Sunday, December 23, 2012

Manda Benson and The Emerald Forge #guest

Manda Benson was one of the very first authors I worked with and she's bringing out her special brand of SF or, as she terms them, technothrillers with Tangentrine Limited. Manda explores a possible futures that offer a somewhat dark diversion from our present. I cannot underscore enough how much I love Manda's writing, and I've got The Emerald Forge queued up as a soon-to-be read title on my list. 

But, over to Manda, who's taking over my blog today...

The Emerald Forge is the second book in the four-volume Pilgrennon’s Children series of technothrillers aimed at the YA age group and above. If I had to compare ideas in The Emerald Forge with other books, I suppose I could call it a near-future portmanteau of The Island of Dr Moreau (HG Wells), The Birds (Daphne Du Maurier), and Frankenstein (Mary Shelley). The book’s central plot is driven by the appearance of animals and alarming artificial creatures coming from somewhere to attack people.

In Pilgrennon’s Beacon Dana succeeded in tracking down her genetic parents, Jananin Blake and Ivor Pilgrennon. Ivor went missing at the end of the first book, whereas Jananin, the unwilling donor of the ovum Dana was conceived from, considered the revenge she’d set out to enact complete, and left to rebuild her life. The series sets the characters’ struggles against a backdrop of political upheaval, so the second book needed to continue Dana’s story as well as progressing this setting.

In The Emerald Forge, a year or two has passed since Pilgrennon’s Beacon. As a result of the events in the first book, democracy as we know it has fallen out of favour and a new form of government has risen to power, the Meritocracy. The Meritocracy is rather a complicated concept and I didn’t want irrelevant explanations forced into the book for the sake of it, so The Emerald Forge I suppose comes across as a sort of introduction to the idea via what’s going on in the background. The gist of it is there is no parliament and no politicians, and every law and matter to be decided upon is voted for by the Electorate, and the results handled by massive interconnected supercomputers called ANTs (Arrays of NeuroTechnology), but — and this is the crucial part — some people’s votes have more weight than others, depending on tiers calculated from their qualifications, how much voluntary tax they pay, and other matters used to determine how much they contribute to society.

Dana has been adopted by the foster parents she was living with in the first book, and in them she has a loving and supportive family. However, she’s still having problems due to bullies at school and puberty, and she has no closure on what happened to Ivor, and lives in hope he might still be alive. Jananin, an eminent scientist and Nobel laureate, has been elected as a Spokesman for the Meritocracy (a Spokesman is a prominent public figure chosen for their judgement and opinions by the Electorate to vote on their behalf at times of national emergency, when there’s not time for a referendum to be held on an urgent matter) and because of this, writings and speeches by her frequently appear on the Internet, television, and radio. This false proximity makes Dana’s relationship with and rejection by Jananin even more difficult for her.

At the start of the book, Dana and a boy are attacked by a construct — half beast, half machine — designed to resemble a wyvern, a creature from mythology. Dana succeeds in defeating the wyvern, and discovers it was being controlled by a remote signal. She needs somewhere safe to hide the wyvern, and tries to contact Jananin, hoping in addition she will get help finding out who made the wyvern and why it was sent to attack her. Unfortunately, this doesn’t go quite as she hopes, and she ends up trying to work out the mystery without Jananin. Dana’s biggest concern is that it was Ivor who made the wyvern and sent it after her, and the thought of this being evidence that he is still alive is worrying to her, although she longs to find out he isn’t dead. Around the same time, she’s also started being troubled by disturbing dreams about someone trapped in an abusive psychiatric hospital. She deduces that the wyvern came from the east, and travels that way to eventually come across an abandoned foundry, the ‘Emerald Forge’ where someone is carrying out very unethical experiments. Dana has to stop what’s going on in the Forge and find out why it is happening.

One of the major themes I’m trying to develop in this series, as it is aimed at young people, is putting across controversial topics and trying to give a balanced perspective. I’m concerned that extremist ideologies tend to target the young, people who don’t have a great deal of experience or theory to defend themselves with. The first book concerned itself in this respect with nanotechnology and genetic engineering. These scientific fields are frequently reviled as being wrong and dangerous by people with no real understanding of what they actually involve. Dana as a character was in an unique position as these technologies are an innate part of her and are the reason for her existing at all. A lot of tension in the book stemmed from Jananin and Ivor’s disagreement over what was unethical and what was permissible for the greater good, and I hope that encouraged readers to research these topics and develop more informed opinions.

In The Emerald Forge, the theme this time is animal experimentation. On the one side are ruthless people who will inflict all manner of suffering on animals that could be avoided, and use them as weapons for their own ends. On the other side are terrorists who think animals are better than humans, and that no person has the right to do anything that affects an animal, including owning pets as well as killing animals to eat or using them to test medicines and surgical procedures on. In the middle are people who want to know their dinner was reared and slaughtered humanely, and people like the police who use dogs and horses to help them do their job, and people who believe some animal testing is necessary for the greater good, as long as the animals are treated humanely. I hope this gets people thinking about aspects of this argument they might not have considered, and encourages people who might have already developed an opinion to perhaps re-examine it.

Significantly to me, The Emerald Forge was published on 12/12/12. This running joke started out with The Weatherman’s Niece on 10/10/10, mainly because the month and the day are the same, so people don’t get confused because of date-writing conventions, which vary internationally. Sadly, this is the last date of this format we’re likely to see in our lifetimes (the next will be 01/01/2101) so the joke ends with The Emerald Forge. As with the first book, I’d originally intended to include bonus material in the electronic version and had an idea for a piece of short fiction, but unfortunately there wasn’t time. The e-edition does have an ‘Easter egg’ not included in the paperback, though, and I may include more bonus material in a later updated edition.

I’m taking a break from this series for now to catch up on some other projects I write under different names. I hope to publish the third book in the Pilgrennon’s Children tetralogy, The Lambton Worm, some time in late 2014 or early 2015.

The first two books of the Pilgrennon’s Children series, Pilgrennon’s Beacon (978-0-9566080-2-4) and The Emerald Forge (978-0-9566080-7-9), are published by Tangentrine Ltd in paperback and electronic format.