If I had to choose a couple of examples of the aesthetic I try to bring to my novels, one would be the 1995 cinematic masterpiece Hackers, and the other the 1994 groundbreaking FMV video game Burn:Cycle. Adjectives mine. This game and this movie were an incredible one-two punch of style and attitude that landed squarely in 14/15 year old me’s brain. And although my books tend to be more Matrix than Hackers and more Enter The Matrix than Burn:Cycle, I still go back to these two as the kind of style I want to emulate.
My mouth was full of acid…
The mix of FMV and computer graphics was relatively new when Burn:Cycle hit the streets in 1994. MegaRace had used FMV the year before, allowing us to drive on what was essentially a rendered video of a race track, not to mention the inserts of Lance Boyle delivering some pretty sweet comedy. In 1995, Phantasmagoria upped the ante, allowing your FMV character to roam digital backdrops. All three games hinted at a new era of immersive video games that never really came to pass.
But that was fine; I didn’t really care about the technology behind Burn:Cycle. I loved its story. A hacker gets implanted with a virus right out of the gate, and you spend the game trying to save him. Sol Cutter was a decent protagonist, and his support characters did their best to help the story along, but there was one character I truly loved…
… so much so that I pretty much ripped him out of Burn:Cycle and put him in my books.
It’s Meltdown, mate…
Along his journey, Cutter meets up with his buddy, Zip, who is constantly “rushing,” which the cyberpunk version of always being high. Zip tasks Cutter to retrieve… something. I can’t remember if it was the drug Meltdown or if Meltdown was something Zip was trying to sell to Cutter. Either way, I really liked this guy’s attitude, just out there existing on the fringe, not making any waves. He’s a bit of a convenient side character, a title he lives up to with his general aloofness.
Characters like Zip exist in all stories, never as a primary character, but always seemingly in the background. They are who the protag visits when they need to move the plot along. They glue a series of books together and act as a familiar resting point in each story. When I started writing books in the Vinestead Universe, I knew I would need a character like that to help keep everything grounded.
And when it came time to introduce that character, I didn’t do a copy/paste per se, but I did want to throw in a reference for anyone else who might have saved Cutter from the Burn:Cycle virus.
Have you come seeking wisdom…
I named my aloof side character Patrick Kumanov. And since every good hacker needs a handle, I gave him the not-so-subtle nickname Meltdown. Meltdown shows up first in Perion Synthetics as a friend of Gil’s. He acts like somewhat of a companion character, someone for Gil to bounce things off of, even though all of their conversations take place in flashbacks. In movie terms, Meltdown never appears on screen, and through six books, still hasn’t.
“There are two types of people in this world: those that rush, and those that don’t.”
Leave it to a Margate rusher to simplify the world’s population into two easily defined groups. Patrick Kumanov, whose business card gave his name only as Meltdown, often talked of the dividing line between the unenlightened and the transcendental. If you weren’t rushing, he’d say, you weren’t really connected to the universe. Only under the influence of a synthetic drug could a person finally see reality for what it truly was.
A beautiful relationship…
Meltdown’s next appearance came in Por Vida, though he didn’t really have much to do. His inclusion was more of an accident than anything else; I needed a last name for Sepideh’s girlfriend and Kumanov just sprang to mind. And that’s how Meltdown became the brother of Natasha Kumanov.
Sepi shook her head. “The Kumanovs are based on the east coast, NYC mostly. She doesn’t really get along with her parents, and her brother died several years back from cancer.”
Don’t worry. That’s not a huge spoiler. Perion Synthetics took place in 2016 while Por Vida was set in 2035. Hackers aren’t known for having long lives.
Step aside, loser…
Now we come to the (as of this writing) unreleased Brigham Plaza. With only three years having passed since the events of Perion Synthetics, it stands to reason that Meltdown would still be alive and an active member of the hacking scene. I wanted to bring him back but not into the spotlight. He fits better at the end of a I know a guy who knows a guy chain.
“There’s a guy I know over in Margate. Meltdown. Doubt he’s part of any Russian syndicate or whatever, but he’s probably got a cousin who is. I’ll ping him.”
“No,” said Strider. “It has to be offline.”
“I don’t take orders from twiggies.” He turned to Tanzy. “What exactly are you wanting me to do here? You know I can’t just drop everything and drive down to Atlantic City. Who’s gonna look after mom?”
I’m happy I found a place for him to contribute, and I hope fans of Perion Synthetics and Burn:Cycle enjoy seeing him again. It didn’t hit me until after the book was finished that by including Meltdown, I’d created a Kevin Bacon web that had rapidly spread across the Vinestead Universe.
Loading custom software…
It hasn’t happened yet, but I can imagine a scene where a bunch of random people are in a room and Patrick Meltdown Kumanov walks in and multiple people say, “Oh, hi, Meltdown.” He’s in that many people’s lives. And then they’d all look at each other and say, “You know Meltdown? How do you know Meltdown?!”
Then everyone would laugh, and in keeping with my stories, probably all shoot each other or something.
I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises in Brigham Plaza, but the freelancer Cynthia Mesquina meets a cipher den leader named Tanzy. While they seem to have no connection, you can actually Kevin Bacon them by tracing Cynthia to Gilbert Reyes in Perion Synthetics. Gil worked with Meltdown, who works with Phantasm in Brigham Plaza. Phantasm is Tanzy’s brother.
Spooling like a projector…
There’s something about Burn:Cycle that has stayed with me all these years. Perhaps it’s because I keep its soundtrack in my regular rotation of music. In a lot of ways, the music is even better than the game. There are variations in style, from straight-up techno loops to more ambient fog. There’s almost an old jazz song in there too. You can find the soundtrack on Amazon Music Unlimited, or by pulling out your CD case from 1990 that you still have for some reason.
Sometimes I wish I could pop that Burn:Cycle CD into my computer and return to Softech and the Televerse, but sadly, things have changed too much since the old days. But the other edge of that sword is the fact that someone uploaded a full playthrough to YouTube, so you can enjoy all the glory of Burn:Cycle without traveling back to 1994.
You go watch the video while I try to shoehorn Meltdown’s rotting corpse into my newest WIP. Maybe he could come back as a ghost.
A digital ghost.
That’s never been done before…