If you’re looking for a book that’s hugely entertaining, intellectually stimulating and quite unlike anything you’ve ever read before, then this is the one for you. Chasms: Gospel of Freeman is the debut novel of author Gregory J. O. Smith, who has a lot to say and it’s all very well worth reading. The novel is science fiction at heart, but with plenty of added adventure, metaphysical questioning and philosophical debate. The characters are extremely diverse, ranging from talking dogs to tramps to an assortment of mortal immortal beings (humanoid and otherwise) to two scarily powerful and all pervasive and opposed figures – David Isaaks and Soo Yun. It’s up to our hero, Bastion Freeman, to lead the battle to save humanity, however unwillingly.
I asked Gregory some questions about his fascinating novel.
What inspired you to write Chasms: Gospel of Freeman?
I’ve been obsessed with the Singularity longer than I knew the word for it. When I was 6, my dad bought our first computer and raved about how the hard drive, at a whopping 5 megabytes, was so large that we’d never fill it up or need another. I’d be able to leave that computer to my grandchildren! A couple of years later, I brought home a video game too large to play and turned that computer into a paper weight. And since I just knew my father had to be the most brilliant person in creation, I figured that computers must be advancing in some unpredictable way. Coupled with a persistent fascination with the future, adoring The Terminator and Matrix franchises, then the novels of John Scalzi, and the work of Ray Kurzweil… the whole subject has become a sort of obsession. Me and a friend argued for years about whether an artificial intelligence would be malevolent, and my position has always been that if an AI were truly brilliant then it would find better alternatives to war or genocide for purely selfish reasons to optimize longevity. About four years ago, I heard a candy-coated pop song (which I won’t be naming anytime soon) and by the end had the framework for a story about Bastion and Veronica (though both had different names). From that primordial soup, the story has been repeatedly hammered into something else entirely.
Describe the book in 100 words.
The Aquarius corporation, headed by an enigmatic artificial intelligence named Soo Yun, offers recruits the chance to live forever and the ability to reform their bodies and minds in any way they choose. Bastion Freeman joins to escape the Inquisition only to find himself pitted against a genocidal madman threatening to exterminate all life in the solar system in a game of chicken with God.
What’s the attraction of sci-fi as a genre?
Sci-fi is the only genre I’ve seen that really molds the future, or, perhaps, occasionally predicts noteworthy advances. Jules Verne wrote about submarines and spaceships, then reality caught up much later. Once upon a time, James Bond had a phone in his car and decades later car phones became a reality. The crew of the Enterprise all had communicators back in the sixties, then later we all had flip phones. Darth Vader had limbs replaced with robotic replicas, and now our own prosthetics are very close to making fictional ones look deprecated. I would love to see a future with advances like viable negligible senescence, layered virtual realities, and a benevolent AI (or at least self-interested enough to keep humans) who runs things more effectively than people have managed. And I think we could make that happen if we don’t get stuck on a few admittedly substantial hurdles along the way.
Which character in the book would you most like to be, and why?
Soo Yun is as close to all powerful that a mechanistic universe could support, in my humble opinion so far, so that has some appeal. If we’re sticking with the more grounded characters, then all have their upsides. Even the psychotic conviction and ostensible clarity of David Isaaks has some strange appeal. Probably Nebojsa because I have no idea from what crevasse of my brain she emerged, she’s a survivor, and because she has a long and relatively happy existence after the events of the book.
Chasms: Gospel of Freeman has a great cover. Did you design it yourself?
The fellas over at ebooklaunch.com did an excellent job on the cover! I had a general idea of a before and after split-screen image of a face with a business card for Aquarius – admittedly schlocky or like a magazine advertisement for the reformation. But I told them the premise of the story, to run with whatever struck them, and the results turned out excellent!
Your characters are able to opt for many enhancements and additions under the Aquarius project, and most of them ask for a tail. What sort of tail would you choose?
Definitely something more classic mammalian to start out, see if I like it. Like a spider monkey or a kinkajou.
Which authors or books are you reading at the moment?
