“Midnight, Water City” is Author’s First Venture into Sci-fi
Lee A. Tonouchi
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Known for his novels and films that reveal Hawai‘i’s dark underbelly, Mid-Pacific Institute ‘91 grad Chris McKinney has been churning ‘em out kinda regularly since 1999. “Bolohead Row” (Mutual Publishing Co., 2005), “The Tattoo” (Soho Press, 2007), “Queen of Tears” (Soho Press, 2007), “Mililani Mauka” (Mutual Publishing Co., 2009), “Boi No Good” (Mutual Publishing, 2012), “Yakudoshi: Age of Calamity” (Mutual Publishing Co., 2016) and now aftah making his fans wait five long years, his seventh novel, “Midnight, Water City (Soho Crime, 2021).”
While all Chris’ oddah books wuz grounded in today’s Hawai‘i, dis sci-fi story stay set in 2142 when super scientist Akira Kimura saves Earth from one planet killing asteroid named Sessho-seki, but den gets murdered aftah. Will her former head of security be able for figgah out who did ‘em? So suspenseful and like all da best science fiction it makes us tink about da world we stay living in today. Da book even stay billed as “a thrilling neo-noir procedural and a profound exploration of climate change, inequality, and the dark sacrifices we are willing to make in the name of progress.”
LT: Chris, I know you all mix up, kapakahi, but what’s your ethnic background?
CM: I’m Korean, Japanese, and Scottish, but I suppose those are nationalities more than ethnicities. I feel American/local/mix, but the Japanese is also prevalent because, well, this is Hawai‘i, and you won’t meet a local guy who is prouder of being Japanese than my Vietnam vet stepfather.
LT: Every time I used to run into you at writers’ conferences back when we had those, year aftah year you would lament how it’s getting more and more harder for get readers. So I always wondered if you wuz ever going quit writing novels for do screenplays, cuz you did write some films and shorts over da years like “Paradise Broken” and “Haole.” Yet here you stay with yet one noddah new novel. And moreover you promising dis da start of one new trilogy! Did someting happen for reinvigorate your passion for writing novels?
CM: I actually chased the screenwriting thing hard for a number of years. I was willing to give up novel writing and pursue what, at the time, was my ultimate goal: to write and produce a prestige series or limited series set in Hawai‘i. I came close a couple of times.
The first project was called “The ‘Āina.” It was a pilot I co-wrote with Walter Dods III. It imagined foreign investors conniving with local political and criminal elements to transform resorts to casinos and control legalized gambling in Hawai‘i.
The second project that received some traction was a limited series adaptation of my novel, “Yakudoshi: Age of Calamity.”
Both piqued interest but eventually stalled. Close but no cigar, again and again, is exhausting. It’s Sisyphean. I decided to just start over, re-embrace the novel, and rebrand to sci-fi, which I’ve been a lifelong fan of. I found re-inventing invigorating.
LT: In terms of sales, I wondering how your only non-fiction book stay doing. Your 2014 Dr. Rudy Puana biography book, “The Red-Headed Hawaiian: The Inspiring Story about a Local Boy from Rural Hawai‘i Who Makes Good” (Mutual Publishing, 2014). Since he stay all caught up in his sister Katherine Kealoha’s scandal now, accused of running one prescription drug ring, did that kill sales or make people more interested in da guy?
CM: I honestly don’t pay attention to sales. Money made from writing books comes largely in the form of advances, work-for-hire, and selling rights. These are things I can control and negotiate. Once a book is published, I have relinquished control. Whether it sells or not is out of my hands.
LT: So in your latest book “Midnight, Water City,” aftah Earth gets saved from one asteroid that would’ve annihilated da planet, da world comes togeddah. Da fear of impending death put one end to global conflicts and war. But still get massive class divides. You see dis future you depict for be mo’ bettah or much worse?
CM: It’s gray. Some things are better. De-nuclearization, for example. Climate change has definitely left a mark, but in this future, we got that under control. But yeah, the disparity of wealth is worse.
We’re beyond the storming of palaces because wealth is digital, and it can be encrypted and safely hidden. Also, the reliance on our smart devices leaves us vulnerable to manipulation and somewhat soulless. I wanted to create a world in which all readers ask the question you’re asking. Is it better? The jury’s still out. Also, two more books are coming, and a clearer answer will be gradually delivered in books two and three.
