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Battling our inner demons one sci-fi adventure at a time

Bowen Islander Jason Dowdeswell’s new thriller, Union, examines our power to change the world
“I have always been telling stories,” says Bowen author Jason Dowdeswell.

Jason Dowdeswell has been called “a force behind Vancouver’s transformation into a global VFX hub.” Now, the Netfilx and Disney visual effects supervisor — and Bowen Island resident — is creating a magical world with words.

Union: An Abridged Version of Love is his first sci-fi thriller. Ostensibly, the book is about “a military tyrant named Waxman [who] receives covert communications from an agent believed lost in deep space. He prepares his army of giant soldiers for war with a faceless, deadly enemy known as the Shrie Shrie and an elusive driver named Cal.” But as the subtitle suggests, the theme is much more universal: our quest to love and be loved and why we always seem to get in the way of allowing that to happen. 

Martha Perkins: It’s really interesting that a book about a military tyrant is subtitled An Abridged Version of Love. How do you marry those two themes? Jason Dowdeswell This whole origin story was always about the power of love. Love is such an energy in our world. It’s a motivator but we cloak it with things like greed or selfishness. MP: As the novel took shape how did you keep coming back to love?

JD: Well, there’s a missing component, which would be called the sequel; that’s where you get to the conclusion of love coming into it. Together it’s the journey of all these flawed characters that can’t see through the fog of their own manifestations, that what they’re really chasing as the final goal is to be loved and to be in love.

MP: Why do you think that we, as humans, succumb to our flaws and do you think that we are going to be doing this in our far future?

JD: We have the capability to wind ourselves so tightly with our emotions. It is a power string that can be loose and flexible or it can be wound so tight that it creates different states of existence, fueling rage or hatred or all these things we permeate. One of our greatest weaknesses as humanity is that we have no collective conscience.

MP: Do you believe that the power of love is in all of us and that human beings can work out all of our shit, or do you believe that we’re still going to be struggling with the same demons in the future?

JD: Yes, we will be still struggling with the same demons because that’s the journey. The information is not downloaded into our heads. We have to experience things ourselves and we do it through motivators such as pride or fear. Union is a dialogue about this military tyrant who’s fighting a faceless enemy and the reality is that this faceless enemy is a manifestation that we created collectively. If there are enough of us believing in something, we manifest the future. Now, together we might manifest our greatest fear and it becomes a pandemic. It’s that power of the moment. And there’s danger in that power. We see it playing out right now; it’s been playing out since the beginning of time. For me, it goes back to a scene in the book: “Through pride and greed, our super ego blinds us from the answer we are looking for when it is right in front of us.” That scene plays out in every aspect of our lives.

MP: How did you manage to write a book that in many ways is dark while living a life of love and light during the day — the joys fatherhood, life on Bowen and all those really feel-good things?

JD: My book is dedicated to my wife MJ, my daughter Harper and my son Rhys. I said “A great toll has been endured to explore these flawed characters in detail.” When I started writing the manuscript, I had artwork on the wall in the living room. But it got to a point to it that we took iit down because I was just living in a darker headspace. When you open up the creative channel, you’re in it.

MP: Isn’t that an illustration of what you say about manifestation: when your thoughts are dark, your mood is dark, your behavior is dark, your outlook is dark. And then you go for a walk outside and suddenly your reality is totally different. It’s a world of beauty and trees and nature and community. You have a say in which reality you choose.

JD: The herald of the story is Cal. You’re not introduced to Cal as the hero; you’re introduced to Cal as this elusive individual. Cal is like the biggest hug you’ll ever have but he’s also dangerous because he’s a carrying pistol and flies alien technology. But there’s no fear factor. All the characters eventually funnel into what Cal sees as the world. He sees sunshine every day and wants people to play with him. That’s the journey of Cal except that he’s a very bad herald. He’s flawed so he screws up that opportunity.

The cover of Jason Dowdeswell's new book Union.

MP: Do you think you would have been able to write this book if you didn’t spend your workday immersed in imaginary places?

JD: I’ve always been telling stories. Later I was so intrigued with filmmaking that I found myself in Hollywood when I was 22. And I learned about storytelling. When I was in San Francisco working for George Lucas they paid for anyone who wanted to do it to go to a screenwriting class. It was fantastic. My whole journey with the novel is, ultimately, to turn to the next chapter of my life which is to produce it as a filmmaker.

MP: I think you stand a better chance of that than a lot of other people writing their first book.

JD: I hope so. Hollywood is not in the business of making movies. They’re in the business of making money. So you have to know who your audience is; you also need to be able to get your foot in the door. Having said you’ve optioned a novel, aka for yourself, executive producers in a big studio will lean into the conversation. There will be interest.

MP: So who is your audience for Union?

JD: The hero characters apart from Cal are all female leads. So the audience is teenagers coming of age where they want their mind blown, with not really understanding all the pieces but ready to digest the science fiction world. And it’s not heavy science fiction like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. It’s more like pulling from fantasy like the Hobbit. But another motivation I have, especially being the father and being able to hand something to my kids, is the intellectual property. There’s a richness to these characters and this world that are familiar enough because it’s akin to Star Wars or Star Trek in some aspects, but it is Canadian IP. I’ve worked in Los Angeles, LA, San Francisco and Vancouver for 20 years. It’s Canadians that are doing a really good job, making great visuals based on content novels and screenplays. But we don’t own any of our stuff because it’s not our IP. So this is Canadian IP. These are superhero characters. But it all it all gets back to the novel. The novel for me was a bit of a stepping stone but it has manifested for me and I fell in love with it.

Jason Dowdeswell will be signing copies of Union, published by Friesen Press, at the Hearth on July 30 from 5 to 8 pm.