Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Club Bash: "Kingdom" by Anderson O'Donnel Q & A

In a secret laboratory hidden under the desert, a covert bioengineering project--codename "Exodus"--has discovered the gene responsible for the human soul.

Somewhere in the neon sprawl outside the nation's collapsing economic core, a group of renegade monks are on the verge of uncovering a secret that has eluded mankind for centuries.

In a glittering tower high above the urban decay, an ascendant U.S. Senator is found dead--an apparent, yet inexplicable, suicide.

And in the streets below, a young man races through an ultra modern metropolis on the verge of a violent revolution....closing in on the terrible truth behind Exodus--and one man's dark vision for the future of mankind.

Welcome to Tiber City.

The Reviews are in!

Kingdom is a thrill-a-minute, bio-punk myth that manages to wrestle with the most pressing issues of the new millennium. O’Donnell has crafted a kickass novel of tomorrow night, when the big party gets raided by the monsters we’ve been building for the last half-century. ~ Jack O’Connell, author of Box Nine & The Resurrectionist

A taut, brilliantly conceived thriller with impeccable pacing bursting with ideas…For fans of noir-laden science fiction in the vein of Philip K. Dick that is in equal measures suspenseful, gripping, darkly funny and philosophically challenging. (starred review) ~ -Kirkus Reviews

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Q&A with Anderson O’Donnell

Q: KINGDOM has been described as Bio-Punk.  Do you think that’s an apt description?

A: I do. I love it because it really does strike at the heart of what I’m trying to accomplish. William Gibson and the “cyberpunk” movement have had, obviously, a tremendous influence on my work. But “cyberpunk”–at least as Gibson envisioned it–is no longer relevant in that, instead of using technology to augment our bodies and twist/destroy our humanity, we use it to play fucking Angry Birds and shop. Which, I suppose, is just a different way of losing our souls. But the fundamental redefining of what it means to be human as explored by the cyperpunks won’t come, I don’t think, through computer technology; its going to be through genetic alteration/manipulation. Plus, “biopunk” just sounds really cool :)

Q: You clearly did some religious research for KINGDOM in addition to the science.  How does Christianity come to play in the story?

A: Well, I was raised Catholic, and while I am not a very good Catholic, I still identify with the faith. I don’t practice, but it still fascinates me. I mean, a lot of Catholicism is focused on ritual and magic, which are possible antidotes to this rather sterile, anesthetized path down which society seems hell-bent on heading. What kind of world, what kind of kingdom, do we want? Since I was raised a Catholic, I know how to ask those questions using biblical allusion and analogy. But KINGDOM is not about any one religion; its about, ultimately, are we getting so lost in ourselves and the world we’ve created that we’re losing touch with that OTHER, that something else…the thing that is the source of life and light and good.

Q: Death has an interesting role in KINGDOM as well, from the suicide to Robert Fitzgerald to the artificially extended life of Michael Morrison.  One gets the feeling that death is almost a goal in the world of KINGDOM. 

A: Yeah, and I suppose that’s where some of the “this book is too dark/bleak” criticism comes into play. No question, Death holds a huge sway over Tiber, and, indeed, much of the world in KINGDOM. And that is, I believe, the result of man’s turning away from his Creator and toward the material self. The obsession with the material self at the expense of the soul. But there is a shift in the next book, a move toward the possibility of redemption and rebirth. Now, will it actually happen? We shall see :)

Q: In KINGDOM you lay out that the human soul is something that resides in our genetics. It’s dubbed the Omega gene. What is the purpose of the Omega gene and how is it important to the story?

A: The “Omega” gene is how we connect with the divine. It’s almost like a radio station tuned to the spiritual world; to those hidden connections that bind man to man, and man to his creator. It always an apprehension of something else, of something “other.” It’s a connection, or at least a reminder of the original connection between God and mankind. The strength of the soul gene varies from person to person; we all have the capacity to access this divine broadcast, but few of us realize its full potential. Indeed, for most of us, it’s that fleeting moment when we are overcome with that certainty that there is something wonderful and electric and nourishing just beyond our grasp. But there are some people who have zeroed in on this signal; men and women who have managed to submerge the ego and get back to that Edenic unified state, to the time before the Fall when man and the divine were one.

