We bring to your attention a slightly edited transcript of the sixth episode of the second season of the “Radio on Mezha” podcast. If it is more convenient for you to listen to the audio version of the podcast, you can, as usual, find it at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, YouTube, Spotify, Deezer, RSS.
Today we have a slightly unconventional the podcast, because today the famous Ukrainian writer Max Kidruk came to visit us. We have a full review of Max’s new sci-fi novel The New Dark Ages. The Colony on our website, in addition, we have already mentioned this work in our podcast and some other materials. I strongly advise all our listeners and readers to familiarize themselves with this work, and now Maksym and I will discuss some technical, and maybe not only technical, aspects of the work of a modern writer and some interesting details of The Colony, maybe first what concerns our topic , i.e. IT.
Good afternoon, Maksym, we congratulate you on the release of such a significant work in all senses. We really liked the book and we are looking forward to the continuation of this story.
Congratulations. Thanks, that’s great to hear. And before we begin, I’m actually grateful to you for agreeing to reschedule our conversation today. We deliberately planned it, hoping that the second edition of the book would be published a week earlier and we would handle everything and send the novel to the readers. As it turned out, it was delayed for us and I literally just got here. But at the same time, I’m glad to be here, I’m glad that you invited me, and yes, let’s talk a little about The Colony.
Okay. I will actually ask about the circulation, but later. At the beginning, this is a very traditional question that you have probably heard many times. How did you start writing in the first place, was it some kind of momentary impulse, some kind of event that forced the thermal energy engineer (by the way, we studied at the same faculty and at the same university) to pick up the pen? Was it more of a gradual progression from technical textbooks on automated design systems to travelogues and then works of art?
It’s actually more my technical side, the technical part of my career, it’s more of a departure from the norm. Because since childhood I read a lot of fiction – classics, adventure, and everything. And it’s not that I dreamed that I would be a writer, but from a very young age, I don’t know, from high school, I read certain authors and thought about how it would be nice and cool to live like them. It wasn’t some kind of conscious daydreaming, something that I set a goal for myself, but I always gravitated towards it more.
Why this technical major anyway… I think you understand that after the 11th grade, very few young people really know what they want out of life. And they are influenced by a lot of external factors – this is the pressure of society, and parents, etc. I was good at mathematics and physics, it was easy for me, so I went to a technical specialty, because then, at the level of my 11th grade, it seemed that energy was something promising, and there are two nuclear plants near Rivne (Maksym was born near Rivne and lives in Rivne – ed.), but…
I started to write consciously, that is, with the thought that I would like to be published, probably in the second year of university. That is, I studied all these theoretical mechanics, the resistance of materials, but in fact even then I began to think that it was not for me. There was no single impulse. I’m trying to find a turning point, and the closest to this turning point is probably the period when I read “he Worship of the Lizard by Lubko Deresh (the book was published in 2002 – ed. note). This is the text that made a great impression on me. First, this is a good novel that came to me at the right time. Second, it showed me that someone in this country actually writes. And thirdly, I was actually pleasantly shocked that this author is my age. And that’s when I thought, if someone, for example, Deresh can, then why can’t I?
And it is obvious that from the moment when this thought began to somehow crystallize to the moment when I published my first book, a lot of time has passed, a lot of years have passed. But somewhere in the second year of university, this is the time when I began to think that I would like to be like the authors I read in my childhood.
Okay, then the next question is about the authors you read as a child. It seemed to me that among the sources of inspiration of The New Dark Ages. The Colony, in addition to, of course, real events in Ukraine and the world at the beginning of the XXI century, there were A Song of Ice and Fire by Mr. Martin, I mention it in the review, The Expanse by James S. A. Corey and The Martian/ Artemis by Andy Weir. In addition, it seemed to me that your The New Ages is a kind of North. 22nd century, which argues with South, 22nd century by the Strugatsky brothers. That is, everything is much gloomier for you than for the Strugatskys. Am I wrong and you were inspired by other books? What sci-fi books did teenager Max Kidruk grow up reading?
For the most part, you guessed it. I mean, when you compare, it’s obviously a very big advance for my story, but when you compare it to Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, I’m flattered because that’s a text that I really love.
Andy Weir’s The Martian and The Expanse were oriented to a lesser extent, but I understand why such analogies arise, because in fact, there is not so much hard science fiction (hard science fiction – a category of science fiction that is characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical details and exact correspondence to academic science at the time of the writing of the work – ed.), and even less hard science fiction, which is about some kind of conditional near future that can be somehow grasped. I understand that Andy Weir and I are in a very narrow niche, so obviously that’s where the analogy comes from.
I will not tell you anything about the Strugatskys, because I have not read any of their texts.
Wow, that’s unexpected!
