With SciFi Month just around the corner, there seems no better time than to book tempt you all with a high-octane sci-fi thriller.
Author Armond Boudreaux hops on the blog to talk about his latest novel, The Way Out, a thought experiment on the birth of the virtual womb. Discussing the intersections of technology, science, politics, and humanity, the introduction to Armond’s Forbidden Minds trilogy is “sure to thrill fans of politically focused science fiction”.
Read on to find out more about the book and its author!
A Humanities professor at East Georgia State College, Dr. Armond Boudreaux draws inspiration from Southern literary giants such as Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner, but with the heavy influence of epic, action-packed authors ranging from George R.R. Martin to Homer. He also writes nonfiction about the ethics and politics of superheroes, including co-authoring the book Titans: How Superheroes Can Help Us Make Sense of a Polarized World (Cascade Books, 2017). Born in Alabama, he now lives in Statesboro, Ga., with his wife and five children.
Connect with Armond:
- Welcome to the Galaxy, Armond! It’s a pleasure to have you here to discuss your sci-fi thriller, The Way Out. Can you introduce yourself with an acrostic of your name?
Yikes. I’m so bad at acrostics…
all stories worth writing are a form of
mixing half-forgotten memories with old truths made new;
on paper, they become art, philosophy, truth;
nothing except honesty can hold them together, though;
deceit, especially self-deception, poisons them
- The Way Out introduces a poignant, speculative world where reproductive rights are under governmental control, discussing pregnancy and choice. Why and how did you decide to approach this subject?
Thank you. Back in 2016, I think, I read about a connection between microcephaly and the Zika virus, and I immediately imagined a situation in which artificial uteruses would protect children from a disease that caused birth defects. That idea got mixed up with some other philosophical and political issues that I’m always thinking about, and pretty soon, Val’s story started to form in my head. I started writing the book a few months later.
Not long after that, I saw an article in the news about a goat that was successfully gestated in an artificial uterus, and I thought, “Yep. This is the book I need to be writing right now.”
I knew from the beginning that the book would raise sensitive and potentially explosive questions about reproduction and what it means to be human. And it was very important to me that I write a story that would challenge everyone who read it no matter what their political opinions were. I wanted to force people with different philosophies about life to ask themselves uncomfortable questions, and I wanted to avoid easy answers.
Could artificial uteruses provide a solution to debates about reproduction? Would that solution answer the concerns of people on all sides of the conflict? Would it come with a cost? What would we lose by divorcing reproduction from the human body almost entirely? Is there a limit to what the government can require people to do in the name of public health?
(With regard to that last idea, please bear in mind that I wrote this book about three years before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.)
- There are three highly contrasted POVs, allowing the reader to distinctively experience the world. Val is a former Marine who left the military to focus on her family. Jessica is extremely career-focused and a more reserved person, romantically-wise. And Bowen is a disturbing researcher whose POV borders on repulsive. What were the challenges in balancing all these characters and what goals did they come with?
I don’t find writing multiple POVs very challenging. It’s kind of my default mode of writing, I guess. I think a lot of writers treat their characters as extensions of themselves, but for me writing is all about getting to inhabit someone else’s thoughts. So I suppose that writing in multiple POVs is a natural extension of my general approach to writing.
For The Way Out, multiple POVs was key to some of the ideas that I was trying to deal with. People understand the world differently from one another, and telling this story using three different characters allowed me to highlight those kinds of differences.
For me, Val represents a mix of libertarian and traditionalist views of the world. She believes in freedom, even when that means that people will make choices that she doesn’t like. But she has a very strong morality that won’t allow her to just give in to what society demands of her. In that way, I see her as kind of a modern version of the ancient Greek heroine Antigone.
Jessica is also driven by strong moral principles, but when we first meet her, she’s more interested in what she sees as the common good than she’s interested in freedom. She’s a little uncomfortable with “Safe Reproductive Practices,” but she believes that it’s for the collective good. She only rejects SRP when she’s forced to, and even then, she’s reluctant. If she hadn’t discovered the conspiracy and coverup that led to SRP, she would have regarded Val as an extremist.
Bowen is a truly broken man. As you say, he’s morally repugnant, but I see him as a natural consequence of some of the dysfunctional and hypocritical tendencies of our society. After Harvey Weinstein, I think there’s a real urgency to teach boys to be good men, but at the same time, our society surrounds us with images and ideas that sexually objectify the human body (both male and female). This kind of mixed messaging has already created a lot of problems, and I’m afraid it’s going to create more in the future. The internet is partly to blame, and I think that advances in other technologies are only going to make it worse.
Those three characters don’t represent the entire spectrum of opinion and experience, certainly, but I think that they show how different we are and how differently people respond to moral and political questions.Armond about his three mcs, Val, Jessica, and Bowen
- The book is filled with exhilarating action scenes, like hunts across dark woods, characters hiding for their lives, and deth drones. What was the most exciting scene to write, the most challenging, and the most relaxing?
Probably the most exciting scenes for me to write involved Val being a fighter and a pilot. I have a feeling that these are some of the most exciting scenes for readers, too.
The most challenging scenes for me to write were probably Bowen’s (though there are a couple of scenes involving Kim that were pretty difficult for me, too). He’s such a reprehensible human being. Really awful. The thing is, though—what made his chapters challenging was that I wanted to find a way to make him terrible while still making readers at least hope a little bit that he can become better.
