While reading The Hive Construct, I have to admit that a lot of it sounded like today’s world and the comparison isn’t pretty. Such inequality between social classes become vivid and yet the hope is in how the characters hone in on their diversity, coming together under a united cause despite the differences. Oh and if technological paranoia is something you have, this book could acerbate it. From chapter one to finish, I couldn’t peel myself away from this brutally honest look at a society swamped by unrest and its beelined perspective from a kick-ass heroine who’s determined to save this world whether it is ready for change or not.
The Hive Construct should touch an intergenerational nerve.
Which is why when interviewing him, he humored me and for a man writing his own dissertation and an award-winning YA novel, Alexander Maskill put up with some very time-consuming, thought-provoking questions. Or at least I hope so.
Alexander Maskill: Hi, thanks so much for having me. It’s been really refreshing to go into such a deep dive regarding the politics of The Hive Construct – I was doing a Politics degree at the time of writing it and that was the main respect in which I engaged with the story – as a political thriller. It’s been really good fun engaging with it on this level again.
For a debut, The Hive Construct delivers a tightly plotted, brilliantly thought out story and is definitely deserving of the Terry Pratchett Prize. How has this recognition changed your life? Did it motivate you in any way? How’s the dissertation going? Is it harder to focus on your dissertation now that your novel is out there being read?
Thanks so much for the compliments, I’m very glad you enjoyed it so much! The dissertation’s going okay. It turns out that winging it through production of your first video game isn’t exactly easy, but I’m making progress every day and I still have plenty of time. To be honest, being burned out over looking at line upon line of code is more of a threat to my focus than anything to do with the novel.
I don’t think the recognition has changed my life all that much; it still all seems very distant. I get interviewed occasionally, people I know see my book in libraries, but I’m nowhere near prominent enough for it to affect my day-to-day. Obviously now that we’re moving up to launch day for the paperback those wheels are setting into motion again, which is great!
A lot of the eco-political battle of The Hive Construct could apply to real world situations. Were you affected by something in real life and it inspired your story? Could you tell us a bit of how the story evolved in your head and made its way into a novel?
Thematically, the entire story is about the phenomenon of emergence. It’s about the way small localized patterns of behaviour can affect each other to produce complex systems of behaviour which no individual participant in that system would be capable of directing. It’s one of those “big ideas” where once you know about it, and start applying it, you see it everywhere. Basically any large system where the components that make it up affect one another produces emergent behaviour. That’s where the title comes from – no one insect, even given an infinite amount of time, could create a hive or colony of the scale we see in nature. Because the story of the book was engineered to explore this idea, I feel like it comes off as very applicable to a range of actual events or situations, but it wasn’t necessarily inspired by any one of them.
The plot was hashed out in the first week of August 2012 because I needed a story that would hold my attention for the five months I had to write the manuscript. I don’t mean to come off as cynical but to be honest, no part of this novel existed before I really needed something for a novel.
Readers prone to paranoia about technology being used to control the common man, definitely could come away from your book feeling vindicated in their fears. How do you feel technology has affected our lives?
I think technology is what dragged us up from the muck and made us more than apes. Our entire evolutionary path relies on us being tool-makers. Today’s tools have the potential to make our lives an order of magnitude better than they’ve ever been, just as tomorrow’s tools will continue to offer us new opportunities to elevate ourselves. The problem isn’t technology, it’s the society into which that technology is used. Technology has made the world more productive year-in, year-out, and yet our current configuration of capitalism still presumes that we need all hands on deck to keep society functioning. Thus, we as a society act like it’s still morally acceptable for the ability to feed and house your children to be contingent on your now-unnecessary labour – “work or starve” in a world that doesn’t need our work anymore. Systemic discrimination has come to pervade our technological systems as readily as it has our social systems. It’s come to a point where one of the most popular websites on the internet is currently in uproar because its owners are considering no longer giving a platform and a gathering space to neo-Nazis, rape apologists and bigots. Our governments are spying on us, and our governments are incompetent enough to just leave laptops with that information on trains, so that won’t end well. The problem isn’t technology, it’s us. It’s always been us. Technology amplifies these things but the signal it is amplifying is the sound of our own voices.
