It’s been nearly two months to the day since Adam Wasserman first e-mailed me to tell me about his dystopian black comedy, Thank You for Your Cooperation. He told me a little bit about the book, threw some flattery my way, and—badda-bing, badda-boom—I had a nice shiny new book sitting on my doorstep. And wouldn’t you know it, it was a pretty damn good book. I mean, it features a deranged computer called Control hell bent on maintaining its Martian utopia by encouraging its residents to betray each other at every turn and stamping out all traitorous and subversive (read: unapproved) activity under an iron-clad heel. What’s not to love?
So I asked Adam if he’d be willing to participate in an interview and maybe front some swag for all the gentle readers out there. Being the generous soul that he is (Though, don’t tell that to Control. Charity is considered treasonous activity and is punishable by immediate termination), he agreed on both counts. To enter to win a free paperback copy of Thank You for Your Cooperation, see the rafflecopter widget at the bottom of this page. But before we get to that, Mr. Wasserman has to answer a few questions.
Thank you for joining me, Adam. Welcome.
AW: Thanks, Jonathan. I appreciate the time you've taken to look at Thank You For Your Cooperation and your willingness to share the traumatic experience with others. I understand the doctors have finally taken you off the heavy medication and the frontal lobe lobotomy won't actually be necessary.
Q1) Oh really? Say it ain’t so. I was looking forward to eating my meals through a tube for the rest of my life. Oh well, c’est la vie. Let’s start with the basics, shall we? Who is your daddy and what does he do? Err, I mean, tell us a little bit about yourself (and please pardon the Kindergarten Cop quote).
AW: Well, Jon, I'm a human male with all the usual parts. I grew up in
Rhode Island and went to school in . A few years after graduation I
moved to the Baltimore .
I try and get back to New England during the summers since they neglected to
discover that season in Netherlands Northern Europe. Also,
I very much love visiting with family and old friends. I'm pushing forty and
loving every second of it.
Q2) Care to tell the folks at home about your book? I mean, there’s my review, of course, but why should anyone believe me when they can get it straight from the source?
AW: Thank You For Your Cooperation is a black comedy / science fiction novel set in a futuristic but degrading totalitarian society run by a computer, Control. The underground complex where they live is called the Bunker and located on Mars. For the vast majority of its citizens, the Bunker is probably a wonderful place. Everyone has a job and enough food to eat and plenty of mindless, popular entertainment. Not to mention all the free drugs. Unfortunately, the Bunker is beset by the constant threat of terrorist activity. Traitors and social deviants are everywhere. Even more unfortunately, it's not entirely clear who these criminals are. Terry Renfield, our working class hero, certainly never imagined he'd qualify. But then again, there was a lot about the scheme to take Control offline that surprised him, his participation in it perhaps most of all.
Q3) The setting of The Bunker in Thank You for your Cooperation reminded me a lot of the roleplaying game Paranoia. Have you ever heard of the game, and was it an inspiration for your novel? What other media did you use as inspiration?
AW: Jon, it is an honor to be interviewed by a fellow gamer. The answer to both questions is: Yes! The roleplaying game Paranoia was indeed an inspiration for the novel. In fact, I GM'ed a few missions just to get a feel for it. Of course, the Bunker isn't the Alpha Complex of Paranoia. The elements that make a good roleplaying game don't necessarily carry over to a novel. Also, I don't think the action in Thank You For Your Cooperation resembles a Paranoia mission at all. What appealed to me, though, was the notion of a society with a split personality. That is, the citizens of the Bunker speak as if they truly lived in a utopian dreamland, yet their actions belie everything they might say. After all, we live in such a society. Granted, the Bunker presents a very extreme example.
As for other media, I borrowed from some of today's popular culture. One of the characters in the novel, Lady Lagrange, has been correctly identified with Lady Gaga, who was the inspiration for her. Also, the names of some of the vidshows in the book were inspired by real, American sitcoms. Or so I assume. I don't watch much television, but Wikipedia has a great page that lists them in alphabetical order.