LT: Dis your first foray into science fiction. You can try tell what attracted you to da genre and who your influences wuz for dis particular book?
CM: I’ve always had a thing for science fiction. We’re of the “Star Wars” and “Robotech“ generation, right? We’re also the first gamer generation. I loved playing stuff like Mass Effect and Bioshock.
For this particular book, the biggest influence was probably “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (Berkley, 1963). I liked playing with how the narrator perceives things in almost psychedelic fashion. There are also shades of [Raymond] Chandler and [George] Orwell. Reading “Animal Farm” in sixth grade shook me permanently. Also, sometimes, I see the story in anime.
LT: All da tech in your book stay really interesting. Get personal drones that film your every move. Get people with cybernetic enhancements. Get people who save their cloned organs. Get cloaking devices. And all kine stuff that sounds plausible, like we really could get ‘em in da future. But what’s your craziest invention, someting you totally made up and not rooted in today’s science at all?
CM: Ascalon’s Scar may be the biggest stretch. How does one scar the sky with an asteroid-killing cosmic ray? It was worth the stretch, though. It’s plays an integral part in all three books.
LT: For like all your novels prior to dis, da ting wuz set in Hawai‘i, right. But for dis futuristic story, da ting stay set on and around one place called “the island” that has one fire goddess and da best mountain top for put da world’s greatest telescope. So, I like know. Is it or is it not Hawai‘i island. And if it is, how come you jus nevah say?
CM: It’s definitely Big Island. This was my thought, and it directly relates to TMT. What happens when you continually desecrate a culture’s most sacred place? What’s at stake? Maybe, the entire culture itself. That’s why I don’t say. In this future, I infer that Hawaiian culture has been tragically stripped to extinction, and TMT, along with subsequent projects, like Akira’s telescope in the novel, are responsible.
LT: Reading da book you no can help but tink about da Mauna Kea protectors and da issue of da TMT telescope. In da story, for make sure nahting interferes with da telescope project, da government under martial law forcibly removes da majority of da island population and relocates dem. But does da fact that in your story da telescope wins mean you stay pro Thirty Meter Telescope den?
CM: I’m pro science, but anti-TMT. It is possible to be both. People always want to reduce things to diametric opposition. We don’t need to sacrifice culture for knowledge. There are alternatives. Often, the harder thing to do is the right thing to do. There need to be moral parameters.
LT: Lotta critics point out da kine “Blade Runner” vibes you get going on in your sci-fi noir crime thriller. I tinking Hollywood would probably wanna cast Harrison Ford as your old detective and Scarlett Johansson as Akira Kimura, da scientist who saves da world. (I know Scarlett not Japanese, but dat nevah stop her from taking da lead role in “Ghost in the Shell.”) Who you would pick for your dream cast?
CM: For the old detective, I’d want the genetically engineered child of Denzel Washington, Toshiro Mifune, and Daniel Day-Lewis. For Akira Kimura, I’d just want the best Japanese actress alive. Small asks, right?
LT: Spoiler Alert! I felt satisfied by da reveals and thought that “Midnight, Water City” wrapped up kinda nice. So I no see how you going get two more parts outta dis. You get ‘em all mapped out already? If so, you can drop some hints for what da next one going be?
CM: I finished a draft of book two, and I’m about 75% into a rough, rough draft of three. I do want each book to have a sense of resolution, so I’m glad you felt book one did.
Hints? Sure! I’m crisscrossing genres in these books. So, while the first one is mystery, the second one is more adventure with elements of horror. It’s more futuristic “Indiana Jones” than “Blade Runner.” A pleasant part of writing these books is re-embracing my favorite childhood things.
Note: “Midnight, Water City” can be purchased on Amazon at amazon.com.
Lee A. Tonouchi is da author of da children’s picture book “Okinawan Princess: Da Legend of Hajichi Tattoos” that won one Skipping Stones Honor Award. An’den he also wrote da poetry collection “Significant Moments in da Life of Oriental Faddah and Son: One Hawai‘i Okinawan Journal” that won one Association for Asian American Studies book award.