The Cyber Puppets
Prime time science fiction satire.
The Lairds of Glendoune are rich and powerful, their wealth based on the family whisky. Their constant crises keep the lawyers and hospitals in Primeburgh in business, the eldest son Wilson Laird tried to frame his father for murder (but his parents forgave him after his near-fatal accident) and no-one notices when the family patriarch Hector Laird comes back from Europe with a new head. Add all this to his memory lapses and complete absence of free will and Hector’s son-in-law Scott Maxwell slowly becomes convinced that this can’t be right … and then the reality around him collapses altogether, plunging him into a devastated world of the future.
Back in the real world, the Earth is dying; the environment is poisoned and human society itself is on the downward plunge. What has all this to do with a twentieth century American soap opera?
Many years ago I was idly watching a repeat of Dallas and a scene in the office of Ewing Oil, which was preceded by the usual exterior shot of the skyscraper in which the office was situated. I had been extensively reading the novels of Philip K Dick at the time, which prompted me to apply his paranoid thinking to this mundane and oft-repeated scene. It occurred to me that we never saw beyond this office and its inhabitants: the male members of the Ewing family, their secretaries, and whoever was visiting them at the time. What was on the many other floors of the building? Who was there? What if one of the Ewing visitors discovered on his way out that the lift wasn’t working and went down the stairs to the floor below, only to discover that there was nothing there, that the rest of the building apparently didn’t exist?
This was the seed from which the plot of The Cyber Puppets grew. A major part of my research was to save up about 85 episodes of Dallas on videotape, and then, at the beginning of my summer break, my exam marking completed, I shut my curtains and spent a week watching them all. The ideas flowed freely and I took copious notes. I didn’t want my soap family to be yet more oil barons like those in Dallas and Dynasty and so I instead decided to make them an American-based family company of Scotch whisky distillers. This allowed me to take a friendly swipe at expatriate Scots. On the north American continent alone the number of people claiming Scottish ancestry substantially outnumbers the actual population of Scotland. The exaggerated and sentimental love that some of them display for all things Scottish (both real and stereotypical) can be a little irritating to those of us who actually live there.
I was very pleased with the final result until my enthusiasm was dented by the response of the first few publishers to whom I sent my manuscript. Eventually it was accepted by a small new science fiction publisher called Big Engine, who managed to produce most of the titles on their initial list, only to go out of business a couple of weeks before my book was due to appear and after I had checked and returned the proofs. That was in 2002, and after a further period languishing on my hard disc, The Cyber Puppets was finally published in 2012 as an E book by Brain in a Jar Books, another brave venture, this one undertaken by the Glasgow science fiction writer Gary Gibson.
I am very self-critical of my work, and I’m happy for several of my early, unpublished novels to remain buried. However, despite the passage of many years since it was written, I find I am still enthusiastic about this one. The response of some Kindle readers suggests that I’m not entirely deluding myself. Why not see if you agree?
Published in 2012 as an E book by Brain in a Jar Books, available from Amazon Kindle. To be reissued by Matador, both as a paperback and as an E book, in the spring of 2018.
“Enjoyed reading this book, set in a very Dallas/Dynasty like soap world, where one character starts to realise how false it all is and questions the nature of what is happening around – while lots of ridiculous soap opera antics keep the story moving forward … a very entertaining science fiction yarn that had me laughing.” Amazon reader
“The Cyber Puppets is part Sci-Fi, part comedy, part thriller and part social commentary … Ben Elton collides with Iain M Banks … it will have you laughing and scratching your head as the plot twists.” Amazon reader
“Great storytelling and plot. I particularly enjoyed the way the writer leads the reader through this complex and interesting plot. Structured and engaging read.” Amazon reader