Q4) Well it’s an honor to interview a fellow gamer! Paranoia is some seriously hilarious stuff (and everyone at home should go out and buy it right now—after finishing this interview, of course), and it would be a shame not to use it as inspiration for a book such as yours. Speaking of which, why do you think dystopia and black comedy go together so handily?
AW: In my mind, a dystopian world has three core characteristics: 1) the inhabitants claim with some conviction that it is a utopia, 2) we as readers wouldn't want to live there, and 3) the society is arranged the way it is on purpose. Since most people are not actually stupid, anyone living in a dystopia would surely know it, and the best way to deal with a terrible situation you are powerless to affect is to laugh at it. The particular kind of comedy most encountered in Thank You For Your Cooperation is sarcasm, which is a form of anger. It seemed most appropriate.
Having said that, I don't think the darkness of dystopia and the lightness of comedy are easily blended. But having already written a more serious dystopia before Thank You For Your Cooperation, I knew if I was going to try my hand at the genre again, I'd need a new angle.
Q5) For what it’s worth, I think you pulled it off quite well. Now, the security organization in The Bunker is called “Homeland Security.” Was that a none-too-subtle dig at the U.S. Homeland Security organization and the TSA—you know, the guys that have to take naked pictures of you and cop a feel before you can board a commercial airplane?
AW: You bet. But it's also a dig at where we're heading. During the first century of the
Roman Empire, they followed all
the forms of the Republic. They claimed they were still living in one.
Today, in our country, we talk a lot about the idea of freedom, but the
substance is evaporating. The fact that there is a Department of Homeland
Security at all, or that in the newspapers we openly debate when American
citizens may be detained indefinitely, or that the President of the United
States can unilaterally decide to have someone killed (once upon a time before
the lawyers went to work they called this assassination); these are all
worrying developments. After all, don't we criticize countries such as for very
much the same things? If we say that our use of these powers is somehow just
and theirs unjust – that we are good guys and they are bad guys – then we are
just hiding from the reality in order to make ourselves feel better. China
I'm not so delusional as to believe there aren't people who want to blow up our airplanes. But the question to ask is why, not blindly accept the security apparatus that's been set up to counter a threat that will never recede.
Q6) I’ll give you a quick “amen” and move on from there. There’s one part in your book (when Zeus and his Olympians are introduced) where the narrative jumps forward, then back, then forward again. Your narrator breaks the fourth wall by acknowledging the fact, and saying something to the affect of, “You might not like it, but I don’t care. Deal with it.” I thought it was a pretty clever way to handle it, but I have to admit, I was a bit confused for a little bit. I initially thought maybe I’d accidentally skipped over a couple of pages. Why did you feel like the jumping around was necessary at all?
AW: When I got to the point in the story where the action leaves the Bunker, I wanted to emphasize the sense of displacement. By turning the page and suddenly being thrust into a seemingly disjointed subplot, not entirely sure what the context was or what had happened leading up to it, I meant to jar the reader. After all, Terry was probably feeling very similarly as he watched. However, I have heard from other people (and not just excellent reviewers such as yourself, Jon) that the effect was confusing. Similarly, the conflict near the end between the clones was also difficult to digest for some readers because I used the first person for both. I was trying to emulate the disorientation anyone watching would have had trying to keep track of who was who.
Looking back, was it a good idea to try these tricks? I don't know, although to be honest it's probably just my mischievous streak acting out again. I don't think I have any more say in this sordid affair than you do or my poor teachers in grade school did.
Q7) Dude, I loved the clone scene. It made me cackle. While the skipping forward bit was a miss for me, you still managed to bat .500. Not bad for experimental trickery. But there was something else I noticed about your novel. For an indie or self-published book, Thank You for Your Cooperation is amazingly free of typos. What’s your secret? Do you have a bang-up editor, or are you a walking grammar textbook to yourself?
