A cockwork orange

by Brian Jewell

Bay Windows

Monday November 5, 2007

Gay freedom fighters wage a high-tech war against an oppressive government regime in Tom Bachhus's juicy new pulp novel Q-FAQ. Imagining a worst-case-scenario growing from the present political climate, Bacchus takes us to a near-future America run by New Puritans who are clamping down on any kind of "deviancy." Against this grim backdrop his protagonists, a wily Turkish hacker and a mysterious mercenary, make love, make trouble, and make tracks across the country as they prepare a counterstrike against the dystopian authorities.

Bacchus cites cyberpunk author William Gibson (Neuromancer, Virtual Light) as an inspiration, but Q-FAQ's jittery, patchwork style and political commentary are also reminiscent of one of Gibson's antecedents, John Brunner. Before the advent of personal computers, Brunner was writing about the sociological impact of information overload and unbridled capitalism in impressionistic cautionary tales like The Sheep Look Up and Stand on Zanzibar. Although Bacchus writes with a narrower focus than Brunner, he has Brunner's eye for the big picture.

A recurring character type in Brunner's work is the irascible visionary/madman who's been driven underground because his dire predictions threaten the status quo. Trying to get an interview with Bacchus, I sometimes felt I was dealing with one of Brunner's wary geniuses. Bacchus was very precise about how much personal information he would reveal, and he would only "speak" with me by email. Perhaps he was communicating with me from an underground bunker; or just as likely, an orgy. Either way, it was a fascinating encounter.

Q: How long have you been writing?

A: I started writing erotic stories about 1990. From the first one, they got published in various magazines. I've never had one rejected. My first book, Bone, is a collection of the first batch. The second book, Rahm, is also a collection, but had a theme, moving from biblical times through the Wild West to 19th-century vaudeville, the 50s, the present, even the future. The first major chapter of Q-FAQ, where Afaik meets Aces, was published in that.

Q: What were you doing before that?

A: I've been, among other things, a stripper, a designer, a stage technician, an opera supernumerary, and other less reputable professions; no, not hustling!

Q: With your success writing erotic short stories, what inspired you to write a sci-fi novel?

A: I've always been a sci-fi fan, but don't write a lot of it. The genre of wizards and dragons, with the exception of Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, often doesn't interest me, nor does cold spaceship sci-fi. I'm into William Gibson dystopia fiction, which in the best form, eventually becomes less fictional as time goes on. My form of science fiction is just reality taken to an absurd extreme. I think it's safe now to make fun of terrorism, because the Bush administration is such a joke. A horrible, murderous, financially corrupt joke, but worth making fun of.

Q: So was the aftermath of 9/11 part of the inspiration?

A: I actually completed most of it years before 2001. Having those horrible events, and the predictable near-police state of the U.S. follow it, were inevitable. I just took it more into the future with a funny edge as I polished and expanded it in the past few years, all the time thinking, "Well, I guess I was right." I'm really happy with it. Q-FAQ, not the government! It's experimental, by being fragmented, collected by the government, like artifacts. You don't know which narrator to believe, but the plot and characters, and their sexuality, come through, I hope.

Q: The sexuality definitely comes through! It's strange how few sci-fi authors take on sex.

A: So much of the sci-fi I read growing up had little or no sexuality, which is absurd. The future is entirely based on how we breed and mate. So, I did a lot of "inferring" or inserting some kind of queerness where I could, particularly in the "hot guy in a loincloth on a planet of lizards" genre, until the genre of LGBT sci-fi/fantasy took off in the 80s and 90s. When Chrome came out, I was enthused. That and Mad Max probably influenced creating Aces and his "special parts."

Q: Who else has influenced you? I described Q-FAQ to someone as, imagine The Handmaid's Tale written by a gay John Brunner...

A: Yeah, I have read some Brunner. But A Handmaid's Tale, plus the films The Fifth Element, Brazil, and Planet of the Apes have been more of an influence for this book.

Q: You also connect the links between sex and politics on your blog, but in a sneaky way. You mix in some rants with lots of hot pictures.

A: I really just started it to tie into the blogosphere to promote Q-FAQ before it came out. it ties into the themes of Q-FAQ: sexual censorship, humor, satire and outlaw gay sex. For me, nudity and sex are more hot in a context. So the blog isn't just a rehashing of the day's sex gossip like Larry Craig. I look for lesser stories and scandals that can be illustrated with hot nude imagery.

Q: That's a good tactic. When I was preparing for this interview I realized I had visited your blog before, when the story broke about Matt Sanchez's past in gay porn.

A: That was my big claim to fame. I didn't actually out him, but I was the first to graphically collect images and links about him. That got me a lot of links to dozens of more serious blogs, left, right, and in between. Since then I get 2,000 hits a day.

Q: Do you have another project on the burner? A Q-FAQ sequel maybe?

A: I have two other books almost complete. They're very different. I haven't submitted them yet, because I've become picky about getting published. Haworth's fiction wing is in hiatus, and a few other editors I'd planned to send queries to are no longer working, or the gay imprint is just gone. As for print erotica, I'm rather bored by most of the calls for submission I get or find; Dorm Porn VII, Hard Sex 4, Jock Buddies, etc. I have a few scripts for hardcore movies, but they'd have to be animated, I really love that genre, and wish it could expand. Sometimes they're more lifelike than "mainstream" gay porn. Fictional porn should have a plot, leave the characters transformed; otherwise, it's just traffic and plumbing directions.

Q-FAQ is available now from Haworth Press. Visit Tom Bacchus online at tombacchus.blogspot.com.

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