Monday, February 8, 2021

Interview with Ryan Hyatt, author of The Psychic’s Memoirs (Terrafide Book 2)

Today it gives the Speculative Fiction Showcase great pleasure to interview Ryan Hyatt, author of the Terrafide series.

Tell us about the Terrafide series, starting with the name. Terrified? Or much more?

Terrafide is a play on words, a reference to ‘Terra,’ a name often associated in speculative fiction to our home planet, Earth, as well as ‘terrified.’ The story lines of the novels explore, in part, the destruction underway on our planet, and so the title suggests, along with its storylines, that people often fear and abuse what they should in fact love and cherish.

The three books of the series appear in an unusual order. Book 3 appeared in 2015, Book 1 in 2017, and Book 2 in 2020. So they’re not a series in the normal sense. What’s the significance of this?

Stay Younger Longer, published in 2015 and the first book in the Terrafide series, involves a reporter who must find a ‘cure’ for a popular anti-aging drug he is addicted to that turns out to be a weapon of mass destruction. In the background of the story, Eco-Socialists have taken over California, seceded the state from the Union, and have started a space program -- based on sustainable economics -- to move humanity to the stars.

So, after writing Stay Younger Longer, I wanted to explore the origins of this alternate history: What prompted the break-up of the United States and its economic and environmental collapse? Rise of the Liberators, which I wrote next and became the ‘first’ novel in the Terrafide series, is about a pilot’s attempt to lift his family out of poverty by agreeing to lead a squadron of mechs into war in the Middle East. In the background of the story, the United States struggles to overcome the hardships of the Greatest Depression, and so it overextends itself during the Oil Wars that follow with China and Russia, a botched effort to invade oil-rich Iran and other countries.

After Rise of the Liberators, I wanted to tell a story that more closely unifies its arc and plots of Stay Younger Longer. Hence, The Psychic’s Memoirs, the ‘second’ novel in the Terrafide series, was written the last and published in 2020. It’s been a wavering, five-year journey for the books.

The most recent book, The Psychic’s Memoirs, looks at the outset like a police procedural with the usual awkward couple of buddy cops. But it’s quickly clear that it’s something else. How important is that disguise to the story?

All of the novels in the Terrafide series are firmly grounded in objective reality with elements of hard and soft sci-fi mixed in them. The exception is The Psychic’s Memoirs, which appears at first to be the most conventional of the books, in nearly every sense, but slips into a world in which its reality, and the reality of the whole Terrafide series itself, is put into question.

At the beginning, the characters’ names alert the reader to the fact that something tricky is going on. The alleged teen psychic of the title is named Alice Walker, and the cops’ commander is called James Elroy (whose sidekick is a doll called Mr Y). What’s going on?

The naming of the psychic ‘Alice Walker’ and the commander ‘James Elroy’ was purely coincidental, or at least purely subconscious. I was aware of the connection in an early draft, forgot about it, and didn’t acknowledge it again until a friend brought it my attention after The Psychic’s Memoirs was published. I suppose it’s a homage to what I consider to be the emotional spirit and noir style of the book from two authors I appreciate. ‘Mr. Y’ is a robot knockoff of the famous ‘Mr. T’ of 1980s fame, and ‘it’ plays a curious side role in the story.

In your intro, you mention that the novel “takes place on an alternate timeline that mirrors and mimics present-day events.” This includes the politics - the activist Tay Che turns out to be an alien. What has it been like writing an alternate timeline when the present has been weirder than fiction?

When I wrote Stay Younger Longer, I considered it satire. The idea that California is taken over by Eco-Socialists, secedes from the Union and prepares for a maiden voyage to the cosmos as Earth falls apart -- as the United States and world fails to acknowledge climate change -- seemed preposterous.

Also, in recent years, the Oil Wars of Rise of the Liberators started to seem less like satire and more like the inevitability of a right-wing government run amok. Be it Trump or some other leader, divisiveness and destruction seems to be the only recipe for economic development the United States and the rest of the world has proven it knows, besides failed totalitarian communism.

The only prediction in my books that currently holds true – the Greatest Depression that occurs during this decade – happens to be coincidental and mostly related to COVID. However, the fact life has taken such a weird turn so quickly never ceases to escape me or my writing, now.

Honestly, I was almost surprised that Biden won the presidential election. I thought the world had reached such appalling craziness that it intended to ride right off a cliff and follow Trump without blinking. I guess if reality has taught me anything, it’s that there’s reason to be slightly optimistic about humanity’s ability to ‘check itself before it wrecks itself,’ as the saying goes. If we’re going to move forward in any kind of meaningful way, the next test will be whether we’re able to get the widespread ignorance and false sense of entitlement unleashed by social media in democracies under wraps.

Tell us about your blog, The La-La-Lander. Is it fair to say that like the books it has a ludic element?

The La-La Lander articles are mostly satire. I use my reporting skills to write ‘fake news’ with a sci-fi twist riffing off current events, and I’ve been doing so, by the way, before Trump made ‘fake news’ a standard in our lexicon.

Is the Terrafide series finished, or will there be more?