It is obvious that we are currently in a bloody war with russia and that the events in Bucha, in Mariupol and in a number of other cities of Ukraine simply reset the entire russian culture. And that’s why now I can be proud of the fact that I don’t read or haven’t read the Strugatskys. But I didn’t really read them back when it wasn’t mainstream. This is due to the fact that in my father’s library there were mostly no russian classics, no fiction, nothing. I can’t even tell you what it was connected with, because my father obviously grew up in the Soviet Union, but he had either Ukrainian classics, or foreign, of course, what was printed at that time in the USSR, or some foreign adventure, genre literature. And that’s what I grew up with.
To tell the truth, I don’t even remember which of those old famous [soviet] fiction writers I read, well, maybe Belyaev. And that’s why I can’t tell you anything about this comparison of gloom in my The New Dark Ages and in any of Strugatskys’ texts because unfortunately, I haven’t read them.
Actually, I understand everything you said about soviet and russian culture and fiction, but there are some exceptions, and Strugatskys is, of course, an exception. And thank God that they already died and can no longer say anything to rebuke this impression that was made by them then, in the 70s and 80s of the last century.
We still are an IT site, so there will be such an IT question. At one time, in the 1970s, Isaac Asimov enthusiastically promoted Apple computers, which completely changed his ideas, his working habits, and how to write. And Asimov said several times that he could write SO much thanks to the computer, because it was a new world and new tools. What does Max Kidruk write on? What kind of hardware do you have? Are there quality special writing programs to keep notes, lists of characters, their relationships, connections between characters and storylines, etc.?
Actually, I’m not that much of a computer geek. Yes, I gravitate towards quality things, but I’m not a fan of brands, I don’t chase it. Now I have an ASUS Vivobook laptop, one of the latest models. I work directly on software from Microsoft, that is, it is Word. I know there are other programs out there, but for the most part these programs, regardless of all the advanced functionality, don’t make the text better in my opinion. It’s just a bunch of gimmicky features that sometimes only distract.
I’m more of an old school dude here when it comes to schematics and stuff. I make whatmans with notes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m some Luddite out there who says “no, you have to write everything down on paper!”, no, no. But drawing paper is something that can hang above my bed or in front of my workplace and something that I can cover at a glance, just in all at once. No matter how cool programs and applications are on the computer, you can’t cover everything at once, you have to scroll, rummage through it, zoom. And that’s why, yes, this is how I work in the old-school way.
If the novel is long, I draw a diagram of the characters, with brief descriptions and how they interact. Not just interacting with each other, but what they want from each other. If the novel is obscenely large, like The Colony, then I start a separate card for each character. Roughly speaking, this is just a notebook where there is a certain number of pages for each character and where I write everything – their motivation, appearance, peculiarities of speech, any other features, touches that distinguish him, or help the reader get along with them more easily, make it easier to be recognized.
Yes, I tried to do all this in the digital version as well, but believe it or not, the old simple notebook is somehow easier for me in terms of accessibility. I understand that you can’t do Ctrl+F and search for something, some character there. But on the other hand, if you are an author, you are writing a novel and you forgot something about your character… I think that no software will help here, you have to do something with the way you write, the way you work.
I actually thought at one point that you forgot two characters. I kept waiting for them to show up again, and at the end of the book they finally did. This is Nera with Felix. They were gone for a very long time, probably 200 pages, and then they came back.
That’s a valid point, but you have to understand that this first book, The Colony, the first of the New Dark Ages series, it’s like… I mean, it’s not exactly a prelude, obviously it has its climaxes and so on. But for the most part you just get to know the characters, their lines, and there are a number of characters that you now think I’ve dropped, like Rex Barbo. But I assure you, I would never put so much effort into developing a character, into trying to make it as vivid as possible, only to then just throw it away.
And so, if you liked it, or if you are my regular reader, then you have to trust me, I extend my hand to you and invite you to this journey. Yes, you will have to wait a bit, but if you trust me, then welcome aboard and you are in for a very, very cool story. And the fact that some storylines seem to you to be broken, unfinished, it is obvious that it should be, because this story is much, much more than the part of it that is written now.
The next question is also a bit strange. The hero of your first novel, Bot: Atacama Crisis, worked for a game company, and our readers probably know which company was meant (if not, it’s GSC Game World right after the first S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – ed.). And does Max Kidruk himself play video games? If so, which ones?
