Table of Contents

Book Cover
Trigger Warnings:
Occasional explicit sex

Book Info


The Dot Trilogy

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Mumblers Press
1 November 2021
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After the disaster of global warming, the world has gotten its act together. People are positive, sensible, and intent on creating a better future and a just present. And it’s working! So, in a world where everyone makes good decisions, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, other people. Mardy is a 26-year old gay man who dreams of being a full-time machine-tool artist. He brims with ideas, puts in the hours, and has a solid circle of friends—both fellow artists and the artificial intelligences he works with. But he’s always coming in second to another machine-tool artist at his makerspace. He’s dealing with that, thanks to the highly effective psychotherapy of the future, but then he meets his irritatingly successful rival’s twin—and falls for him hard. Consequences ensue, and fast, driving Mardy not just to pursue his artistic dreams, but to try to liberate his AI friends from servitude, and find love in the process.

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Hi Mike, Thanks for taking time out from your writing to chat with us today.

Q: Do you ever base your characters on real people? If so, what are the pitfalls you run into doing so?

Mike Karpa: Sometimes I do, and it absolutely presents problems. First, I get anxious about how people will respond to a portrayal of themselves. I wrote one enormous book, which I hope to self-publish next year, that’s set in India in the 1960s and draws heavily on both my parents for the details of two particular characters. It’s a labor of love, but those characters do behave in ways that my parents would never, and would not approve of. And did not approve of. When my mother read the book, she blazed through all 650 pages (or something ridiculous), so she was definitely engaged. But she never actually said that she liked it. When I got up the nerve to ask her about the part that I worried about most – the character most like my dad has an affair – she had a grand mal seizure. (She had a seizure disorder.) So let’s just say that it was literally triggering. (My father died before I completed the book.) On the other hand, these characters also got to live out dreams that my parents had in real life, so that had to have been fun. These days, I prefer to make up absolutely everything (hence the appeal of science fiction). I still write about real people, but now I do it in the form of memoir. Foglifter magazine is currently running a memoir piece I did in their features section, if you’re interested.


Q: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured in your book? If so discuss them.

Mike: Red Dot consists almost exclusively of LGBTQ characters, including the first nonbinary character I’ve ever written. As a reader, I find LGBTQ folks definitely underrepresented. It’s easy to get used to the idea that “people like me don’t belong in fiction,” but it’s so wrong. Maybe that’s why my cast of characters is diverse in gender, appearance and ethnicity. The love interest/rival (spoiler: that’s two people) are fair skinned and redheaded, and the ex is a dark-skinned South Asian guy. They’re well described, because it matters for this particular world, but the others are less described. If you pay close attention, you can figure out one is of predominantly Japanese background. Another is probably African-American (but you don’t really know, which is again a plot point). But I left the main character murky as far as appearance and background. I wanted all sorts of gay male readers to be able to plug themselves into his slot and enjoy the story that way. And as I often do, I tucked a little Spanish-speaking behavior into the main character, because I’m part Mexican myself (although it doesn’t mean he is). So perhaps the underrepresented group I really want to spotlight is people of mixed backgrounds.


Q: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?

Mike: I did not know from an early age that I wanted to write. I wrote a story in seventh grade for a class, but I wasn’t plucked from obscurity with fabulous praise for the wonderfulness of my work. Then I basically didn’t write for years. Although, hang on, I did write the better part of a novel for my brother, who is eight years younger than me. (It was nothing earthshaking.)

In my late 20s, I finally started to come out. Part of that was taking a writing class. I wrote every week, but, again, nobody thought I was particularly good at it. The second semester I took the class, I loosened up a lot and then was able to entertain people a little. I let my personality out a bit. I didn’t really acknowledge, though, that writing was important to me until decades later when I realized that year in, year out, I kept writing. Looking back from this vantage point, I see that I’ve had some notable successes, like getting into competitive magazines and conferences and getting a starred Kirkus review for my debut novel (consider me blown away). So despite all the misfires and the mountains of writing that really was NOT very good at all, I must be, to some degree, good at it. Maybe now, right now, is when I discover that I’m good at writing.


