Talking points for The Beasts of Electra Drive by Rohan Quine
Talking points for
The Beasts of Electra Drive by Rohan Quine
For the basics about The Beasts of Electra Drive, click here.
For some great reviews of it, click here.
IAN Book of the Year Awards 2018—The Beasts of Electra Drive as Finalist.
Five talking points
(1) What is The Beasts of Electra Drive doing, overall?
This novel executes a deep dive into the beauty, horror, mirth and complexities of our individual human quests to make as rich and passionate an inhabitation of life as possible. Jaymi’s games celebrate and amplify the idiosyncratic, unicorn qualities in each person—in contrast with Bang Dead Games’ nervous tendency to file down any unicorn’s-horn of uniqueness in someone, so as turn them into yet another reassuring horse instead.
As a games designer, Jaymi uses his own truth (complexity, unconventionality, beauty, subtlety) against Bang Dead’s deadening corporate “lie” (simplicity, convention, utility, obviousness) as an implicit challenge, aiming to refresh prevailing expectations and understanding of the possibilities of how to be alive.
(2) What are these human-appearing Beasts, essentially?
At the simplest level, they are externalisations of various aspects of my protagonist Jaymi’s nature and personality. The origins of the Beasts are evoked in intense “creation cycles”, whose smooth surface and concealed rhythms are somewhat belied by the otherworldly jaggedness of what he’s externalising. Once clothed in their respective visuals and soundtrack, each Beast emerges appearing to be human—albeit perhaps a little larger than life, compared with most humans.
In this self-externalising by my protagonist, The Beasts of Electra Drive shows the origins of seven major characters in my other published tales, namely Evelyn, Kim, Shigem, Amber, Jaymi, the Platinum Raven, and Scorpio/Angel. It thereby sets these characters up for the intense delights and horrors they will be put through in those five publications, namely The Imagination Thief and the four novellas. Yet in this novel The Beasts of Electra Drive, those other publications are posited as being not prose but rather “games” that are designed by Jaymi in his career as a games designer—a morphing of medium, in other words, whose mechanism I’ve deliberately left somewhat mysterious. (I should add that The Beasts of Electra Drive works fine as a stand-alone, however, as the other tales also do.)
In view of current real-world technological developments, this novel may also give us glimpses of what it will be like when we can all use artificial intelligence to externalise aspects of ourselves into avatars that are far more media-rich than the avatars we currently use online (though the novel looks at this less through a sci-fi lens than through a lens of LitFic / Magical Realism / Horror). That ability is coming, and it sounds like fun to me.
(3) What do the Beasts get up to in the outside world?
All stages and layers of the Beasts’ creation cycles are interspersed with L.A.-noir-flavoured dramas in which incarnated versions of them venture out into the real world (or into meat-space, as it’s sometimes called), to wreak havoc and love across Los Angeles. In these dramas, Jaymi takes aim at Bang Dead Games’ reductive categorisation of life into five globally-pervasive Ain’tTheyFreaky! Newsfeeds, which impoverish complexity into flat spectacle where shallow image mediates social relationships.
At once an ultimate outsider and an ultimate insider, he puts his own instincts for spectacle at the service of a sabotaging mission, whereby he snakes himself and his Beasts into Bang Dead, then repurposes the stuff of flat spectacle into a truth of grandeur and complexity instead.
This repurposing was also part of my own mission, in aiming to evoke flickering waves of digital pixels using waves of analogue literary fiction.
(4) What is Jaymi’s own internal journey?
Creating his own ambitious games is essential to his happiness, being central to his desire to help elevate the world through his vision, to enrich the games medium with greater emotional intelligence, and to nudge its industry into evolving artistically. There would be some dying inside him, for sure, if his battles to realise these creations did not succeed. He must also cope with the many insidious attacks directed at him, and at his Beasts, by the Dreary Ones employed at Bang Dead Games (a couple of whom are enticed to defect to his side).
More richly, however, he develops as an artistic creator throughout the whole tale, in the sense that he grows in sophistication: first, in designing each Beast before s/he becomes incarnated; and secondly, in his efforts to control and orchestrate their incarnated selves after they’ve gone out into the real world.
Jaymi’s missions to re-inflict the complexities of truth upon the culture also end up acting back upon himself, by resolving his own internal complexities into greater peace and integration.
(5) Metafictional fun and games
The novel’s external plot, its protagonist’s internal journey, its many characters and its evocations of place are all functional in a straightforwardly entertaining way. However, it also deconstructs its own format as a novel, in the following three respects:
(i) it makes a metafictional inclusion, within its own fictional world, of my five other real-world published novels and novellas as themselves being plot-drivers of The Beasts of Electra Drive (and in this novel these five plot-driving creations are named the same as they are in our real world, i.e. The Imagination Thief, The Platinum Raven, The Host in the Attic, Apricot Eyes and Hallucination in Hong Kong);
(ii) with a Magical-Realist-style lack of direct explanation, the fictional world of The Beasts of Electra Drive presents those other five real-world publications of very analogue Literary Fiction as somehow “being” very digital games instead; and
(iii) This novel playfully includes, within the actual titles of its mini-chapters, such usually-hidden novel-constructing phrases as “First Doorway of No Return”, “Inciting event” and “Second Pinch Point”.
