How John Scalzi convinced me to outline a sequel to my novel

“Didn’t you hear me the first time?”

Several people have asked me when I’m going to write a sequel to Nobody’s Business, and I often find myself unable to come up with a polite reply. Normally I tell them “I’m working on other projects, first” or some other similar platitude, but the real issue is that I don’t see why I would.

Yes, the world of social media and celebrity worship gone awry is interesting, but Detective Bogart completed his narrative arc. He’s not the same, flawed person he began the novel as, and his new persona is unlikely to step into the limelight again.

It’s over. I had a message, and I said it. Did I fucking stutter?

Then I read Lock In by John Scalzi.

Brilliant cover art by Peter Lutjen

Lock In is a phenomenal book. Its world is well-considered and believable enough. (You have to accept that a “throw money at it” solution to a medical problem resulted in androids and remote-controlled humans. Seriously, read the book.) The whole universe operates on its own internal logic.

The biggest praise I can give is that the detective story works. Here’s the funny thing about detective stories: readers want to play along. Readers want to create theories and see those theories play out or fail. That’s why the best detective stories play out in familiar settings. Mystery and Sci-fi rarely mix.

I know how hard this is because I’ve done it, too. I created a dystopian Texas where Humphrey Bogart solves crimes for an audience of millions!

Let’s just say it was difficult to make this concept relatable.

“But John, this story is complete.”

When I finished reading Lock In, I hopped online to review it. I was surprised to discover that it was intended as part of a series. I was confused, and wanted to say to Mr. Scalzi: “But John, this story is complete.”

Lock In’s featured crime directly plays off the fundamental assumptions of the world and requires some heady discussions about the relationships between Locked In people, the androids they use, and the people that allow Lock Ins to borrow their bodies.

The story is unique and interesting. While the characters do grow, but they still find themselves fulfilling the same rolls at the end of the book as at the beginning.

Maybe that is the magic bullet that let’s something be a series. But that wasn’t enough for me.

“John Scalzi made me ask about big changes to my world.”

Nobody’s Business is structured based on the noir novels and stories of Raymond Chandler. One of the core aspects of noir — and particularly of the stories concerning Phillip Marlowe — is that while justice can be served on the small scale, the world is just too corrupt to affect significant, positive change.

It’s called “noir” because it is dark as fuck.

Not to spoil anything, but Lock In — despite its hard-boiled detective trappings — is not a noir. The future of Lock In is full of changes. In fact, the actions of the novel are predicated on a massive social change that looms in the near future.

This is what Shane and Vann will be responding to in the sequel to Lock In: change. Change is the thing that noir lacks.

“Who owns the cameras?”
Banksy is still the best.

Nobody’s Business describes a world of neoliberalism gone mad. America lives in a consumer surveillance state operated by a private company: Eternity Media. All aspects of government are run by “franchises” which license functions over particular areas. Dallas, for example, has its justice franchise owned by Eternity Media. Thus how Bogart’s show is broadcast.

The reason I moved on to other books — and even a different series — was because Humphrey Bogart’s journey was over. I wrote a few chapters following other characters in the same setting, but it never rang quite as true.

Now, John Scalzi has me asking questions about what would make the man formerly known as Humphrey Bogart put himself on the line again. More directly: what change motivates people with happy stable lives to risk everything.

Maybe — after the week real America has had — this is a question we should all be asking.

Credit to Ting Shen at Dallas Morning News, Jonathan Bachman at Reuters, and Jonathan Bachman at Reuters.

Trick Dempsey is the author of Nobody’s Business, a social-media noir set in a world obsessed with celebrity. It may be purchased on Amazon.

You may follow him on Twitter or check out his game and media studio: The Crooked Thimble.

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