*interview by The Dictator*
Long time PMM favourite, Richard Godwin has a new novel out in which he has applied his dark obsidian knife to Sci-Fi with devastating results.
An interview was a necessity.
PMM: Your new book is named Paranoia and the Destiny Programme, what does paranoia mean to you personally? Is it a negative force in your life, or does it come with positive and even enlightening qualities?
The Greek root of the word paranoia means beside the mind. I am interested in social programming and its effects. Culturally we are looking at various societies that engineered a split in its citizens for political purposes. There is the medical view of paranoia as disease, and there is the view that we live in an age of surveillance and paranoia is a natural by-product of that. We have the rise of a technocracy that is overloading us with information. I think that paranoia is being created.
PMM: Are people becoming more paranoid with the information onslaught that we face everyday? Is it a certain outcome of the ever bewildering contractions that we are told everyday?
Yes, I think they are and that it is.
That is what the Destiny Programme is about. Dale Helix, who is paranoid, narrates it. He believes he is the subject of an experiment aimed at creating a new gender.
PMM: Without giving too much away, your book can be definitely placed under the “dystopian fiction” umbrella. Why are we still obsessed with the idea of a world gone horribly wrong? Surely in times of crisis a Utopian novel is something people would cry out for?
They are the opposite sides of the same coin. Utopia is a see through lie, and its appeal may work in times of crisis. But interestingly dystopian fiction thrives at these times. Perhaps people want to read about something worse than the society they live in, the reassurance lies in a tacit comparison.
Apathy breeds idealism and idealism ushers in Fascism.
PMM: And eventually, do not both Utopias and Dystopias lead to the same thing?
If you buy the sales pitch you have had it. The society in Paranoia And The Destiny Programme claims to be a utopia. Dale Helix sees it is a dystopia, but he is isolated in his belief, and his wife, who is a doctor, may be part of the experiment that he claims is being conducted on him.
PMM: P&TDP takes place in a totalitarian state. A state that seems to understand a strict hierarchy as well as Caesar’s idea of “bread and circuses” in order to control people. What, for you, is the essence of control? Is our technological society, with the idea of online liberation, merely another trap?
It is a trap since it is a net, analyse the word. For all the freedom there is constant surveillance, we live in the global age of total surveillance. You are being monitored. You are being assessed for threat and criminality. We are becoming data on a daily basis. Dale Helix believes he is being abducted by a shadowy group called the Assembly. But no one else knows of their existence. The essence of control I believe is the ability to manipulate another’s reality without their knowing it. To be able to engineer information be it to render the false true or the fictional factual and disseminate it globally without being seen or known. That may be a definition of the internet. Since literature has always shown there is a thin line between fact and fiction it may be the last defence against the globalisation of dominated man, the mass production of a singular conformist deluded by the illusion of choice within a mass data structure supporting a control programme with an undeclared manifesto. If the eminence grise running it are unknown what need is there to state their intentions or define their politics? If you consider the fact that everything you do online is watched there is no freedom there. It was a neat trick to build a sand pit and tell everyone to play and do as they wished. While they film you and assess your usefulness or level of danger. Are you triggering a false positive? It is possible your online identity is already cloned but not by criminals or fraudsters.
PMM: I feel that your books have, in one sense, developed into dystopian satire over time. All dystopian literature is a form of satire of the society of the day. Why is it a place that your writing feels at home inhabiting?
I think because there is the distinct imprint of failure in our socially programmed veneer.
We live on a slick of paint as cracked and tenuous as an igniting butterfly’s wings, trapped by the pinpoint of heat from the magnifying glass. The politicians peddle lies that are cheaper and more and more lacking in credibility than those their historical predecessors touted. While we are tempted with offers of holidays in tourist locations, they alter manifestos and plunder the public purse. This is dystopia.
PMM: In one sense the society in P&TDP is the logical end result of liberalism. A totalitarian state where sexual orientation is discussed freely over dinner, and drugs are encouraged while the blood of the poor greases the cogs to make it all work (all for their own good, of course), but far away from those who claim to “understand them”. You seem to have snared the everyday hypocrisy of the liberated do-gooder.
Liberalism is the cancer of the repressed Fascist. It is the Benthamite Utilitarianism of the sly attention whore with the pocket money she stole from yesterday’s neighbour. In Paranoia And The Destiny Programme it is clear that the happy society is deluded. It has succumbed to the lies. If liberalism is honed to social integration and its model is uniform equality then its idealism is that of a Narcissus, as self-replicating as a weed, but without his Echo. Social Darwinism has a certain candour when extricated from that easy target of a liberal’s rebuke, free market capitalism. But insistence on equality demands a form of maths to achieve its social effect. And that involves debasement of parts of society to attain the advancement of the rest. Politics by virtue of organisation results in a form of dislocation. To reject the labels of success or wealth in pursuit of an egalitarianism that may itself be dictatorial is self-evidently cant. It is the aggression of a liar who will not raise his voice.