I might write a spinoff to lure in younger readers. Also, a final books in the series when humanity really has left the planet.

What about Not Your Father's Bedtime Stories, which you write with your daughter. How did it start?

Bedtime stories have been a staple in our household as long as my daughter and I can remember, and she’s so creative that as she’s grown up, she started to chime in with the stories I made up for her every night. Thus, when she was five, we started a blog. Now, most of the stories we publish she writes, and I edit. In fact, we publish fewer and fewer stories on the blog these days because she writes long stories now that she submits to lit journals and magazines. I’d say that if we’re not a good writing team, we’re at least a funny one. No shortage of laughs around here! She’s also a very talented singer. Brings so much joy to my life.

Tell us about your modern western, The Death of Rock 'n' Roll...

It was fun to write, inspired by my tumultuous twenties, just wish it were widely known and read, ha!

You studied history, psychology and creative writing at university, worked as a reporter and then did an MA in Education. Now you develop and manage literacy programs for Los Angeles schools. How does your work affect and inspire your writing?

Reporting was my favourite job. When big papers became interested in hiring me, however, I realized I’d never make enough money to support a family in Los Angeles, so I left.

Good teaching is part stand-up comedy, part counselling, and a lot of trial and error in how you deliver learning content to make it accessible to students. I taught English classes to special education students in high school before being promoted to my current position, and I was able to make such a move in part by demonstrating to the powers-that-be that ‘how’ you teach -- i.e., ‘how’ you tell your story -- is just as important as the story or content itself when supporting learning.

What books, movies and television have influenced you, and what are you reading or watching now?

I joke around with my wife that we have reached late-stage Netflix since the pandemic, and now we spend more time looking for something good to watch than watching something good. I also spend too much time behind a screen as a whole, so I run around the neighbourhood as much as I can. When I do read for fun nowadays, I prefer to read non-fiction and often around subjects that inform my writing.

Has the pandemic changed the way you work and what you want to write next?

I am super busy this year and mostly focusing on short stories. I have written several I am excited about, and those I don’t find a home for I intend to publish as a collection.

Conspiracy theories and “alternate facts” threaten the whole idea of a consensus reality. How will we distinguish fact from fiction in future?

We won’t. The kind of knowledge, and ignorance, unleashed by the Internet and social media will continue to empower some groups and marginalize others. Even Biden’s election is not a sure bet for safety and civility for the next four years. I expect in some ways his presidency will be more dangerous than Trump’s, not because of his method of leadership, but because of the kinds of challenges he will face trying to govern with the traditions of decency, normalcy, and rule of law: expectations that applied more so to the past, perhaps, than they do in the present. In that sense, I wouldn’t be surprised if we come closer to World War III under Biden than we did under Trump. Trump was unhinged, and thus, feared, whereas Biden has a much more inclusive approach to leadership that will continue to instigate a swath of agitators who fear becoming obsolete in a more unified world.

And a more unified world is what ours must become if we’re to realistically tackle the existential threats facing our species. To live better, or to live at all, we’re going to need to live smarter. Unfettered capitalism won’t do the trick, but a more sustainable version might work. Politics in general will need to move more toward the center, if not left, if we’re to see the kind of coordination that will be necessary between the government, business and scientific communities to combat climate change, population growth, and our planet’s depleting resources of food and fuel.

The Republican Party will have to reinvent itself to stay relevant, or risk dragging the whole of civilization down with it, if it is unable to modernize and combine popular conservative ideas with a willingness to acknowledge and address the world’s problems. At the same time, the Democratic Party will need to prove it can provide genuine economic opportunities for most Americans, and allies, to consider itself successful with its agenda. The proof will be whether people are better off in four years from now, or not. One way or another I think this kind of evolution within both parties can be accomplished, but it will require brilliant visionaries, leaders and communicators to make it happen. For that, politics will also need to start drawing from the best and not the worst of us.

To elaborate, groups of ordinary people in the States and elsewhere believe wholly different things about the same set of facts. Or to put it another way, two conflicting and mutually exclusive sets of facts, as with QAnon. What happens to fiction in these circumstances?

Some believe science fiction must be prophetic to be relevant. In fact, science fiction must only be relevant to be prophetic. The reason why I focus on near-future realities in my writing is because I’m a sociologist at heart. I like to take given current circumstances, and play with them, and I will continue to do so as long as storytelling is compelling and fun.

About Ryan Hyatt:

Ryan Hyatt was born in Tucson in 1976. He was raised in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago and Copenhagen before returning to his hometown and graduating from the University of Arizona in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in history, psychology and creative writing. Hyatt spent much of his twenties working as a reporter and columnist for newspapers such as the Apache Junction Independent and Santa Monica Daily Press. In addition to the Terrafide series, he is author of the modern western, The Death of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and editor of the satirical sci-fi news site, The La-La Lander, as well as Not Your Father’s Bedtime Stories, kid's lit he creates with his daughter. He holds a master’s degree in education from California State University Northridge and develops and manages literacy programs for Los Angeles schools. For updates on the state of the future, visit

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