Q: Do you anticipate any negative response from religious/anti-religious folk because of the premise of KINGDOM?

A: One of the points I’ve tried to drive home is that this book is not “religious.” It might wrestle with spiritual/theological ideas, but it does not advocate any one religion or god. My background is Judeo/Christian, so the language and allegories I use probably reflect that; my conception of the soul, however, is meant to be universal in the sense that, many people believe there is something out there that is greater than any one of us, be it a god, gods, an energy, a creator, a shared consciousness—whatever. I don’t address things like the afterlife, etc: my goal is to spark a conversation would what happens when we, as individuals, retreat deeper into ourselves and away from that “thing” that binds us to our fellow humans, regardless of what that “thing” is.

So I hope my vision of the soul will appeal to believers and non-believers alike, because if you believe, the story can work on a more literal level. And if you don’t believe, the soul issues still poses some compelling philosophical questions.

Q: The “monsters” created during Morrison’s failed attempts at cloning are as pitiful as they are terrifying.  What is the purpose of their inclusion in the novel?

A: The purpose was twofold: First, I wanted to demonstrate Morrison’s disregard for human life. For Morrison, man is not a created being imbued with a certain intrinsic value; rather, human life is utterly disposable, and is able to be given or taken on a whim. Second, I wanted to show the dangers of bioengineering. Its absurd to assume that when our scientists are finally able to grow men and women in labs that the end result will just roll off the assembly line.

Q: Why did you choose to describe some of the more visceral scenes in vivid details rather than simply letting it remain implied? Are you concerned you will lose any of your potential audience because of the graphic nature of some of the scenes?

A: I am a little concerned that I would lose some audience. And frankly, I assume I have lost some readers along the way. But KINGDOM isn’t just literary fiction; it also borrows heavily from classic genre works, and many of the authors I grew up reading never shied away from the visceral. So, in some ways, it’s a tip of the hat to those influences.

But even more than that, the harsh and violence scenes, and graphic descriptions, are intended to be a reflection of Tiber City’s sick soul; of 21st century America’s sick soul. I also think that, as the city evolves over the next two novels, readers might notice a chance in the style. Then again, maybe not. 

Q: Is KINGDOM a commentary on modern politics or is this strictly a work of fiction?

A: Well, there is obviously a suggestion that most politicians are soulless. And I am horrified at the way the media covers politics and how superficial the political process has become. But its not a jab at any specific politician or party—they all play the same game.

Q: What inspired you to write such a dense and controversial story?

A: I’ve always been interested in “Big Question” stories—and I believe that good literature should not just entertain, but challenge readers. It’s also a way for me to work out questions I face in my own day-to-day life.

Q: KINGDOM is heavily reliant on science.  Did this require a lot of research?  How did you approach writing about something as technical as bio-engineering for the average reader?

A: I did a crash course in genetics and biotechnology. At first, I went a little nuts, found myself drowning in genetics textbooks, which was a disaster. Ultimately, I was able to learn enough to make sure I could keep the reader submerged in the narrative; lack of detail, or even too much detail, can pull the reader out of the story, and so my goal was to do just enough research so I’d be able to walk that fine line.

Q: Did your own religious views or upbringing contribute to your representation of Christianity?

A: I was raised Roman Catholic and while I don’t go to Mass very often, I’m still fascinated by Catholicism. The religion itself is a very old and mystical thingI mean, transubstantiation? Exorcisms? Not many religious, especially Western ones, can boast that kind of pure “magic.” There is so much ritual and ceremony in the Catholic mass and its that view of religion that, I believe, helped create the idea of the Omega gene—of transcendent monks and things like that.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anderson O’Donnell lives in Connecticut with his wife and 2 sons. His debut novel, Kingdom, a dystopian, biopunk thriller, is now available in paperback and ebook format. Kingdom is the first part of the Tiber City Trilogy. Look for part two, Exile, in the summer of 2013.

Be sure to enter the giveaway for the book bash this week.


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