Man O’War Character Sketch #6: Tilda Boulton

Over the coming weeks in the run up to the launch of Man O’War, I’ll be posting a few lines on each of the main characters in the book, about who they are, what they do and their role in the book. They’re a varied and diverse bunch, in more ways than one, and I have a soft spot for them all. I’ll also be posting a little bit about the creation and inception of each character, and why they are the way they are. I won’t be posting anything spoilerific; these will be more like musings of the author.

The six POV characters are, in order of appearance: the jellyfisherman Dhiraj Om; the corporate Head of R&D Nita Rhodes; brutal gangster Agarkka D’Souza; black market engineer Salazar Gomez; oil heir and civil servant Adem Johnson; and hard-nosed policewoman Tilda Boulton. This week it’s Tilda Boulton.

Tilda Boulton

Like Adem and Salazar, Tilda wasn’t initially among my list of POV characters. But, whereas it became very quickly apparent to me that Adem’s and Salazar’s stories were pivotal to making the novel work, I was a long way into plotting and writing the novel before I realised I needed a sixth character to balance out the story and connect the dots between the subplots. When I realised this my first instinct was to make the Tilda character an investigative journalist. She could still have access to the necessary crime scenes and would be possessed of that journalistic drive to connect the clues. Plotting Tilda The Journalist led me a little way through the plot jungle, not to the clearing leading to the Way, but to another dead end. The problem was that it became necessary in the plot to instigate the amnesty of sex robots, and the Tilda character needed both reason and ability to help influence the people to make this happen. The influential folks within the Civil Service – folks like, say, Adem Johnson, would be required to cooperate with the police, but not the press in this matter. In fact, they would want to keep the press away at all costs.

So she became a detective. Perhaps a little cliché, but it gave Tilda access to the crime scenes, close access to the sex robots themselves (being evidence, or part of those crime scenes), and it gave her sufficient proximity to those higher up the food chain with influence. But it wasn’t until I’d figured out Tilda’s back story that I really brought her character into the light. In some ways, Tilda’s back story is the most developed in the story, and I was really pleased with its emergence. Without giving anything away, Tilda’s backstory became another example of the secondary impacts of technology. For a character like Salazar, the spillover effects of new technology, in its hard adaptations at the hands of engineers can be imagined quite easily. But in Tilda’s case, we see how technology can have softer impacts upon us as humans, and how we perceive ourselves, and others. Tilda’s views of herself, and of people like D’Souza, and people like Nita, and then the kokeshi robots themselves, are indicative of how technology can colour a whole range of issues, or even introduce new issues that never existed before. If engineers are serious about bringing many of these technologies to light in the real world and not the fictitious one of Man O’War, then I hope they give serious consideration to some of these implications.

When I wrote Tilda’s pivotal scene, on Lambeth Bridge overlooking the river Thames, I was kind of surprised that this subplotline had weedled itself out in this way. I hadn’t intended for her character to represent anything overly political – she was to be a plot device, poor thing (though a well fleshed out plot device) – but in the end her backstory became rooted to the principal themes of fragmentation and atomisation that run through Man O’War. She is broken by her past, and indirectly by the introduction of technology into our human lives. Without wishing to sound like a Luddite (not a good stance to take in my line of work), there is a philosophical knot requiring untangling that suggests the introduction of technologies that represent the intention of bringing humanity together, may end up atomising us irrevocably. The obvious example is social media, and when even Facebook states that it (social media) may be harmful to mental health, maybe it’s time to think about this in greater detail. As Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) says in Jurassic Park, “Your scientists were so preoccupied trying to find out if they could do something they didn’t stop to ask if they should!”

Tilda isn’t a showy character like D’Souza, or burning with ambition and visions of doing great deeds for humanity like Nita, but she carries herself with a rod of drive and shines a light on herself and others in unexpected ways. I don’t know whether her ending is happy or not; I’ll leave readers to decide that, but it’s the one that gave most satisfaction to write. I’ve no idea what happens to her (or any of the other characters) once they depart the text, but I think she probably deserves a little slice of happiness more than most.

Tilda is the last of the POV characters in the book, and thus endeth my little run of character sketches, which has been fun. There is one more POV character in MOW, but you’ll have to read the book to find out. But anyhoo! The book’s out next week, and it’s been a long journey to get here.

Tomorrow I’ll be at Forbidden Planet with some advance copies to sign and flog, so if you fancy getting your mitts on one before the official launch date, Forbidden Planet in London is the place to go. Also there will be my friend and author of the jaw-dropping The Goddess Project, Bryan Wigmore; Jonathan Green, author of YOU Are The Hero, a brilliant history of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks (among other things); and one of my other fellow wanderers, author of the excellent Heir To The North, Steven Poore. It’ll be quite a get-together. With beers afterwards.

Published by Dan Jones

I'm a science fiction writer and podcaster. My debut novel Man O’War was published in 2018 by Snowbooks, and I’ve had a few short stories published here and there. I also host Chronscast, the official podcast of SFF Chronicles, the world's largest science-fiction and fantasy community. Away from writing I work for the UK Space Agency on a programme of space robotics for advanced satellite and planetary exploration technologies. All of which comes in rather handy when coming up with new ideas for science fiction stories.

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