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Liam Hogan Interview - Cyber Smut

Liam's short story 'Plastic People' is in our Cyber Smut anthology. Release date is 15 September. Pre-orders available here: https://www.gutspublishing.com/books


Tell us about your short story ‘Plastic People’, and what inspired it?

Plastic People is set in a future where a combination of augmented reality and “vanilla” sex dolls means you can have sex with anyone you fantasise about, whenever you want it. (The ultimate in porn?) The catch? None of it is, of course, “real”, though that is also perhaps the attraction. Inspired a least in part by a throw away scene in a William Gibson, where holographic people haunt a ruined, abandoned space, and by (just recently repeated, but not new news) fears of a falling birth rate.


In regard to ‘Plastic People’, were you aiming for a moral lesson of artifice vs reality, i.e., artificial intelligence vs real human thoughts/contact—or did that just happen spontaneously?

I hope there isn't a deliberate moral lesson! I'm happy for people to get that (or indeed, anything) out of it, but if I ever attempt to write a piece purely to expound a moral view then please, lock me up. The sex in Plastic People may (or may not) be enviable, but it's obviously not a relationship. Relationships are two way, making them harder and less predictable, and, ultimately, hopefully more fulfilling. That's probably as much of a message as I'd care to own up to.


Is that what fascinates you and beckons you to continue writing sci-fi / cyberpunk?

As with all speculative fiction, I'm intrigued by the “what if”. In this case, this began with Gibson's holograms and proposed “what if someone hacks the program to make them do something they shouldn't?” From the source material, it was always going to tend towards cyberpunk.


How close to ‘reality’ do you think ‘Plastic People’ is—or how far off do you think we are?

Some parts of the technology we're very close, if not there. Deep fakes and augmented reality are already here, even if combining the two in real time is more of a challenge. Plausible human robots are further off, but (wisely) augmented reality lets me set the bar a lot lower. Possible time travellers worried about the panda-bear like extinction of the human race? Probably never!


Do you always write in first person? If yes, is there any particular reason for this?

“As suits the story”! Sometimes I'll start in one point of view and switch to another half way through. Likewise in the choice of present vs past tense. What sways the argument is the “head space” - where is the narration coming from? - and the immediacy. Is this happening now, or being reported, at a (safe) distance? Sometimes a story has to be told from further away, though you can still do that in first person by making the narrator relatively passive (which I do. A lot. No heroes!). I have at least one piece that uses second person, which really does force the reader into the action. And since that protagonist is distinctly unlikeable, I hope that makes for an uncomfortable ride. Horses for courses.


I understand that you have been published in over 100 anthologies. One question… How did this happen?

Two simple reasons: perseverance and the passage of time! Oh, and an extreme reluctance to trunk a story. Three reasons... and reprints. Four reasons... and about a dozen of them are (mere) drabbles, do they count? Five... Look, I like anthologies (more than periodicals) for the one-off, occasionally book bound nature of the finished item. It's nice to have something to put on the bookshelf.

Some people have suggested I should have spent the time writing a novel (or two) instead, but to them I say Shush!


When were you first published? Which number is Cyber Smut?

It all started (please imagine the wavy lines down the page as you read) back in September, 2012 with Arachne Press's London Lies, which took two stories I'd written for Liars' League, along with other authors' stories from the League's events. So the first anthology was reprints and I didn't even have to submit anything to it! Cyber Smut will be somewhere between 105 and 110, depending. There are a fair few other things in the pipeline. If you want to keep count, it's all here: https://happyendingnotguaranteed.blogspot.com/p/books.html


Do you ever struggle to write your bio? How do you decide what to keep in and what to take out?

For Liars' League, I like to write a new one every time I'm accepted, and it's rarely entirely serious. For general use, I've settled on one that only changes if I want to emphasize a different aspect (Fantasy vs Sci-fi, say) or if I have a major new brag to add. (Like, Best of British Science Fiction 2019, say...). Occasionally a publisher will want a longer bio - that I DO struggle over!


Tell us about your work with Liars League and Ministry of Stories. Do you feel like you’re having an impact on the community?

Liars' League has probably had a bigger effect on me than me on it, despite having hosted it for the last seven or so years, having bombarded them with so many stories they invited me into the fold. I cut my teeth on their (formerly) monthly themes and deadlines, and as a result have sent them more stories than I've sent anywhere else, over 125 (in 14 years...). It's been a strange year, 2020, having stepped on the Liars' Phoenix stage to introduce the stories only once, though I've recorded a couple of intros for the online events. And, of course, I help Katy Darby behind the scenes as well, in preparing the Infamous Liars' League Book Quiz and helping select and rehearse the stories. (https://liarsleague.typepad.com/)


Ministry of Stories is dedicated to inspiring the next generation of writers (AKA: the competition!). It's lovely that they focus on encouraging imagination and fun, and leave spelling and grammar to school lessons. (The idea that anyone would or could write a perfect first draft being the sort of thing that turns kids away from creative writing, IMO!) The ministry certainly has an impact, particularly as it does its thing in one of the more deprived parts of London, but my part as a mentor is certainly too small to quantify. The ministry (or at least the Monster Supply shop it hides behind) simply devours mentors and they always need a fresh supply of willing sacri— um, mentors. Worth investigating, if you're North London and have time to spare. Or even further afield; like Liars' League, they've found ways to keep inspiring even during lockdown. (https://ministryofstories.org/volunteer/)


Describe yourself in 3 words.

Disobedient!

(Oh, okay. Sigh. Intelligent, imaginative introvert. Or Frustrated Sex God? You choose!)


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Liam Hogan is an award-winning short story writer, with stories in Best of British Science Fiction 2016 & 2019, and Best of British Fantasy 2018 (NewCon Press). He’s been published by Analog, Daily Science Fiction, and Flametree Press, among others. He helps host Liars’ League London, volunteers at the creative writing charity Ministry of Stories, and lives and avoids work in London.

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