Tales of Tinfoil – Background to an Anthology
It was around February 2015 when my editor, David Gatewood, asked me to contribute a story to his upcoming anthology, Tales of Tinfoil, which was released yesterday, April 17th, 2015. I was knee-deep in writing the first draft of Book III of the Beyond the Wall series and I wasn't sure I had the time. But David has curated and edited some amazing anthologies, including Synchronic and several of the Future Chronicles series, so I was never going to say no. I was always going to find time. When I saw the stellar line-up of authors, and a cover design from Jason Gurley, I was even more excited. Of course now I had to come up with a story.
Tales of Tinfoil is an anthology based around conspiracy theories. Its full title, Tales of Tinfoil, Stories of Conspiracy and Paranoia, gives a flavour of the stories inside. In fact, the hugely irreverent and enjoyable Facebook Group that accompanies the series tells you even more. David intends a series of Tinfoil books, the second and third being Hoaxes and Mysteries. I'm signed up for both.
For this one, all I needed to do was find myself a conspiracy theory and write a story around it. As I alluded to in my afterword, I knew other authors would take a traditional route to a story about conspiracies, one focusing on the conspiracy itself, but I wanted to approach it from a different direction. I kept the conspiracy theory itself in the background, but made sure it was an ever-present, dark storm cloud above throughout. I also made sure there was an actual conspiracy underpinning the inciting incident that led to the events of the story.
However, for me, Chukotka is an allegory for the themes that surround most, if not all, conspiracy theories. It is about fear of the unknown; mistrust and paranoia born out of a lack of understanding. It is about prejudice and lack of communication. It is as much about tension between young and old, and between individuals from different cultures, as it is about tension between the United States and Russia. To Umqy, the hedonistic Americans brought this on themselves, taking to the Bering Sea in a storm like this one. Yet if he knew the truth about their situation, as the reader does, he would not judge them so harshly. To Scott, Umqy is an Eskimo (which would in fact probably be an insulting moniker to bestow on a Chukchi) and just as likely to murder him for his boots, so to speak, as to hand him over to the Russian authorities who would parade him on Russian TV. Yet to the Chukchi, hospitality to strangers is how they have survived the harsh landscape of Siberia. These conflicts are the soul of the story.
It was the harsh landscape of Siberia that kindled the inspiration for the story. It's a place that has held an amazing fascination for me since I read about the gulags there, and read two amazing books (whether they be true or not) about surviving in that harsh wilderness – As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me, By Josef Bauer, and The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz. I love stories of survival, so Alaska (one of my favourite settings and the location of the former HAARP installation – see below) led me to the Bering Sea and then to Siberia. I loosely read both these books again and then the story began to form in my head. I saw an old hunter, lost in the past and desperate to recover his dignity after the loss of his wife to illness (tuberculosis, which was prevalent in the Chukotka peninsular for some decades) and he becomes ill (and old) himself. And I saw a direct opposite in an American adrenaline junkie out for some gnarly waves. The contrasts between them almost write the story itself.
But what about the conspiracy theory itself? What about HAARP? The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program was intended to research radio transmissions in the ionosphere with a view to various applications, some military. The ionosphere can distort, reflect and absorb radio signals, and thus can affect numerous civilian and military communications, navigation, surveillance, and remote sensing systems in many ways. For example, the performance of a satellite-to-ground communication link is affected by the ionosphere through which the signals pass. And, as even HAARP officials themselves acknowledged, while the signals along the ground are well below adopted safety levels, the signals transmitted above the antenna array may have sufficient strength to interfere with electronic equipment in aircraft flying nearby. These facts, coupled with the involvement of the Department of Defense, have led to wild speculation about both the objectives and results of HAARP, even extending to theories about the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH-370.
HAARP has also been the subject of speculation about its effect on the weather—and whether it might actually be able to control weather. In this story I enjoyed using that speculation, but science has almost certainly debunked it. Of course, whether you believe the explanations offered by experts in their field is a matter for you.
So the book is out and doing really well. Readers love it. It's surging up the charts. In preparation for the launch of Tinfoil, Hank Garner interviewed myself, Chris Pourteau, Michael Bunker, Wendy Paine Miller and, of course, David Gatewood in a round-table discussion. It was the most fun I've had online for a long time and these are great people. It's a brilliant discussion and well-worth listening to. Talking to these people, authors I've admired from afar for some time, was surreal and bewitching.
Additionally, there is a launch party on Facebook. The first one I ever did of these, for No Way Home, was a roaring success and Tinfoil is likely to be even bigger such are the followings of Messrs. Bunker, Cole, Lindsay et al. I'll be hosting from 5pm Eastern Time. Come and join us – I may even give away a book or two.
All in all, I loved being a part of this. Working alongside authors I've admired since I began self-publishing – Michael Bunker, Nick Cole, Ernie Lindsey and Edward W. Robertson – is a real privilege. Working with David is always a joy. My story has been well received and inspired the emotions I was looking for in readers. One was moved to tears, another described it as "gorgeous and terrifying". My readership is growing and my involvement in these sorts of projects is not only immensely rewarding, but it increases the readers who see my work. That can only be a good thing. As myself and Chris Pourteau chatted about in the round-table with Hank and the others, the short story form is experiencing a resurgence and long may it continue.