T.A. Wardrope‘s new novel, Arcadian Gates, tells the story of how ten years ago, the entire nation was struck by a chemical weapon which destroyed most people’s memories. Akiry, a young woman who makes her way smuggling amongst the lower caste of the rebuilt country, is haunted by dreams of a daughter she otherwise does not remember. As civil war erupts in the city around her, she takes the last chance she has to find the truth about her daughter and her past.
We talked to author and Disinfo contributor T.A. Wardrope about his new book.
T.A., Thanks for talking to me. Can you tell me a little bit about what inspired Arcadian Gates and what your process was writing it?
The book began as a short story in a writing workshop. I had fun with it and so I just kept building it forwards and backwards for quite a few years. There was a substantial amount of world building that was a byproduct of writing Akiry’s story. Next thing I knew I had a book with a glossary and a map on the inside cover.
The story itself evolved as I tried to understand Akiry’s relationship to the world around her. I wanted a dystopia that was drawn from the lore and theories that Disinfo readers would recognize. Fringe stuff that you might hear about on Darkness Radio or Art Bell’s classic Coast to Coast AM. There’s kind of a unified conspiracy theory under the whole thing. A substantial amount of Terence McKenna and William Burroughs influence too. I joke that it is my “Streets of Fire”; one book that has everything I enjoy about science-fiction in the mix.
In your book almost an entire nation loses its memory due to a chemical weapon. Memory is always a fight, even in the best of times, it can be tricky and elusive, can you touch on how the loss of a nation’s memory changes everything?
Oh, I think we can just look around. I think that part of the book comes from a place of satire or critique. Americans, in particular, are very good at forgetting the lessons of the not-so-distant past. This bizarre hyper news cycle is a particularly troublesome symptom of this. By making something so very important for a few days, nothing becomes important at all. It’s very Orwellian.
But within the Administrated Republic, the weapon’s effect allows for a constantly shifting narrative of history. It’s the least subtle method of the winner defining history. Practically speaking, families are separated, identities destroyed, and personal empowerment disintegrated. It’s very hard for people to trust who they are if they don’t really know their past. Plus the shared experience allows for national community and a national wound that is easy to use as needed. Again, we can look at our recent history for evidence of that. That Administrated Republic just takes all of this to the next level of control. They had their reasons, though. I wanted them to be much more authentic than your standard dystopic power state. I had as much writing their side of things as I did the roughnecks in Akiry’s world.
You seem to have the chops of someone who has long been a student of the Sci-fi masters. What writer influenced you along your path?
Oh, thank you. There’s a solid foundation of Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury and David Drake. But the actual authors who had a direct influence on how I thought about the world of Arcadian Gates would be people like Philip K. Dick, William Burroughs, Samuel Delaney, J.G. Ballard, China Mieville, Moebius, Alan Moore, Robert Anton Wilson and Margaret Atwood. My program advisor at Hamline, Lawrence Sutin, is a PKD scholar so his input was especially helpful. I am a student of cinema too, so there’s plenty of influence from that realm. Some folks have asked me to write a screenplay version, but the book seems basically unfilmmable to me. Movies about underdog drug dealers don’t get the kind of budgets it would need to get made correctly.
Are there lessons to be learned from the Dystopian world that we see in Arcadian Gates?
I see it as satire in the tradition of 1984, Brave New World or We, so the lessons available in the story are just as evident in the world around us now. I think that one reason dystopia was so popular with young readers is that the world around them is a dystopia in many ways and fiction just distills that into a less confusing form. Arcadian Gates isn’t a YA book, by any means, but every part of it is drawn from history or historical theory. I didn’t write it for a particular moral, though, I wanted to keep it focused on how one woman navigates this world and how her actions reverberate throughout that world. I suppose the lesson is that history is a collision of millions of stories driven by many more decisions and desires. Akiry’s journey is one of those stories.
What are you up to next?
I am working on a pair of books drawn from the Sirius Business blog that runs here on Disinfo. One of those will actually be in the same continuity of Arcadian Gates. There will be a sequel to Arcadian Gates, as Akiry is just getting started. In between the books there are some short stories written that are both in continuity and some not at all related. Those could wind up in a collection at some point. Finally, I’m doing some more world building for a project that is firmly grounded in the horror side of things. Sometimes I wonder if I love the development stuff too much, even the shorts have considerable background to them.
More info on all of this stuff will pop up on social media. I’ve got more things planned in support of Arcadian Gates, too. Readings and maybe some convention visits. Being an indie author requires a having a finely honed sense of the balance between creative work and promotional work. I’ve still got a lot to learn in both of those aspects, I think. I’ll be learning advanced time engineering. Whiskey, too. Plenty of whiskey.