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Interview with Jason DeGray

He enjoys road trips, beautiful spring mornings, sitting outside at coffee shops, and searching through dusty bookstores for hidden treasures. He lives, laughs, and loves in New Mexico, USA, and is always looking forward to his next adventure.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
I absolutely love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Q.2 Do you have any upcoming books?
I have a couple of projects I’m working on. One is the first book in the space western series; another is a road trip book about my recent travels. And my Ruined Man novels are currently in negotiation with a new publisher.

Q.3 What inspired you to write 3vE?
Apart from my deep love of cyberpunk? It goes back to an idea I had a while back of how our technology has outdistanced our psychology. A look through any news feed will provide ample examples of this. So I decided to project this trend into the future. I wanted to explore the end result of this lopsided development on an individual level and also how it would affect relationships and society as a whole. I wondered what the world would look like if the inmates were left to run the asylum for a couple of centuries.

Q.4 What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Stick to the story. So many people I see in writing groups get caught up on minute and unimportant details. “What color shoes should my MC have?” or “I need help to develop the geopolitical history of this minor kingdom in my fantasy novel.” Stuff like that. It’s not important. What’s important is getting your story told, and the worlds you build, the characters that inhabit it, the actions they take, and the things they possess should all reflect back on the story you are trying to tell. Outside of that, everything is background noise and essentially unimportant. Focusing too much on these unimportant details will bog the story down and make it impossible to read or follow.

Q.5 What, in your view, are the earliest works of science fiction?
Well, I think the genre really got its start in the 19th century with works by authors like Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, and Jules Verne. But the tropes have existed for much longer if you want to consider the cosmologies and mythologies of ancient cultures. For instance, the Sumerians and their descriptions of the Anunaki. These were obviously “beings from outer space” involved in things like genetic manipulation, cross-hybridization, and the use of advanced technologies. And we don’t need Ancient Aliens to make that connection clear.

Likewise, the Gnostics were writing about being enslaved in a fake reality 2000 years before the Matrix. And who could discount the Bhagavad Gita and its description of airship battles and nuclear bombs? So science fiction has been around since the dawn of time, but what we think of as “sci-fi” as a literary genre is relatively recent.

Q.6 How do you see the future of science fiction literature? Will sci-fi maintains its independence or intertwines with other literary genres?
It’s already intertwining with other genres. There are subgenres for everything these days. I’ve come across articles talking about over 20 different kinds of “punk” genres in sci-fi. But I think this is more likely the result of people trying to be “fresh” or “original,” so they come up with some kind of new, even more specific, subgenre that they can claim as their own. Or they mish-mash genres for the same reason. But technically, it’s all just sci-fi.

Q.7 How do you see the relationship between science fiction and culture? How about the boundaries between science fiction and reality?
Science fiction has definitely impacted culture, especially in the areas of technological advancement. For instance, Jules Verne wrote about flying to the moon in a rocket. People thought that was the most ridiculous notion they’d ever heard. But some people were intrigued by that idea so much they started looking for ways to make that fantasy a reality. And they succeeded. The one thing science fiction can’t manifest is its ideas for utopian worlds. That’s because they always sound great on paper but are impossible to create when human nature becomes involved. So I don’t see a Federation from Star Trek ever because humanity thrives through self-conflict and stagnates into entropy without friction. Oddly enough, what does seem possible and frighteningly close to realization are science fiction’s examples of dystopia. And this is because dystopian visions are built around human nature as it is, not as it is fantasized to be. Technology won’t allow us to escape ourselves. Like the old saying says, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Science fiction speculates about our future and shapes our reality as a result. It is a type of self-fulfilling prophecy. Things that we see today: Artificial Intelligence, space travel, and colonization, merging man with machine, all of this is becoming a reality because of science fiction. Someone a long time ago had an idea (or a vision?) and wrote it down so a curious youngster could read it, be inspired, and dedicate his or her life to realizing their inspiration. It’s fascinating to think about and one of the reasons I think we’ve advanced as far as we have in the last century.

Q.8 To what extent can science fiction effect or improve the developments in science and technology in human life? Is it right to say that science fiction can change what human life looks like in the future?
Yes to both. And I believe I discussed this pretty well in the question above. But I will reiterate that many of our technological advancements were first science fiction. Humanity reached a threshold in the modern age, and we needed a new perspective to propel us forward. Science-fiction allowed us to safely speculate on these ideas, viewing them from every angle. Yet, interestingly, we seem to gravitate only toward the positive visions of the future while staunchly ignoring the cautionary tales that manifest into our reality at the same time.

Q.9 Is classic science fiction literature different from modern science fiction literature? Have the critical aims of the genre changed considerably or not?
I think most of our artistic expression in the present age has changed. Critical aims have been diluted. In the past, even though there were dozens, if not hundreds, of sci-fi authors, they were essentially literary pioneers. Their stories explored the boundaries of their genre and reflected back onto the culture in philosophical and moral ways. Sci-fi was about potential-human potential-and what we could achieve or destroy attempting to fulfill that potential. I don’t see that as much anymore. I’m sure those messages and reflections are still out there, but they are lost in the noise of the overwhelming number of people writing in the genre. Any kind of reflection is mainly derivative, drawn from classic sci-fi themes. Sci-Fi is pop culture now, and when something becomes mainstream, it loses some of its original aims.

