12 December 2016 | Android Fiction

What Is Human?

An Interview with Exodus Author Lisa Farrell

The third Android novella, Exodus, is a rocket-fueled sprint through the darkest streets of New Angeles. Its 96 pages race after rogue clone-turned-runner Ken "Express" Tenma as he attempts to complete the delivery of a top-secret "package." The problem is that this "package" isn't easily tucked into a box and smuggled out of the city; it's actually Miranda Rhapsody, the world's most recognizable celebrity—and she doesn't exactly want to disappear.

     …the door at the far end of the walkway opened again, and a Tenma clone dressed in a blue courier jumpsuit and carrying a large package stepped out. Miranda eyed the package. If it was a gift for her, the presentation was inexcusable.
     “There’s been a change of plan,” the Tenma said loudly, addressing the other clones. “Ms. Rhapsody is coming with me.”

Of course, there are surprises in store for Miranda Rhapsody as well, and they quickly turn her world upside down. Toppled from her lofty perch atop the world—rich, beautiful, talented, famous, adored, envied, and worshipped—Miranda finds herself abducted, yanked off the grid, and pursued by both the NAPD and a nameless assassin.

Worst of all, her best hope for survival may be to cooperate with her abductor and his plan to smuggle her out of New Angeles and away from everything she has ever known and loved. This is because she's not even human—at least not as Express sees it. She's a clone, he tells her, and Jinteki wants her "recycled."

Even as it zooms from action to action—and from page to page—Exodus deals prominently with Jinteki and its clones, asking us just precisely what it means to be human. Are we prisoners to our internal hardwiring? How vital are our aspirations? Are we only people if society sees us as people? Who are we if our memories are false?

How do we get to questions such as these in a slender volume of just 96 pages that is simultaneously loaded with drugs, thugs, and escape plans? To find out, we decided to ask Exodus author Lisa Farrell.

//Interview with Lisa Farrell

FFG: Exodus centers around Ken “Express” Tenma, Miranda Rhapsody, and their attempt to escape New Angeles. Can you tell us what it was that drew you to these characters?

LF: I have always been drawn to the clones in the Android universe. Caprice Nisei is a great character, Jinteki designed her to be different. Express drew me because he’s a clone who decided to make himself different. So how did a clone designed to be subservient and excel at just one thing become this slick-looking runner with a red jacket and crazy hair? I felt like we’d only been given a glimpse into his life, and I wanted to know what it was like for him in-between being a slave and an expert runner.

How did he recreate himself? I figured it would have been a lot easier for him to change his appearance than overcome the nature Jinteki created—the personality they gave him. That got me thinking about the connection between the two: does donning that jacket remind him of how he stands apart from other Tenma clones? Does he need that reminder?

       …She threw her arms up to the sky. The sun rose behind her as she sang the final verse atop the pyramid of clone backup dancers, her body shone gold, and she was goddess of the dawn. The Rutherford District stretched out beneath her—the most important place in the solar system, and she was at its center…

Miranda… well, that's a different story. She was a character I chose as a foil for Express, but she is so strong—and her troubles are so unique among the Android clones—that she soon demanded a fair portion of the novella for herself. She takes "manufactured celebrity" to a whole new level.

FFG: Clones feature prominently in the story. In fact, they’re represented on all the different sides of your plot, with Express, Caprice Nisei, and Jinteki all getting involved. You mentioned in our earlier conversations that you wanted to look at what it meant to be human, so I’m curious if exploring that question through the use of clones led you anywhere that you might not have gone—in terms of any insights you gained—had you just been writing about humans or even genetically modified humans or cyborgs?

LF: I hate to say it, but I can see a not-so-distant future where the powers that be would prescribe certain qualities in any new citizen. Why not? If you could isolate a gene that predisposes someone toward criminal behavior—and you could eradicate it without killing anyone—would you do it?

The clones in the Android universe are designer humanoids, individuals made to fill particular roles and places in society that no one else wants to fill. This takes things to a whole new level, beyond that of genetically-modified humans. The very existence of clones raises so many questions. There's the practical features and the emotional draws, and it's up to the reader to decide what is right and wrong.

“What would an android manufacturer want with me?”
     “Jinteki…” the Tenma began, then paused. He sat forward, turned to her, still looking into her eyes, as though searching for something. “What do you remember about your parents?” he asked.

In Exodus, I was able to explore this from the point of view of the clones themselves—which is quite different, I think, than dealing with the humans who made them.

One thing that did occur to me while working to make these clones feel like people, rather than just characters on a page, was how difficult their positions are. As humans, we are defined by our memories. Our childhoods shape us. But the clones are denied real childhoods and memories. The designers might give a clone a personality of sorts, but that’s not the same as having memories to draw on.

Ultimately, I’d end up supporting the Liberty Society and say that people are people however they’re made.

FFG: You also told me earlier that you worked on The Worlds of Android. What did you contribute to that book, and how did it help you as you were writing Exodus?

LF: Working on The Worlds of Android was amazing. I completely immersed myself in the setting while working on that, and I guess that's what qualified me to write Exodus in the first place. I wrote a bit about bioroids, but bioroids are tackled so well in The Identity Trilogy—which you should absolutely read if you haven't already—that I wasn't tempted to write a novella about them.

