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Building Water City

When I started writing about the future, I did so with the awareness that technological advancement is unpredictable and uneven, and experts are notoriously awful at forecasting what will happen even two to three generations from now. This knowledge is freeing. If experts can’t get it right, who cares if I do? In the end, we’re all just guessing.


I don’t see the colonization of other planets coming any time soon, or possibly at all. I do, however, see the potential need for some kind of migration off of shrinking shorelines and polluted continents consumed by wildfire. Add a natural catastrophe or two, like a giant flood or a solar flare that does serious damage; perhaps we will go running back to where life began: the ocean. Underwater architecture already exists. There’s an underwater restaurant off the coast of Norway and another on the island of Rangali. In a century more—who knows? Populating the underwater space near island chains doesn’t feel like much of a stretch. In Midnight, Water City, I imagine the depth in which one lives as a class indicator. The rich live in the depths farthest beneath the surface. I also imagine a world scarred but not completely devastated by global warming. We eventually shift to new sources of food and energy. What can I say? Part of me is an optimist.


There are two things I don’t see disappearing anytime soon: the smartphone and the disparity of wealth. Water City’s iE (named after its creator, Idris Eshana) is my version of a futuristic smartphone. After reading about how filthy our phones are, I assume that at some point, we will want mini-computers that we don’t need to touch, so I’ve gone with a floating orb. Drone technology continues to expand; in fact, in Water City, pilotless drones are one of the primary modes of transportation (heli-taxi), so I figured, why not levitating smartphones? We also seem to be chasing means by which we can connect our brains directly to our devices, Elon Musk’s Neuralink being the most well-known attempt. I imagine this technology to be staggeringly convenient and potentially disastrous. The fun is in the speculation of how.


Concept drafts of Midnight, Water City cover visuals by Vlado Krizan

As for disparity of wealth, when, in the history of mankind, have the rich given back their resources and power absent of force? I’m not aware of any instance, and I don’t see it happening in the future. In fact, if anything, wealth is now more difficult to take back than it has been at any other point in history. There’s no palace to storm, no royal family to supplant. Wealth is digital. In Water City, I don’t dwell on this too much. In this future world, it’s just a fact of life, and my characters treat it as such. Other books depict futuristic revolutions in stunningly creative ways. My books don’t.


Another piece of major tech that I created for Water City is the AMP chamber. This took a bit of medical research. Fortunately, I knew a former doctor who answered my questions. When I asked him what the most probable way was to increase human longevity, his answer surprised me: hibernation. He had done research on AMP at MD Anderson on mice, and we spoke hours about this—or I should say, he spoke for hours about it, and I listened, then came up with the idea of a hibernation chamber that didn’t roll back the years, but simply slowed them down. My main character is fairly spry at 80. For those with the means, a life expectancy of 150 is possible in Water City. Farmed spare organs help, as does an ocean-based diet.


Thematically, I also wanted to explore the limits of human perception. Leading scientist Akira Kimura’s telescope was a no-brainer, as I had spent a lot of time on the Big Island during the TMT controversy. Though, of course, if I was going to introduce an asteroid into my story, full due diligence was required, so I read the requisite work by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I also contemplated the limits of human perception and knew I wanted my main character to see things other people couldn’t. I made him an ex-sniper, not as a trope, but as a symbol (though it certainly works as a trope, too). I explored this by reading about brain disorders like schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and Cotard’s syndrome. I came across synesthesia, which really interested me. So I’d created my protagonist’s “disorder” before having a viable scientific explanation for it. I just kept writing with faith that some explanation of why the main character senses what he does would come to me. It took two-thirds of a first draft of the sequel to finally come up with a grounded explanation. 


We live in interesting times, though I suppose all times are interesting for those experiencing them. While writing this book, I was unable to completely mute what was happening outside. When I first began my worldbuilding, Donald Trump had already been elected President, so anything seemed possible. I was aware, or I should say hoped, that this improbable

occurrence gave me license to strain believability. At the same time, the last thing I wanted to do was write a long Trump allegory. Still, as I reflect on what I’ve written so far, I do see some faint parallels that made their way in subconsciously. By the time I finished a rough draft of the second book in the trilogy, a pandemic had hit. And despite my efforts to keep the outside out—both literally and figuratively—once again, on rereading my work, I identified parallels. However, I can say with confidence that these are not books with any direct political agenda. In fact, they could be read as anti-science, though I’m certainly not that. I see science not as infallible but as a constantly evolving educated guess.


The final thing I’ll say is that my two favorite novels of all time are One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and 1984. In retrospect, I see traces of both in my present work, though I can only dream that my series will be half as good as either of those books. I’ve also been heavily influenced by games. There may be subliminal shades of Mass Effect, Bioshock, and Fallout in this trilogy, as well as shades of my favorite childhood films (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner, and The Road Warrior). Of the science fiction that has captured my imagination most over recent years (Dan Simmon’s Hyperion, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Trilogy among them), I am relieved to say that I see few direct parallels, as my goal isn’t to parrot the books I like. It’s for Water City to be its own thing.

Author Chris McKinney talks to readers about the origins and inspirations for the boldly imagined world of Midnight, Water City.


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