Ben Peek is the author of Black Sheep, Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth, Above/Below, Dead Americans and Other Stories, and The Godless. He can be found at www.theurbansprawlproject.com and @nosubstance on twitter.
1. Your epic fantasy novel The Godless will shortly be released from Tor. Given that I completely stuffed up the details last time I tried to describe it publicly, can you tell us about your book and what you are trying to achieve with this series?
Nah, you didn’t do too bad a job, but either way, here it is: The Godless is the first novel in the Children Trilogy, my ensemble cast fantasy set in a world where the bodies of gods lie across the ground, in the ocean, and orbiting around the planet. They are both dead and dying, and their divine essence is bleeding into the world, infecting men and women. In some parts of the world, this is known as a curse. In the part of the world Ayae lives in, it is known as a curse, and unfortunately for her, she is going to find out exactly what that means as an army marches up the mountain she lives on. For Bueralan, a saboteur, he has taken on a job to find out what the army marching on Mireea want, and how to stop them. Unfortunately for him and his band of mercenaries known as Dark, they are worn out, emotionally exhausted from their last job, and they should have stayed home.
And then there is Zaifyr, for who the less is said about, the better, really.
The series is a kind of love letter to my teenage years, where I lived on a steady diet of fantasy novels, but written by my adult self, who perhaps would have very little to do with the person I was, then (which, really, is what most of us think, I assume). The adult me took a much more measured view to the world building, and began it from an ideological point of view. When I say that, I don’t mean the bit about the gods being dead, but I mean the world beyond that, the interactions of men and women, and race. A lot of fantasy is, either through design or not, conservative. Monarchist, patriarchial societies filtered through psuedo christian values. Not all of it, mind you, and sometimes that’s the exact point – but in a genre where dragons can appear, personal hygiene is of a higher standard than usual, and people kill without any real pause, I don’t really see much of a point to adhering to that conservative side. Which is a long way round of saying I approached my world building from a point of equality in terms of race and sex and sexuality, and I have used that as the base from which I have grown everything in the book, both in terms of basic prose, and in terms of plot, themes, etc.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t monarchies, or patriarchial societies, because there are, but there are also the opposites, and the things in between, and everything that comes from it. For most people, none of it should mean anything, to be perfectly frank – it all happens on a level behind the events of the book, but for goals within the fantasy genre, that was and is mine, and hopefully it’ll work.
2. Dead Americans was released at the beginning of this year. What was it about the idea of stories based on iconic dead Americans that appealed so greatly to you? And now the book is out, does that mean you’re done exploring this theme?
I would say it was mostly due to the influence that American society has had here in Australia, and on myself, personally. I grew up with a lot of American culture – literature and entertainment, primarily. I suspect I’m not alone in this, though I am perhaps alone in thinking that the way to explore that influence is to take certain dead Americans and craft a story around them.
As for being done, no, I don’t think so. However, Dead American stories sorta come on their own terms, regardless of what I think, and there can be large gaps between them, before one decides to appear. I have one in the back of my mind about David Carradine, which I had wrote a little of and then got stuck, but the idea has never left me, so I think I might go back and play with it sometime soon, again. Likewise, I have an Orson Welles novel I’d like to write, and my girlfriend would like me to write a sequel to Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost, which may well become my default answer whenever someone asks me what I plan to write next. But they’re often difficult, time consuming stories to write, and so I let them just naturally emerge. But the pieces, when they’re done, are often among my favourites – ‘Octavia E. Butler’, my novella built around Octavia Butler’s body of work, is perhaps one of my favourite pieces I’ve written.
It’s also the one everyone seems not to understand, but that only makes it more my favourite, really.
3. What comes next after the Godless – how is the rest of the series shaping up, and what are your writing plans for when it is done?
Well, y’know, I’m working on that sequel to Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost…
Anyhow: I handed in the second book recently, and I imagine it will come back with edits in a few months, and I’ll get into ripping it apart and rebuilding it, which is all part of the process, and I am working on the third novel now. While I’m working on the Harlot’s Ghost sequel – do you know, there’s a musical bit done in a sequence resembling Dante’s Divine Comedy – I’ll finish all this stuff and see where I am. I’d like to write more fantasy novels, actually, since I’ve been having a real good time with this trilogy, and living the dream that I imagined myself living when I was sixteen, and it gives me endless pleasure, really, but I imagine it will depend on how these books go first.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
Rjurik Davidson’s Unwrapped Sky and Anna Tambour’s Crandolin.
5. The publishing world has changed a lot in recent years, and continues to shift rapidly under our feet – has this changed how you work, and do you think it will change how you work in the future?
Well, yeah, it’s changed how I work. It has changed a lot of people, I imagine – given more opportunties to some, less to others. I’m concerned about the shrinking of publishers, both at the top, and at the bottom, and I’m concerned, as always really, that we don’t reward risk and talent, and that we are, instead, nurturing a reading public who are comfortable at best when reading beneath themselves, and I’m concerned about methods of distribution, politics, and etc, in it all. All the outcomes and changes in that will impact on me, just as it will impact on you, and all of us, and it will probably change how I work in the future. I mean, everything changes how we work in the future, but the future is unknown, so who knows what it will look like?
Look at all these snapshots that have been done – you go back right to the first one and see the people in it and what they thought, and read it through the years, and I doubt the majority of people picked what they would be doing now, or what it would be like.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:
Tansy Rayner Roberts