Haven’t played in a long time. There was a period when it wasn’t really exciting to me, it’s just that my growing up happened at the moment when there was a sharp shift in graphics in computer games, that is, I saw the transition from the first DOOM to Unreal. That, the first Unreal, not a network shooter like Counter-Strike, but a first-person shooter. And for me it was “Wow!”. When you “transfer” from blurred squares and see normal textures, you see normal depth (of course for its time), good rendered light…
So yeah, back then I followed what was coming out, what games were coming out, but after Half-Life 2 came out I didn’t play anything. And the reason is not even that I don’t want to, but that, probably, adult life has begun and there are always some things to do, always something distracting… And if I want to rest, then for me rest is still reading. It’s hard for me to relax in front of my laptop, even if I’m, say, just plugging in YouTube, let alone playing a computer game.
To tell the truth, I would like to play something. I see there is something about Hogwarts (Hogwarts Legacy – ed.) or Cyberpunk, something new coming out now. Such cool graphics, beautiful chests. But I don’t haveenough time.
Let’s turn to The Colony. Why space? Why Mars? Why now? That is, this is your first sci-fi book, the events of which take place outside the Earth. Before, it seemed to me that you were more interested in what “remains on Earth”.
I do not know. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what to answer you. Because sometimes stories just happen. And at some point, you realize that this story is timely, this story excites you more than others.
You also have to understand that you are reading The Colony right now and you may be making associations that I was somehow inspired to write it by Elon Musk’s SpaceX achievements and so on. But in fact, no, because the first ideas began to appear five years ago, maybe even more. Some notes that began with phowever, to grow flesh, something more than just some strokes or sketches began to grow out of them.
Besides… I love this comparison, it’s not my comparison, I read it from someone, that the writer has something in common with the archaeologist. [The writer] is an archaeologist who digs up not the bones of long-extinct animals, but an archaeologist who digs up stories. So you just go, come across some bone, that is, some plot that seems promising to you. You sit down and start digging. And, as paradoxical as it sounds, you don’t always realize what’s next. It can be just one bone, and nothing beyond it. And there may be a complete skeleton of a tyrannosaurus, which is the best preserved in the world.
The only remark, you must understand that now I am not talking about writing a text, but directly about working out a story, about inventing a novel. When I’m already writing something, it’s obvious that I know what I’m going for and where it’s all going. But when the story is just beginning, very often you just walk around and spin some episode in your head. And you love it. And you think, this is cool, this should be used somewhere. And you think about it for so long, so long and so meticulously that eventually he begins to grow with some auxiliary stories. And those stories lead to other stories. And so you gradually dig up that skeleton and see that it is not just any one bone, it can be something promising. This may be the best-preserved skeleton of a tyrannosaurus. Well, you start digging further.
Interesting comparison. In The New Dark Ages you paint a very bleak world of the future, in which humanity does not learn from its own mistakes. Do you think that people are incorrigible and even in 120 years we will face the same as today, or is this a kind of projection of the events of several past years into the future?
This dispute could have made sense more than a year ago, until the russians crossed the border here. We could still discuss that humanity is realizing something, that man is changing, that moral and ethical progress is creating a new type of man, blah blah blah blah blah. But for those people who accuse me of this seeming gloominess of my text, you have no arguments now. We are talking about a terrible, bloody war in the 21st century. Just think about it… A huge nation that could grow rich, develop its culture, build something, create, simply turned into a herd of degenerates. I don’t like to generalize and it’s wrong, it’s a sign of primitive thinking when you try to generalize some group of people, but I, unfortunately, have relatives in russia, and I say this quite consciously. There’s nothing to talk about… It’s actually terrible.
Therefore, I generally reject these objections about excessive gloom. As early as 30 years ago, futurologists or some other experts already began to talk casually about the “end of history”. Like, the Soviet Union collapsed, now democracy will win all over the world, peace will come and nothing else will change. Man has finally evolved into an animal that understands that interaction is not always a zero-sum game. That in interaction there is always a win-win option for both parties, and not, as the russians think, that in order to win, someone else must lose. 30 years ago, people quite seriously said that the golden age of humanity is ahead and everything will be great. And here we are, in 2023…
…with russia, Iran, China…
Yes. It is obvious that it will not be as I describe, something will change, and something will be different. But in general, I am sure that even after 120 years there will be no fundamental changes. And if they will be, I’m afraid they won’t be for the worse.
And even if there was no argument from my side in the form of a war that Russia unleashed against Ukraine, I would argue with this seemingly gloom all the same. I do not paint a gloomy picture, I paint a picture as realistic as possible.
The idea that literature should educate, teach, nurture some moral qualities is fundamentally wrong. Actually, this war shows now that culture does not teach anything. Culture failed to prevent the bloodiest conflict in the 21st century.
