Conversation with Jack Morton
Jack questions parallel tracks of human evolution and the necessary intersection of transhumanism with anarchism.
Jack Morton studied English and Writing at the University of Toronto. His stories can be read in Expanded Field Journal, NonBinary Review, The First Line, Parsec Ink’s Triangulation, Woodward Review, and Vast Chasm Magazine. He currently lives in Toulouse, France.
Jack is also the author of the short story “Homo Pulmos” from Radon Issue 1.
Q: We consider "Homo Pulmos" one of our most experimental issue one pieces. In your own eyes, how do you see the story you created?
I see it as an intentional record left by the narrator. He doesn’t want what he’s attempting to be misinterpreted as giving up, and he wants to explain his thinking. It could be a written note, but I hear him speaking it aloud, maybe into a microphone or a video camera. That’s why we get the asides, in italics. They aren’t meant for us. They’re to himself but he’s left the recording on.
There was a draft with an omniscient third-person narrator, but I prefer letting the archeologist explain himself in his own words.
Q: What led you to envisioning parallel tracks of human evolution that went in a different direction from Homo sapiens?
In researching another project involving evolution, I found out how much I misunderstood it. I’d always pictured a sort of anti-entropy in which life constantly grows more complex, like that famous illustration of protohumans getting better at bipedalism. But it’s messier than that, and a failed branch doesn’t mean an inferior branch.
I think that’s an important idea, even for those of us who have nothing to do with evolutionary science. Because people use Darwinian metaphors, like competition or selection, to discuss cultural development or justify individual behavior. Once you see that’s based on misunderstanding the science, it becomes pretty transparent rhetoric.
Q: Have you often envisioned other means that creatures can reach the stars besides rockets?
Not before writing “Homo Pulmos.” Like lots of SF, this story is more about the present than the future. I think we often overlook cultural development as a path forward or source of solutions to societal problems. We expect scientific development to do the heavy lifting. Imagining cultural technologies winning the Space Race was a way to challenge that.
Q: We’d love to know more about your body of work. What type of writing do you focus on?
I’ve written speculative and historical fiction, as well as more general contemporary fiction. Maybe that’s an indication that I need to pick a lane or find my voice still. Though a lot of my favorite writers don’t seem to define themselves by a single genre.
Q: What do you envision your magnum opus will be? Do you believe you’ve already written it?
Man, I hope not.
I want to write novels. I’m currently shopping a manuscript around, and I have plenty of ideas, but I have yet to come across a story and feel like “I’m the only person who could write this.”
Q: What led you to taking a chance on Radon Journal before we had published our first issue?
Long answer: The choice of themes compelled me. I love SF, and a good dystopia, and I’m fascinated by anarchist philosophy, but transhumanism never appealed to me. In my imagination it tended to be the threat, Cybermen or the Borg, not something cool or exciting like Molly from Neuromancer. Bringing transhumanism into conversation with decentralized freedoms intrigued and troubled me. Even after reading the materials on the Radon website, submitting, and being fortunate enough to be published, I still couldn’t square that.
Later I was working on another piece and wondering whether it would be appropriate for Radon. That story features a corporation which sells transhuman services and anarchist characters who oppose it. That’s when it clicked for me. Not only can transhumanism work with anarchy, it has to. Transhumanism is scary when it represents a loss of humanity. But if there is no authoritative state enforcing it, and no corporate interests standing to benefit from it, it becomes a question of personal choice. Then physical or mental modifications are an embodiment of the individual’s aspirations. What could be more human?
Of course, like I said above, SF is often about the present. That realization starts a pretty uncomfortable line of thinking about what autonomies I’ve already turned over to corporate or state authority, and it’s not insignificant.
Short answer: I had also published next to nothing.
You moved from Canada to southern France. How was that process and what spurred the change?
There’s no exciting, Lost Generation-style, writerly motivation. My wife is French, I wanted to work on my French, and we wanted to live somewhere warmer. Here we are.
Q: Canada and the UK tend to be the most fervent international supporters of science fiction as a literary art form. Do you feel the same love in France for your speculative work?
I don’t know if I can address this properly because I don’t write in French. The tradition certainly exists, De Bergerac and Voltaire were writing about visiting other worlds in the 17th century, and I’m told Jules Verne is still part of the grade school cannon. There is great speculative fiction being written in French, but I will say in libraries and bookstores the SF section has a lot of work in translation compared to other genres. Graphic fiction is much bigger over here and possibly that cannibalizes some writers and readers who would turn to speculative prose in the anglosphere. When I tell people about my own speculative work the reactions seem similar to what I’d expect from anglophones. But then, if they do read English, they’ve been exposed to anglo-SF anyway. And if they don’t, they’re not going to be reading me. In summary, I have no idea.
Q: What is next for author Jack Morton?
I also do audio narration, and recently had the opportunity to narrate my own story "Blue Boy," over at Vast Chasm Magazine. That’s something I’d like to do more of. There are always new stories in the works. Beyond that, I’m excited to find out!