“Thirty-two women. One arena. A battle to the death,” reads the description to “Nova’s Blade: A Young Adult Dystopian Cyberpunk.” A single woman stands in the center of the cover, her glowing sword cutting across her powerful stance. Just below her feet, written in bold white letters, reads the name “Will Scifi” — the pen name for Bay Area author and English teacher Brandon Lawson.
Upon a first look, the book appears both sensational and distant, removed from present reality in its glowing futurism. Yet, for Lawson, it serves as powerful commentary on the contemporary world and the direction it’s heading. The story centers on a show not entirely unlike the Hunger Games: Women are forced to fight to the death on television, and the winner is married into a rich and powerful family. In this alternate reality, corporations run the world, and ethical boundaries are blurred to the point of nonexistence.
“Imagine there’s no government,” Lawson said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “So you call the police. You’re not calling Berkeley PD. Instead, you’re calling Amazon PD, which means you better have a subscription. You better be paying that Amazon Prime, because if you don’t, they’re not going to help you.”
While writing “Nova’s Blade,” Lawson found inspiration from past forms of dystopian fiction, most notably George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” However, while Orwell writes of an overpowering, censoring government, Lawson explores the other end of the spectrum — where oppression stems from the ills of uninhibited capitalism.
“Although everything is privatized, that doesn’t mean we’re all free,” Lawson said. “It’s more like the oppressiveness is more subtle. (You’re) like ‘Okay, this is my only option. I gotta buy this, gotta buy that.’ It’s just like you take the oppressiveness of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ but you put in a future in a corporate sense.”
In many ways, “Nova’s Blade” grounds itself in present social realities. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, Lawson thinks about the various ways in which oppression appears in the world and what it takes for people to finally take notice. He also cites the #MeToo movement as an inspiration for his subject matter, as he digs into the implications of women being forced to participate in an act against their will. Centering on a Black female character, he threads together these different strands of social commentary.
“These people are getting oppressed on the show, but look around you. People are getting oppressed all around you,” Lawson said. “This may be kind of a surprise, but how can you really be surprised when you’re living in it?”
When it comes to Lawson’s writing process, his dad serves as his biggest supporter. When the author first began writing short stories in his high school creative writing class, his dad was the first one to suggest that he write a book. To this day, Lawson’s dad serves as an important guide; without his input, “Nova’s Blade” would probably still be called “Death Dating Games” — a title that has since gone through several iterations.
Notably, Lawson’s dad was the one who suggested his son write under a pen name. While Lawson originally wanted to go by Eric B. Roger, his dad suggested the name “Will Scifi,” taken from the author’s middle name (William) and the genre in which he frequently writes.
“A pen name with a genre in it? Never thought about that!” Lawson exclaimed. “It was so out there, but I was just like, okay, I like that. And now here we are. So I would say the idea of a pen name, honestly, was all my dad.”
Though Lawson plans to continue to pursue his writing career, it is by no means a full-time endeavor. From the beginning, he has worked several part-time jobs, one at Starbucks and another In-N-Out Burger, while flexing his creative muscles through the written word on the side. Last year, he began his first full-time job at a local school district as a secretary. Now, he works as a high school English teacher — a role he remains incredibly passionate about.
“If the book blows up, makes millions of dollars, I would still like to be a teacher at Pittsburg High just because I think that would be very impactful to the kids,” Lawson said.
In the meantime, Lawson is working on spreading the word about “Nova’s Blade.” He recently sent a copy to Tyler Perry’s studio in Atlanta, and he is also considering contacting television host Steve Harvey. Shooting for the heights, he doesn’t know what to expect, but he remains ambitious and hopeful nonetheless.
From “Nineteen Eighty-Four” to “Severance,” dystopian fiction serves as a powerful weapon of social commentary. When stepping up to the task, Lawson does so boldly and creatively — building a world that may seem far off, but is very much like our own.