Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Simon Kewin Talks about The Genehunter

The GenehunterSimon Kewin is the author of The Genehunter, a five-part story series that he recently collected into a novel. He's also the author of the soon-to-be-released novels Engn and Hedge Witch. Stop by his blog at to learn more about Simon and his writing.

Warning: Question seven contains some minor spoilers so close your eyes and click somewhere else when you reach the last question if you haven't read the Genehunter stories yet.

I believe you work in information technology. Did your work experience inspire or inform The Genehunter stories?

I guess being a software developer made it easier to drop in (hopefully) believable terminology to bring the Genehunter world to life. But I didn't want to make the stories too techie because that would get boring. And while writing computer software is fun, really, I have to report it probably isn't as thrilling as being a genehunter...

Simms is a mess of contradictions. Did you begin the stories with that ball of contradictions or did they accrue as you "got to know him"?

They accrued. When I started out writing Genehunter I was conscious that most of my protagonists in other stories tend to be good, decent people. I wanted to break out of that and create a character who was selfish, immoral or downright amoral. That was my starting point—Simms is concerned solely for himself, doesn't care about anyone else. Which made him a lot of fun to write. But as you say, his contradictions become clear pretty quickly. He starts to get all these feelings he is poorly equipped to handle—a conscience and a sense of concern for those he is close to. I had a lot of fun giving him these inner struggles—as well as all the exterior struggles with people trying to kill him with guns and stuff.

I like the structure of the stories with each one featuring a gene-hunting job and the series tied together with multiple, longer story lines. What came first: the ideas for the gene thefts or the longer story lines 

The individual gene-hunting jobs came first. I knew I wanted to write four or five self-contained "cases" but also that I'd need an overarching story line to tie them together. But I had no idea what that would be when I set out on "The Wrong Tom Jacks." Then I came across the word boneyard somewhere—probably in some story I was reading—and that set my imagination going. I love it when hearing a single word does that. It sounded cool, but I had no idea who or what Boneyard actually was in my story. In fact I didn't know until quite late on in the series. The challenge was to give each episode a satisfying conclusion, while leaving that larger story-arc out there to draw the reader on.

Simms' name intrigues me. As you probably know, SIMM stands for single in-line memory module. Simms has so many chips embedded in his brain that he might as well be a computer. Do you see our increasing reliance on smart devices eventually leading to a Genehunter-like world?

Yes, I like putting these little jokes into things I write, even if no one else gets them! That connection to Simms' name was certainly in my mind, as was the reason given within the stories—which Simms himself only discovers quite late on. It was the same with Dr. Grendel, who is a bit of a monster (cf Beowulf), but who is also a pioneer of genetics, and it amused me that "Grendel" could be seen as a contraction of "Gregor Mendel". There are other jokes in there that perhaps only I would get...

Will we end up in a world where brain plug-ins record everything we do and enhance our natural abilities? It doesn't seem like that much of a leap. Why do we have to carry all these smartphones around with us? So much easier to have the hardware embedded so we can't lose it. Although that will make upgrading the SIMM card more tricky.

Whether we get to a world like Genehunter I don't know. My intention was obviously to create a fun read rather than a reliable prediction, but some of it will come true, I'm sure. Which will give rise to all sorts of problems and debates. The recent controversy over Google Glasses is a good example of that. How would you feel knowing that everything you say and do is being recorded by people you meet? It's an uncomfortable thought, but perhaps in a few decades it will seem utterly normal. How intrusive or beneficial we allow this technology to be is open to debate. I think we are going to see some interesting battles. But wearable or embedded computing is here already. Even my cat has a chip embedded in her for ID purposes...

The Genehunter reminds me of William Gibson's "Johnny Mnemonic" in which a data-storage system has been surgically implanted in the protagonist's head. Did Gibson or any other cyberpunk writers influence you?

Only in a general sense—things like "Johnny Mnemonic" obviously had an influence, directly or indirectly. As, I freely admit, did Bladerunner. But the main influence I think was the onward march of real technology.

Now that you've created The Genehunter world, can we expect more stories set there?

Always a possibility. I have no immediate plans, but I think it's a universe you could do a lot with. And I do love Simms, for all his failings.

There's a sense of "cosmic justice" throughout the series. In "A Soldier of Megiddo," Simms the gene-hunter winds up an inmate in the type of zoo for which he's been supplying DNA. In the final story "Boneyard", Simms steals the bones of a saint's left hand for Boneyard and then loses his own left hand in a battle with Boneyard. Please comment.

That's a really interesting question. Let's just say I like to play with these ideas. To me those patterns you mention are dramatic irony: I wrote them in because they were amusing or satisfying plot circles. Something like the jokes I mentioned on a larger scale. But who am I to say? Whether that amounts to cosmic justice for the reader is up to them to say. For what it's worth, I don't think Simms sees it that way. The ending—the very last scene—makes that clear to my mind.


  1. Blade Runner will influence and inspire almost everyone who's seen it.

    Good interview with an interesting author.

  2. Thanks for having me on your blog today, Jeff! Much appreciated.

    1. You're welcome, Simon. Best of luck with the new novels.

  3. I enjoyed these novelettes and am looking forward to reading the bonus features in the omnibus. Hope Simon has more Simms tales in the works...

    1. I think if we pester him enough he'll write some more. It's worth a try. : )