I wanted him to have a moment where he at least tried to do something good and then failed because he’d spent too many years of his life feeding his most base instincts. It was that aspect of his character that made his scenes so difficult for me. But it was important to me that he couldn’t be simply a villain. Nobody is so bad that there isn’t even the possibility of good left in them.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously wrote in The Gulag Archipelago that the line between good and evil runs through the human heart. In Bowen, I wanted to show a guy who was losing the battle that goes on inside everyone. And it’s hard for me to watch a person lose that fight, even as unlikeable a person as Bowen.
I can’t say that any scene in The Way Out was “relaxing” for me to write. Every word of the book felt like a bloodletting.
- Alongside high-octane action, The Way Out discusses the possible divides between scientific advancement and social justice. Do you think there’s a prophetic aspect to the scenario you created, and if so, is it possible to harmonize scientific advancement, free will, and legal rights?
I definitely hope that it isn’t prophetic, though I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think that some of the scary things in The Way Out were likely. The number of reviewers I’ve seen say that what happens in the book is “plausible” doesn’t fill me with confidence (though I am gratified to hear people say that about a book that I wrote).
I worry very much about the kind of technological advances that I describe in the book. Humans don’t have a great track record on our use of technology. We came up with a potential source of clean energy, and the first thing we did was turn it into a bomb. We created a network of knowledge and communication, and now we mostly spend our time using it to scream at strangers in all caps. I can see good applications for artificial wombs, but I don’t think there is any piece of technology that we can’t turn to terrible purposes.
Meanwhile, we have technology that’s already here and already poses a serious threat to our world. Social media is a really important part of The Way Out—almost a fourth point of view, if you will. And the way in which social media is reshaping our society scares the hell out of me. I know that there is a lot of hand-wringing about social media (that Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma is excellent, if you haven’t seen it), but I don’t think that we’re frightened enough of it. I really don’t. I think it could end us if we aren’t careful.
- In your author bio, you mention inspirations such as Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, George R.R. Martin, and Homer. Are any of these inspirations visible in The Way Out and in which aspects?
As that list of authors shows, my reading is extremely varied. The last four books that I’ve read are a perfect example of this: one was a dystopian YA novel; one was hard sci-fi; one was a treatise on ethics; and the fourth was a book about American political polarization. I like to think that almost everything I read has some influence on my work.
Flannery O’Connor haunts me. That might seem strange coming from a speculative writer, but I think that she might have influenced me more than anybody else. She had a way of seeing the meaning behind mundane events that has stuck with me since I first read her in college. And Mystery and Manners remains one of the few books about writing that I think is worth reading.
Faulkner and Martin both write from multiple points of view, often in ways that can be disorienting to readers. A good example of this is Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which is one of my favorite novels. There’s definitely some influence there, but not just on this book. As I said, writing from multiple POVs comes naturally to me.
More generally, I think that the authors I mention in my bio are an influence on me (and on this book in particular) because they refuse to give easy answers to the hard questions. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have answers, but they won’t oversimplify those answers for us. I don’t know if I always succeed, but that’s the kind of writing that I aspire to. Some people say that’s a copout, that it just means a writer doesn’t have anything to say. I suppose sometimes that’s the case, but it isn’t always. I hope it’s not in mine.
- You’re also a Humanities professor, so I found it interesting that you chose to delve into science-fiction. Do you agree that Science and Humanities are always interlinked?
I think I agree with that, depending on what you mean by “interlinked.” The two disciplines ought to inform each other, certainly. They ought to depend upon one another for clarification and guidance, in a sense. But I think that in the academy and in society generally we’ve messed up the relationship between science and the other disciplines.
For example, science depends upon philosophy, but not many people recognize or acknowledge this. Science depends upon the belief that we can trust our senses (in fact, some scientists say that the only sure knowledge is empirical knowledge). But that assertion itself is not scientifically verifiable. We can only ever assume or take for granted that our senses are trustworthy (that’s an idea that I hint at in The Way Out). Philosophy (and the Humanities generally) can say something about that if we’re willing to listen.
The Humanities are also essential for helping people think through the moral and ethical consequences of scientific advancement. Science can tell us what we can do; Humanities like philosophy, theology, and literature can help us think about what we ought to do. (Am I channeling Ian Malcolm there?)
- Before I let you go, can you tell us how many more there will be and what plans do you have for the rest of the series?
I’m really excited about the next couple of years. The second book, The Two Riders, comes out in November 2021, and it really ramps up the stakes. The third installment, The Late Hour, should be out late next year or in early 2023. After that, the main series will end with The Joker and the Thief.
In addition to the main series, though, I’m also writing a novella called “Forbidden Minds: Celina’s Story,” which I’m very excited about. Celina has become one of my favorite characters, and I’ve enjoyed writing a story that focuses entirely on her. You should see it as a digital exclusive sometime soon.
Things are far from over for Val and Jessica, and it’s not clear at this point what their future looks like even if they’re able to expose the truth about SRP to the world. There is a threat coming for them that might be more dangerous than the U.S. government. Is it mean to say that I don’t know who’s going to make it out alive?
Read The Way Out!
Nearly 50 years after natural pregnancy is outlawed in favor of artificial human wombs, two fearless women discover the truth has nothing to do with protecting human health.