Your uprising, the resistance in your book is comprised of a diverse set of characters from various socio-economic backgrounds. Today’s world seems vastly divided, do you ever feel like the inequitableness of the social structure could lead to such massive unrest like in your book? How do you see people uniting to make the changes?
Oh man, if I say “yes” to that first question, do I seem like I’m tooting my own horn?
But yes, I think you only need to look at what’s going on in the US, with the attention being drawn to systemic facilitation of police brutality and the ways that’s manifesting to see that this is the case. The divisions in today’s world are real, and they are vast, and they exist because one side of those divisions holds power and either wants more of it, or doesn’t understand/doesn’t care to understand that other people have less of it. Why would people not want to correct that imbalance? Why would that kind of soft tyranny not cause unrest? To me, it seems necessary to do whatever reasonable things we can to deny them this level of monolithic control. It seems that the institutions and systems they’ve put in place to consolidate their power should be deconstructed – not necessarily destroyed, but certainly not allowed to perpetuate as they are now.
But that’s the cool thing about emergent systems, of which our culture is one. Small local changes can have impacts which feed back throughout the system and affect the entire way it functions. Even personal things, like being conscientious of the way your behaviour feeds into different imbalances in the world, can collectively make huge changes; standing up where you can for the disenfranchised, or even just checking and challenging our own knee-jerk reactions and dysfunctional thought processes. So to be honest I don’t think anything of the scale of the events in my book are necessary or even preferable – indeed, their level of escalation is borne of the thinking that they are.
And I’m including myself in this. I’m a straight, white, cisgendered guy from a background which isn’t rich, but which has certainly allowed me to pursue the things in my life I’ve wanted to do. I could congratulate myself on how my Terry Pratchett award win is a testament to how smart and talented I am, in isolation from my circumstances, but buying into that kind of thing is egotistical and naïve. If I didn’t have my educational background, my living situation, or even just a demeanour moulded by a lack of personal struggle on my part, I may well not have found my way to where I am now. The holes I need to fit through in society are for the most part shaped for people like me. People who aren’t like me get through those holes in spite of that shape, where I get through because of it. It should be my job, and the job of people like me and of anyone who gives a damn, to do what we can to widen those holes, to improve access to spaces we’re welcomed into but other people are unjustly shut out of.
QUICK Q&A – I couldn’t let Alex go without having a little fun with fandom. So let’s find out a little bit about his personal favorites, yeah? He’s a boy genius afterall.
Favorite book: House of Leaves. It has its issues but it completely tore down my preconceptions of what a novel could be.
Favorite movie: Akira Kurosawa’s Ran. It’s this beautiful, tragic adaptation of King Lear, the last great work of one of the titans of cinema. Akira Kurosawa had one of the greatest cinematic eyes in all of cinema.
Favorite quote: I’ve never had a good answer to this, but Win Butler of Arcade Fire used to always end shows by telling the audience “Take care of each other”. I always thought that was the simplest, most important sentiment someone who has your attention could leave you with.
Author hero: Neil Gaiman. If in my career I have half of his versatility and diversity of opportunity I’ll be happy – and The Sandman is still a masterwork.
Favorite retreat: Midgar and Tselinoyarsk.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with Fangirlish readers, Alex! Good luck with the dissertation.
Thanks for having me!
Winner of the 2013 Terry Pratchett Prize, The Hive Construct looks set to be the next big thing in dystopian fiction. This dazzling debut novel comes to us from the brilliant mind of Alexander Maskill, who completed the book whilst studying for his undergraduate degree at the University of Leicester.
Situated deep in the Sahara Desert, New Cairo is a city built on technology – from the huge, life-giving solar panels that keep it functioning in a radically changed, resource-scarce world to the artificial implants that have become the answer to all and any of mankind’s medical problems. But it is also a divided city, dominated by a handful of omnipotent corporate dynasties. And when a devastating new computer virus begins to spread through the poorest districts, shutting down the life-giving implants that enable so many to survive, the city begins to slide into the anarchy of violent class struggle. Hiding amidst the chaos is Zala Ulora. A gifted hacker and fugitive from justice, she believes she might be able to earn her life back by tracing the virus to its source and destroying it before it destroys the city. Or before the city destroys itself . . .
With its vivid characters, bold ideas and explosive action, The Hive Construct is science fiction at its most exciting, inventive and accessible.