Q: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.

Mike: My first published work was “Epistemologically Speaking,” a short story that appeared in the DeAnza College literary magazine (then called Bottomfish). In it, a taxi driver gives a ride to a woman who says she is a character from a Raymond Chandler novel. (Was it The Big Sleep?) The story revolves around whether she’s real or not. And was there perhaps something about free will in there too? I think perhaps she was going to a party at a big house in the hills where, in The Big Sleep, she meets an unhappy end. So the taxi driver tries to convince her she doesn’t have to go. It was lucky enough to win first prize in their contest that year. That was an amazing feeling. I haven’t scored so much as an honorable mention since, but hey, whose counting.


Q: What’s the weirdest thing you ever done in the name of research?

Mike: I started writing about anal sex before I’d had it. I had a draft of a story written, and I thought it was a pretty good one, but it featured anal sex, specifically receptive anal sex. So if I was to be responsible writer, of course, I had to do my research. So off I went. It actually took me a while to find a research assistant (lab partner?), but I did, and found out everything I needed to know. In due course, the story was published (“The Tactical Uses of Melodrama,” which appeared in Faultline, UC Irvine’s literary magazine). So that worked out. In the end.

Mike, Thanks for chatting with us today.


Mardy’s ExMail delivery jet was vectoring in fast on San Francisco.

“Coming in a little hot, don’t you think?” he said to the plane.

“It’s fine, Mardy,” the plane replied.

Mardy gripped the open side-portal of the plane. Hoverdown would normally have engaged by that point, but there was little at the moment to distinguish their trajectory from a kamikaze run at his apartment building rooftop.

“Plane?” Mardy asked, panicking a wee bit. They were plummeting. Mardy clamped his lips against the wind. He wanted to make the designstation time he’d booked for the evening, but as much as he wanted to be a full-time machine tool artist, he’d prefer not to die in the attempt.

One hundred feet, fifty feet. Twenty.

The plane hit its thrusters hard, sending Mardy sprawling out of the portal. He managed a shoulder roll onto the hot concrete roof, ending in a crouch. His heart pounded as the impact of his landing reverberated through his bones.

His plane floated above the roof. “See you tomorrow, Mardy.”

Mardy stood. Did he detect a smirk in the plane’s voice? It maintained its hover, wheels retracted. Was it waiting for Mardy’s reaction?

“See you tomorrow,” Mardy mumbled, shaken, sweating, and not just from the sun beating down on them.

The plane waggled its wings ever so slightly. It was laughing, Mardy was sure of it. Mardy waved slowly as the plane left for who knew where. The official story was that all the delivery jets were operated by a central AI, a single intelligence. But Mardy had sensed differences between planes almost from day one and found it harder and harder to pretend he didn’t. And this plane, a jokester, was his favorite. It knew Mardy was light on his feet, able to handle the abrupt braking. It was playing with him. Mardy wanted to give it a name.


The name popped into Mardy’s mind, unbidden. Which felt more alarming than the idea of plunging to earth through an open portal, because naming AIs was illegal—not just technically illegal, but illegal enough to land you in jail.

Mardy caught the beautifully air-conditioned elevator down the thirty-three flights to ground level, legs tired from a full day on the job, and hoofed it one block down Mission Street to WorkShop Downtown SF, sweat now dribbling from him despite the near-dusk hour. The batteries of the personal cooler strapped to his chest must have filled up from harvesting his body heat as he’d raced through his workday.

Mardy pushed through the WorkShop front door. He planned to spend an all-nighter polishing his latest machine-tooled design. It was nearly ready to submit for the salon, the competitive exhibition WorkShop held every month. Salons had only one slot per discipline and he had never been selected, but this was the month he would finally beat out their resident star, Smith Hunt. Mardy could feel it: this month, he would be the salon’s chosen machine tool artist.

