When Gravity Fails film is “cool and weird and awesome”

Sinister’s C Robert Cargill on When Gravity Fails and Deus Ex movies, and reinventing cyberpunk

The cover to George Alec Effinger's posthumous collection Budayeen Nights with some short stories set in the world of When Gravity Fails
The cover to George Alec Effinger’s posthumous collection Budayeen Nights with some short stories set in the world of When Gravity Fails

One of the most progressive and fascinating visions of the future ever committed to paper, George Alec Effinger’s 1986 novel When Gravity Fails depicted a cyberpunk future where the West is in decline, and the Middle-East is in ascent, following unreliable down-on-his luck narrator Marîd Audran in an unspecified city as he tries to balance his independence from the criminal underworld and cybernetic implants, with his increasingly volatile personal relationship and growing drug addiction. When a sadistic serial killer strikes, Audran is initially implicated but most prove his innocence and bring the killer to justice, kicking off a game of cat and mouse in the squallid red-light district of the Budayeen…

Currently being adapted for the big screen by Sinister duo, director and co-writer Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, The Day The Earth Stood Still), and C Robert Cargill, who recently released his fantastic first novel Dreams & Shadows, this is just one of the double-whammy of cyberpunk projects the two have on the go, including the much hyped adaptation of fan-favourite videogame Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Speaking exclusively to SciFiNow, Cargill enthused, “Scott and I are huge cyberpunk fans and that’s what drew us to both projects. We haven’t been reading a lot of cyberpunk lately; just that it was always part of our DNA – I read Neuromancer just after it came out in the Eighties and just dove head first into that whole scene. And when they came to us with When Gravity Fails I was like, ‘Wait, I know this book’ and I remember it from 25 years ago because it won the Hugo and the Nebula in ’87. For the life of me I can’t remember if I read it during the glut or not, but of course we sat down and re-read it, and we were like ‘Oh, yeah, we definitely wanna work on this project’, and then Deus Ex – it’s just Deus Ex, I mean it’s amazing.

“I’ll definitely say we’re writing a lot of cyberpunk at the moment, but for a nerd like me it’s not a bad place to be. I really love cyberpunk and getting to play around in that universe is a dream come true.”

C Robert Cargill, co-writer of Sinister and author of Dreams & Shadows
C Robert Cargill, co-writer of Sinister and author of Dreams & Shadows

While many cyberpunk futures concerned themselves with either the West and the Far East, echoing concerns about the rapidly expanding business interests of the US and Japan, and the replacement of the Cold War with an all-new fiscal one of pirate capitalism, When Gravity Fails uniquely imagined a world that took a lot longer to appear, but now seems to becoming more meaningful daily.

Arab princes are installing wi-fi in deserts and turning oases into vast glass and steel monuments to their own wealth, North African students are using social media to challenge governments and smartphones to document atrocities, and Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman soft-power invasion has seen Turkish soaps scandalise the Muslim world, while Turkish Airways swallows up regional carriers in the Balkans. We may be too distracted to notice, but all across North Africa and the Middle-East, the future is beginning to make itself felt.

“That’s actually one of the things that’s fascinating about When Gravity Fails,” agrees Cargill, “you know the cyberpunk ideas in it are really cool ideas but the most fascinating part of it is this Arab world, this post-Arab cyberpunk future where Russia’s collapsed and the United States has collapses into several different bodies of its own and all the power in the world is kinda focused on the Middle East.

“That whole concept is fascinating – that is something Scott and I really focused on, bringing that out in the script and making sure that this wasn’t a film that at anytime someone could come along the line and go, ‘Oh, that’s great let’s set it in Los Angeles.’ When you read our script there’s no way you could ever think it could be anything but the Middle East, and it was a really cool thing.

“The weird thing about When Gravity Fails is that it’s one of those books where the cyberpunk ideas that are in it are so great, but there’s many elements of what happened with our technology just over the course of 25 years that there’s elements of that book that are really outdated.

“Nobody has anything resembling a cellphone, there’s nothing like the internet, everything is very much the Chandler-esque kind of story that it was written as, and there’s whole elements of technology that just aren’t there. Well, there are whole other elements of technology that are just far and away advanced, that we never see in any other kind of futuristic movie – the idea that plastic surgery’s gotten so good that you can’t tell the difference between women that were born women and women that weren’t, and that plays a whole big part it in. But that exists in a world without cellphones. It’s very cool and weird and awesome.”

The cover art to the 1992 When Gravity Fails sourcebook for the Cyberpunk 2020 RPG
The cover art to the 1992 When Gravity Fails sourcebook for the Cyberpunk 2020 RPG

A movie like When Gravity Fails could only really be made now, when films like District 9 have changed the cultural paradigm and colour palette of science fiction. Were this book adapted for film over a decade ago, the lazy, post-Blade Runner idea of how a cyberpunk movie should look – all Johnny Menomic, Minority Report, Ghost In The Shell and The Matrix – we’d be talking leather trench coats, mirror shades and duel-firing automatic weapons while flipping through plate-glass windows.

Though Deus Ex: Human Revolution and When Gravity Fails are being developed back-to-back, their radically different visions of the future – the former’s bronzed Renaissance decadence and the latter’s sweat-streaked black market hustle – ensure that there’s no danger of them overlapping, and that aforementioned paradigm shift is what’ll let Cargill and Derrickson get away with it.

“There’s no blurring of the two, they are very different,” the writer agrees. “There’s the shiny guns and the cybernetic enhancements and all of that, but that’s how we sell the story to the studios.

“The truth is that they’re both just amazing stories, and they’re both very different stories in very different worlds that play around. That’s why we had no problem taking both of these films in such a short amount of time, because just in our heads they were cyberpunk movies, but they were two very different movies in the same way that you can have two very different horror films. They’re the type of films that I don’t even know if you’d watch them back to back as part of a double feature because they are radically different in tone and execution.”

We’re also well past the point where every cyberpunk movie needs a pumping industrial soundtrack written by Germans with glowsticks…

“You really have a lot of choices with what to do now,” Cargill enthuses, “because videogames have played around with this kind of stuff – you really can do something different and experiment and have a very different soundscape. If we’re fortune to make either of them the soundscape will be radically different without anyone going ‘Why are they playing this kind of music in a cyberpunk movie? I don’t understand!’”

Pick up George Alec Effinger’s When Gravity Fails for £2.99 for Kindle, and for good measure get C Robert Cargill’s fantastic Dreams & Shadows for £9.59 from Amazon.co.uk.