I am honored to welcome the fantastic science fiction author Anne Charnock to the blog today! Anne just released her new science fiction novel, A Calculated Life, yesterday, which has been described as a “Stunningly relevant re-imagining of 21st century Britain as a bioengineered corporate dystopia.” (Chris Graham)
In the following piece Anne talks about the steampunkish history of her home town of Manchester, why she chose it as the setting for her new novel (which takes place in the near future), and gives us a brief introduction to both herself and the story:
Anne Charnock: If you ranked British cities according to their steampunk credentials, I reckon that my home city of Manchester, in the north of England, would be top of the list. Why do I say that? Well, Manchester was the first global industrial city and steam power was the key to its growth. The first railway station on the planet was built in Manchester. That alone should put my city top of the list.
I was raised in one of the largest cotton mill towns on the outskirts of Manchester – Bolton – and I can remember as a child looking down from the surrounding hills and seeing a town huddled around dozens of mill chimneys. Although the cotton industry went into terminal decline during my childhood you could still walk alongside an operating mill and hear the slapping of shuttles in weaving looms.
And I have incised memories of my parents taking me, my sister and brothers to a stone bridge over the local railway line, where we’d wave to the engine driver of the lunchtime steam train. It blasted along the tracks and the driver always blew the whistle as we disappeared in clouds of steam and smoke. We often made these short trips during our school lunch break and I’d return to school with specks of soot on my shirt collar.
I chose Manchester as the setting for my near-future novel, A Calculated Life, because ever since the Industrial Revolution this city has maintained its record of innovation, often centred on research at Manchester University. In fact the computer revolution began there in 1948 when “The Baby” machine ran its first stored programme. Where better to set a science fiction story?
Although my novel imagines a future Manchester Metropolis, I allow the city’s industrial history to seep into the narrative. In Chapter Six, for example, my main character Jayna makes a clandestine visit outside the city limits and I describe her walk to the shuttle terminus:
“Leaving the commercial district, she walked along the glass-walled buildings of the sprawling university complex. The pavements widened and the dense canopies of whitebeam gave intermittent shade to the weekend pedestrians. Relegated, she thought, these whitebeam; just a form of sunblock now. But, once upon a time, they were the stuff of industry; the cogs, literally!”
Whitebeam wood made particularly strong cogs for early industrial machinery, just as Jayna – with her hyper-intelligence – becomes a strong cog in a late 21st century corporation.
Here’s a summary of A Calculated Life:
Late in the twenty-first century, big business is booming and state institutions are thriving thanks to advances in genetic engineering, which have produced a compliant population free of addictions. Violent crime is a rarity.
Hyper-intelligent Jayna is a star performer at top predictive agency Mayhew McCline, where she forecasts economic and social trends. A brilliant mathematical modeler, she far outshines her co-workers, often correcting their work on the quiet. Her latest coup: finding a link between northeasterly winds and violent crime.
When a string of events contradicts her forecasts, Jayna suspects she needs more data and better intuition. She needs direct interactions with the rest of society. Bravely—and naively—she sets out to disrupt her strict routine and stumbles unwittingly into a world where her IQ is increasingly irrelevant…a place where human relationships and the complexity of life are difficult for her to decode. And as she experiments with taking risks, she crosses the line into corporate intrigue and disloyalty.
Can Jayna confront the question of what it means to live a “normal” life? Or has the possibility of a “normal” life already been eclipsed for everyone?
And a little bit about me:
Anne’s writing career began in journalism. Her articles appeared in The Guardian, New Scientist, International Herald Tribune, and Geographical. She travelled widely as a foreign correspondent and spent a year trekking through Egypt, Sudan, and Kenya. Anne is an active blogger and contributes reviews and book recommendations to the Huffington Post. She splits her time between London and Chester and, whenever possible, she and her husband, Garry, take off in their little campervan to southern Europe, and as far as the Anti-Atlas Mountains in southern Morocco.