He dropped his satchel next to his designstation, already feeling the hours of slogging to come.

His design was a whirligig, one of the middle genres of machine tool art. He’d been working so far in gizmos, the very bottom rung of the genres, but having failed every single month he’d competed, he’d decided more ambition was called for. His whirligig was essentially a mobile cooling fan intended to track the person it was paired with, walking after its target on tiny legs to provide continuous cooling. The best part? When the person settled, their whirligig would dance a cha-cha. It naturally wouldn’t be as convenient or effective as the personal cooling units everyone wore to survive their globally warmed world, but it would be adorable.

His best friend, Cat, a plastic surgery artist, hurried over to Mardy’s designstation, their bushy black hair bouncing. “We’re heading over to Uncle Mix for drinks.” They were dressed in work clothes—sweatshirt and jeans—except that their jeans had a starscape of Milky Way and crescent moon splashed in yellow against the dark blue denim, likely the work of one of the resident fabrics artists.

Mardy shook his head. “I haven’t finished my entry.” Plus, he really wanted to do more than design it. He wanted to build this sucker, an expensive, full realization. And on his pilot’s salary, he couldn’t afford another night out. A minimum-wage job like ExMail pilot was enough for a tidy supplement to universal basic income, but it left little room for art.

Cat bent over to look at his screen. “Show me,” they said.

“I want it to be a surprise.”

“I already know it’s a whirligig. You’ve been dropping hints for a solid month.”

“Are you submitting?” Mardy asked.

Cat cocked their head at him. “Think a question will distract me?”

Mardy chuckled. “Okay, not subtle. But your plastic surgery is so great. I really want you to submit a routine. Use me as your blank.”

Cat gave him a skeptical look.

Ever since Cat’s controversial near-triumph at Vegas Regionals last year, their plastic surgery performance recordings had gotten astonishing view metrics. Now everybody wanted to be in a Cat performance. But Mardy had shied away, despite Cat’s repeated requests and flattering remarks about his bone structure. Mardy trusted Cat’s ability to restore his face and/or other body parts afterwards, but he was afraid of knives. He’d only volunteered now to avoid showing Cat his design. But he’d said it, and if he’d said it, he’d do it.

“Done. And just to warn you, I submitted an hour ago,” Cat said.

“I’m not scared.” Mardy tried to hide a gulp of terror. “In bocca al lupo.” Over the last decade, the Italian phrase—in the mouth of the wolf—had thoroughly supplanted the nonsensical break a leg, part of a global migration of slang, as verbal fashions swarmed over the face of the planet like birds on the move.

Cat ran a finger down Mardy’s jawline, the plans for imagined cuts bubbling behind their eyes.


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Mike is giving away

a $20 Amazon gift card

with this tour


Mike was once a woodworker in a makerspace and knows how semiconductors are made. His novels hop around between genres, dabbling in scifi (Red Dot), romance (Red Dot again), suspense (Criminals), and forthcoming in 2022, a snarky comedy of manners set in New York and Arkansas and a YA novel about five puppies in search of a dog rumored to be their dad. Eventually, a behemoth about love, war and espionage in India in the 1960s (Between Countries) will see the light of day as well.

His goal these days is to write novels for queer audiences that are entertaining rather than esoteric, upbeat rather than angsty. His more recent shorter fiction, memoir and nonfiction (some in the more angsty vein) can be found in Tin House, Foglifter, Tahoma Literary Review, Oyster River Pages and other magazines.

Mike has roots in Texas and Estonia, and has lived in California, Michigan and Ohio, not to mention eight years in Asia in the early part of his life. Now he lives in San Francisco with his husband and dog in a house soon to be celebrating its 130th birthday. Red Dot is Mike’s second book, after Criminals (2021), and is the first in a planned trilogy

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