You’d expect to find brilliantly imaginative technology in your average sci-fi novel. For some futurist authors, inventing new hardware is probably half the fun. With TRANSFERENCE, I went in the opposite direction: the computers are laughable, like something out of the 1980’s. There’s no internet but they are networked, the way I dimly remember them in the late eighties, except much worse. As for communications: you have to book any calls you might want to make through an operator (when was the last time we did this? The fifties?!) and the call could take hours to go through. Callers wear headsets and can see each other on phone screens but otherwise, the phone network is appalling.
It’s also very funny and central to the plot. Despite having an enormous space station used as a refuel stop for ships heading to more technologically advanced planets, the tech on backward Nigel feels purposefully restricted. Androids are built to do the dirty work but have no intelligence. And a trillion miles away, somewhere on Earth, someone is still using a Bakelite phone and one of those answering machines with a tape. All this has a great comic effect but the novel itself is actually quite dark.
Darkest of all is its anti-hero, Gomenzi. I found myself transfixed by him when I was writing his character, just as the other characters are spellbound. He’s a sympathetic character but also utterly immoral and evil. Since I invented him in the mid-nineties, this type of character has been done to death, with authors getting inside the mind of serial killers. What a yawn. Gomenzi is never that unimaginative. He’s a mindwalker and it’s this that makes him different from your usual killer – not that he intends to kill anyone, you understand (not usually…..)
This novel started life as a rather long short story with another short story as a sequel. Much later, when I became A Professional Writer (if there is such a thing), the short stories, called Access Denied and Baby Doll, were turned into my second screenplay. It was at this point that I realised I wasn’t a screenwriter – I wanted to write pages and pages about the characters and the background which you can’t do in a pared-down script. I also wanted to get inside the heads of my characters and rummage around – rather like a mindwalker. So Gomenzi found himself at last inside a novel, at the time the second in the Fleet Quintet.
For various reasons, it’s now the first and despite working on it again and again, really trying to improve the words on the page, the story, the characters, it still feels to me like a first novel. Thinking about it, it actually is my first novel (not counting the garbage I wrote before becoming A Professional). Ultra was published first but it was written much later. There is a lot about this novel that doesn’t work: it jerks the reader’s attention in too many directions. It’s clunky. It’s patchy. It’s too long. The purposefully stereotypical minor characters just seem, well, stereotypical.
Despite these flaws, I think it remains an entertaining novel and Gomenzi himself has never become stereotyped.