Following the dark, violent, alternate history of United States of Japan delving into the tragedies of WWII, I thought why not follow up with a fun comedy adventure? Malleable Realities is the longest thing I’ve written, both in length, and time it took me. Time is relative, right? But 14 years for one book? A younger me would have been incredulous if he knew it was going to take this much time.
Time is at the core of the story, kickstarted when Lucca from the SNES classic, Chrono Trigger (which I reviewed here at Tor.com in three trope-defying parts), explained the paradox of Princess Marle’s disappearance. I thought I understood the weirdness of time to a certain extent. But then my understanding of the theory of causality took a huge blow after I read David Hume’s An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. He posited that A + B doesn’t necessarily equal C, something I understood since me playing Chrono Trigger in high school didn’t necessarily make me want to write a time travel story that is now, almost two decades later, Malleable Realities. But CT did spur questions, like is time continuous, and does a past event necessarily lead to a future one if causality is a presumption we assume for convenience?
Here’s the synopsis for Malleable Realities:
The Stabilizers, an agency committed to fixing temporal anomalies and acting as a disaster relief force in instances of time storms.
Brent Mayakao is a veteran who is an Originator, one of those rare human beings to whom time responds differently, so that he’s lived a very long time. He played a key role for the Stabilizers in the past, but doesn’t remember why because of battle trauma. Kaira Komine, recently lost her partner and finds solace in her duties which she clings to religiously, trying to make compromises with her partner who is less keen on following the rules.
The two must join forces to help find a mass-murderer who is hunting down Stabilizers because of crimes committed in the future that neither know anything about.
If USJ was about subverting authority, MR is about subverting reality. I wanted to explore the nature of time, reality, and all that entailed with stories that asked things like, what if no one died for a day, or two?; if time is relative depending on gravity and location, what if time was also relative for every individual? So what feels like a minute to me might be two or three to you? What if there were people whom time affected completely differently for whatever reason? Is time a “thing in itself”, kind of like the weather, where disturbances in time can result in temporal hurricanes/anomalies that require a special agency to tackle the ensuing disasters? Or is it just a perceptual interpretation of perpetual entropy?
Malleable Realities really took root when I first joined Electronic Arts. I had moved down to Los Angeles because I was eager to work with the art director of Silent Hill 2 who had joined EA to work on a new James Bond game. But outside of work, I didn’t know anybody. When I look back, it was probably one of the loneliest times of my life. Work became my purpose, my bane, my joy, and the absurd rollercoaster I rode every day. I was in awe, starting at a new studio that was bringing in some of the most talented people in the world. But I was also learning what it meant to work for a big corporation creating video games. That is, insanely awesome at times, and also extremely strange, stuck in a bureaucracy that made Brazil’s office scene tame in comparison as it felt like I had a new manager every few weeks. Still, I met so many people whom I greatly respected and who are still my close friends (I also did meet people who made me wonder if I was inside a videogame making a videogame about working for a videogame.).
It was during those hours at home, not having anything else to do that Malleable Realities took form as a book about an agency devoted to preserving time in which almost no time travel happens. At the end of the day, their job is to “stabilize” time and all its anomalies. A good day for them is when time travel doesn’t happen.
The book is split out into ten cases, kind of like a season of Dr. Who or Star Trek. The titles and descriptions of the first three cases (which is from the synopsis I used to initially pitch the book) can give you an idea of some of the themes:
Reliving a Memory: Brent Mayakao is a disgruntled restaurant manager when everyone around him starts experiencing alternate realities within their own lives. His induction into the Stabilizers is less than pleasant, particularly when he discovers he may be the cause of all the trouble.
Bereft of a Sense: The whole city of Keching has lost its sense of taste and smell. Brent and his new partner, Kaira Komine are sent to investigate, but the whole matter reeks of conspiracy.
Forgetting a Paradigm Shift: An Originator named Tashtego is erasing important historical books throughout time, like the cure for syphilis which could have saved Alexander the Great’s life. Matters get even more complicated when Kaira’s father gets intertwined in the mess and a rival organization to the Stabilizers wants Tashtego’s head as well.
So why the fourteen years? I finished Malleable Realities about the time I left EA, which was two years after I started. But I was so in love with the world and the characters, I didn’t want to let them go. So I kept on iterating on it. Once, twice, twenty times. The number of stories shifted. At one point, there were eighteen stories, though I cut that down to fifteen. But that was already at 350,000, so when I finally sent it to Angry Robot, I actually had cut it down to ten cases which put it at 150,000 words (for some perspective, USJ is approx. 80K). The sequel is mostly written. Two side novels in that universe are half done. I have three novellas with the same cast of characters. And even then, a part of me didn’t want to give it up. But now that I’ve signed the contract, I have no choice since there’s an actual release date in a year. (I actually pushed Angry Robot to give me more time so I could keep on editing, which they generously granted.)
This is not my Moby Dick (even though there are Moby Dick references in the book) and I don’t consider it the epic I’ve been toiling on forever, even though I have been toiling on it forever. That’s because I loved writing it and I hope you will enjoy reading in a way that makes time speed up when you wish it would slow down. And if not, you can always go back in time and stop yourself from reading the book. Now that’d be a good use of time.
(For more info on the book, and that cute doggie, check out this introductory video.)
Peter Tieryas is a character artist who has worked on films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Alice in Wonderlandand Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. His first novel, Bald New World, was listed as one of Buzzfeed’s 15 Highly Anticipated Books as well as Publishers Weekly’s Best Science Fiction Books of Summer 2014. United States of Japan, his second novel, was featured in io9, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Lit Reactor, The B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog and Popular Mechanics’ most anticipated lists for 2016. You can find Peter Tieryas online at his website and @TieryasXu on Twitter.