Late last year Solaris released the first volume in an epic sizzling fantasy series from novelist Gaie Sebold (what a superb stocking filler it was too). This book is a kitschy, witty, kick-ass debut and a bold and original new entry amongst other phantasmagorical/genre offerings. It is destined to be a huge hit with readers who take pleasure in stories brimming over with sword and saucery-themed shenanigans.
Sebold takes us into the tantalising world of Scalantine; an inter-dimensional intersection populated by Weres, Feys, annoyingly puritanical religious sects, the pussy-tingling, mysterious crumpet Darask Fain, Lizard Men (who this writer thought obscurely sexy) oh, the occasional batshit crazy Warlock and of course, the warrior-mercenary-madam of The Red Lantern herself: Babylon Steele, A sword-wielding, leather-clad, raven-locked, Xena-esque, titillating and oh, so, modern heroine.
With a socially-informed narrative, an epic setting, inspired characterisation and an iconic new vixen, Babylon Steele is the most fun you’ll have without taking your clothes off with Jay Hernandez, so buckle up, hold on tight and enjoy the ride…
If an R-rated Jacqueline Susann collided with a frisky Douglas Adams they might have produced something as mesmerising as the first volume of your fast-paced and witty fantasy Babylon Steel. Babylon is the Heidi Fleiss of phantasmagorical fiction, when did you first get acquainted with the auspicious heroine?
GS: I had to look Heidi Fleiss up! Does that make me incredibly parochial? Anyway. Babylon existed as a few paragraphs about the list of rules outside a fantasy-set brothel some years ago, but she didn’t really become fully formed until I started writing the book.
I heard you’re more a pantser than a plotter, did you race to get to the end of the first draft and fill in the gaps later or did you have clear ideas about Scalentine and Babylon’s journey from the outset?
GS: I sort of raced then crawled, alternately, for most of it. My standard method seems to be to charge in bull-at-a-gate fashion for about the first 30,000 words, then realise I have no idea what I’m doing and try and work out the actual plot. This can be fun, but can also be terrifying. I am trying to become a little more of a planner, but I don’t think I’ll ever have the whole thing down before I start writing; I think I get some of the most interesting things while I’m finding out what the story is, what the world is and who the characters are.
The novel, although fierce, frenetic and fun, does push serious points, about religion, sexual politics, gender roles, family and faith. Was it your intention to address contemporary issues or did they sneak into the novel when your back was turned?
GS: Oh, I did approach it with a fairly definite idea that I wanted to talk about sex and sexuality, that I wanted to explore the idea of a woman who is a highly trained sex-worker who is as proud of what she does as any other highly-trained craftswoman. The religious stuff, I guess, is part of that; I see many religions being fiercely controlling about sexuality, and particularly women’s sexuality. Although Babylon’s particular background wasn’t like that; her religion of origin was toxic for other reasons. I’m afraid I do see a lot of religion directed into very toxic channels; used, as Babylon says, as an excuse for beating up the other guy. Or girl. Or country. Take your pick, really. I don’t see all religion as evil, or all members of any particular faith as evil; I see it as something that can, very easily, be directed towards evil by those of bad intent.
Do you think many genre fiction writers shy away from exploring sex and subscribe to an outmoded morality?
GS: Actually, I think SF and Fantasy are where you have the greatest chance of finding the transgressive, and people exploring new ways of thinking about human nature and interaction, including sex. There will always be writers who play it safe, whatever the genre, and for a variety of reasons; maybe they aren’t comfortable with writing about it, or maybe they don’t want to foreground sexuality because they want to focus on something else (and once you put sex into something, people do tend to zero in on and discuss it, because there are still taboos around it and people are still, endlessly, fascinated by it). But I believe Fantasy and Science Fiction have always been where the most groundbreaking stuff actually is. Just look at Le Guin, for example.
Of course there is fantasy set within what I think of as ‘standard pre-industrial fantasy backdrop,’ where you can have a couple of recurring types; Mighty-Thewed Hero who gets to bonk interchangeable Fantasy Dolls without all that modern nonsense about feminism, condoms or paternity suits, or Feisty Girl who stands up for the oppressed, gets to have sex and doesn’t get to be inconveniently pregnant, diseased, or executed for being a bit too damn feisty. There are SFnal versions, too. But I think both are getting rarer. I hope so, anyway.
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