And that’s why when I write, I don’t try to teach anyone, I paint the most realistic picture possible, show what can be, and this applies not only to politics, society, but to the climate itself. I described in The Colony the possibility of a methane hydrate explosion… Will it happen? Well… probably not. But it is quite realistic. We know that events have already happened in the past of the Earth. We know that these events led to simply catastrophic consequences for all living things on the planet. And it may well be that we have already passed the point of no return, and the planet is once again headed for something like what happened at the end of the Permian and Triassic periods, one of the largest extinctions in the history of life on the planet. And it also applies and society, which I depict in the future.
I think that a culture has been defeated in an attempt to educate some morality in a person. It should rather warn now. And I, as a writer, depict the worst possible scenario, this is the same worst-case scenario. I say, people, look, it’s real, it’s more than real. There is nothing fantastic or overly naive about what I wrote. It can all be. And so, let’s get together and talk about what we can do to prevent this from happening.
Whether I succeed in this is another question. But this is exactly what I see as the meaning of my text. It is not gloomy, it is realistic. And it exists to encourage all its readers to think and start discussions about what we can do to avoid such a future for human civilization.
Thank you for your reply. Immediately on this occasion, it came to mind: “A pessimist is a well-informed optimist.”
Let’s go back a bit to technology. Almost everything that we see in The Colony is not breakthrough new technologies, but a kind of evolutionary development of what we already have. Bioprinting of individual organs already exists. The Martian ships in the novel are, after all, more sophisticated Starships. Do you not believe in the singularity and think that humanity has been standing still for the last 50 years? So progress has stopped?
Allow me a counter-question. Do you think otherwise?
I agree with you in many ways about humanity, the role of culture, and progress. Yes, since we, that is, as Americans, landed on the Moon, nothing more impressive has happened. So we are still a little stomping on the spot, that’s true.
In fact, the very idea that progress is an exponential process is false. The idea that progress will last forever is also false. I can give many examples, but I will stop at two.
The first is, let’s say, airplanes, which I really like. Remember where it all began. The Wright brothers, who flew some tens of meters. They raised this paper-fabric-wooden airplane into the air and flew a little. Then came more advanced planes, then steel planes, then turboprops, then jets, and then Concorde. But in the early 1960s, progress simply slowed down. That is, we, I mean engineers, reached the ceiling. There are simply no, in principle no physical ways to dramatically improve a heavier-than-air flying vehicle under Earth conditions. There are some optimizations, we make a digital cockpit, optimize the software, [create] more economical engines, etc. But this is all about improving the calculated percentages, or even fractions of percentages. The point is that there cannot be any breakthrough in this field in principle.
Something similar with the digital industry. Remember Moore’s Law about doubling the power of transistors?
I definitely remember it.
We all understand that this is not a law. There is no physical entity behind it. That is, it just so happened that the power of transistors doubled every year and a half. But we have once again reached the ceiling, we have already reached almost the scale of an atom, and we can no longer make our processors more powerful.
After all, any ordinary person can notice it. Even, let’s say, somewhere in the 2000s, each subsequent mobile phone, or any gadget, became both lighter and more powerful. And now phones and laptops have stopped getting lighter. Yes, they still get more powerful as we add two, three, four, five cores, etc.
And yes, someone will note that we may reach quantum computing, a quantum computer. And now I’m not ready, because it will be a bit long to tell, but in general, this industry is still taking the first small steps towards the creation of a truly functional prototype that does not just solve some specific task programmed for it, but a truly multifunctional quantum computer, for a very, very long time. And it is quite possible that we will not create it at all, because there are certain physical limitations at the quantum level.
And this applies to many industries. It is obvious that there will be breakthroughs. In my text, the big breakthrough is medicine. This is the invention of the drug telamide, the practical overcoming of aging, and so on. That is, there are some industries. But, in my opinion, they will definitely not be in the field of some technology, like airplanes, or hardware, like processors, etc. They will go from molecular biology, from medicine, that’s where they come from.
And that’s why I depict such a world, which, as you rightly pointed out, evolved, and did not experience some revolutionary breakthroughs. I am convinced that it will be so. There is actually a whole theory that we, that is, humanity, have already consumed all the low-hanging fruits of progress. And in order to do something new and fundamentally better, it is necessary to inflict disproportionately more effort.
In fact, it is so in everything. I saw a video about a year ago in which some American channel, CBS or someone else, did a clip of how every year since 2012, Elon Musk has been talking about how by the end of the year they will have a functional artificial intelligence system that will drive Tesla. And 10 years have passed since then, every year Elon Musk promised something, but this system does not exist and is not expected. Yes, there are a bunch of features that make driving easier, but a fully functional [autopilot] system just doesn’t exist.
Why? Because it’s difficult. Just like these, in my opinion, completely naive plans of Musk, that in 2024 there will already be some first flights to Mars. Well, no.
