Thursday, July 28, 2016

Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison is an award-winning journalist and author, whose fiction has appeared, among other places, in The Saint Ann's Review.

The newly released The Killer in Me is her first novel.

Recently I asked Harrison about what she was reading. Her reply:
As usual, I’m enjoying reading across categories. To start with, there’s Of Fire and Stars, by Audrey Coulthurst, one of many debut young adult novels that I’ve read in ARC form this year. It’s an epic fantasy with magic, elaborate world building, politics, and a twist that distinguishes it from other YA fantasies I’ve read: The central romance is between two young women.

Not only is this a textured, compelling fantasy, but it serves as proof that LGBT characters in YA are no longer limited to being the protagonist’s best friend or taking center stage in “issue” books. Coulthurst has created a world where same-sex attraction itself isn’t controversial; the story’s conflict stems from the fact that one lover has been destined for an arranged marriage with the other’s brother. The characters are well drawn, and their star-crossed coming together is sweet indeed. Oh, and did I mention they’re both princesses? My guess is, anyone who hoped to see a gay Elsa in Frozen follow-ups is going to want this book.

At the same time, but more sporadically, I’m reading Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies—and What It Means to Be Human by journalist Joel Garreau. This work of futurism was published in 2005; it covers then-cutting-edge research into enhancing the human body, along with concepts like transhumanism and the Singularity.

I bought the book when it was new, but somehow didn’t open it until recently, when I started researching neural implants for a novel in progress. Eleven years from publication, it’s an odd read indeed.

Viewed with hindsight, Garreau’s predictions for the near future seem to have a breathless, hyperbolic quality. The prologue sketches a scenario “a decade and a half from today” (that’s 2020) in which well-heeled college undergrads sport enhancements such as “photographic memories and total recall,” “remarkably ripped” bodies, a form of “silent messaging” that “almost seems like telepathy,” and vaccinations against pain. “They have this odd habit of cocking their head,” writes Garreau, when they’re about to receive a neural download of information—which sure sounds more convenient than checking Wikipedia.

Here we are in 2016, and that scenario still sounds like science fiction. Except perhaps for “silent messaging,” which is definitely a thing, if not entirely silent.

Still, reading the book makes me realize just how much things have changed since Garreau made his predictions at the dawn of the iPhone era. Today’s young people don’t have an “odd habit” of cocking their heads—instead, they hunch over handheld devices. Even my older friends ignore curbs and crosswalks in their pursuit of Pok√©mon. They’re embedded in virtual reality, just as Garreau foresaw, even if he was a little off about the means.

We may not have superpowers yet (as Garreau suggests we should). But we are yoked to clever machines in ways we weren’t just recently, and that’s a fascinating and slightly scary revelation—one that I hope will fuel my own new book.
Visit Margot Harrison's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Killer in Me.

--Marshal Zeringue