Maughan’s Infinite Detail (MCD, Mar.) imagines a post-internet world where media saturation and constant surveillance have been replaced with ruin.
How does technology fit into the narrative?
When I started the book, I was thinking about Edward Snowden and online activists such as Anonymous. The idea for the Croft, a totally tech-free environment, came out this idea of disrupting networks as a provocative statement. There was suddenly a sense that the technological structures that we all depend on might not be permanent. Now, of course, entities like Facebook or Google have gone ways we don’t want them to go and we’re seeing a trend of leaving Facebook or downgrading our phones, which sounds extremely positive. But the reality is that I’m doubtful about the scale of it, because people like Uber drivers or journalists or music producers don’t have the option of, for example, quitting Twitter completely.
Do you consider the book to be science fiction?
It’s more like an alternate present—but all fiction might be alternate present. Literary fiction that doesn’t talk about the impact of technology in this day and age strikes me as dishonest. Literary fiction has to become science fiction. At the same time, part of me is very proud to be a science fiction writer, while the other part of me knows that the term is hardly useful anymore. If you sent something like self-driving cars to an editor 10 years ago, they would have laughed. So our present, with its vast surveillance networks, is effectively the science fiction of yesteryear.
In a surveillance state, how much sense does it make to be paranoid like the Croft’s architect Rushdi Mannan?
Rushdi has a better analysis than the average person, but is naive rather than paranoid. He’s an idealist. I wanted to get across that revolution might be the right answer to an all-powerful tech state, but you need to have some model of what happens after. Otherwise it will lead to a power vacuum or even a situation like Brexit, where we don’t know basic things like how trade is going to be affected or where the food is coming from.
Are all utopian societies like the Croft doomed in the end?
I don’t believe in utopias or dystopias because they’re both unreachable extremes. One person’s idea of dystopia is another person’s reality. Our standard of life in the West doesn’t view a situation as dystopia until its brought home to us.