PMM: I have labelled your book “dystopian fiction” when in reality it does not live comfortably under a single genre. As the world becomes more complex and confused, so does our notion of the blurred lines between fact and fiction, horror and pornography etc. Do you see this as a way that genre writing is evolving? Or do you think that people want to pay it safe and have their myths more predictable in an unpredictable world?
I think we live in an age without mythology. The internet and its political benefactors have seen to that. Narratives and mythologies have always been cousins. I think it is vital we maintain hybrid forms. Noir is a hybrid form of fiction. If we refuse formula there is the basis for a counter-environment, to use Marshall McLuhan’s term. You need that, as he wrote, ‘the fish doesn’t know it is in water.’ I think many people have become engineered to the point that they seek the additive reassurances that maintain their tenuous sanity through the redemptive structures of formula. Disturbance aids dis-ease and allows the curtains to be drawn.
In this passage from Paranoia And The Destiny programme Dale Helix sees engineered humanity as it goes to work:
‘The capsule shoots through the blackened tunnels that smell of rusting iron. The riders stare vacantly ahead at the blank space of the wall, their hard bodies break my bones beneath my dripping coat. As they jostle me, a smell like corroding metal rises into the polluted space we occupy and I see them there briefly beneath the luminescent lights. They aren’t breathing any more. Are they part of the film? I reach out and touch the face of the woman standing before me. She looks as though she is made of metal. She withdraws in horror, placing a small bruised hand to her cheek.
Some of the other riders stare at me with disbelief. I’m alive now, an object that doesn’t fit the lies. I see no butterfly wings in the Rorschach test, but a mountain of bones. They try to hide Golgotha, but they can’t blind me any more. The others stare ahead out of the black window as the capsule speeds its way towards their destination. We all get off at one place, the work station at the edge of municipality 1. There is no other destination.’
PMM: The subject of gender and “identity politics” seems to be at the core of the book. Where do you think we as a society are heading? Will the idea of being born a single sex be destroyed in the future?
We are already there. They want to clone us. If you think I am joking analyse exactly what you are being told. To have one sex with one mind living beneath a singular political ideology, that is political nirvana. I suspect the merging of flesh with machine is arranged in labs, the merging of skin, tissue with organic machine, able to penetrate personality and rearrange it while offering pleasure at the same time. Without sex no one would vote. But the sex has to be labelled correctly and sold a certain way. Desire disrupts the state. The state needs to organise desire.
PMM: Your book also touches on the idea of metamorphosis; changes in social systems, obedience, states of mind and bodies. What do you think the psychologist in your previous novel, Meaningful Conversations, would make of it? Who are the new priests?
From Ovid to Dali, Jonson to Picasso, the metamorphic mythological commentary on culture has sustained itself beyond the body of lies that inhabit the political system in all its guises, be they of the manifesto or propaganda machine that infiltrates media at every level.
The analyst in Meaningful Conversations is Otto Wall, who calls Bertrand Mavers, the narrator and possible killer, ‘the sanest man he knows,’ while Bertrand calls Otto ‘cave dweller.’
This is a passage from Meaningful Conversations where Bertrand is having dinner at Otto’s:
‘We’re dining at Otto’s. He is the therapist for all the adjusted people seeking integration. His clients are the fractured, rejected, hopeless, wealthy deviants he listens to and sighs at, occasionally adjusting his shoe laces. Otto collects shoe laces. They could form a long cord that I would like to stretch all the way from London to New York. Musicians could strum them like an iktar, that one-stringed instrument of the wandering minstrel. Perhaps we will engage in some kirtan chanting tonight. I wonder which god I will be. Sometimes I think Otto is going to hang one of his clients with a shoe lace. I’ve seen the box he keeps them in. He also collects minds. He sees them as elastic, latex that needs to be filled. Otto sees himself as an inseminator of unfulfilled fertility.
The name Wall hangs over his office door. Those tired with simply feeding off celebrities aspire to visit the Wall office, where his leather furniture accepts their tired bodies as they sit and stare at his range of Modiglianis.’
I think Otto would see it as intellectual property. He would inhabit his familiar stance of sanitised voyeur. Bertrand would see it as the past, as distant as now in the way it has been framed and disseminated by our immediate culture. The new priests are the new scientists. We have the court in the assembly of politicians. The eunuchs are the technocrats. I think they did away with the court jester when they introduced thought tax and started up a pension scheme for cameras.
PMM: You are more well known for your crime novels. Will you be coming back to Sci-Fi in the future? At what point does SciFi cease to be fiction and become a description of the “now”? Or is that what the genre is, the promise of “now”?
I think one of the best comments made on sci fi was by William Burroughs, who wrote, ‘Science fiction has a nasty habit of becoming science fact.‘ So as you grow ovaries as males do not sue me but your lawyers. I think sci-fi is a fracture of linearity, now and then, present and future.
Yes I will be returning to sci-fi, I have written a long novel that is seeking publication. If time were exchanged for space where would we be now right now?
Paranoia And The Destiny Programme is available here for the UKas a paperback :For the US as a paperback :