Peter Tieryas Liu is the author of Bald New World and Watering Heaven. His work has appeared in places like Electric Literature, Evergreen Review, Hobart, Indiana Review, New Letters, and ZYZZYVA. He is currently a VFX artist for Sony Pictures Imageworks and has worked as a technical writer for LucasArts, the gaming division of LucasFilm. He is also a co-editor for Entropy Magazine.
Loren Kleinman (LK): Buzzfeed listed Bald New World as one of the 15 Highly Anticipated Books from Small Presses of 2014. Why should people read your book?
Peter Tieryas Liu (PTL): I was so honored to be included in that Buzzfeed list as there were some amazing books in that group. I hope readers will be intrigued by the premise: what if everyone in the world lost their hair? The story blends literary fiction and science fiction, geographically crossing between Beijing, Shanghai, and Los Angeles. The crux of the story revolves around the friendship between the cavalier and affluent Larry Chao, and his best friend, Nick Guan, who can't come to terms with the failure of his marriage. Together, they explore the existential angst of their world through film. It's a very personal tale and if there is a theme that pervades, it's the idea of family; something I hope will resonate with readers of all backgrounds. On top of that, the reviews have been humbling. Publishers Weekly called it one of the Best Science Fiction Books of Summer 2014. Yahoo! did a profile of the book, and Electric Literature described it as: "sort of like a Haruki Murakami novel set in a future reminiscent of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash where everyone is bald. It's a very strange book with a lot of heart, a strong eye for both character and narrative, and overflowing with great ideas."
LK: Why do you think we are so captivated by futuristic worlds other than our own? Why are we captivated by the past and the future? How does the present fit in?
PTL: I think it's because tales of futuristic worlds create narratives that help us to see our own society from a completely different perspective. For example, digital cricket fighting. Cricket fights are big in China and I was fascinated to read that crickets are essentially born to reproduce, then die. Their singing is a desperate attempt at attracting female attention and failure means death for their entire line. The travail of crickets became an allegory for Nick's own struggle to fulfill the "American Dream." I added another layer with digital interfacing and detailed a subculture surrounding it, some of which is only mentioned in passing, but that I'd extensively outlined. In each of these, I used the past and present as reference, imagining permutations while imbuing them with a sense of realism. This expanded to elements like hypersonic flights, biometric permits, and advances in cosmetic surgery. I'd sum it up as, the best science fiction makes you forget the "fiction" half.
LK: It's obvious that the title Bald New World is a reference to Aldous Huxley. Why this title?
PTL: When I first came across Brave New World, I wondered what it portended and how Huxley connected his soma-wracked paradise with an upbeat, almost satirically doublespeak title. It originally came from Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, which is considered his last written work, a reflection on his whole life and a final statement about humanity. Prospero is a magician, the same way Larry weaves movie magic. Nick's job was magically erasing violence in the digital form to make war more palatable for audiences. At the same time, the title also hints at a bigger universe, full of possibilities and hope, only to have everything shattered. I played around with different titles and Bald New World was initially a placeholder. It was the play on appearances versus the reality implicit in the name that finally made me settle on it.
LK: Nick's encounters include deadly spies, torture by religious zealots, and cricket fighting. Do you agree with critics who suggest this book could be considered a coming of age tale?
PTL: It's a great question because it lies at the heart of the book. Nick is haunted by the violence he suffered growing up and he's disappointed when he tries to break the cycle--the cycle of violence that repeats in nations, families, and individuals--but instead loses his job, can't afford the middle class life, and pushes his wife away as a result of his insecurity. Much of Bald New World deals with the way both he and the people around him cope with their disillusionment. There were parts that I really struggled writing because I was terrified of what people would think. After I finished the first draft, I took a month break and came back to it. Some of the parts moved me to tears as I felt a sense of freedom, like I'd broken my own cycle by writing it.
LK: Would you want Aldous Huxley to review your book?
PTL: Absolutely. One of my favorite reviews was Huxley's letter to Orwell about 1984. It's interesting because I've always felt that while 1984 was the more compelling book, Brave New World was the more believable one. Pleasure ultimately trumps pain. I spoof it with ridiculous reality TV shows that exploit sexuality and religion to distract audiences. Several reviewers have mentioned how absurdly horrific and commercialized the world seems, and I want to ask them, have you turned on Cable TV recently? The juxtaposition of serious news with celebrity gossip and commercials is almost like a caricature, particularly because it's not fiction.