Jeffrey Thomas is a prolific writer of science fiction and horror, best known for his stories set in the nightmarish future city called Punktown, such as the novel Deadstock (Solaris Books) and the collection Punktown (Ministry of Whimsy Press), from which a story was reprinted in St. Martin’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror #14. He has been a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award (Best First Novel) for Monstrocity, and a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Deadstock. I caught up with Jeffrey to learn more about his recent Kickstarter for the Punktown Role-Playing Game.
Michael Tresca (MT): Tell us a little about your gaming background.
Jeffrey Thomas (JT): I’ve never actually participated in role-playing games myself, except on one occasion when a coworker of mine came to my house and introduced my two brothers and me to a single game of Dungeons & Dragons.
MT: What’s your experience with the cyberpunk genre? With the futuristic horror genre?
JT: I first conceived of my far-future setting Punktown in 1980, and though it contains “punk” in its name the term “cyberpunk” hadn’t been coined yet. I took my inspiration strictly from punk music. Actually, when I started hearing about cyberpunk a few years later I felt threatened, as my Punktown work hadn’t yet begun to see publication! But my Punktown fiction is now often described as cyberpunk (when it isn’t being credited as a harbinger of the New Weird movement). I started combining horror with science fiction decades ago, and I recall early on an agent I’d submitted a novel to criticizing me for blending these genres. I was a bit frustrated by that. Hadn’t Mary Shelley done the same thing, quite some time before me? I’ve never let such narrow attitudes deter me. Nevertheless, when I started selling short stories in the late 80s, they were either/or. Only when my Punktown-based stories began seeing print did I demonstrate my proclivity for blurring the borders between horror, science fiction, and other genres.
MT: What was your introduction to role-playing games?
JT: Beyond the aforementioned single session of Dungeons & Dragons, a friend of mine who was into RPG let me borrow his copy of the D&D Monster Manual, just so I might enjoy the illustrations and monster descriptions. I was intrigued with way one game framework could contain so many types of monsters from such a variety of sources; everything from dragons to dinosaurs to protoplasmic blobs. I soon saw this diversity of beasties carried over into videogames like The Legend of Zelda. It very much agreed with my own tendency to mix things up in a bizarre crazy quilt in a setting like Punktown.
MT: You’re participating in the creation of the Punktown RPG Kickstarter. What is your role and what will you be contributing?
JT: Well to start first with the game itself, my fiction is the source of its inspiration; short story collections like Punktown and novels like Deadstock, Blue War, Monstrocity, and Health Agent, all set in the dark metropolis of Punktown. A talented group of guys who liked this world, and were intrigued with the way I often interjected Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos into the proceedings, felt that it would make an exciting and expansive game setting. When one of these guys, publisher Tom Lynch — president of Miskatonic River Press — took the project on, he decided to try using a Kickstarter (his first) to fund it. I had never tried a Kickstarter, myself, but I agreed it was an exciting way to proceed. Since the campaign went live on November 19th, I’ve been supporting the Kickstarter via the social media and through my blog, and recently with a guest blog over at SF Signal.
MT: What do you hope to achieve with the Kickstarter? Why should fans contribute to it?
JT: Well, naturally we avidly hope to see the project reach — and hopefully exceed — its goal, so that we can make this thing a reality and give gamers and readers the very best book and game we can produce. We believe that gamers fond of the Call of Cthulhu system — with which our game is compatible — would want to enliven their gaming experience by creating scenarios in an immense new setting with unlimited potential for innovative situations. But also, fans of cyberpunk could role-play in this setting without bringing in any Cthulhu Mythos aspects, if they so chose, for another kind of experience. The milieu of Punktown has always lent that kind of creative freedom to me as a writer. Now that same sense of creative freedom can be at the disposal of our gamers. They themselves will be the writers in this vast and dangerous playground.
MT: What’s your experience with Punktown? Call of Cthulhu? Basic Role-Playing System?
JT: As I say, my own gaming experience is limited, so that entire area of this endeavor is in the highly experienced hands of the other members of the team, and the publisher. Miskatonic River Press has been publishing supplements to the Call of Cthulhu game for over four years now. But many years back I purchased a few of Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu books just because of my love of Lovecraft. It was fun to pore over the Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters the same way I used to peruse the D&D Monster Manual. As for my experience with Punktown, I think we’ve covered that: I am the Punktowner.
MT: Are there any conventions you will be attending in 2013?
JT: I’d like to attend Readercon, July 11-14 in Burlington, Massachusetts, as I’ve always enjoyed that con and I live in Massachusetts, but I’m especially keen on attending NecronomiCon, August 23-25 in Providence. I hope to meet some long-time friends of mine there, whom I’ve never had the chance to meet in person. It would be my first NecronomiCon.
MT: Where can we find out more about you?
JT: Aside from my informative Wikipedia page, there is my blog, Punktalk.
- Jeffrey Thomas at Wikipedia
- I also maintain a hopefully lively presence on Facebook
MT: What’s next on the horizon for you?
JT: A screenplay adaptation of my Punktown novel Health Agent has been making the rounds. The screenplay was written by my friend, singer/songwriter Walter Egan of Magnet & Steel fame! Incidentally, when my Punktown novel Deadstock received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, Scott Free Productions — Ridley Scott’s and Tony Scott’s company — requested a copy of the book, but unfortunately nothing came of that. On the publishing front, another collection of my Punktown short stories, Ghosts of Punktown, shouldn’t be very far off.
MT: Anything else you’d like to add?
JT: I’d like to mention that the book for this game will be something extra special. In addition to offering several game scenarios by RPG luminaries Brian M. Sammons, Glynn Barrass, and Tom Lynch, from a certain Michael Tresca (who suggested the notion of a Punktown RPG to me in the first place!) there’s a meaty (37,000 words) set of “core rules.” These not only cover the methods of play, but also serve as a kind of encyclopedia of Punktown — a Punktown Monsters Manual if you will — detailing the world’s many alien races, weapons, prominent locations, and so on. Furthermore, I’m supplying two brand new short stories to the book as a further means of introducing gamers to the world of Punktown. Not only that, but certain contributors to the Kickstarter will see their names appear as characters in either my stories or the scenarios, or see their faces appear amongst the citizenry of Punktown in the illustrations. So beyond the many treasures for gamers here, between the new fiction and interior artwork the book should appeal to non-gamers as well. Punktown doesn’t discriminate; its arms are open to anyone who’s brave enough to step over its border.
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