AW: Well, Jon, the first version I produced was chock full of typos and the like. However, paying attention to the squiggly lines under some of the words in my text editor actually paid off. Also, I was fortunate enough that a few friends offered to read the book and circle any textual errors they found. The results? I have fewer friends now, but the text is in much better shape. In particular, I'd like to thank my good friend Declan Aylward, the editor of the
Times. He's a
well-mannered, good-natured, Irish bloke hanging out and enjoying the ambience
in Holland .
My mom pays him good money to be seen with me in public, so unlike the others
he can't just dump me, even if I didn't give him credit on the cover. Amsterdam
Q8) One of the major plot elements in the book revolves around the main character, Terry Renfield, his clone, and the conflict that this “twinning” creates. First, how did you choose this “twinning” plot device, and do you think it speaks to a larger question about self identity and our perception of reality based upon our conviction that we are who we think we are?
AW: The idea behind the conflict between the two clones is that we as individuals innately feel we ought to be unique. Otherwise, our mothers wouldn't have spent so much time telling us how special we are. The person I project to you may or may not be what's actually inside, but even so it should be a singular product of my imagination. When I started writing about clones, I sensed a violation of the natural order. Of course, our attachment to ourselves is the greatest challenge we face in life. But that's another matter entirely.
Q9) Ah, but in the end the clones actually are different. They make different choices and do different things, so the sum of those two make them think differently, therefore making them distinct individuals—um, err… did I say too much? I might have just let slip a spoiler. Oh well.
Some might consider this next question a spoiler, too, and if you do, well… tough shit. I’m curious, so I’m going to ask anyway. At the ending of the book, things haven’t changed all that much for the characters, the Bunker, or Control. Was that a larger statement about society—that, even though we say we want to change things, they never really do because, in the end, human beings are selfish creatures? Or am I over-analyzing, as I am wont to do?
AW: I don't think you are over-analyzing. On the other hand, I don't think the central message of the book is that our endeavors as human beings are doomed to failure.
Thank You For Your Cooperation is – in my mind at least – an exploration of absurdity. In particular, we have a totalitarian society run by a computer, Control, which is programmed and maintained by the very people it oppresses. Why would they participate in their own misery? Well, why would those without access to adequate medical care in our own country oppose a health care bill that is designed it give it to them?
People aren't stupid. So when they don't act in their own best interests, we have to ask ourselves why. Are human beings selfish? Yes, but they are lots of other things besides.
You mentioned in your lead-in that charity would be unapproved in the Bunker. But who's doing the unapproving? This is the question that I think is most relevant to the story – and goes the farthest to explaining why the situation at the end hardly differs from how it started out.
Q10) Deep stuff. I like it. Now last but not least, do you have any other books you’re working on that you’d like to tell us about (i.e., anything else you’ll need a few good reviewers for hint-hint-hint?)
AW: Thanks for your enthusiasm, Jonathan. I wrote several books before Thank You For Your Cooperation. There is my first novel, The Grey Life, a collection of short stories called Ms. Wellington's Oak Tree, and a full length play by the name of Bringing Down the House. But the only one I'd dare submit to your critical eye is Gyges the Terrible, the somewhat more serious dystopian novel I wrote before Thank You For Your Cooperation.
As for a possible sequel to Thank You For Your Cooperation, all I can say is: that information is not available at your security clearance.
Done and done. Thank you so much, Adam. It’s been a real treat to talk with you and exercise that BA in English Literature I haven’t been using very much these days. Take care, and good luck with your next project.
AW: I really enjoyed answering your questions, Jon. Your blog's got a great vibe. Keep up the good work!
Why thank you, Adam. Flattery will get you everywhere. If anyone would like to learn more about Adam Wasserman or his work, you visit him at his personal website, Goodreads, or Librarything. You can also purchase his work on Amazon or wherever fine dystopian black comedies are sold… so pretty much Amazon.
Oh yeah, and don’t forget the giveaway. I did mention it’s free, right? So what are you waiting for? Get on that shit!