Some cultural commentary
Certain key messages are infused (among much else) into the human-appearing Beasts my protagonist creates. Each Beast is first developed in the game-designing environment of Jaymi’s computer; then they climb out of the computer screen in incarnated form, and wreak havoc and love across L.A., mostly but not entirely under their creator’s control.
(1) Amber embodies his creator’s urge for vengeance on the hatred and closed-mindedness that flourish in the world.
(2) Evelyn embodies her creator’s pointed response to Bang Dead’s poisonous “Gal Score” (which insidiously denigrates and shames certain women). On the positive side of the coin, Evelyn also embodies Jaymi’s instinctive urge for ease and freedom, in the face of the sheer authoritarian rigidity that flourishes in the world.
(3) Shigem embodies his creator’s pointed response to Bang Dead’s poisonous “Guy Score” (which insidiously denigrates and shames certain men). On the positive side of the coin, Shigem also embodies Jaymi’s instinctive urge for the kind of warmth and openness that’s so often targeted for punishment in the world.
(4) Kim embodies his creator’s pointed response to Bang Dead’s asinine “Trivia Score” (which promotes the trivialisation of thinking, the fear of intellect, and a toxic tabloid-flavoured “simplicity” when life is complex instead). On the positive side of the coin, Kim also embodies Jaymi’s instinctive urge to think more deeply than tends to be allowed by the toxic “simplicity” that’s so encouraged in the world.
(5) The Platinum Raven embodies her creator’s pointed response to Bang Dead’s depressingly trivial “Arts Score” (which celebrates simple art and is frightened of the complex stuff). On the positive side of the coin, the Platinum Raven also embodies Jaymi’s instinctive urge for transcendence of all the smallness of vision that flourishes in the world.
She’s an implicit representation of his own status as a creator, too (which is why she’s on the covers of my own creations The Beasts of Electra Drive and The Platinum Raven), suggesting Jaymi’s urge to isolate himself in order to pursue his perfectionism in creating Beasts whose incarnations constitute the richest communication he could have with the world. (Her soundtrack would probably be Lana Del Rey, especially the track “Summertime Sadness”, whose atmosphere The Beasts of Electra Drive draws upon in two or three evocations of a car-crash that the Platinum Raven never quite attains on the rocky headlands of the Pacific Coast Highway.)
(6) Scorpio embodies his creator’s pointed response to Bang Dead’s mind-sogging “Cosy Score” (which represents the soggy/lazy/pappy instincts of mind and culture). On the positive side of the coin, Scorpio also embodies Jaymi’s instinctive urge for the fierce beauty of a dark voltage, when any kind of wild beauty is too often policed and forbidden by society.
Some Los Angeles locations
This novel is, among many other things, a love letter to the geography of L.A.—and a love letter that’s only a little ironic. L.A. is infamously unwieldy in its spread-out-ness, but there is much charisma tucked away (somewhat elusively) within that unwieldiness.
Although its geography is accurate in The Beasts of Electra Drive, this is just an incidental element of the novel’s setting, and you won’t be at any disadvantage if you happen not to have visited it. The details of this Los Angeles are realistic but have a heightened charge, so they add up to what often feels like something of a mythic version of this city that we’ve often seen onscreen. Also, I’m using a veneer of geographical “reality” to help reveal just how thin any aspect of our reality can be, if it decides to become thin. The novel’s settings include the following six main ones.
(1) The quiet residential canyons in the Hollywood Hills, where Jaymi’s mansions are located: the sleekness with a faint undercurrent of threat/scrutiny, and the classic views over the grid at night, as in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive or Lost Highway.
(2) The South Central ghetto location of the two motels, in the neighbourhood of Westmont: the economic poverty behind the dusty sun-glare and skinny palm-tree trunks, the grimy bodegas, the churches.
(3) Skid Row (the biggest homeless population in the U.S.A.), incongruously beside Downtown and the bizarre concrete flume of the L.A. River.
(4) The transmitter complex atop Mount Lee, just above the Hollywood Sign, with its isolation in the middle of things (perhaps echoing Jaymi’s own such isolation).
(5) The crisp towers of Century City, so anodyne on the surface.
(6) The enormous oil refinery beside the Pacific Ocean, next to a huge power station and a wide shrieking airport.
Three further questions
(1) What relation does The Beasts of Electra Drive have with the other five already-published titles?