That doesn’t mean we can’t fly to Mars in the future, it doesn’t mean we can’t develop a self-driving car in the future. We can! But it will not take a year, not two, not five, and not ten. These are extremely complex things. And their development and sharpening can last for decades. And so, yes, I depict the world as I believe it will be in 100 years.
About Musk, it is even more interesting, he just lied for several years at first. Here you mentioned artificial intelligence and it’s just my next question. One thing that surprised me a little about The Colony is the rather limited use of artificial intelligence. We, as a site that writes IT news, write every day about the fact that artificial intelligence is used in this industry, in that one, it already does one thing or another. Today there was news about the use of AI in the sights of M1 Abrams tanks, a fighter aircraft with artificial intelligence has been launched. And the same thing I can say about the VR/AR technology that everyone is talking about now, there is almost no such thing in the novel. It seems that humanity has either rejected them or forgotten them. Why did this happen?
That’s a good question and I’ve studied this topic for quite some time, I’ll be giving presentations on it for the New Dark Ages tour that we’re about to start after the war, and I’ll be giving it a lot of attention.
The first thing I’ll start with is that I’m actually very upset about the context in which the phrase “artificial intelligence” is being used now.
Actually, it upsets everyone, but that’s the way it is.
You understand that this is not artificial intelligence, that is, it is not intelligence in principle – it is just a cool developed program. ChatGPT is simply a program that analyzes, and examines the repetition of words in sentences and the probability that a certain word will appear after a series of selected words. That is, it is not artificial intelligence. It does not understand anything that it emits, it is not aware of the information that it processes – it is just a computer program.
Yes, it is extremely cool, it is just fantastic. But it’s just a computer program. In this context, anything can be called artificial intelligence. Facebook’s face recognition system is artificial intelligence. Google Translate is artificial intelligence. But this is not so, these are just very cool, carefully worked out, tested computer programs. And all of them have limitations.
That is, if, say, Google Translate, or just the Google search service, were truly artificial intelligence, it would really progress exponentially. But, both the search service and Google Translate are just programs. Yes, they are capable of self-improvement, because the more information they pass through themselves, the more they learn and the better they become. But that doesn’t mean that at some point Google Translate will come to its senses and want to conquer the world, or start playing the stock market, or something. It’s just delusional.
You just understand that we can’t fight this wave when people call artificial intelligence what it isn’t… well, artificial intelligence specialists have even invented a special term now – human-level artificial intelligence. That is when we talk about real machine intelligence. And this is a completely different issue. It will not appear in a specialized program such as Midjourney, ChatGPT, or the same Google Translate. It can never appear there because, again, these are just computer programs. Very good ones, which very well imitate certain human activities, which can be a good tool. They are just wonderful, but they will never rebel, and they will never become self-conscious. They have a certain bar.
Again, that doesn’t mean I’m a skeptic. In general, I believe that developing machine intelligence, in the sense of human-level machine intelligence, is possible. But again, we are not talking about decades, but, in my opinion, centuries. And you need to do this without developing ChatGPT, which roughly speaking is an algorithm that analyzes the frequency of the appearance of certain words in certain conditions. You can develop it will only imitate the structure of the only intelligence known to us in the universe – the human brain.
And that’s what I’m afraid of, that in the end, when we develop it… I emphasize I don’t see fundamental reasons why it’s impossible, even in 200, or 300 years, but maybe it will appear. So, I am very afraid that machine intelligence will have all the advantages and disadvantages that ordinary intelligence has. That is, yes, it will be an intelligence that arises in a machine, in inanimate matter, but at the same time, due to its structure, it has the same imperfections as human intelligence. So it might be a bit faster, but it won’t be mega versatile. This is exactly how it will make mistakes. It will not be too superior to a person in something.
Again, I’m picturing the world, you may have noticed this in the Dark Ages, where everything is covered with screens, where there are these programs that we now call artificial intelligence. Let’s say both Goran Zagaria and Jorg Florian communicate with their rooms, they have some kind of built-in assistant to whom they click their fingers, say something and it does it. Dials some phone numbers, lets someone into the office, etc. I’m describing cars that listen to free-form voice commands like “come to a complete stop at the curb” and execute them. I am describing a world in which all the walls are covered with screens and there are a bunch of these programs that help in every area. I believe that it will be so.
But I do not believe that by 2141 we will develop human-level artificial intelligence. This is the first. And secondly, the reason people don’t mention it in my novel is because I’m more than sure that in 120 years, all the hype that Kurzweil (Raymond Kurzweil – an American inventor and futurist who created numerous systems for speech recognition and gave a scientific rationale for the technological singularity. Kurzweil has been the CTO of machine learning and natural language processing at Google since December 2012 – ed.) started about singularities and such will disappear. We will pass all these promised points of singularity we are promised for 2040 when artificial intelligence will take over the world. We will successfully pass them and realize that all these reasonings were delusional. People will simply calm down and understand that this is not such a trivial task as it seemed. And we’re going to have a bunch of assistants that look like they have acquired intelligence, but they’re not.
