Social Media Could Inspire Horrors—Or Maybe Superpowers
A decade ago, David Wong spent his days working temporary office jobs and his nights writing funny blog posts. Among his most popular pieces were a series of annual Halloween stories about a pair of twentysomething slackers who battle supernatural monsters. In 2007 he published the stories as a novel, John Dies at the End, which was adapted into a feature film by Don Coscarelli. Wong’s latest book, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, is his first foray into science fiction.
“It’s about a near future where technology has basically made superpowers possible,” Wong says in Episode 171 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “And it’s just a disaster. It’s exactly as much of a disaster as I’m confident it will be in real life when technology makes superpowers possible.”
Wong, who now serves as executive editor of Cracked.com, also thinks new technology will give a giant boost to social media. His book imagines a hyper-charged social network called Blink, which consists of millions of networked livestreams. Any event, whether it’s a celebrity eating breakfast or a gang shootout, can be viewed live from whichever camera has the best view.
“It’s the ultimate social network,” says Wong. “Everybody is streaming everything they say and do all the time.”
The book opens with a murderer attempting to orchestrate his next kill so as to maximize his live audience, a development Wong finds all too plausible given that a real-life killer recently posted video of himself opening fire on a TV news crew.
“If you were a serial killer who likes to live-stream his victims, you would very much find an audience of people watching you do it,” says Wong. “If it’s interesting, we’re going to watch.”
The novel has some eerie parallels to the story of Zoe Quinn. The book’s protagonist is also named Zoe, also dyes her hair blue, and also becomes the focus of an online lynch mob. Wong says those chapters were written long before Gamergate, and were in no way inspired by Quinn.
“I don’t want any Gamergaters to say, ‘Oh, so you’re comparing us to a supervillain who mutilates people?’” Wong says. “Although there are some parallels.”
The book presents a future that’s grim in many ways, but Wong tried hard not to write a dystopia. He says science fiction tends to be too bleak, often failing to recognize positive trends.
“New technology is not good or evil in and of itself,” he says. “It’s all about how people choose to use it.”
Listen to our complete interview with David Wong in Episode 171 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
David Wong on Stephen King’s Misery:
“It demonstrated to me how simple the elements can be, because it’s all about mood, it’s about dread, and the struggles that the main character is having, this author. It’s simple, simple things. It’s about trying to get from his room to the kitchen in his wheelchair, without leaving any evidence behind. … And everything about building up this lady, the monster lady who’s keeping him hostage. … It all just plays out so perfectly. It’s a book that I’ve read probably three times, and the only reason I haven’t read it more is because it’s too scary. It’s scarier than any monster book I’ve read. With his books, the more outlandish the threat, the less scary I find them. I don’t think anything compares to that one.”
David Wong on the future:
“We’ve gone from, in the ’50s and ’60s, being very optimistic about the future, where the future is all spaceships and The Jetsons and flying cars, to where we were just sure the future was going to be a massive pile of rubble. I think that’s the reason why today, any issue that has to do with the future, such as education, the environment, alternative energy … is almost impossible to get people to care about, because I think we’ve been programmed as a culture to think there won’t be a future. … And I do believe it affects the way people think about the world, and the way they think about the future—that we’re in a state of decline, and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it, so you might as well drill all the oil you can, because we’ve got to have a party before somebody turns out the lights.”
David Wong on movie titles:
“The reason why Hollywood cranks out so many sequels and adaptations is because the audience is so overwhelmed with choices, the only way to get them in the theater is to give them something familiar. ‘Hey, this is Fast & Furious 7!’ That’s all you need to know. … I loved the Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow, which everyone seems to agree failed because the title wasn’t very descriptive. It sounded like a James Bond title, or almost like a romantic comedy or something. But if they had just titled it, It’s Tom Cruise, He Travels through Time and He Dies Over and Over Again, and He Kills a Bunch of Aliens in a Mech Suit, if they could somehow fit that into a manageable title, I think it would have done much better.”
David Wong on fan mail:
“I get a huge range of responses. There are the people who read my horror novels — the first two of them — and they found them scary or whatever, and then there are some people who are maybe not entirely stable who think that they’re real, who think that they’re being stalked by the same demons or ghosts that are mentioned in the books. But there’s a core of people who identify with David, the main character, not regarding anything to do with the plot, but just in terms of his feeling of being an outcast. … And I’ve probably gotten more feedback on that, from passionate readers saying, ‘Thank you for writing about me. I don’t know how you know me, but that’s clearly my life.’”