The Beasts of Electra Drive is a hub for the other five, not only in terms of the common cast of somewhat mutable characters, but also in its metafictional presentation of those other five works of LitFic (a medium whose compexities are among the most venerably analogue we can create) as somehow “being” digital games instead (a medium whose compexities are among the least analogue).
You do not need to have played a single video-game in real life: these posited game-worlds are devices by which I commit a deep delve into what our identities are, aiming to mine truth, beauty and magic from the splendour and pain intertwined in the world’s design.
And in some ways, our own character identities are necessarily performances, as by avatars in a game-world full of complex challenges, where we haven’t been designed to be able to see the whole picture from above.
(2) How common is that cast of characters, really—how fixed are their natures and moralities, across the six tales?
They are subtly mutable across the tales. If this is slighly unsettling, like a quick glimpse into an “uncanny valley”, then that’s good—because art should unsettle us, and because our realities are unsettling, and because our identities are indeed mutable (or Cubist, as Dan Holloway once described The Imagination Thief).
As a simple example, the Evelyn of The Beasts of Electra Drive is a bit of a ditz, munching on bananas and considering liverwurst-and-Miracle-Whip sandwiches, as she probably wouldn’t have done in The Imagination Thief where she’s tougher.
As a subtler example, Angel Deon is fully female in The Host in the Attic, but is an androgynous male in The Imagination Thief and Hallucination in Hong Kong; while in The Platinum Raven and Apricot Eyes he goes by the name Scorpio, which he thinks of as his girl-name (despite its sounding perhaps more male)—all of which exhibits a certain obliquity to the binary system.
And more complexly, Jaymi. In The Imagination Thief he has the elusive personality of a transparent conduit for his insights into those around him, sometimes verging into naivety or innocent unreliability. Whereas the Jaymi of The Host in the Attic is readilty corrupted into pure evil. Whereas the Jaymi of The Beasts of Electra Drive is morally ambiguous, being visionary and deeply idealistic, yet becoming a killer; and part of this moral ambiguity in The Beasts of Electra Drive is explained by his being an authentic Creator, whose status as such forces Him to create authentic pain as well as authentic joy within His created beings (including within the Beast who represents Him as a Creator, namely the Platinum Raven).
(3) What are the lightest and most joyful aspects of The Beasts of Electra Drive?
The constant infusions of humour that bubble gently up, throughout the novel—not only in the fun mini-chapters (e.g. the noir capers in meat-space), but also in many of the darker mini-chapters too. For example, Evelyn’s lack of chutzpah in mini-chapter 49 “Evelyn, tiny in the face of the deluge”; Shigem’s cafeteria memories in mini-chapter 72 “KitKat and Krispy Kreme dramas in Downtown”; or the bus-seating drama and Shigem’s fear of ridiculous hiccups in mini-chapter 104 “The Beasts converge on Sandpiper Street”.
Jaymi’s enormous affection for his Beasts, all in their different ways—which affection I believe transfers itself to the reader.
The ways in which even the darkest bits are a fountain of unquenchable curiosity about, and tough love for, this messed-up but perversely wonderful pickle in which we all find ourselves so messily landed. Two examples out of many would be the multitude of experiences within Scorpio’s journey from Belle Glade to his incarceration, in mini-chapter 89 “Jaymi creates Scorpio’s code”; and the incineration of a storm-drain home in mini-chapters 77 “The street queens of Violet Street” and 79 “Hatred across the L.A. River: a cruel and stupid world”.
The 120 mini-chapters of The Beasts of Electra Drive‘s Video-Book format are here:
And in the Vimeo showcase “THE BEASTS OF ELECTRA DRIVE (novel) – Video-Book format – Rohan Quine”.
And in the YouTube playlist “THE BEASTS OF ELECTRA DRIVE (novel) – Video-Book format – Rohan Quine”. (If playback of any of the above videos looks at all fuzzy on YouTube, then you can quickly and easily adjust the YouTube video-player’s playback “Quality” setting, by doing the following: (1) if you’re on a mobile device, first touch the video image, then touch the three-dots symbol that appears in the top-right corner of the player, touch “Quality” and choose “1080p” (or the highest other setting available on your device, e.g. “720p”); or (2) if you’re on a laptop/desktop device, click the cog symbol on the lower edge of the video-player, click “Quality” and choose “1080p” (or the highest other setting available on your device, e.g. “720p”).)
Some short teasers for The Beasts of Electra Drive‘s Video-Book are here:
Rohan Quine, The Beasts of Electra Drive, literary fiction, litfic, magical realism, horror, dark fantasy, cyberpunk, contemporary, science fiction, gay, transgender, LGBT, Los Angeles, L.A., Hollywood Hills, Mount Lee, game designer, video game, mansion, motel, refinery