The year is 2060, and the planet’s manual labour is performed by Brobots – artificial men. But the Brobots are easy to hack and easy to abuse.
We spoke with author Trevor Barton for a behind-the-scenes look at his Brobots trilogy – an epic gay science-fiction saga.
What was your inspiration for the Brobots story?
I woke up one morning last September, and there they were in my head. Big artificial men. Robot bear types doing construction work at the climax of the fourth industrial revolution. Specifically, one of them. Thrown away in a dumpster, despite the fact that he was sentient.
I know full well why my subconscious spat that bizarre idea out. My dad was a biker. When I was nine-years-old he needed to convalesce for months at home after a road accident. With the metal pins, plates, stroke-related symptoms and so on, it was a bit like living with a zombie cyborg. The most significant adult male in my life was a wounded, augmented big guy with a damaged CPU, and metallic parts on the inside.
Even today this tragedy is too raw to write about directly, so I guess that my subconscious put a spin on things, and I was able to put it all to use. How could such a world come about? When was this? Where? It had to be set in the United States. They had to be called Brobots because that’s a derogatory urban term for men who, somewhat automatically, call other men ‘Bro’ and I realised early on that issues with male identity would arise.
In today’s world, construction is still a mostly-male work. Automate that with androids, and you have even more of an identity pressure cooker than the one we experience today.
There was a risk of objectifying the Brobots – making them something to laugh at, or be afraid of. Instead, they sort of embody unanswered questions.
Was it always intended to be a trilogy?
About two weeks into writing the first book I realised how big the story was.
It took about five weeks to write book one. The second book was about five months – big-scale stories are necessarily dark and complex beasts in the middle, there was research to do, and details to get right. The third book took about four months. So in total it was about a year to complete the trilogy.
Have you always been a fan of science fiction?
I hit my teens in the late 80s, so I grew up loving E.T., re-runs of the original Galactica, Space Lego, and short story anthologies.
But it wasn’t just science fiction. Fiction is fiction. Besides, sci-fi is still changing. It’s become wider, and more mainstream. Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays points at the juncture we’re at. Today is not the future of Tomorrow’s World. We still don’t have Roll-oh type domestic helpers, or flying cars, but both are coming.
Today we have a much more nuanced sense of our destiny than when the genre was born. That’s down to lots of things. We still can’t marry classical and quantum physics together. Our understanding of the cosmos is still changing in fundamental ways. Capitalism has influenza. The ecosystem needs fixing. But we have iPads. It’s crappy and wonderful both at the same time.
We’re humbled lesser gods right now. Our old futures are very different from our current ones.
What are some of the challenges in writing science fiction?
Hard sci-fi fans like the tech to be the absent centre – the fire the story dances around. Others need a very human tale. You can’t please everyone.
Red Gods Sing, the second book of this trilogy, was particularly hard because we’re almost programmed to expect the story to be from a hero or a perpetrator angle. When all you’ve got are victims trying to work out their own solutions it’s like taking all the movie celluloid from the editing floor and saying: ‘Yes, those are all the bits I want. No, I’m not mad. Watch me.’
Who are some of your science fiction heroes or inspirations?
Asimov and PKD, of course. Also Ursula K. Le Guin – the sociology and the Taoism. Outside of books, Metropolis, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Fifth Element are film perfection to me.
What sort of response have you had to the books?
Book one hovers around the top eight percent for LGBT science fiction on Amazon. There are about 6,000 titles in that category, so it’s fought off something like 5,800 titles to be in that spot. Book two was reviewed well, and book three will be released later this year. The story has fans, people have sent in drawings and fan fiction.
What next for Trevor Barton?
I designed the book jackets, so I’m looking at creating some apparel merchandise – taking those book cover graphics and making fun stuff for people in the know, t-shirts and ball-caps. Then, keep writing.