Roland Michel Tremblay: 1) B. Barmanbek, you have a new recently published book called Culpa Innata, which is the extension of a bestselling PC-adventure game of the same name published in 2007. How would you describe the story, the intrigue, and the characters of Culpa Innata? Could you discuss the differences between the book and the game?
B. Barmanbek by B. Barmanbek
B. Barmanbek: In a nutshell, Culpa Innata is the story of a woman's self-discovery through a murder mystery that takes place just a few decades into the future. She is not aware of it, but her process of self-discovery will create devastating hurricanes in her liberal, yet ruthless, society.
It all starts with Phoenix's assignment with a new position as a Senior Peace Agent (similar to a federal agent) at her place of birth, Adrianopolis. She is an underachiever who constantly blames herself for her own shortcomings. She is already in her mid-thirties, desperately trying to overcome her chronic social awkwardness, and with no good prospect of future. She is very smart and skilled but her buried traumatic childhood past haunts her and she will have to face that past to solve her murder case and complete a painful process of self-discovery.
She has lived quietly in social isolation all her life, but all of a sudden, she begins to bring chaos and devastation to her periphery, including to herself. The people around her get stronger or weaker through the special energy that surrounds her. She struggles to understand why but the reason is hidden in her past. She has to face that past in order to find out who she really is. And in the process, she will need to go through the hardest few days of her life, surviving backstabbing colleagues, executive-level intra-corporate schemes, mind-control attempts, insomnia, murderous psychopaths, and even an utterly selfish best friend.
The book and the game essentially share the same story. However, I consider the game as a subset of the book, simply because I wasn't able to convey the story the way I imagined it in the game for so many different reasons, rendering the game incomplete in my mind. For example, we were able to reveal so little about Phoenix's personality in the game. Unknowns surrounded many scenes. Gamers had so many questions in their heads after finishing. I hope that the book fills in all the blanks and allows the reader to complete the story.
RMT: 2) You have previously mentioned that Culpa Innata was loosely based on the Turkish book Schroedinger's Cat by bestselling Turkish author Alev Alatli, a book that has not been translated into English. Could you tell us what the novel Schroedinger's Cat is about and how it influenced Culpa Innata?
BB: Alev's books are very difficult to translate into another language. Her works (even the ones about Russia) are predominantly deep explorations of the Turkish soul and have so many references to the recent history, in English I think the footnotes would be longer than the novels themselves. In Schroedinger's Cat (Schroedinger'in Kedisi) book, she portrays the early chaos years following a global meltdown and a totally dismembered Turkey. The novel starts at this setting and a woman is being tried for her crimes, for letting (or failing to save) her niece from falling to the grip of nihilism.
She defends herself and in her words; Alatli explores the 80s and 90s of Turkey and its social transformation. It focuses on a family that moves to the big city from a deeply conservative rural village in the east, and how the members of the family drift away from each other through nihilism, religious fundamentalism, emigration. It includes concepts like induced aphasia, fuzzy logic vs. binary logic, quantum physics (thus the name Schroedinger's Cat). It made a huge impact on the society when it first came out.
When I got my hands on the book, I was looking for a good futuristic theme for an Adventure. The concept was unique, but the setting was too local. I've been friends with her and her family for a very long time and I asked her permission to borrow her universe for a video game, with a completely different story line. She said I could do whatever I wish, as long as I don't betray to her story's soul. So we brainstormed to see what kind of story we could create from it.
My role was being the producer of the project. But after parting ways with several writers and under time pressure, I started writing the background of what I called as the Great Meltdown (Schroedinger's Cat makes no mention or reference to it), how it happened (the posters on the first floor of the GPSN in the game), then developed the characters and write background stories for them (for some it's just a paragraph, for others 7-8 pages long). Then suddenly I found myself writing the dialogues, doing voice casting and directing it. Culpa Innata became a completely independent story taking place about 30 years after the Cat story. Some characters are borrowed from the Cat: The Man with the Black Hat and Crazy Ray/Julius (in the Cat he appears as the Crazy General).
RMT: 3) In Culpa Innata you paint in detail a whole dystopian society of the future first presented as a utopia until Phoenix Wallis, a Senior Peace Agent with the GPSN, uncovers that perhaps life in such a greedy and selfish society is not ideal. How strongly do you feel about such issues as depicted in the book and how closely do you feel it reflects our own society? Are we heading towards such a dystopian future; have we already arrived?
BB: Phoenix is a product of the Great Meltdown and the Eastern Bloodbath. She has such horrific memories of the incidents carved into her three-year-old mind, no drug or no treatment can erase it, but only suppress it. When she moves to her birthplace, the lid shatters under pressure and her subconscious resurfaces at full strength. Her instincts suddenly emerge and begin working seamlessly with her mind; on the other hand nightmares bring her to the brink of insanity. Only then, she begins to question her place in the system. We all complain and gripe about the world or system we live and put up with, but very few of us try to fit in as hard as she does. And she just cannot. She is a system reject. Then she realizes that her only option is to do things her way.
In Culpa, I took contemporary issues and tried to push the boundaries of them in order to see where they would lead. Regardless of its doctrines, this new world order is completely pragmatic and tries to fix everything, no matter how radical the outcome is. Post-apocalyptic moments in time are the best times to introduce and spread radical ideas and policies. Just think of how much societies change after every major war. The Great Meltdown is worse than anything the world has ever seen, simply because people turn against each other en masse. The enemy is within. And if someone promises peace, food, and tranquility, they accept any measure no matter how insane it may sound, such as the end of altruism and tribal-family structure.
The common aim of every civilization to have ever faced the earth has been to eradicate the tribal-family structure of the hunter-gatherer collectives. Every society/system aims for its members' full loyalty and the biggest obstacle is always biological. The founders of the World Union manage to make the ultimate stroke here, by declaring any form of altruism as a destabilizing factor. Take note that this isn't just economical. Even a foetus has rights to mature in a neurosis-free environment. But the backbone of this stroke is the Universal Suffrage of Women, ensuring a pregnancy- (and menstruation-) free life in the name of equal rights and better competing with men. You completely alienate the individuals from each other and create members who can only rely on the system.
How far are we from all this post-modern utopia/dystopia? Not very far, if you ask me, considering the progress each civilization contributed in curbing the primal instincts of humanity. So, taking the last 10,000 years into consideration, since the first settled communities, this relentless assault on human psyche and nature escalated after every invasion, every war, every revolution, erasing and eradicating those who don't fit (whatever happened to those Celts), making us today, in my humble opinion, just a whisker away from it from a historical perspective. In other words, one major catastrophe away from it.
RMT: 4) In the book every citizen of Adrianopolis has received a Human-Development Index. Depending on this credit score if you wish, they are categorised lower class, middle class, or high society, and have access or not to certain society perks. Over 90% of the population are disciples with a low HDI and are therefore nearly at the bottom of the economic pyramid. To what would you compare this HDI exactly and how accurately do you think this reflects reality?