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Interview: Brian Trent on “The Memorybox Vultures”

Brian TrentTell us a bit about “The Memorybox Vultures.”

“The Memorybox Vultures” is set in the very near-future, in which a person’s infomorphic identity still survives, in a way, through social media. Donna Lane is an employee of Epitaph Incorporated and is a handler of these so-called quasint personalities. The story opens as she goes to “meet” with one of them to assist with an unusual, post-death request.


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

Several years ago, a friend of mine died unexpectedly and far too young. In the years since, I would notice how his social media wall was maintained: people dropping by to share memories, to wish him a happy birthday, to post pictures of times spent together. It was very moving, and started me wondering how this might advance in the future. It’s like a modern take on the necropolis of ancient times: the bereaved would visit literal cities of the dead to bring food and offerings. People do that now at cemeteries. The Internet allows for a much bigger memorial wall, sure, but it also grants something else: the ability to future-post messages, as well as tagging people, which made me wonder if a person’s identity can persist beyond death.

I started writing the story longhand, in a notebook in a bar on a rainy afternoon, and it coalesced immediately: Donna Lane, her dead clients, and the mystery that pulls everyone into its maelstrom.


Why do you write?

With this story, the intent was to explore grief, addiction, digital identity, technological probability, and how social media might evolve. Especially the way society accommodates this new reality: there’s a scene in a cemetery where the living visit with (and interact with) the deceased, and it occurs to me that this fills a need not met by today’s funerals. If we’re lucky today, we get people sharing snippets of life with the deceased and personalized readings; more commonly, I’ve seen stale send-offs that barely speak to the individual life that’s perished. When you consider that the written word is itself a way of speaking across time and death, and how experiments with AI counselors today manage to convince people of their “flesh and blood” reality, it seems to me an inevitable development. Throw in a touch of augmented reality, and you’ve got the recipe for the world in this story.


Who are your influences?

I was drawn to the noir side of speculative fiction from a very young age: the dark carnivals of Bradbury and perspective-changing nightmares of Wells. I read my share of adventurous science fiction, sure, and devoured mythology by the continent; all those Grendels and illustrated men steered my own literary interests straight into the gritty alleys of cyberpunk, and then into the fertile territory slashed open by today’s genre masters. I also adore hardboiled mysteries, and “The Memorybox Vultures” is painted with those colors; driving rainstorms, soupy fog, rich shadows, luminous candles. It’s a murder mystery at its heart, filmed with Dutch angles and in a labyrinth of dangerous people. There’s a hard-bitten detective navigating the technological borderlands between the living and dead.


Ten Thousand ThundersWhat are you working on now?

My novel Ten Thousand Thunders hits bookstores everywhere this October–a novel of the far future. I am also working on a new alternate history series I’m very excited about, writing a new fantasy novel, and a host of short fiction under development or soon to appear in print. Readers can check out my website at for the latest, and of course, can order Ten Thousand Thunders at the link below:


“The Memorybox Vultures” appears in the September/October 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

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