Accordingly, no one will develop artificial intelligence, because it is difficult and there cannot be any intermediate phase here. What does it mean? That, let’s say, the previous imperfect version of СhatGPT could still be used in some way and, accordingly, it could have some commercial application. And then it was developed and improved. Artificial intelligence on the other hand… Well, a program cannot be half-conscious. So it’s hard for me to imagine any commercial incentives that would compel companies or scientists to invest their entire lives, their entire careers into this without having these intermediate points that could be presented as a result. And not knowing when that result will be and whether it will be at all.
So it’s my reasoning behind the fact that I depict the world of the 22nd century just like that.
One more question, also an IT one, which concerns the Martian Internet, or rather its connection with the Earth Internet. In the novel, as I recall, there are a number of servers in heliocentric and Martian orbits. And here is the question. We know that we have a delay to Mars, the communication channels are very weak, we need powerful antennas, it is physically impossible to “push” a lot of data there due to limitations. But there is a Martian Internet and why, for example, it is not all filtered. I was actually excited about the Darknet episode because I thought, why doesn’t AI filter all Darknet access? Why is this allowed? Why doesn’t the Council block this at the orbital server level, say?
It is actually a non-trivial task to provide broadband communication between Earth and Mars. And here I’m lying a little, I didn’t delve too deeply into it, because I understand how difficult it is. I just make up this series of servers, there are many of them in different orbits and I prescribe it in such a way that, they say, they are very powerful and they constantly download some data to themselves in the background.
The only thing is that when a person on Mars searches for something, they do not search for it on some conventional Earth server, but they search for information that is located on the server closest to Mars. There is less delay and the signal can be stronger. Accordingly, they do not have access to all information and this information is outdated. I even wrote that music is a bit difficult to download but generally doable.
Again, these are fundamental limitations that will be difficult to bypass, so I write that I have Interplanetary services – Interplanetary Network, a company that deals with this. And there are a lot of these servers, they are very powerful and they constantly pull information from the Earth and thus provide the illusion of supposedly instant access.
The second question was about the Darknet, about Internet filtering, why is the Council not doing it?
I can ask you the same question. And why is nobody filtering the Darknet now? There are many enthusiasts who are not controlled by the governments that create it, who always find loopholes. And I don’t think anything will change. How can you control the internet? Yes, you can try, as they do in russia, but these efforts will be pathetic. It’s ridiculous.
That’s a good question actually, and I’ve really thought about it. That is, if they download some kind of bloody video, it is obvious that Google immediately understands that it is some kind of massacre and should be blocked. But all the same, there is this Darknet, I’ve searched and researched it myself and there are just horrible sites that have, for example, executions of Mexican drug cartels that they do. That is, all this really exists.
So when you ask me why the Council of Nineteen on Mars doesn’t control it, it actually makes sense and I thought about it. But you can also ask, why is no one controlling this now? Why can I find real videos that are not even disproportionate to the horrors that I described in my book, not in two clicks, but in five clicks?
And that’s why I think it will be like that in the future. That there will be one internet where everything will be controlled. Absolutely everything will be transparent and controlled, there will be scams and so on. And there will also be a Darknet, where there will be illegal money and things like that.
There are several questions about Ukrainians in the novel. You have Ukrainians in almost every novel, and here they play a rather important role. The Ukrainian diaspora on Mars in The Colony lives in a real totalitarian society, where everyone obeys the will of one elder who knows what he thinks is best, but is actually stuck in the past. Do you think that Ukrainians still have this longing for a strong hand and totalitarianism and will remain in the future?
No no no. This immediately caught my ear… this is not a totalitarian society. On the contrary, it is… I don’t even know how to describe the structure of that society. That is, Goran is not endowed with unlimited power, and this has absolutely nothing to do with any “longing”. Again, I really don’t like these generalizations…
But why did I describe it that way, what is the reasoning behind it? You understand that the Colony will be built from scratch. The one who arrives there first obviously gets used to it faster and has access to some resources. And when the new colonists arrive there, they don’t know anything. It’s not like you moved somewhere, say, from Ukraine to Poland or from Poland to Britain, and there you continue to do coding, for example. In a different cultural environment, but generally similar in many respects. Here you enter a completely different world. And whoever was there before you, has more resources, more influence, and more knowledge. And knowledge in such an environment is everything, the difference between life and death.
Now think about something else. That these people using telomide do not age. That is when 50 years have passed and some new colonist arrives, and Goran he has been there for 140 years. Imagine what influence he will have, what experience he will have, and how many connections he will have. Simply because he was there first and he doesn’t age. Therefore, it is not totalitarianism, it is such an extreme form of capitalism with a strictly expressed monopoly.
