BookView Interview with Author Gary J Kirchner

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed Gary J Kirchner, the winner of La Mention d’honneur de l’Association québécoise de pédagogie collégiale for teaching excellence as a professor at John Abbott College and author of Cromby’s Axiom, a unsettlingly realistic dystopian (Read the reveiw here).

Gary J. Kirchner studied physics at McGill University, where he also played football and subsequently coached. His academic interests are sports biomechanics and astrophysics. As a professor at John Abbott College, he was awarded La Mention d’honneur de l’Association québécoise de pédagogie collégiale for teaching excellence. He is also a recipient of Football Canada’s Gino Fracas Award. Gary is a competitive cross-country skier, and also enjoys participating in triathlon and curling. His flute-playing is earnest, if not skillful. He lives in Montreal, Quebec. Cromby’s Axiom is his first published novel.

What inspired the premise of your book?

The idea of critiquing society’s increasing reliance on information technology and social media has been percolating in my head for a number of years. Perhaps I’m a bit of a Luddite, but I get annoyed at how willing people are to adapt their behavior in some sort of Pavlovian reaction to whatever is the latest innovation in technology. There was a time when innovation and invention were responses to human needs; now it seems to be the other way around. And we’ve become so entangled with the tentacles of the internet and the smartphone and everything else that we can’t function without them. That is sad.

The future portrayed in Cromby’s Axiom is simply an extrapolation of modern trends in society. That future is inevitable. And that scares me.  

Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma, or something else?

I’ve seen enough people walking around with their heads down looking at their phones to recognize that eliminating the need for this hand-held piece of equipment would be highly desirable. I’m sure thousands of other people have had the same notion, and it’s only a matter of time before such technology exists. I wanted to write a book which would look at the implications of this, which would portray the world as it might be when the evolution of the internet reaches its logical endpoint.

I was on a hiking trip in Switzerland as I was considering the outline for the novel. One thing I needed was a character with a weakness. I suffer mildly from acrophobia, (which provides for me part of the thrill of mountain hiking), and there you have it: the setting and the weakness. As for the character, an elite athlete training alone in the Alps made a very interesting image. I’ve been involved with football all my life, and making the character a football player allowed me a little extra fun to contemplate the evolution of that sport, and others, a few generations into the future.

How many re-writes did you do for this book?

Honestly? None. I certainly don’t want to say this is my common practice, but for this particular piece of work, what I typed into my first draft is essentially what is between the covers.

What makes this book important right now?

I had to publish this book now because I was afraid that in fifteen years people would read it and say, “What’s the big deal?”

Surveillance and data-sharing technologies which would not have been tolerated in the previous century are now considered necessary, even desirable. What was considered private and personal two generations ago is now routinely shared across multiple platforms. Time being alone, time being ‘on your own,’ no longer exists, with your phone keeping you in contact at all times, in all places. Everything of interest is shared, instantly. In not-too-many years, no one will remember that it was ever any different.

For me, the book is a dystopia. But I’m sure there are a number of people, particularly of a certain age, who would consider the setting a utopia. I think it could be an interesting debate.

After the writing’s finished, how do you judge the quality of your work?

I read it to my wife. If she falls asleep, I know I have to re-do it.

What is your favourite childhood book?

When I was a kid I read the first ten books of the Tarzan series. The stories of Tarzan in the jungle ignited my imagination and brought me into a fascinating new world. And although probably not the author’s intent, I suspect they also triggered a nascent passion for environmental issues.

What’s next for you?

A complete change in genre. In fact, one of my writing goals is to be able to publish quality work in a number of different genres.

My next work is a football sports story, based upon my experiences as a player and coach at McGill University. It’s a story of team, and it’s a story of two individuals, a coach and a player, who each try to follow a strong moral compass amidst a society that, from different perspectives, they find bereft of values like discipline, commitment, and integrity. And there’s a lot of action. I’m quite excited about it.

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