Following the release of each issue of Aftershock's Lonely Receiver by writer Zac Thompson and artist Jen Hickman, Bleeding Cool will host conversations with Thompson about this sci-fi breakup story turned psychological horror. This time, Zac Thompson talks about toxic relationships, the horror of breakups, and putting something personal out into the world.
Theo Dwyer: What I loved about Lonely Receiver is how it takes real, human problems and deepens them with sci-fi metaphor without ever feeling on-the-nose. There's a bit where Rhion's AI is visiting other people while Catrin talks, which devastates Catrin. Even though Rhion is created by Catrin, it felt like a human couple realizing that one wants to remain monogamous, while the other wants an open relationship. Was that part of what went into this as you built the themes of Lonely Receiver?
Zac Thompson: Definitely. Relationships between two people are nuanced and require a lot of sacrifice in order to work. I wanted to talk about feelings over ownership and toxic monogamy that all too often gets overlooked in genre fiction. The book is supposed to function as a commentary that just because a relationship requires a level of trust doesn't mean that one person should give themselves over unconditionally to their partner's demands. Anyone who's ever experienced a toxic or abusive relationship should relate to these themes and discussions because if you're in a healthy relationship, they're something you have to talk about eventually. It's meant to push people into the middle of those uncomfortable moments and shows just how fucking crazy we can become about the things we "create" or "own." Even if those things are sentient and have dreams and desires of their own. A relationship is a living thing; it needs to be cared for, shared, and mutually agreed upon. Short of that – it dies.
Theo Dwyer: There is a question of ownership that comes up between Rhion and Catrin. It made me think about how, when building a life with someone, partners in some ways create a version of themselves in collaboration with their partner. Looking back on my life, I feel like I've been different people at different times, and that's in part because of who I was with. In a breakup, the tragedy isn't only losing who you love but losing a version of yourself. This is another theme that your sci-fi elements enrich in Lonely Receiver, and I'm wondering if you built the story around these themes, or if the concept of Catrin building Rhion came to you first.
Zac Thompson: This is 100% the case. My initial pitch for Lonely Receiver was a horror book about confronting the person you thought you were against the person you thought you were. Anyone who has suffered through a devastating breakup knows exactly what I'm talking about. That scratching itch at the back of your head once you're alone, that nagging feeling that you've changed or that you weren't who you thought you were. Years have passed, you've lived through tons of different things with this person, and now they're gone, and you're left with all these memories. Some of them amazing, some of them horrible, all of them changing with the new context. It really forces you to sort your shit out and take a long hard look at yourself. I wanted to bring that exploration into sci-fi, but instead of reflecting all these themes through the A.I. character Rhion – I wanted to reflect them through the human, Catrin. I wanted readers to take a look at Catrin and think about themselves and their own pasts. And show readers that eventually, the technology we use ends up using us.
Theo Dwyer: By the time this piece airs, the book will be out. How does it feel to put something as raw as Lonely Receiver out in the world?
Zac Thompson: Weird and different. I'm not used to putting so much of myself into books. There's something raw and unrefined about Lonely Receiver, and I wanted to give readers a piece of myself with this book. Expose these weird demons from my past and lay them bare. I wanted to create a dialogue about toxic relationships and the things we all go through. I wanted to create a space in the science fiction genre to talk about abuse, gaslighting, and toxic relationships. And to do that, I had to put a lot of my own past heartbreak into it. But the hope was in my specificity there was something universal.
Lonely Reciever #1 is out now from Aftershock Comics.