A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of speaking to a group of librarians about the awesomeness that is The 8th Continent. I was asked to give a short speech about my inspirations for writing the book, and the effect libraries have had on me. I’m pretty happy with what I said, so I thought I would share my remarks with all of you. Check it out below the fold and let me know what you think.
Good afternoon! I want to thank you all for coming today. My name is Matt London. I’m a video game designer, writer, and educator, but most importantly I’m the author of The 8th Continent, a very exciting science fiction adventure novel that comes out September 16th. I’m very glad I have the opportunity to talk to you about The 8th Continent. It’s the story of Rick and Evie Lane, the children of a brilliant scientist and environmentalist who is persecuted by Winterpole, an international rule-making, permission-slip-granting, bureaucracy-championing organization. To protect their father, the kids come up with a wild idea to use their dad’s old trash transformation formula to turn the Great Pacific Garbage Patch into a verdant eighth continent, where they can be free from Winterpole’s meddling. But someone else has her eyes on the eighth continent—Vesuvia Piffle, the ten-year-old super-secret CEO of a real estate conglomerate, who is obsessed with all things plastic and pink. She wants to turn the garbage patch into a kind of Miami-on-steroids. Rick and Evie must race around the world, gathering the ingredients for the formula, dodging Winterpole agents and Vesuvia’s robot army every step of the way. It’s a very cool story that blends madcap action, science, and a strong environmental message to create the beginning of a truly epic series.
I have to be honest, it’s kind of surreal to be talking to you as an author, because librarians and educators like you did so much to shape me as a reader.
When I was ten my family moved across the country from northern Massachusetts to Texas. It was scary and lonely and all I wanted was to sit in my room and play Mario Kart. In fourth grade I was what you’d call a “reluctant reader.” It’s not that I never read books, it was just that I read them as little as possible, and the books I did read had Jedi knights on the cover.
That all changed my first week at Valley View Elementary. I’d made no friends—no one wanted to talk to the scrawny, gawky yankee with the huge head of hair … and even if they did, we had nothing to talk about. But that first week my teacher Ms. Hartman took the class to the school library, where the librarians showed us to the different sections and explained how to check out books. We were each supposed to choose a book to check out, but I didn’t know what books I liked. The librarian called over one of the kids she knew and said, “Hey Paul, why don’t you show Matt where your favorite books are?”
Paul took me to a shelf lined with thick glossy hardcover volumes, and pulled one out. The cover showed a mouse in a green robe, carrying a shield, and raising a long sword over his head. The book was Redwall by Brian Jacques. Paul insisted that I read each book in the series, and he had very particular instructions on the proper order to enjoy them. I devoured these books, witnessing an incredible boost to my reading speed. The vivid descriptions and fast-paced action sucked me in. I loved the colorful characters, and the way Jacques slipped riddles and puzzles into the text. Whenever I finished one of the Redwall books Paul and I would talk about it, reenacting our favorite parts. By the end of the school year, we were trading Goosebumps books like baseball cards, and racing each other to finish The Hobbit. My school librarian changed my life in two ways that day, the first week of fourth grade. She led me to the book that first showed me my love of reading, but she also helped me make my first friend in a new place.
When I wrote The 8th Continent, I had reluctant readers like me in mind. I wanted to tell a story that was full of action and heart and memorable characters. I wanted every page to have something cool and something hilarious. As a reluctant reader myself, I knew the temptation to put a book down, so I employed bite-size chapters and lots of cliffhangers to keep readers wondering what will happen next. To keep them reading, and to give them a sense of accomplishment when they turn the page.
These are principles I’ve studied as a video game designer, principles I’ve tried to implement in my writing. In a world where every kid carries a video game system in her pocket and gets most of her video content in little snippets on Youtube, it’s important to provide books of high literary quality that recognize these changing trends and accommodate them, rather than reject them.
Another one of my goals with The 8th Continent was to put the science back in science fiction. Science was very important in my family. My father is a computer scientist and my brother is a neuroscientist, both PhDs. I just wanted to tell stories. But I was intrigued by the incredible stories tied to science — the narrative of invention and discovery, the wild personalities of scientists, and the noble goals they worked so hard to accomplish. Two of these science stories led me to write The 8th Continent.
The first was the story of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest of many such aquatic waste dumps, swirling in the Earth’s oceans. You see, ocean currents carry human-made litter into a kind of vortex, which gathers in the middle of these gyres, forming large areas of accumulated trash. The second is seasteads — artificial islands on the high seas — where creative scientists, entrepreneurs, and statesmen can create new societies.
Some of the science in The 8th Continent is outrageous and implausible, like supersonic flying sequoia trees, but much of it is inspired by real research that is being conducted today. My hope is someone will read The 8th Continent and be inspired to study computer programming, artificial intelligence, or terraforming in school. Every reader should recognize that pollution is still a serious problem in 2014, but we have the power to stop it.
The emphases on science and saving the planet are essential elements of The 8th Continent, but at its heart, the book is about its characters. Evie Lane, one of the heroes of the book, wants to create the eighth continent so she can get away from her school, where she has no friends. When writing the book, I drew upon my experiences as a kid who felt lonely and isolated. The 8th Continent is a story about figuring out who you are supposed to be. And I wrote it with the little Evies and the little Matts of the world in mind, dreamers and reluctant readers alike.
I want to thank you all so much for joining us today, and I look forward to sharing with you the world of The 8th Continent.