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Local Author - Against The Machine: Manifesto, by Brian Van Norman

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Meghan, Queen's Square | September 1, 2021

With the community emerging from lockdown again, this is a perfect time to catch up with writers who’ve been busy working on new stories throughout the pandemic. Local author Brian Van Norman, for instance, will be launching the second installment in his Against the Machine trilogy with publisher Guernica Editions.

While Van Norman’s first novel in the series, Luddites, focussed on conflicts happening in early 19th century England, the second book, Manifesto offers up drama and thrills happening much closer to home: modern-day Waterloo Region. Observant readers will spot many familiar landmarks and references in the plot.

I interviewed Van Norman to learn more about Against the Machine: Manifesto, including the local setting and the unique challenges of releasing a book during COVID-19.   

What inspired you to write the Against the Machine trilogy?

“I have always been intrigued by the interface of humans and their inventions, particularly tools and machines.  It seemed to me that each time a machine was created to serve a purpose it supplanted those humans who had previously worked those jobs.  Almost inevitably, however, within a generation the machines had created more work than was lost.  I still wanted to know what happened to the generation who suffered the change as well as those who drew immediate benefit from new technology.”

Why did you choose to set Manifesto specifically in the Kitchener-Waterloo area?

“I set it in Waterloo Region in 2012 because this location is a leading hub of information technology while it was, and still is, a manufacturing town though we can see many former large employers shutting down.”

This book focusses on the conflict between workers, machines and business owners, something that occurred at the beginning of Industrial Revolution and that we are seeing again with increased automation in the Information Age. Would you be able to explain for readers what the Luddites did and how their legacy continues today in neo-Luddism?

“Luddites were cottage workers in the cloth industry who rebelled against the new steam machines which were replacing them.  They accomplished this by gathering in large crowds, forcing entry into the new manufactories and smashing the machines which had supplanted their work.

“Their legacy continues among the neo-Luddites of the 20th Century… Neo-Luddism is a philosophy opposing much of modern technology.

“We even have some ‘Luddites’ in Waterloo Region… old order Mennonites who live rurally without employing modern technology.”

There are many different perspectives on technology in this novel. These range from the factory worker, Mel Buckworth, who has suffered and feels left behind thanks to technological change, to that of Stanley Best, who is a computer science genius and often seems more comfortable with algorithms than with people. What character view-of-point was easiest for you to write and which one was most challenging? Why?

“The character of Mel was easier for me because I am closer to his age and I found many people who served as sources for his character, including myself.

“Stanley was, of course, the most difficult.  I am not a genius.  He is.  Yet I didn’t want to create the stereotypical adolescent we see so often in films and television.  The people I met at Waterloo were sophisticated, humble and extremely intelligent.  I was able to draw from many of them to help offer the complexities of Stanley Best.”

What has it been like preparing a novel for publication during COVID-19?

“Well, Luddites [the first novel] was released April 1, 2020 just at the beginning of COVID.  All appearances were cancelled…My publisher, Guernica Editions, did everything in its power to electronically push for an awareness of its existence and push sales as well.  Fortunately, it received superb reviews so that helped quite a bit.

“Now, with people experienced at working from home, use of the internet to advertise, announce and even present evenings of readings in virtual book launches has made things a little easier.  I am hoping, however, to launch the AGAINST THE MACHINE: MANIFESTO live in Waterloo, and visit local area book stores in October.

“I invite everyone to visit my website www.authorbrianvannorman.com.”

Fascinated by the themes of Against the Machine: Manifesto? Try out this related reading from Idea Exchange collections:

Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman.

The Bomb Maker, by Thomas Perry.

Data and Goliath, by Bruce Schneier.