That is, these people who work for Goran would certainly be glad to get rid of his influence, or somehow weaken it. But imagine, here you are flying to Mars and literally do not know what to do, or where to run. Then this guy comes and says – this is where you will have housing, this is where you will work, this is what you will do. And you can say, “no, I won’t,” but then he’ll obviously say go back to Earth, I’ll get someone else who wants to take telamide and live there for 200-300 years.
These are the considerations behind it. I was by no means describing this as a totalitarian sect or society, just that there is one man here who has been sitting in power for a while. And so [Spoiler Alert], all is not well with him in the end and slightly different processes will begin in the Ukrainian diaspora on Mars.
Understood. Maybe I didn’t phrase it that way. Maybe not totalitarian, but patriarchal. Because there is a 100% impression that they are afraid to deny Goran with any word, even when he starts openly mocking their own children.
Yes, here you are right. But I actually explained why I built it that way. It’s not that it’s connected to the patriarchal system, it’s just that it turned out that way economically, well, in general, it just turned out that way.
Another question about Ukraine. I will say frankly, your forecast regarding the results of future Russian-Ukrainian wars upsets probably all readers. This is, of course, a possible option, we all understand that this is a possible option, but would we, as Ukrainians, like a different result? From your point of view, is this a case where it is better to prepare for the worst?
I mentioned this earlier in our conversation… Why am I describing the methane hydrate explosion? Not because I want some gloomy atmosphere, but because it really can happen. Like I said, will it happen? Probably not, but I’d like to encourage this discussion, let’s talk about what we can do to make sure it doesn’t happen.
The same thing, when I described Ukraine, I thought a lot about it. He thought a lot about future wars with Russia, and how they would end. I was looking for some analogies – Russia’s claims to Crimea and Serbia’s claims to Kosovo to a certain extent. I understand that Kosovo is not Crimea, the situation is completely different there. But, let’s say, in my novel, Ukraine is still not in NATO for the same reason. Serbia and Kosovo have been told that they will not be in NATO until they resolve these disputes.
And I very much doubt that Russia will retreat from Crimea, or somehow quell its imperial ambitions. Even if Putin dies, nothing will change, the people will remain the same. Either the same or a worse autocrat will come. Or even if we imagine the best situation, that russia is democratizing, there will still be enough ruscists in it, namely ideological ruscists, in order not to allow references to Crimea to be removed from their Constitution. And until this dispute is resolved in a certain way, it is obvious that NATO will not accept us.
Again, I’m not an expert, I’m just a writer, but I’m doing this to, as I said, paint the worst-case scenario and we, especially right now, start talking. Okay, so what can we do to prevent this from happening? I realize that many people do not like the picture I have painted, but I also want you to understand that you should not lynch the messenger who brought bad news.
No, no, Maksym, I have no complaints against you.
I am actually talking about the fact that I have carefully thought through all these points that I wrote about. About Kharkiv, about DMZ, about “coppers” and so on. I was looking for an analogy. As I said, Serbia with Kosovo. Coppers are one community in Mexico, drug dealers in the mountains, who are actually not controlled by anyone. That is, right now, in 2023, there is a whole municipality in the mountains of Mexico, where neither the government nor the army has control.
Do I want it to be like that in Kharkiv? But, for sure, no! But considering the fact that we have such a crazy neighbor and that this neighbor will not disappear anywhere, all our wishes will be crushed. That his people, at least in the next few decades, will not change, will not evolve. We must not be ready for such scenarios, we must start thinking right now, about what we should do, and how we should build this country so that what I wrote about does not happen. This is also one of the main reasons why I wrote this novel.
Finally, if there is still time and desire to chat, I wanted to ask a few questions about the “Bearded Tamarin”.
Yes, please ask.
Why did you decide to create your own publishing house? What is it, the desire to get more money, more freedom, or more control over one’s own creations?
The matter here is quite simple. I and the team already controlled most of the processes – layout preparation, cover, etc. The publishing house only printed. And I realized that we can do it no less qualitatively.
The second reason was that when you are the publisher yourself and you publish your own text, you can write off certain expenses as irreversible and thus make better illustrations in the text, and make 3D maps, which are in The Colony. This is something that no normal publisher in Ukraine would do.
You see, literature is never about money. If a person thinks hey, I want to earn a lot of money in life, and let’s become a writer or a publisher, this is a person who is not all right with logic.
The main task is to create the best possible product. Making money is absolutely secondary. First of all, I want to create text, I want to create books that make readers’ jaws drop. Whether it works for me, or how it works, is a completely different question. But I understand that by starting my own publishing house, I have a much better chance of achieving what I want than if I continued to work with another publisher.
