*Blows dust off the CSS*
It’s been a while. Know what I love about nature? You leave something for long enough, dandelions and clover will grow through the cement, seeds will grow from the cracks and in a few years you’ll have a new ecosystem. You leave an Internet space for long enough and it just gets buggy and eventually falls apart, good for nothing.
Anyway, it’s taken something far more interesting than me to get me back here. The Future Fire are crowd funding a new anthology, Accessing the Future:
“This anthology will call for and publish speculative fiction stories that interrogate issues of disability—along with the intersecting nodes of race, nationality, gender, sexuality, and class—in both the imagined physical and virtual spaces of the future. We want people of all abilities to see themselves, as they are now and as they want to be, in our collective human future.”
Pretty damned awesome idea. Sci-fi has a habit of erasing disability–science fixes us and makes us all able-bodied!–or just plain ignoring it entirely. I’ve found that there’s no ‘fixing’ my depression and so I’m working to make it part of me. Not a disease that needs to be cured, but part of my identity, without pride or prejudice. After all, why go through my life hating part of me? Maybe it even has something of value to offer to me. Something beautiful I would never have if it was ‘cured’. Perhaps people with disabilities feel the same. In a genre that’s supposed to be all about exploring new world views, it’s criminal that any non-able-bodied world view has been erased and ignored for so long. Who knows what beauty, or experiences, we’re not sharing?
Anyway, in order to help spread the word, The Future Fire are doing a blog hop where authors talk about their latest work in progress. After being nominated by Jo, and then Allegra, and even being name-checked in the Future Fire’s blog, it’s probably time I hopped onto my blog…
1) Tell us about your Work In Progress (WIP) / Current Read (CR) and the world it’s set in.
Journeyman mages travel a pre-industrial land, looking to be hired by rich patrons. The dead are angry and not only attack the living, but launch raids from the Otherworld, stealing crops and possessions and burning houses. With one foot in both the physical and the Otherworld, the mages can protect their patrons far more effectively than the apprentice-produced charms the common folk have to rely on.
The narrative character is John Sunwish, a journeyman mage who should have stopped travelling and taken up residence in a college as a master years ago. But he craves master to serve, and is following an unarticulated voice he hears in the wind to find them.
The story started as a way for me to explore my own submissive nature. I’d far rather be a background character, someone who supports a main character on their shoulders. In the version of DS I’m familiar with, the submissive surrenders a portion of control over their life to their dominant. In return, the dominant ensures the submissive’s emotional needs are met. By taking away a portion of the submissive’s responsibility for meeting their needs, the dominant eases the constant, sometimes overwhelming, pressure, cuts through the Gordian emotional knot the submissive can’t hope to start unpicking. Almost every single story I’ve encountered says we need to be the main character, we need to be independent, stand up as individuals, serve no one, be an island, be in full control of ourselves and our lives. I don’t want to be, and so I wanted to write something that said it’s okay to be a bit character, that it’s okay to want someone else to help you manage your emotional needs.
2. Who are the most powerful people in this world?
The mages hold the living world in their hands. It’s because of them that the Otherworld doesn’t destroy the living world entirely, that the dead don’t over run the living.
There’s no one more hated and despised in society than a mage, and no art or craft so reviled as magic. When a journeyman mage becomes a master, they stop traveling and stop the grotesque act of actually performing magic, instead studying it and teaching it to the apprentices.
If they wanted to, the mages could rule the world. So non-magical society ensures they internalise the idea they are low, disgusting, unworthy. They drive wedges between mages so they don’t organise and talk to each other; the internalised self-hatred is easy projected onto other mages.
So social power rests with merchants. The political and social system is kind of underdeveloped at the moment, both because it’s not important to the story I want to tell, and because the story is still in a first draft. The ‘country’ the story takes place in is a series of independent city states and affiliated towns and villages, connected by trade and common culture. Each city state has it’s own political system, but the merchants control the flow of goods between them and so control who has grain and cotton and silk. Maybe there’s even a merchant’s guild, a kind of cartel that could bring a city state to its knees if it wanted.
3) Where does their power come from?
As ever, it’s who you know that counts. Born into the right family, move in the right circles, have a lot of money to begin with and you’ll do well.
I’ve not done a huge amount of research into how these sorts of societies operated historically, so I’m mainly going on guess work and assumption. It’s a dangerous combination.
However, the power of the merchants comes from the fact that everyone has basic needs that must be met for them to live. And, once those basic needs are met, they have other needs they come to believe are basic and come to believe they have a right to expect to be met. The city states are too populated to be self-sustaining and, even if they were, there would be luxury goods people would demand as a right. With no overall authority to forcibly move goods from one area to another, the market decides.
4) What physical and/or mental characteristics underpin their positions of power?
They need to be able to travel long distances in horse-drawn carriages, on horseback, by barge or by sea—none of which make for an easy journey. So, a degree of physical resilience is needed. They also need to be able to adapt to different climates and different diets. As I’ve done no research what-so-ever into disability in pre-industrial societies, I’m not going to make wild stabs in the dark about what is and what isn’t possible.
They also to be able to get on well with people, to socialise, to convince people do work for them and do business for them, so a degree of neuro-typicality is needed. ASD, social phobia, some types of PD would all be a serious hindrance to schmoozing. You also need a dulled sense of empathy—after all, your profit comes from someone else’s loss.
5) How does this affect the weakest people in the world?
I’m reluctant to say that the mages are the weakest people in the world. Socially, maybe they are—everyone else, no matter how low, can point and say, “at least I’m not them”. But they’re fit, able-bodied, strong-willed, insightful, and have a grasp of human nature that can only come from seeing the Otherworld.
So the poor are probably the weakest. Those who, for whatever reason, can’t work and don’t have a rich, sympathetic family to support them. They are never going to meet anyone from the right circles and don’t have anything like the money to make it on their own. I should imagine there are a fair amount of beggars who literally live on what people throw into their bowls.
As in our world, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The rich rig the system so they stay rich and there’s bog all the poor can do about it. Maybe some of the city states have a social security system, either state or privately owned and funded. Maybe some have a social expectation that those who can’t look after themselves will be looked after by their community. Maybe in some vagrants get chopped up and used to fertilize crops.
So, that’s my blog hop. I now need to educate myself about disability in historical settings, especially in Europe from the middle-ages to the Victorian era. And I then need to make sure that I include more of what I learn in my work. So, my thanks to Djibril and Jo for helping me to realise that.