August 26, 2015

Control + Alt + Defeat: an interview with Tom D. Wright, author of "The Archivist"

In 2052, Artificial Intelligence surpasses humans, and global technology collapses overnight. Thirty years later, primitive communities struggle to survive. Throughout this broken world, a secret organization called The Archives seeks to preserve what knowledge and technology has been left in the ashes. However, a Luddite cult--the Disciples of The Earth--is just as determined to ensure there will be no technological rebirth for humankind.

Retrieval Archivist K'Marr's mission seems simple: make contact with a source in a remote port town and trade for vital technology that could secure humankind's future.

But few retrievals are ever easy.

While keeping his promise to a dying man and avoiding Disciples who seem to know his every move, K'Marr fights to complete his mission and get back home to the woman he loves. Against the odds, The Archivist must do everything he can to return to The Archives. (source:

Tom D. Wrights The Archivist is available at

Gef: A.I. wastes zero time in decimating civilization in The Archivist. Not a fan of artificial intelligence and our impending robot overlords?

Tom: I wouldn’t put it quite that way. An underlying premise of The Archivist is that the Singularity takes place in 2052, when machine intelligence not only becomes self-aware but surpasses the highest human intelligence. Two typical outcomes of that situation are what I call the Terminator theme and the Asimov theme; superior Artificial Intelligence will either wage war to exterminate the human pestilence or become our benevolent protector, saving us from ourselves. The Archivist explores a third alternative, which I consider more likely—that Intellinet (the AI network) will turn off the lights of civilization so humankind can’t follow, and then head for the stars rather than waste their resources on a mutually destructive war.

Gef: Did you find yourself getting swamped in research for this one? Any rabbit holes of trivia that you fell down?

Tom: This was not the most research-intensive project I have worked on, but I did devote a fair amount of time to making sure I got details right wherever possible. I probably got the most geeked-out while reading up on various space drive theories, before settling on what Intellinet used for their Exodus from our planet. I do have to say that there are some fascinating Department of Defense videos on Youtube regarding the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests, subsequent to World War II—that is a few hours of my life I won’t get back!

Gef: With this information age and so much being digital, how precarious is its preservation in the face of some global cataclysm?

Tom: I certainly believe that current trends are moving our globalizing societies toward becoming quite vulnerable.

In The Archivist, by the time the Collapse takes place in 2052, virtually all manufacturing, food production, construction, etc. has been turned over to more efficient and productive robots under AI supervision. This trend is already well under way as, for example, multinational corporations continue to purchase land for corporate farming around the world, including Africa. Goods are already mass-produced in heavily automated factories and it is only a matter of time until humans are displaced altogether. As 3D printing matures, even handcrafted items will become increasingly rare.

This combination of increasing automation, consolidation of manufacturing/production into multinational conglomerates, and a growing scientific and mathematical illiteracy are all creating the conditions for a perfect storm of global collapse.

Gef: Are you an early adopter of technology or do you identify more with the Luddite crowd?

Tom: I work in the IT field myself, so I do not have an aversion to technology, but neither would I call myself an early adopter. I’m content to use what I have as long as it meets my needs, then I don’t shy from the latest technology. That said, I believe we allow ourselves to become enmeshed in far more complexity than we really need, so the Luddite perspective has some valid points as well.

Gef: What was it about this novel, if anything, that you approached differently from the previous titles?

Tom: The one thing unique about this project was the first person, present tense point of view of the main character, K’Marr. Nothing I have written before or since has used this POV. When I wrote the short story on which the novel was based, this was the POV that the main character insisted on. Don’t ask me why, K’Marr brokered no argument about how he wanted to tell his story, and that continued into the novel as well.

Gef: What do you consider to be the saving grace of the post-apocalyptic genre?

Tom: I have a personal theory that the popularity of the post-apocalyptic genre is rooted in a common sense of futility over whether we can genuinely change the world. Brief periods of bright optimism, such as in the Sixties, have been crushed by monolithic institutions of politics and economics, which seem to foster more divisiveness than solidarity. In the face of intractable forces which are literally global in scale, it is easy to feel that the status quo can only be disrupted by a commensurate agent of change, whether it be zombies, disease, a mile-wide comet or in my case, the Intellinet.

I would say, then, that the saving grace of the post-apocalyptic genre is that it offers hope. Few people want to experience the turmoil and chaos of global collapse, but at least on a subconscious level many of us may feel it is the only way things could possibly change and lead to a new, better world.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Tom: I don’t know about the worst advice, but one meme I wish would go away is the idea that a writer is either “a pantser or an outliner,” meaning either you write by the seat of your pants, or you create rigorous outlines that you slavishly adhere to. Personally, I fall in the middle of that spectrum and depending on my project, may shift more one way or the other. And over time, I have found that my writing process evolves as well. Every writer, as an artist, needs to find what works for her or him at any given time. If that sounds mysterious, well, it is.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Tom: My guilty pleasure is letting myself get sucked into watching a series on Netflix. For me, the first episode of something like Farscape,Battlestar Gallactica or Caprica is like mental crack—I just can’t stop until I’ve completely consumed it.  So when friends tell me I should watch this amazing series, that means I dare not even look at it unless I’m between projects.

One other indulgence I have is MMORPGs, particularly Star Wars: The Old Republic which I use as a reward when I reach certain milestones. At least I can tell myself that I’m doing research for my next TerraMythos novel, which is my science fiction series based on MMORPG gamers and programmers.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Tom: At present I am working on the fourth in a series of science fiction murder-mystery novellas, which take place in a near-future, non-competitive society called Malhutan. The novellas are available online in e-book format, and when I complete the fifth and final novella this fall I will release them as a compiled print-only version. The e-book versions will remain available individually.

After that, I have plans for at least eight more novels, including a pair of sequels for The Archivist and am working on the rough draft for a new trilogy. So it will be a while before I start watching any Netflix series.

Details on my writing projects (including links), con appearances, etc. can be found on my website:

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