My Favorite Bit: Kimberly Unger Talks About THE EXTRACTIONIST

Kimberly Unger is joining us today to talk about her novel, The Extractionist. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Eliza McKay is an Extractionist: an expert in the virtual reality space where people’s minds are uploaded as digital personas. When rich or important people get stuck in the Swim for reasons that are sleazy, illegal, or merely unlucky—it’s McKay’s job to quietly extract them. And McKay’s job just got a lot more dangerous.

After McKay repels an attack on her Swim persona, hired thugs break into her house to try and hack her cybernetic implants directly. Meanwhile, the corporate executive she was hired to rescue from VR space is surprisingly reluctant to be extracted. Something is lurking in the Swim, and some very powerful people will stop at nothing to keep it secret.

What’s Kimberly’s favorite bit?


I have a bit of a fascination with technological systems. Some portion of that is from my background in game design, I’ll admit, but another part of it is from watching the way people interact with technology. The further into the future we get, the more interesting human/system interaction becomes. One of my favorite bits about The Extractionist is the way these systems serve as a support structure (mostly invisible as it may be) for our main character, Eliza McKay.

We live in a time and place where the ability to connect has become supercharged, possibly even faster than we are ready to deal with. And I know your first thought likely goes to social media, but really, that’s only the most obvious bit. That’s the part that we interact with voluntarily, casually, so it’s the bit that receives the most contempt. It’s all the “invisible” systems that get interesting (and to be clear, I’m talking about technology here, there’s a whole different set of social systems that we wrassle with daily but plenty of other, better qualified, authors dive into that arena).

In the world of The Extractionist, the Swim is a form of embodied internet. For most people it serves a lot of the same functions as the World Wide Web does today, but it’s also the conduit via which all these other technological systems communicate with one another. Eliza’s home (by design and the application of some institutional power that she has since lost) sits on a major connection point that gives her and Spike access to every one of these underlying systems. Understanding these systems and how they braid together is really her superpower.

For any given problem that I thought to throw at Eliza, I needed to think deeply about what system she has to interact with and how did she get from here to there. I had to consider what kind of impact she might be able to have and what knock-on effects might be happening. Not all of this is visible to the reader (in early drafts it was, but it was yawn-city, a common problem with trying to make any story that revolves around computers exciting). Instead I tried to lean into the water metaphor (hence being “in the Swim”) to describe those effects and how the systems themselves can either work together, overpower one another and eventually clash.

This system design, and the problem of how to convey it to the reader through a form of subtext (the use of water as the background metaphor) rapidly became one of my favorite bits not only in the final draft of The Extractionist, but in the process of writing itself.


The Extractionist Universal Book Link





Kimberly created her first videogame back when the 80-column card was the new hotness. This turned a literary love of science fiction into a full blown obsession with the intersection of technology and humanity.

Today she spends her day-job building developer ecosystems for XR, occasionally lectures on the intersection of art and code for game design and writes science fiction about how all these app-driven superpowers are going to change the human race.

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