Elly Bangs is joining us today to talk about her novel, Unity. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Evoking the gritty cyberpunk of Mad Max and the fluid idealism of Sense8, Unity is a spectacular new re-envisioning of humanity. Breakout author Elly Bangs has created an expressive, philosophical, science-fiction thriller that expands upon consciousness itself.
Danae is not only herself. She is concealing a connection to a grieving collective inside of her body. But while she labors as a tech servant in the dangerous underwater enclave of Bloom City, her fractured self cannot mend. In a desperate escape, Danae and her lover Naoto hire the enigmatic ex-mercenary Alexei to guide them out of the imploding city.
But for Danae to reunify, the three new fugitives will have to flee across the otherworldly beauty of the postapocalyptic Southwest. Meanwhile, Danae’s warlord enemy, the Duke, and a strange new foe, the Borrower, already seek them at any price.
What’s Elly’s favorite bit?
Some of my novel, Unity, is told from the perspective of a grizzled hired gun named Alexei: a highly-trained elite soldier for a nation that no longer exists, roiling in remorse and haunted by the ghosts of his past. I want to spend this space shouting out my love — not for him, but for the side-character who we should not mistake for his sidekick. She makes up a different name for herself for every context she finds herself in, but to him, and to us, she’s Kat Mandu. She’s always been my favorite bit to write.
Kat lives in a small shipping container under the sea. She would say she lives in nodespace (a Gibsonesque successor to the modern internet) and merely stores her body inside that pod, which she arranges to be continually restocked and moved from place to place. To her, a body isn’t a root in the world; it’s an obnoxious liability, demanding constant watering, feeding, and clever concealment from everyone who might try to hurt it.
She’s a preternaturally competent hacker, but not in any dazzlingly original sense. I have not set out to think deeply about what information technology security will really be like in the mid-22nd century. Instead, Kat is my love letter to the occasionally-goofy scifi trope of the hacker; to hackers as envisioned by the 1995 film Hackers; to all that deliciously unfolded in my imagination when I first read Neuromancer as a kid.
She’s my love letter to other things, too — including the crucial human ability to adapt and find joy in extremely hostile environments. Unity is set in a brutal future, under the specter of doomsday, and its two main characters are tortured as much by fear as regret. It’s natural to be maladapted to a deeply sick world, after all. But then there’s Kat, rolling with it: delighting in every technical challenge; wearing 20th century pop culture nostalgia on her sleeve; insulting tyrants to their faces while fifty guns are trained on her; taking daring control of what she can, and staying maximally devil-may-care about everything else. Kat, pun intended, always lands on her feet.
Last but not least, she’s the character in this story who loves Alexei, and who helps him every step of the way, sometimes in spite of himself. Sure, he helped her once when it really mattered, and she remembers — but at heart, she does these things simply because he’s there, and she sees him as a real person even when he can’t do it for himself. In that way, Kat Mandu is my love letter to all the people who’ve done this for me: who have been the intrepid, upbeat, life-saving friends who stuck with me through years when I was nearly as sad as a remorse-stricken mercenary in an apocalyptic wasteland.
Some of the characters I write are like semi-estranged family: I know, love, and care about them because I have to, but I don’t know that I would enjoy their company. Kat Mandu is a friend, and it’s my hope that she has the same presence for readers as she did for me: a neon light in the darkness, and a reminder that sometimes it’s crucial not to take certain doom too seriously.
Elly Bangs was raised in a New Age cult and once rode her bicycle alone from Washington State to the Panama Canal. She lives in Seattle, where she spends her days fixing machines and her nights writing short stories, novellas, and novels—usually speculative fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, and uncategorized weirdness—with a thematic emphasis on longing, heartbreak, and the grim fate of humankind. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Escape Pod, and others, and she’s a graduate of Clarion West Writers Workshop in 2017). Learn more about her at elbangs.com, where you can use her “Story Premise Bot,” and discover A Pocket Guide to Nuclear War Survival & Preparedness.