec that he aimed towards becoming a novelist. He now lives in Canada, in Hamilton, ON with his wife. When he’s not writing, he is likely to be found reading, playing video games, watching anime, or trying to calm his cat down.

Wayne Santos: Website

The Chimera Code: eBook