Hello, hello, and welcome to the latest edition of Genre Talk here on The Novel Approach Reviews! Today we’re so pleased to introduce DSP Publications author Adrian Randall, who’s come to tell us about his upcoming Paranormal/Sci-Fi release Countermind. So how about we first have a look at what we’re in for.
In a postprivacy future, secrets are illegal and all communication is supervised. Telepaths are registered and recruited by a government with no qualms about invading the minds of its citizens. Fugitive psychics are hunted by the Bureau of Counterpsychic Affairs, or Countermind.
Alan Izaki is one such fugitive, as well as a hacker, grifter, and thief.
Countermind agent Jack Smith is hunting him through the twisted underbelly of Hong Kong.
But Alan possesses a secret so dangerous and profound it will not only shake Smith’s loyalties, but the foundations of their society.
And Alan isn’t the only one on the run. Rogue psychic Arissa binti Noor escapes Countermind, in search of brilliant game designer Feng Huang. She hopes that together, they can destroy the government’s intrusive Senex monitoring system.
Their goals seem at odds, and their lives are destined to collide. When they do, three very different people must question their alliances and their future, because everything is about to change.
Carole: Wow, that sounds like quite the story, with lots of intrigue and a remarkable cast of characters. It’s listed as Paranormal/Sci-Fi, but it sounds like there’s more to it than that. Can you classify the genre for us a bit more?
Adrian: It’s a mouthful: a paranormal cyberpunk thriller. Which means it has psychics, hackers, and spies, and they’re all trying to catch, escape, or outmaneuver each other. At least until they realize they have to work together.
Carole: Ooh, the mashiest of genre mashes! How did you manage to pull all that together into Countermind?
Adrian: Like I said, it’s got psychics and hackers and spies, and also conspiracies and video games and quantum physics, and then weirder, crazier stuff I won’t give away here. But at bottom it’s the story of Alan Izaki, the fugitive psychic trying to evade arrest, and Jack Smith, the Countermind agent trying to arrest him, and the creeping realization that there are larger forces at play in their lives, and more important matters than their personal agendas and egos.
Carole: Countermind is set in Hong Kong, and it sounds like the cast is fairly racially diverse, and not only in the LGBTQ+ sense. Tell us how you define “diversity” in your writing, and how you explored it in this book.
Adrian: For me, a well-rounded cast is as essential as three-dimensional characters. A homogeneous cast sends up red flags. And it’s not enough to have different kinds of people as supporting players. They need to have ambitions and regrets and talents and arcs of their own. In practice, I tried to make Countermind more of an ensemble book. Alan and Smith are your standard gay male protagonists who’re at loggerheads with each other though maybe there’s something more. But they’re by no means the only protagonists.
Carole: Which brings up the “relationship” question. Countermind is being published through DSP Publications, Dreamspinner Press’s imprint for genre novels that don’t necessarily focus on or even contain romance. Tell us about the relationship in Countermind and why it doesn’t fit the accepted definition of Romance in the M/M genre.
Adrian: For the longest time I thought I’d screwed up. Experienced romance authors can introduce two characters who are on opposite sides of a political, philosophical, or professional divide, and then make them come together in a way that’s entirely plausible. It turns out this a very difficult trick indeed, and it’s another reason romance writers deserve more respect. Countermind is more in the techno-thriller vein of Neuromancer and Snow Crash than it is a gay romance, and I didn’t think a publisher would be interested in picking it up if there wasn’t a stronger love angle. At the same time, not all stories about queer people need to be romances. We’re interested in love, but we’re interested in a lot of other things besides, like privacy and freedom and science and art. I’m very grateful to DSP Publications for expanding the space for all kinds of queer stories, and letting me stake a claim in it.
Carole: As are we all. :) Okay, it’s time for my favorite question now: tell us about the evolution of this story. What was its earliest incarnation as a concept and when did it begin to take the form of Countermind?
Adrian: I conceived of Alan Izaki and Jack Smith separately. (Actually, they’re both rooted in characters I created for roleplaying games.) But it was very easy to imagine them as characters in the same story, with Alan trying to evade the law and Smith trying to catch him. The first scene I wrote for Countermind was the one where Alan is robbing a pawn shop and Smith attempts to arrest him. Everything else exploded outwards from that initial confrontation.
Carole: Exploding stories are the very best kind, in my opinion. Are the characters’ names included in that, or were those more deliberate? Do the names have significance?
Adrian: A lot of work went into them, and very often the names do have significance. Alan Izaki’s name gets explained further when we learn more about his father. “Jack Smith” is a blending of character archetypes: a Jack is a trickster, and Smith is the quintessential G-man. He’s both of these combined.
Carole: And because readers always want to know: what projects are you working on now and what is coming next from you?
Adrian: Like many people, I have a lot of ideas incubating. It’s just a matter of which one hatches first. The dismal news lately has turned me off of dystopian fiction, so I think I want to try something a little more upbeat next. It’s a story about ghosts. And if you’re wondering how a ghost story can be upbeat, I hope I’ll surprise you.
Carole: We hope you will too, Adrian! Thanks so much for coming to chat with us today, and best of luck on your new release.
And thank you, Awesome Readers, for joining us for another edition of Genre Talk. We’ve got a note or two for you before you go, but before that, Adrian has been kind enough to bring us an excerpt. So let’s have a look at what we can expect from Countermind:
It was past midnight, and some parts of Hong Kong actually did sleep at this hour. The pawnshop was near Kwai Chung, its customer base mostly local workers pawning valuables just to squander their money on the races, men who wouldn’t have the resources to track down the goods they’d put up as collateral. Alan had chosen the shop for its proximity to a body of water, and it was just a minute’s hard sprint to the nearest container yard, then through that to the channel.
