Existential themes of identity and immortality are carefully explored in Edward Ashton’s gripping new sci-fi novel “Mickey7” (St. Martin’s Press, 2022), a witty book filled with a refreshing dose of clever humor and old-school planetary adventure.
Billed as “The Martian” meets “Multiplicity” (with a touch of Duncan Jones’ “Moon”), “Mickey7” introduces readers to an Expendable human worker drone named Mickey who is tasked with performing dangerous tasks on the frozen world of Niflheim. These disposable employees are subjected to a variety of dastardly deaths before being regenerated as clones, with their original memories intact.
When Mickey7 is engulfed in a vast icy crevice, he is presumed dead and a new Expendable, Mickey8, is created to take his place in the system. But Mickey7 is miraculously saved by one of the planet’s native aliens, and when he returns to the colony base, he is shocked to see the replacement drone already inserted into his old life and habitat.
Now Mickey7 and Mickey8 must hide their dual existence from a society that frowns upon repetition as the native insect-like creatures roam the frigid and hostile environment and an interspecies conflict brews that threatens both sides. .
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Deadline recently reported that Oscar-winning director Bong Joon Ho (“Snowpiercer,” “Parasite”) has signed on for the Warner Bros. adaptation. for Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, with Robert Pattinson (“The Batman”) attached in the lead role.
Space.com spoke with Ashton about the story elements he hoped to inject into “Mickey7,” his good fortune regarding the next version of the Hollywood feature film starring Pattinson, and how an original children’s cartoon helped shape the alien creatures that inhabit the novel’s colonized ice planet.
Space.com: What was the genesis of “Mickey 7” and why was this story essential to tell?
Edward Ashton: This book was born in several stages. I wrote a short story a few years ago that explored the idea of saving your conscience and after being killed, being regenerated, and in that way having some kind of shitty immortality like I describe in “Mickey7”. It was set in a more contemporary earthly setting so I liked the idea and wanted to see how it could be expanded if you pair it with an exploitative social structure where the people who are able to do it are essentially used as crash test dummies for the rest of humanity. Mickey comes from a lower class background, and everyone else on the mission is the elite of their society, and he’s the one who has to do all the dirty work and die for them over and over again.
Space.com: What surprising research paths have you encountered in your writing process?
Ashton: There is a good dose of science in this book. I’m definitely more on the side of hard sci-fi. I’m a scientist myself and like to make sure everything I put in my books is at least plausible. I teach quantum physics, so I sort of understood most of this stuff, but I had to dig a bit to make sure I understood the details. Like what happens in the interstellar medium, and what is the distribution of macro objects in the interstellar medium. These are things that we don’t know very well about, but we have some ideas about it.
Space.com: How do you balance the hard science and the soft science of the novel to appeal to the widest audience?
Ashton: I myself have my feet in both worlds. I started writing contemporary fiction before I started working on science fiction, but I have always been a fan of science fiction since I was a child. I was taught to make sure the heart of the story is the characters and their interactions and not to focus too much on the science. A lot of science fiction starts out wanting to tell a story about a brilliant technical idea, then puts cardboard figures around that idea to illustrate it. If you’re a fan of that stuff, it can be really fun, but if you’re not, this kind of book can be somewhere between boring and inscrutable. I try not to go that route.
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Space.com: Did you have fun writing this book and delivering your fun cocktail of humor and science fiction?
Ashton: I hear people say that writing is such a struggle. If writing was painful or difficult, I wouldn’t. I have other things I can do with my life that are enjoyable. I love to write and I had a lot of fun writing this book. I made myself laugh and made myself cry once or twice. The tone I wanted to give it was like you’re sitting in a bar and Mickey is telling you this story.
Space.com: What was your entry into science fiction growing up?
Ashton: I was a voracious reader as a child. Some of my favorite books that I re-read are ones that I read many years ago. George RR Martin had a series of books set in a universe not unlike “Mickey 7”, long before “A Song of Ice and Fire”, of course. “Dying of the Light” is the best of them. “Tuf Voyaging” is another absolutely fantastic one. I think I read everything Clifford D. Simak wrote before I was 15. In particular, he had a very short but incredibly powerful book called “Shakespeare’s Planet” that I read when I was 11 or 12, and it never left me. I gave copies to all my children. It is required reading in the family. Later, I became a big fan of David Brin, especially his early stuff.
Space.com: How did you find the planet’s insectoid? aliens called Creepers?
Ashton: It’s a little awkward, but the origin of the Creepers and their physical presence was an episode of a cartoon called “Steven Universe” that my kids were watching. There was this giant centipede-like creature with multiple mandibles, and I thought I had to do something with it.
Space.com: Bong Joon Ho has chosen “Mickey7” for his next film, with Robert Pattinson attached. What was your reaction to this news and will you be involved?
Ashton: It’s been crazy the last few days, but I’ve had time to think about it more than most people. Plan B, Brad Pitt’s production company, went for the script even before I sold the US rights in 2020. I had a call with director Bong about a year ago because they were really interested to make him work with us. We talked about the manuscript, so I already knew he was interested.
But the ad that just came out, where they confirmed he’s on board and Robert Pattinson is on board, I found out because my agent sent me the press release. There was radio silence about it for over a year. I knew the option was about to expire, but I expected them to say they had decided not to. 99% of the time, when you decide on a property, that’s what happens. But that’s not what happened here.
Officially, I’m an executive producer, but I think that’s probably an entirely symbolic title. Director Bong does his own thing and he writes the script. He asked my opinion on a few points early on. Like some details that I hadn’t considered when I was writing the book, like, How do Creepers reproduce? It was a great question, and we discussed it.
A lot of people have asked me if I’m nervous because he has a reputation for hijacking source material. My answer was absolutely no. This man is a genius. I’ve seen all of his movies, and he’s never made a bad one. I don’t think he’s going to start with “Mickey 7”. He will do a fantastic job.
by Edward Ashton “Mickey7” is available now in bookstores and major online outlets.