“Being a storyteller is in my genes”: NANOPUNK Author Nathan McGrath’s Origin Story

Posted by April 10th, 2014

Before I came to work at Book Country, I’d never heard of the Cyberpunk genre. As I learned more about it, I came across member Nathan McGrath’s writing. He’s the author of two novels, NANOPUNK and LIGHTNING SEED. I’d heard that many Cyberpunk writers draw inspiration from controversial technology news, and I was curious to learn about how Nathan got started writing in this genre. Here’s what he had to say:

Every book has a “Where it all began” story. Real life is a lot messier. There is no simple narrative or structure, no deeper purpose or destiny. We pick and choose, each one of us. For one reason or another we look back and select this, that or another event, give it a slant and convince ourselves and others that we are really “Telling it like it is.” So is it any wonder peopleare drawn to stories? So neat, purposeful and ordered (well, mostly)?

I can pick out an event here or there and say something like: For me, writing sci-fi all started with taking apart old valve and transistor radios when I was a kid.

NANOPUNK coverOr I could begin with: I’ve always been a voracious reader. I started going to the library when I was around nine. I’d pick up four books and finish them within a fortnight then go back for four more. I worked my way through the science fiction shelf, them moved on to supernatural and somehow found myself going through the psychology section. By the time I started secondary school, I was filling exercise books with spooky sci-fi stories. My other hobby was finding bigger pieces of mechanical junk to take apart.

Or maybe it began back when I worked in factories, warehouses, shops and restaurants. Then I spent around twenty-five years working with vulnerable kids, teens, and families. I’ve worked in chilldren’s homes, hospitals, and family centers; made a helluva lot of visits to all kinds of homes: alcoholics, drug addicts, parents and kids with mental health problems, disabilities, abuse, domestic violence. I came to respect and value the vulnerability, courage and resilience of all the people I worked with. So when I decided to commit myself fully to writing, it came as no surprise that Alister, the main character of NANOPUNK and LIGHTNING SEED, turned out to be a troubled kid struggling with his emotions, identity, and beliefs.

When it comes to looking for the sources of my inspiration to write sci-fi, none of these and all of these stories could be true. I believe being a storyteller is in my genes and there’s nothing I can do about it. I can say in all honesty a day doesn’t pass without something inspiring me with an idea for a new story. Circumstance simply gives me the situation to do what I do best and what I love to do. When I worked with kids, I made up games and told stories. Working with people, trying to change and improve lives was about having a vision of how life could be different, better. Helping people make sense of their lives in a way that would work for them better than the story they’d been telling themselves until now.

Our vulnerability in the face of a world where nothing happens for a reason is why stories are so important; why people come together to build a story together, share a common reality, a community, a family, seek the intimacy of relationships in all their forms. Our stories are built around primal urges. We are all sensitive to, victims of, the elegant, chaotic detail of everyday life. The only difference is the extent to which we notice how we are all up to the same thing – choosing the elements of our story and how others play a part in it. This is my inspiration.

The existential compost of infinite uncertainty acts as my inspiration. My other source of inspiration is something equally exponentially multifarious: the simple rule that scientific study progresses like a fast flowing river, creating tributaries that branch off, converge and work into all aspects of life. This is where nanotechnology comes in to play as a source of inspiration for my writing.

Nanotechnology is rapidly permeating all the other sciences and affecting our lives without many of us paying it much attention. Bioengineering, medicine, neuroscience, communications, weaponry, genetics, cosmetics, agriculture and food production are a few examples. Chances are you’ve dabbed or splashed on, worn, ate, cleaned with something that has nanotech inside it or was made with nanotechnology. Yes, somewhere along the way you’ve been in physical contact, possibly intimately, with some form of nanotechnology.  What’s really scary is that no one really knows what happens to this cocktail of nanotech as it accumulates and works through the various organs and systems in our bodies. We have inadvertently become guinea pigs in a global trial. We read a lot about how nanotech can be used to repair injuries, broken bones, target diseased organs, growths and cancers etc. But we read less about what all the other stuff we absorb or consume might do to us. Bear in mind all, and I mean all, of the tech in my stories are currently being developed. Plus the convergences I talked about earlier are already happening. Check any current science or tech blog for yourself.

The world in which my stories take place is a near future Earth devastated by “The Big Freeze.” The main function of the Big Freeze in my story is twofold. The first function is to level-set how science in general, and nanotechnology in particular, has spread throughout society. I set my story in this world to provide a challenging and dangerous environment where ordinary people are struggling to rebuild communities in the face of corporate, institutional, and criminal adversity.

Alister, a bright but disturbed teenager, thinks he’s just an intuitive hacker, and uses his abilities to search for a sister he thought was long dead. His search takes a deadly turn when he uncovers a plot that could kill thousands of innocent people.

LIGHTNING SEED coverIn writing NANOPUNK and LIGHTNING SEED, I simply did what most sci-fi writers do, took current developments several steps forwards and said “What if…?”

And of course I did the thing that all authors do, write what I knew about. I used my own background and experience, troubled kids and tech, to put together the characters and technology.


Connect with Nathan McGrath on Book Country, on Twitter, and via his website.

How are you using current events in science and technology to inspire your Science Fiction writing? Tell us about it here.


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