I also contributed some of the fiction in The Worlds of Android, did some work on the Nisei line, and contributed to some stuff about the NAPD that was great fun to write. That book was such a collaboration, though, that I'm not entirely sure where my sections began and ended. So many writers were involved, and all had such enthusiasm for the Android universe. By the time I came to work on Exodus, I felt like I’d already done the research and could just get on with the story.

FFG: You also wrote the insert for the limited edition hardbound copy of Exodus. How do you see that tying into your work with the novella? How do you see it tying in with your work on The Worlds of Android?

LF: The insert is in The Worlds of Android style, and Exodus themed!

I had great fun writing that insert, and doing so reminded me how the novellas aren't just stories; they're adding to the canon, illustrating the themes and details of the Android universe. I particularly enjoyed writing the ad for the new Qianju model.

FFG: A lot of people may come to this book with expectations that Express is going to spend a bunch of his time jacked into the Network hacking, but that wasn’t the path you took. There are signs of virtual activity, but in the periphery—as things that have already happened. Instead, you’re focusing on the consequences of his runs, rather than the process of them. Was this an intentional direction, or was it a decision that evolved as you wrote? What would you say to the members of your potential audience who equate running more or less with being jacked-in?

LF: It might come as a surprise to some, since people know Express primarily as a runner—and especially after all the exciting cyberspace action of Monster Slayer.

It wasn’t intentional, but the cyberspace runs just weren't important enough for Express at this stage. Imagine an early Express, who has started to run, but still finds himself doing most of his work in meatspace, compelled to fulfill jobs that are very similar to those Tenmas are normally assigned. Basically, this is an Express who hasn't finished forging his new, "runner" identity.

There was some cyberspace running in early drafts that had to be cut.

FFG: They didn't fit?

LF: A novella only gives you so much room, and the focus of the drama was in meatspace. Maybe Express will have another story down the line, with more cyberspace action. Who knows? I hope so. He's certainly a character worth seeing again.

Caprice had never visited a recycling facility, and even with the knowledge of the break-in, a part of her wondered if Toshiyuki was luring her there under false pretenses. Most clones ended up in such a facility eventually, some sooner than others, but she had not expected her time to come so soon.

FFG: Exodus also prominently features another fan-favorite character, Caprice Nisei.

LF: Until I wrote Exodus, Caprice was my favorite Android character. She's a psychic clone with conflicting loyalties, and she's a prototype for an entire genotype. She's fascinating, but she had already been well-developed, not least in Strange Flesh. Still, I wanted to write about her, and she has her part to play in Exodus, even if the story doesn’t center on her.

FFG: You’ve mentioned that you're a fan of the Android board game, and that's where you got your first taste of Caprice Nisei. What do you see in the game and character that feel like they belong in the Android setting and only in the Android setting?

LF: Android is an amazing board game because of the way it allows players to live the story, and its fluid narrative certainly pulls me in. As with the whole Android universe, Android seems to have been designed to explore cyberpunk, sci-fi, and noir settings, allowing players to experience these settings on a psychological level—thinking about the world we live in and where we are going.

Similarly, Caprice has that isolated, outsider vibe that I think everyone feels when they really start to look at society as a whole—from the outside. It immediately sets you apart.

FFG: I think it’s fair to say that after having written a novella, sections of the setting book, and more setting details in the Exodus insert, you are a certifiable expert on the Android setting. What would you say is your speciality of expertise?

LF: At the time, I felt like an expert. When I was working on The Worlds of Android, I read everything that had been published, played all the games, and was working with Dan Clark, among others—true Android gurus.

The trouble is that I've gone on to work on other projects since, and the setting has moved on. There's been more trouble on Mars and in New Angeles, and if I was to write for this universe again, I would have a lot of catching up to do! I think it's fantastic, though, that the setting is evolving—that it isn't static.

Speciality-wise? I guess I've focused on the clones rather than the technology, the mysteries in meatspace rather than the cyberspace running, the struggles of individuals rather than society as a whole… These are the aspects of the setting that interest me the most.

The Run Begins

Exodus kicks into high gear as soon as Express and Miranda cross paths, and the blistering speed of the action rarely relents. Still, for all the drugs, combats, high-speed chase scenes, and black market operations we discover in Exodus, there's even more awaiting you when you pick up your limited edition, hardbound version of the book.

Available this Wednesday, the limited edition of Exodus includes a full-color insert of sixteen pages of setting details. As Lisa Farrell mentions in her interview, these pages are written in the same style as The Worlds of Android and themed to supplement your enjoyment of Exodus. You'll find a bio of Miranda Rhapsody alongside information about the skylines of New Angeles, the gearheads who can strip the CFC regulations from their hoppers, and the invisible black market clone trade.

The result is that the limited edition of Exodus isn't just a thrilling read; it's also a wealth of information to help you better enjoy your favorite games in the Android universe.

Look for the limited edition of Exodus to be made available through our website on Wednesday, December 14th!

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