Q.10 What do you think are the main reasons for the popularity of science fiction? To what extent has the film industry helped in popularizing the genre?
Science fiction is popular because its foundation lies in the speculative. And speculative fiction allows for great imagination and exploration. The sky is the limit (pun intended), and an author can soar to undiscovered heights. But, conversely, readers are taken to these dizzying summits as well and can view the world and reality through a much wider lens. 

The film industry really helped popularize the industry, especially in the ’50s and 60’s when you had shows like The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and a whole slew of B movies dedicated to the wonderful worlds of the speculative. As culture became more visually focused and less inclined toward reading, movies became the medium of choice. People didn’t have to imagine the things in the books they read anymore; they could see them with their own eyes on a big screen. This had to be a huge shock for the Zeitgeist.

Q.11 For long, humans have been looking for immortality at all costs. Do you think this will lead to our eventual dehumanization?
I think it already has. This is actually a question I ponder quite a bit, especially when looking at all of our “progress.” We are sold a bill of goods about all this wonderful technology, told that it is the future, and it’s going to make us free and our lives easier. Only none of that has happened. All the promises of technology were essentially lies. We are not any better off as a species than we were a hundred years ago. There is still war, strife, poverty, disaster, death, but now it’s constantly projected into our psyches through our devices, and this has desensitized us to so many basic human emotions. For all the good our progress has done us, there is an equal amount of ill. But we don’t look at that. We just keep pushing toward the edge.

Q.12 Science fiction has a long history. Which era do you consider the most significant period in the whole history of the genre?
For me, it was the 90’s. That’s when sci-fi took on a rebellious and somewhat Gnostic tone. The dark visions of the future, humanity’s plights at the expense of our progress, how we were becoming enslaved through technology, all of it seemed to be front and center during that time. We had the Matrix Trilogy, Terminator movies, Johnny Mnemonic, Cyborg, just to name a few. So Sci-Fi took a dark turn during this era, and it was a gritty realism that wasn’t really present in earlier periods.

Q.13 In many science fiction stories, the existence of God is denied. Could we call science fiction an atheist literary genre?
I don’t think so at all. I think sci-fi is inundated with spiritual undertones. And if you look at some of the most famous sci-fi authors like L.Ron Hubbard, Robert Anton Wilson, etc., they were heavily involved in occult groups. For example, Jack Parsons, one of the fathers of modern rocketry and a devout Thelemite (follower of Alistair Crowley), was a huge supporter of early sci-fi author meet-ups. In recent years, especially with the push of hard secularism like the New Atheist movement, there has been an attempt to “claim” the genre as atheistic. But that is intellectually dishonest, and it won’t hold up. Scifi is about exploring the great unknown, which is decidedly NOT an atheist endeavor despite what we are led to believe.

Q.14 Ray Bradbury considers sci-fi as “the important literature in the history of the world because it’s the history of ideas, and the history of our civilization birthing itself.” Do you agree with him, as many sci-fi stories do, indeed, depict disaster?
Oh yes. We’ve talked about how the genre has acted as a type of cultural self-fulfilling prophecy that definitely includes the dark aspects and the bright ones. We don't want to face the parts of our collective psyche that we are trying to staunchly ignore. But, ironically, in sci-fi literature, this is usually exactly what leads us into disaster. So that self-fulfilling prophecy is constantly rearing its ugly head.

Q.15 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
I write on a typewriter, not a computer. I type up a rough draft on the actual paper, edit it, and do a final draft on the computer. I started doing this a few years ago when the computer became more of a distraction than a tool.

Q.16 What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
There are a few. Preying on authors and selling them a dream that most likely won’t be realized is self-publishing’s most unethical practice. Traditional publishers aren’t looking for original content as much as they are looking for propaganda to fit their ideologies. This has always been the case, but it has become self-evident in the past 10 years or so.

Q.17 Who edited your book, and how did you select him/her?
I did the first few edits. Then I had two people look it over. One was my writing partner. We always edit one another’s work, offer criticism, proofread, etc. The other was a deeply insightful and very dear friend. She really helps with plot and character development. I asked her to beta read a manuscript a few years ago, and she offered such compelling angles that I’ve reached out to her ever since. I tend to stay away from social media editors peddling services in groups. Mostly because anyone can claim they are an editor without having to actually be one.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why?
Philip K. Dick. Not only is he my favorite sci-fi author, but his life and experiences were also astounding.

Q.19 What is your favorite book and why?
by Philip K. Dick. It’s a great story of madness, weirdness, and hope. It is absolutely unlike anything I have ever read in the genre.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
Which journey? My writing journey? I’ve been on my writing journey since I was 12. This is literally all I have ever wanted to do and all I have ever sought to do. It has been the hardest, most rewarding journey of my life. There is something special your soul gains by striving for your passion. That’s what writing is for me: an artistic passion. “Every man and woman is a star.” I’m always striving to realize that.

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