Time to get stuck in The Loop.
Ben Oliver set off quiet a frenzy last spring when his dystopian debut novel — the first in a planned trilogy -- sold to great fanfare in the YA world. When the dust settled, he'd landed a splashy deal with Scholastic (the publisher behind such iconic series as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games) as well as a TV development option from Emmy-winning producer Louise Sutton (Black Mirror).
Over a year later, readers finally get to find out what all the fuss is about.
The Loop marries classic YA storytelling with an exploration of heavy, current topics. It takes place in a futuristic death row for teens, wherein every inmate has the option to push back their execution date if they opt into scientific and medical experiments. One such inmate, the wrongfully imprisoned Luka Kane, starts hearing rumors of war. When artificial intelligence takes over the outside world, he realizes that breaking out of the Loop might be his only chance of survival.
EW can exclusively debut the trailer for The Loop, which you can watch above. We caught up with the author on the experience of debuting the book in uncertain times, the experience of selling The Loop, and what he hopes he might see on screen. Read on below. The Loop is now available for purchase.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did the idea for The Loop first come from? How did it evolve?
BEN OLIVER: The idea for The Loop came from a lot of different places. The main idea came from my slight technophobia. Technology can be an amazing thing, especially in the field of medical science, but it’s also insidious and addictive and dangerous. I think part of a sci-fi writer’s job is to look to the future and ask “what is the worst-case scenario?” When I look at artificial intelligence, social media, and surveillance, I see a lot of worse-case scenarios! I’ve tried to include them all in The Loop.
The frenzy around this book’s acquisition was really something. What was the experience like for you? How do you reflect on it now, as the book finally nears publication?
After 15 years of writing short stories, novellas and novels, and 15 years of learning the craft of writing and improving a small amount at a time, it felt like a huge relief to finally cross the finish line. But I’m also aware that I’m extremely lucky. The right people have to read your writing at the right time for it to take off, and I’m very lucky that happened for me. When the book was first picked up I was getting unbelievably good news every week, from foreign rights sales to film and television acquisitions, I had to stop celebrating, the beer and pizza were taking too much of a toll on my bank balance and my body! Looking back on it all now, I still can’t really believe it.
This is a YA work tackling very sobering, important topics. Can you talk about that balance, between the demands of the genre and the kinds of ideas and messages you wanted to explore?
When I sat down to write The Loop, my goal was to write an entertaining, action-packed story. The themes and underlying messages really came out during the second and third drafts. I didn’t set out to write a cautionary tale about technology, or a study about growing divides between the rich and poor, but when I read through what I had written, I realized that these themes were there and I tried to emphasize them as I re-wrote the manuscript. There is a bit of a balancing act though, it’s important to remember that the book’s main purpose is to grip the reader from start to finish.
This was sold as a trilogy. Do you have the whole arc for it mapped out? Or are things changing as you get in deeper?
I’ll be honest, when I told my agent and my publisher that The Loop was going to be a trilogy, I had no idea what books 2 and 3 were going to be about. The only thing I was sure of was the story wasn’t finished and the characters had a long way to go to get to the bottom of the chaos in the world. I never plot when I’m writing, I usually know what’s going to happen up to about three pages ahead of where I am, so trying to plot out three books would be very difficult for me, but I have now finished writing book 2 and I’m very happy with it. I think it’s better than book 1!
This being a debut, how would you pitch this book to a new potential reader? What’s going to hook them?
The Loop is a dystopian sci-fi set in a young-offenders death row prison. The prison is run by artificial intelligence which runs like clockwork … then things start to go wrong: The government issued rain stops falling, there are rumors of a war in the outside world, and then people start mindlessly killing each other. It’s up to Luka — a 16-year old boy serving a death-sentence – and his fellow inmates to break out of the prison, figure out what’s going on, and stop it.
This is already optioned for TV, too — are you thinking about the many lives The Loop could soon live? Is it impacting the way you approach the books at all?
I know that the TV series is in very good hands. It hasn’t changed the way I’ve approached the writing though, I’ve always pictured The Loop very cinematically in my mind while writing, so that hasn’t changed. I’m just continuing to try to write the best books I can, I’ll leave the live-action version to the experts.
Finally, you couldn’t have anticipated launching a book in these circumstances. What’s the feeling there?
This is a very strange time to be launching a book, especially with all the bookstores being shut! But the important thing is — of course — to make sure that everyone is safe. The book shops will reopen, the world will return to normal. Until then, we need to continue doing everything we can to make sure this virus goes away for good … and maybe read a few books during isolation.