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Interview: Brian Trent on “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone”

Tell us a bit about “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone.”

This story is a key component of my “War Hero” universe, the stories of which chronicle humanity’s expansion into the larger galaxy. They’re also meant to be a contrast to the usual “let’s terraform everything to suit us” trope; I think it more likely that we’ll alter ourselves to align with the alien beachheads we colonize. Traditional definitions of humanity are bound to change as we do. “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone” is set at the beginning of that odyssey, and therefore at the earliest iteration: what happens to individual identity when mind-uploading allows the multiplication of individuality? How does our own identity transform as each version encounters unique experiences (which have the potential to become points of divergence)?

 

Brian TrentWhat was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I was fascinated by reports of SAS activities in World War II’s aftermath, when British operatives hunted down Nazi war criminals who had escaped Nuremberg justice. According to the tales, the operatives would locate the fugitive, confront him or her with their true identity, and then execute them… often with the same German-made firearm that had been used against captured SAS during war-time. Filtering that through a future lens of technology and colonial expansion made for a story brimming with possibility.

 

 

What kind of research, if any, did you do for this story?

In addition to reviewing the aforementioned items, a lot of the research I did was in terms of daily imagination exercises: the technique I use in developing all of my fiction. “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone” shifts locations and eras, and so I spent a lot of time visualizing what life would be like in each, how politics and culture would evolve, and how individuals (even off the same uploaded Save file) might diverge based on the new data-sets they find themselves steeped in. In the course of this, I developed a “shadow plot” that is going on behind the scenes and ultimately drives the entire story, though it’s only glimpsed by the narrator. Generally speaking, I enjoy constructing plots with different layers, in which events are always occurring regardless of how cognizant the characters are. It’s like real life. Especially for the character of Harris Alexander Pope: it’s not just the story that’s “in media res”, but the main character, too.

 

What would you want a reader to take away from “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone”?

I do think the bioethical questions here are going to become real world debates sooner than we might expect. And of course, it’s always a worthwhile discussion to ask what sides of human nature do we want to define the future with. In this story we have the deliberate juxtaposition of technological and cultural marvels with the ongoing horrors and dehumanization of the war engine: the violent elements that drive it, that trickle down from it, and the individual’s place within it.

 

What are you working on now?

In addition to continuing this universe through short fiction (my F&SF story “Last of the Sharkspeakers from last year is set thousands of years after this story, but very much on the same timeline), I’ve recently completed a novel that concerns the ongoing experiences of Harris Alexander Pope as humanity presses on into the galaxy. And I have a dark fantasy series, RAHOTEP, available on Kindle. There are so many reasons to love science fiction, and one of my favorites is to consider its relationship to historical frameworks. The genre certainly shines a light into potential futures, but I think it also provides illumination into both what we are and what we can choose to be.

 

“A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone” appears in the May/June 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1705.htm

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Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Brian Trent’s website, blog, and links to further work can be found at www.briantrent.com or by clicking on the photo above.

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