A catch-up question. I’m looking at how The Colony is published, at these illustrations, which I haven’t seen in sci-fi works for a long time, at colorful inserts, and so on. I have only one question… Why are you operating at a loss?
Let’s put it this way, we do not work at a loss. But you have to understand that the coefficient that the publishers put in the book in order to make a profit is a complex issue. That is, you can put a higher coefficient, but this does not mean that you will earn more. The price will simply be higher and fewer people will buy the publication. And that’s why my wife and I understood from the beginning that we don’t put a price on this book that you think is appropriate for it, because it’s so big, it’s so expensive, if you put the price as high as the market says, we would not earn more. We would only lose many readers who simply could not buy it.
So, no, we are not losing money, but obviously, as I said, making money is not our primary concern. That’s why we stopped at this amount, and that’s why we don’t give such big discounts to our partners, and many of them are offended by this. But I explain, if I put the price of the book instead of UAH 469, let’s say UAH 669, and give you a bigger discount, this does not mean that you will earn more because you will simply buy fewer of these books. So I insist on a smaller discount so that you make less and I make less, but let’s make money by selling more books.
The calculations and considerations behind all of this are quite complex, but I consider the price we set for The Colony adequate.
The price is actually very low, by today’s standards, especially for a book of this weight, volume, and quality. This is something incredible.
Question about circulation, which we raised from the beginning. The second part of it has already arrived. If it is not a secret, what is the current circulation of the novel? How much is this for Ukraine? Because I still remember the soviet 100,000 circulations and the modest 2-3,000 copies in the late 1990s. What numbers are we talking about now?
As of today, 20,000. The first print run was 12,000. The second was 8,000. The first was sold out. Second, I already wrote in a post on Facebook that out of 8,000, 4,500 were already collected by bookstores and various networks, and we collected 3,500 for our warehouse. Of these 3,500, 2,200 have already been sold and went to their customers today. That is, the lion’s share of the second circulation has either already been sold or has been reserved by bookstores. 20k in a little over a month and a half… not bad even for relatively peaceful times.
You mentioned these soviet circulations… I would not recommend focusing on them, not only because the time was different, there was no Internet and a lot of other things that distract from reading now. And because these circulations were fake. They were printed to order and sent to libraries, and there was no way to control how many of these books were read, how many times, how many of these books were bought, etc. At the same time, everything was determined by the writers’ union…
I understand all this, Maksym, I was wondering what, for example, the average circulation of books is now in Ukraine.
The average is difficult for me to say, but it is definitely more than 2000 copies. Much more. And again, my team and I are not focused on the average circulation. We have our own expectations and they are somewhat higher than the market average.
I wish you soviet 100 thousand. Let’s see. But the third circulation, as I understand it, will still have to be ordered.
We are already ordering, because we have very few books left in our warehouse. And we are just now ordering the third circulation.
As far as I know, Bearded Tamarin is already preparing several announcements of interesting popular science books. Are you ready to announce something?
In fact, we should have announced it a long time ago, but we are not announcing it because there is a certain delay. Insignificant, uncritical. We have already signed contracts for the purchase of rights, and we have received invoices, but in wartime, all foreign currency payments are carefully checked. You have to prove to the bank and the state that this payment is necessary, that’s the first thing. And the second is that the ultimate beneficiary of this payment is not russian and is not affiliated with russia. And it’s a bit of paperwork and a bit of time. Again, nothing critical, we are actually finishing this work and are about to announce new, our, not only mine, but other translated texts.
And finally, this question. Many after finishing reading The New Dark Ages. The Colony said that they would love to see this book in the form of a TV series. It is definitely not possible to squeeze it into one or even three hours of film. So did Netflix call? And what did you answer them?
One thing is for sure, they haven’t called yet. Of course, I wouldn’t mind if this was made into a second Game of Thrones, but we have to be realistic, right? Because translations must precede, success abroad must precede, and that is still very, very far away. And I don’t think that far. Right now, the goal for me is, as you said, 100,000. That’s the number we’re looking at. That is one step at a time. One step at a time. I have some immediate goal in front of me, I see it, I gather a team around me and we all work to achieve it. We achieve it – we think further. So far, it’s far from Netflix, to put it mildly.
And one last question. If Netflix, hypothetically, ordered the series, Max Kidruk would become a millionaire. Would he fly into space? Moon? To Mars?
I would definitely fly! That is, this is one of those good dreams. I would at least fly into Earth’s orbit. Just to see Earth from space.
May this dream of yours also come true. Thank you very much for stopping by, thank you very much for your answers, and inspiration, and we will wait for the next part. Three years, we know!
Thank you for the conversation, thank you!