Who's this Klanger? An interview with John Holten

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Next up is Seed's narrative writer and editor, John Holten, in the spotlight for this edition of Who's this Klanger? Keep reading to find out more about his own novels, sci-fi, and a little insight into an upcoming podcast project...

How on Earth did an Irish novelist start working for a Berlin-based gaming studio?

Well, I've been living in Berlin for around ten years and have known Klang for five of those years, since ReRunners times. So when Seed started to go into production, I pitched a brief for the backstory and the guys loved it. Since then, I started to work on text-related endeavors and slowly the tasks have accumulated. Now things are getting hot and heavy!

You were doing lots of cool stuff before joining Klang full time. Tell our readers more about yourself!

After studying philosophy and literature, I moved around a little bit before settling in Berlin to write what would become my first novel The Readymades. Whilst I was deep in the writing process, I got a tad bored and isolated - as one tends to do when writing a novel - and so I started distracting myself and started to edit and curate what became an anthology of other people's art and writing, and that in turn gave rise to a publishing endeavor, which is called Broken Dimanche Press (BDP). It was a success. So we made some more books and a couple of years later I found myself then self-publishing my first novel The Readymades through BDP.

That was back in 2009, and since then, we've published over 50 titles. We've done a lot of projects including exhibitions, workshops and readings, both in Berlin and across Europe. It's an independent art press that allows us to do pretty cool things. So along with that, I've worked a lot with visual artists, often collaborating on text-related aspects to their work.

What is it you're currently working on at Klang?

I'm working closely with the Game Designers and developing all narrative aspects of the game from backstory and lore to world-building. There is a lot there to be fleshed out, researched and rounded out, so to speak. It's super exciting because it's world-building in its purest form.

On top of that, we're very deep in making a podcast, which is super cool because it's a whole production that we've built from the ground up. It's been a wild journey! Not only learning about all the subjects that we're looking at, which is, broadly speaking, the future of humanity (no less!), but it's also exciting to work as a writer and storyteller in a whole new medium - sound - and explore the potentials of podcasting.

What excites you most about Seed?

Seed is set in the future, but it has all the premises of sci-fi that I love the most: it can teach us something about and reflect on the present. It does so by starting its backstory in the past, and we've got a fascinating 'temporal arc'. So Seed, while set on an exoplanet, is going to be able to teach us a lot about our planet in the here and now.

One thing that I'm doing is to try and work the backstory so that it covers a large span of time into the game and make it relevant and enjoyable for the in-game experience. Seed will be a chance to explore the future, but in a way that's very recognizable, touching on present concerns.

I get to think about things like the Anthropocene, climate change, Transhumanism, Big Data, the Internet and AI. All these aspects that are happening quite quickly and the rate of change is accelerating all the time. Seed is an imaginative world that blends all these things, so it makes it really enjoyable to work on. Also the team at Klang is incredible, it’s really been a pleasure to be around so many smart and talented people and teams all working toward a shared goal.

Any books or sources of information that you'd recommend reading or find very inspiring in relation to Seed?

The cool thing about working on Seed is that because the story is so big, it's allowed my research and reading to go really far. So everything from the Holy Bible to The Three-Body Problem is relevant. What I've realized while working on Seed is that the Transhumanist movement can really be seen in a lot of popular culture. So the Blade Runner movies are of relevance for the way they tell their stories but also for the philosophical issues they touch upon. But then so is Leibniz, a philosopher from the 18th Century, who was a polymath and could straddle the scientific and philosophical disciplines.

In terms of book suggestions, I recommend: To Be a Machine by Mark McConnell, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, and New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future by James Bridle. But also anything you can get your hands on related to Russian Cosmism, a whole movement dating from as far as 19th century Russia that has a lot to teach us about life, death, the planet and outer space...

Now, time to plug! Where can we read or buy your own work?

Well, I've just had an essay published in a UK-based journal called Hotel, issue number five. A massive thing for me recently was having an excerpt of my work in The Other Irish Tradition, published by Dalkey Archive Press. I joke that it's is my retirement card because I'm included with all my heroes. It was a big honor!

My first book, The Readymades, is sold out but will be published by gorse editions later this year while my second book, Oslo, Norway, is still available to purchase via Broken Dimanche Press.