Alan charged downhill on roads still slick from the afternoon’s rain, gleaming with the reflected glow of the city. No neon signs or electronic billboards, just streetlamps and a few lit office windows. Droplets ran in steady trickling streams off the buildings, canopies, streetlights, AC units. Steel shutters of closed storefronts shimmered wet, and Alan’s skin glistened in the damp air. He didn’t hear any pursuing footsteps, didn’t bother turning his head to check.
He’d only gotten a brief glimpse of the attacker in the pawnshop, but that had been plenty. The man looked just a few years older than Alan, Eurasian, tall and lean, hale, clean-cut, clean-shaven. His attire had been dark but utterly nondescript. There was an impression of a black suit jacket, black slacks, and a black button-down shirt (but no tie, and open at the neck). Alan hadn’t the time for more lingering impressions, but the man would’ve been attractive under more civil circumstances.
The man wasn’t the shop owner, and was too well-dressed to be another crook or a triad member. That probably meant law enforcement, ample reason for Alan to make the quickest possible escape without sparing even a backward glance.
Alan vaulted from the sidewalk over a steel railing, dashed across the street, leapt another rail, and charged down a covered stairway, letting gravity lead his charge toward the water, angling toward the red lights atop the cargo-loading cranes just visible over a row of gently swaying palm trees. He hit the next street with such speed he lost some momentum to a brief stumble. A red-and-silver taxicab blared its horn at him, and Alan ducked under the canopy of a shuttered dim-sum shop to get his bearings. He glanced up at the building corners in the nearest intersection and spotted the closed-circuit cameras. He couldn’t see which way they pivoted in their housings, but didn’t think they’d have a clear look at him where he stood. Just to be safe, he’d have to circle around, keeping shy of major streets if he was to stay clear of any more traffic cams, though his pursuer couldn’t be far behind.
Or was it pursuers? The man had attacked Alan alone, not a standard practice for an officer of one of the world’s most famous police forces. If he was a government agent, he had to know what Alan was, right? And what such agent would be so reckless as to challenge a rogue telepath completely solo? Alan doubted even a state psychic would risk such a confrontation, and this man had given no sign of being a psychic himself, had not attempted any telepathic attacks, relying entirely on physical force. Who was he?
Whatever he was, if he caught Alan, it would mean death or worse. He had no need to know who this man was, only to escape him.
Alan pulled his jacket tight around him and popped the collar up. He turned a corner for a side street with fewer cameras and fewer lights and strolled a leisurely path into the shadow of an elevated highway, traffic rumbling above him. From there, he made his way through a hole in a chain-link fence he’d prepared earlier tonight with the help of his bolt cutters, slipping into the container yard, and then he sprinted across the yard toward freedom.
He ran straight into the agent.
The man stepped around the corner of a container and flashed Alan a razor smile as he kneed him in the stomach, allowing Alan’s own momentum to double him over. Then the man threw Alan into the side of the steel container with a clang that echoed inside his head as his arm was twisted behind his back. Alan was strong for his size, but the agent was using some sort of judo leverage shit. Alan tried to wrench free, nearly succeeded, and then the man compensated for his strength by spinning him into the side of another container.
The man tightened his hold and hissed into Alan’s ear.
“How many counts of resisting arrest?”
Alan gasped, gulped, and tried to talk his way out, forcing the words. “Come on, man. You never said you were arresting me.”
“I thought it was implied. You did flee.”
“After you shot me!”
“With a government-issue ranged electroshock device. Pay attention.”
The agent tripped Alan roughly to the ground and buried his knees in Alan’s back. His hand forced Alan’s face against the concrete, and Alan wheezed as the air was squeezed out of his lungs.
Alan screwed his eyes to the edges of their sockets, trying to see up through the corner of his eye. The light of a passing ship winked between the container towers and slid over the man’s features: dark eyed, dark haired, darkly smiling.
“Resist some more,” the agent said. “I don’t need to excuse brutality, but it helps with the paperwork.”
Alan realized—a bit belatedly and with scant sense of relief—that he was now very much in danger of physical harm.
He expanded his thoughts outward and upward, seeking out the luminescent glow of his assailant’s mind as if reaching for a firefly in the night. He found it, wrapped telepathic fingers around it, and squeezed tight.
There you are, Alan thought at him.
Fleeting impressions of the man’s surface cognitions filtered through the permeable membrane of Alan’s consciousness: mild surprise, then recognition, and then a strange kind of resigned satisfaction.
“And there you are,” the man whispered.
About the Author
Adrian Randall is a PhD and a dual-class bureaucrat/scientist. A native Floridian, he lives in Alexandria with the love of his life and their many beautiful board games. He has a tenuous grasp on reality, owing to a steady diet of novels, comics, and other distractions. All his ideas start as character backstory for MMOs and RPGs, and he does all his writing while listening to video game soundtracks. So if he’s gaming instead of working on a book, it’s not procrastination, it’s workshopping. He usually spends his free time geeking out about some damn thing or another. You can geek out with him through any of his social media channels. If he doesn’t respond, it means he broke his phone again.
We’ll see you next time on Genre Talk when we welcome author Lloyd A. Meeker, who will be debuting his new Genre Talk quarterly feature column Through My Lens, in which he’ll discuss various pertinent social topics as they relate to genre. Or, really, anything he finds interesting, which no doubt we all will. We certainly can’t wait!
Until then, that’s all for this week. On behalf of me and Co-pilot Extraordinaire Elizabeth Noble, thanks for spending some time with us, and have a great week!