In a future utopia, omni-racial men and women live in a society in which all of their basic needs are provided for, as clear and certain as clockwork. Then, one day, some of the machines break down.
I wasn’t sure what to expect heading into Our Dried Voices. It began with a long chronology of the future, which type of list I typically skip through. (I actually did in this case, and I don’t feel it added or took away from the reading experience which was otherwise excellent.) When the story opens, one of the nameless men in the colony is living much like the others. He eats when the machines feed him, sleeps in the sleeping area, stays inside on the one day of the week that it rains, makes love casually when the opportunity arises, and otherwise is exactly identical to all of the other people in the colony.
However, this main character, named Samuel even before he acts in such a way as for someone to give him that name, is slightly different. He notices things. For example, he notices that when a problem occurs, and someone reacts to that problem, that someone disappears. He begins to call them “Heroes,” and it’s not long before he gets the idea to try some problem-solving of his own.
This is a thought-provoking type of story that lingers a while after you close the book. I found the narrow focus on the actions of one main character throughout to be well-sustained by the author, who displayed a deft skill with moving the story along, but still pausing from time to time to let the reader think about the implications of what was happening. Even before he distinguishes himself from the rest of the herd, Samuel becomes interesting to the reader due to the author’s excellent development of the character. Both the plot and the characters are consistent with each other, and though the narrative may take an unexpected turn, it never take an unrealistic one.
Not only did I enjoy this book, but I had the opportunity to interview the author, Greg Hickey, as part of a promotional book tour. Keep reading for some of the author’s thoughts on his book…
Q (Infamous Scribbler): In your universe, you’ve created a utopia that is protected by a thin veneer of routine. When things start to break down though, we realize that the people in that utopia have grown unused to coping with challenges, no matter how slight. Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to create the world, some of the challenges therein, and some of your thought processes throughout?
A (Greg Hickey): The idea of the Our Dried Voices utopia was inspired by the Eloi in H.G. Wells’ novel, The Time Machine. I wanted to further explore a world in the future where humans had lost their intellectual capabilities and no longer had to work to maintain their own survival. On one hand, it seems odd that increasing human progress and technological advancement should lead to such a world, either in the case of the Eloi or the colonists in Our Dried Voices. But on the other hand, much of our technology is engineered precisely for the purpose of making our lives easier and less dependent on individual effort and critical thinking skills. With that idea in mind, I constructed a colony to care for the characters’ basic needs—food, shelter, clothing, etc.—without requiring their input. I tried to keep a fine balance between making the colony technologically advanced to the colonists’ perspectives, as well as familiar, and at times even primitive, to contemporary readers. Though Our Dried Voices explores the idea of progress leading to regression in the future, I wanted it to make it apparent that the seeds of this trend exist today.
Q: For the majority of the book, you keep a very tight focus on one main character. What were some of the challenges of writing a novel-length work with such a tight character focus?
A: The biggest challenge was keeping the writing true to the character. Even though the story is told in the third-person, the focus is still on Samuel, who is limited in his knowledge and language. So it didn’t make sense to me to use language that would go way beyond his capacities, such as employing the imagery of contemporary Earth technology. Samuel is only aware of his colony, of the buildings, the meal and sleep procedures, the natural objects he sees every day, and I tried to make contributions to the tone and mood of the story through changes in those objects. There was a brief moment when I considered trying a Flower for Algernon-like first-person narrator, but that would have been nearly impossible, and would have rung false given that Samuel has almost no linguistic abilities at the start of the story. Still, I wanted the writing to get a bit more sophisticated as Samuel’s own knowledge began to grow, but there should still be a marked contrast between the main narrator and the language of the Chronology or the voice of Leomedes.
Q: What was the most rewarding part of this book to write?
A: There were many rewarding sections, but I think my favorite is Samuel’s trek through the snow to reach the mountains in Chapter XXIII. It’s a big dramatic epic scene, which is always fun to write, plus I couldn’t help share Samuel’s desire to complete his journey as I neared the end of writing the book.
Q: Toward the end of the book, you widen focus to a different group of people who have decided to regain some of their intellect and recruit through manipulation of the colony. Were you tempted to make different decisions about your main character when he encounters them? Why or why not?
A: Absolutely. When I first conceived this story, I never imagined Samuel would make the choice he does in the story. The last section of the book grew the most throughout the writing process—first, when I discovered new motivations for Samuel that cause him to choose as he does, and second, when I added the entire section where Samuel explores the second colony before he chooses what to do next.
Q: One of the parts I have to admit I skimmed through was the chronology at the beginning. How important is the list for this world building?
A: For me it was very important, not necessarily in the sense of world building, but in order to set up the almost paradoxical contrast between the immense human progress that leads up to the colony on Pearl and the regressed state of the colonists in the main text. The chronology as it appears now is actually the condensed version of a longer preface that appears at the end of the book. Readers probably don’t need the chronology in order to understand the world of Our Dried Voices. Instead, I really wanted this section to establish humanity’s incredible intellectual progress, which is then juxtaposed with the rest of the text. The writing in the chronology is more sophisticated and technical, in contrast with the simpler prose of the rest of the novel. I tried to enforce the idea that human beings were very intelligent, and that there is something wrong and especially defective that this evolved state of ignorance should be the end of that intellect.
Q: What is up next for you as a writer?
A: I’m currently editing a novel entitled The Friar’s Lantern. It’s a gamebook (a fancy word for choose-your-own-adventure story) that addresses various questions about free will and determinism. The story centers around a philosophy problem called Newcomb’s paradox and a murder trial in which you are a jury member. I’m hoping to finish work on it this year.
Q: Where can we find more information about you and where to find your books?
A: I have information on all my written works on my website www.greghickeywrites.com. If you’re on social media, you can find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/GHWrites and Twitter at https://twitter.com/greghickey5. If you prefer to just get regular e-mail updates (plus exclusive content), you can subscribe to my e-mail list on my website.
Q: Last but not least, anything to add?
A: Thanks for the interview! This has been a long process and I’m very excited to be at this stage. I hope readers enjoy Our Dried Voices as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Title: Our Dried Voices
Author: Greg Hickey
Publisher: Scribe Publishing Company
Publication Date: November 4, 2014
Genre: Dystopian / Science Fiction
Format: Paperback, eBook (.mobi / Kindle), PDF