First Novelist Kameron Hurley, Author of God's War, on "Reimagining Revolution"
Kameron Hurley has been writing for a long time, the bulk of her work posted on Brutal Women and other blogs---intricate, bold, and thought-provoking posts on a variety of subjects both personal and societal. But she's also an accomplished novelist whose path to print was delayed by the publisher melt-down of 2008.
Now, finally, Hurley's first novel God's War is out and garnering great praise, with Publishers Weekly writing in part, "On a planet settled by Muslims and ravaged by constant war and pollution, Nyx, a former government-sponsored assassin...gets by as a bounty hunter. Her assistant is the foreign magician Rhys, who can control the ubiquitous insects that drive the planet's technology. When the government asks them to hunt down an off-worlder who possesses technology that could end the war, they find themselves facing off against foreign agents and their fellow bel dames. Hurley's world-building is phenomenal [and].... (she) smoothly handles tricky themes such as race, class, religion, and gender without sacrificing action."
Yes, that's right: It's bugpunk! Indeed, part of the joy of the world-building is in the descriptions of the bug-based techno, although Hurley never makes her characters subservient to her setting. This is gritty, edgy, and thoroughly entertaining science fiction/fantasy---and more than original enough to sustain future books in the same milieu. Check out a second amazing book trailer for the novel on Hurley's YouTube channel as well as her awesome website for the book, which includes a sample chapter. You can also sample her short fiction, which has been collected in year's best anthologies, in a collection created for the Kindle. Finally, there's a great piece by her on John Scalzi's Whatever blog, about the novel.
Hurley's been kind enough to write a series of short pieces for Omnivoracious on issues related to her novel. Here's the first.
by Kameron Hurley
I was going to write something about Egypt and Tunisia here. Something lofty and inspired about resistance and tyranny, and why I write about it. But I realized that was disingenuous. It pretends that middle class white folks living on Chipotle and diet Coke in Ohio really have any idea what it is to scream for the end of a dictatorship with a policeman’s gun in their faces.
I have no experience with that. My solution to ever more invasive TSA pat downs and screenings has simply been to fly less. Why do the meek find violence and revolution so inspiring, then? Why write about the world tearing apart when we know we’d be the first to lock ourselves in our houses? Is it fun? Escapist?
My undergraduate work looked at how the African National Congress recruited students into its ranks in the fight against Apartheid in the 1980s in South Africa. I was up in Alaska about that time. When I started my graduate work I moved to South Africa for a year and a half, despite my family’s insistence that I was going to be raped, mutilated, and killed--not necessarily in that order (as if none of those things could possible happen to me in the U.S.). Once there, I started to bury myself in violent stories. Some of these were old dusty records, but many were stories catalogued for posterity on the Internet by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, so that all could see and never forget the terrible abuses that went on during the apartheid regime.
I examined the propaganda used by the African National Congress that was specifically aimed at women, this time. I got to speak to people who had grown up during the height of the resistance. People who got used to army vehicles in the streets, and small explosions at bars and restaurants and shopping centers.
When you move to a new place, especially another country, everyone says, “Oh, it must be so different there!” But it really wasn’t. There were buses and bars and shopping centers, you see. People ate dinner. People wanted a good life. There was less money all around, certainly. But the mechanics were still the same. Rich people stayed rich. Poor people stayed poor. But there was hope for better days. Things had not ended in the bubbling blood bath everyone had predicted at the end of Apartheid. Life went on.
I don’t know if writers actually look at the world differently, or if writers are just more likely to catalogue what they think about. Because when I see war and revolution, and overwhelming courage in the face of great adversity, I start to move different pieces around. I put different events in different places. I start to change history. Rewrite the future. Pluck different threads from the past. I do this because I want to know how things can be different. I want to know why my biggest concern today is how to pay my mortgage instead of how to overthrow a dictator. I want to build lives with people who see and experience a very different world from mine that is, at its core, essentially the same. If you strip away the world and put me somewhere else, who would I be? Who would you be? What would humanity be?
Those are the questions I ask whenever I start to build worlds. What sorts of people does this world create? What do they fear and love and hate? Why inspires them to revolt? How much do I have to take away from them before they conspire to break the world apart and remake it? And, finally, how far can you push people before they cease to be human?
The secret is that I ask these questions not so much because I want to know this about others… but because I want to know it about myself. How far can somebody push me, before I start to push back?
That’s the answer I’m looking for. It’s what I seek out in every violent story, from Rwanda to Germany, South Africa to Egypt. I don’t believe that reading or writing about revolution and resistance is an exercise in escapism. On the contrary, it allows us to imagine who we would be, what we would do, if the policeman’s gun was in our face, if the dictator on the television was our own.