At the moment, I’m taking an embarrassing amount of time to get through three books due to work, my own writing, keeping up on the news and a few websites I enjoy, and life getting generally in the way. I’ve been trying this rotation where I’ll read a classic, something popular, then something new/obscure/enriching a few chapters at a time. For a classic, I’m going through The Catcher in the Rye since I never read it in high school. An oddly fun book even though Holden Caulfield is a real shit. He really is.
For something popular, a friend got me reading A Song of Ice and Fire and I’m struggling through A Clash of Kings – Martin is an excellent writer but I’m having trust issues with the way he kills off characters. I’m hesitant to get invested in anyone since he’s apparently going to brutally murder all of them!
Then for something new and obscure, I’m creeping through The Transhumanist Wager slowly but surely. I’m not sure if it is the characters, the reporter style writing, or the peculiar mix of Libertarian Objectivist ideology dripping off every page that is not working for me. I’ll be putting a review of this one on my blog as soon as I can muster the willpower to finish the rest since it deals with the singularity, transhumanism, and other themes superficially similar to my book and coming series.
Do you have any strange or quirky writing habits?
Leave open lap space for the cat, otherwise the bastard will walk on the keyboard or stand in front of the screen until I get the hint. Gregorian Chants and Folk music helps, or any good soundtrack without distracting or decipherable words. And, oddly, writing a first draft or two in first person then rewriting in third person helps get into character.
When did you first realize you wanted to be an author, indie or otherwise?
I’ve known I wanted to tell stories since I was 11 when I saw a movie (can’t even remember which one, anymore) that I otherwise adored but hated the ending so much that I kept thinking, “I could do better than that!” Time will tell if that prediction turns out true or not. But I never wanted to deal with a publisher – the idea some suit could send my story back and demand a five hundred page rewrite, completely rework the structure, and water a story down into drivel all based on their own guesses which have yet to prove any better than anyone else’s is just maddening. I’ve seen that out of writer’s groups and have no interest in working with any publisher not on my own terms. For better and worse, the audience can decide if I ever get to do this for a living. My hopes are modest. Apparently if I sell a million books this year, I’ve got to convert to veganism… (Eris demands!) My appetite for cheese burgers is not worried.
What are you writing at the moment?
My next book is a toss up at the moment, unfortunately. Recently I heard about the movie Transcendence and older ones like Lawnmower Man and the book Neuromancer that all share similar themes with the prequel I’m writing, so after I’ve gone through these or if I determine there’s little more than superficial differences that I can add (short of being actually optimistic about the future), then I’ll move on to the third book in the series and come back to Gospel of Song afterward, perhaps as a freebie. The third book, tentatively subtitled Gospel of Veronica, is about the 7 day gap in Bastion’s memories in chapter 92 and told through Veronica’s perspective.
What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?
Stop before completing a sentence/thought so that you know where to pick up the next day or session. Helps get the madness flowing. Best advice I ever got.
What do your family and friends think about you being an author?
A few of my friends are excited and very supportive. My family is also very supportive but they seem to find it more a novelty or strange curiosity.
OK, enough of the serious stuff. What are your three favourite foods?
I’m totally serious about those yellow Asian pears, even though they’re pricey in my neck of the woods. Raw cloves of garlic have become a masochistic self-flagellation of duty – last summer I noticed the mosquitoes left me alone all year for the first time ever and a friend remarked that it might have something to do with the excessive amounts of garlic I was putting on everything to cut back on salt intake… Hmm, yeah, we’re going to just leave that one there.
Actually, that picture might be the one time I’ve worn a tie of my own free will. Whenever I try to convince myself how I’m really nothing at all like Bastion, I remember my dad’s first lesson about adulthood was the difference between regular and “power ties”… Imagine if Gordon Gekko and Louis Skolnick merged; that’s my dad.
And finally, anything else we should know about you or your writing?
Anyone that receives a print copy without page numbers, a “quirky” spine, or errors in the front or back matter (entirely my fault), then I’m considering these special gems as “collector’s items” and will be buying them back at inflated prices if the elder gods or simulation programmers or whatever force me to convert to veganism (prerequisites pending).
So, I hope you’re tempted to read Chasms: Gospel of Freeman now that you’ve discovered what an interesting person its author is!
Buy the book here:
And find out more about Greg and Chasms here at his website.