Jack Lusted

Science-fiction writer

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On Utopias

Utopias are never meant to be, they’re ideal fantasies. The name even says it. Coined by Sir Thomas More from Greek it literally translates as “no-place”. Of course the word’s meaning has changed a bit in the five centuries since he came up with it, but the implication is still the same.

So writing a series about how a utopia comes about certainly poses some challenges. Setting it in the future certainly helps to a degree, but the rest come down to what the utopia is, how to make it believable.

Reading the Culture novels by Iain M Banks, with its post-scarcity Utopian society, I always wanted to know how it came to be. Especially with much of the political going-on’s of the past few years, imagining how a society might evolve into something that would be better for everyone is appealing. It is the slightly bonkers challenge I’ve set myself with these books.

Of course the fictional society that the books will end up showing won’t be a true Utopia, that’s sort of the point of them, instead it will be depicting a society that could be considered Utopain. A society where people never lack for shelter, food or water. A society built on the principles of democracy and equality.

The point of these books is going to be reflecting the real world and some of the issues we face to do and show a society moving beyond that. Spoilers I suppose, but not really as the story is about the journey and the destination.

Hopepunk

Hopepunk is a term that emerged from this tumblr post by Alexandra Rowland. It from the start was positioned as something opposed to grimdark, saying that if grimdark is all about pessimism and that the world is awful/bad in many ways then hopepunk is all about optimism. It’s about how being kind can be a political act of rebellion.

From there the term seems to have bubbled along for a bit, Alexandra Rowland elaborated more in this piece on festive.ninja and panels talking about hope and science fiction & fantasy started to appear at some conventions.

Then late last year it sort of sprung into a much wider debate, sparked by a piece on Vox. Rather than have me talk about it, I’d point to this excellent piece by Cora Buhlert, the Hopepunk Debate, that nicely covers the article and the debate that came out of it.

Whilst the term may only have been coined recently, there has to me been a trend of more hopeful works recently. From the list she includes I’ve read the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie, The Wayfarer books by Beck Chambers, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, and the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (along with her Inheritance trilogy that wasn’t on the list).

Whilst all of the above have an optimistic tone, they all approach it in different ways. The Wayfarer series is all comfy books that are so warm and lovely and awesome, but the Broken Earth trilogy is hard and harsh and all about oppression and breaking the world to fix it. But both have hope.

One of the main criticism’s thrown at hopepunk is that it’s too ill-defined, that hope alone isn’t enough. But I’d argue back that none of the examples I can think of are just about hope. All of them have change happen, have characters and the worlds they live in grow and evolve over the course of them. Hope alone is not enough, but I can’t think of stories that are like that. The criticism feels like it’s aimed at a version of hopepunk that isn’t there.

Hopepunk is a term I’d agree with, that I feel describes what I’m aiming for in my writing as well. I want to tell stories of a world, a galaxy that is to a large extent broken in many ways, and how hope is turned into a dream, an idea, a weapon if you will to fix the future. That’s my hope at least.

Return of the blog – 2019

Hello and welcome back to the nth revival of my blog! If you look through the article you’ll see I’ve proclaimed it a few times before, as you’d have to go back to 2013/14/15 to find an era when I was regularly posting here.

This time I do have a few posts queued up ready to go live over the coming weeks and months as I’m now back to a point with my writing where I’m making good progress again. There will be posts talking about some of the change in direction I’ve done, and why exactly the gap has been so long.

So this site will no longer be dead as I’ll talk more about the series I’m working on, the themes behind it as well as the occasional update on how the writing itself is going.

Here’s to 2019.

Changing Point of View

Not doing well with my promise to blog more so far, but here we go with some more!

In working on the new draft of Hope, I realised that the book would work a lot better if it is written from the first-person point of view. There’s a slight problem with that. I’ve never written anything using first-person before. Every single thing has been third-person objective, with what people are thinking never being said.

So needless to say deciding that Hope needs to be first-person has meant I’ve had to get some practice in, as well as going back and reading some of my favourite books that are written in the first-person to see how much better authors than I have done it. I’ve enjoyed challenging myself and am looking forward to seeing how a whole draft in first-person turns out.

Besides that I’ve been thinking more about every aspect of the outline I’ve gone and I’ve been tweaking it, from how the nature of some planets will change how some social aspects are shown to what happens to each character in the plot.

Once more I stand before the mountain of a 100,000 – 120,000 word draft ahead of me. Some of the paths along the way are familiar, but enough has changed to make it a new experience. Time to start climbing again.

2017 – The Year of Hope

Well, 2016 was definitely not the year I’d planned it out to be. Not a bad year personally (world events of course registering quite high on the suck-o-meter, never mind all the celebrity deaths), but not what I’d thought it would be.

The biggest thing that didn’t go as I wanted was my writing. With some health stuff going on for the first half of the year I decided to focus on other parts of my life, so plans for the next draft of what I’ve been working on got pushed back, to the point where I’m only just about to start that next draft.

However in a way I think that delay has ended up being a good thing. The momentous political events of this year, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as President (both things I’m strongly against, voted Remain in the EU referendum), have had me thinking a lot about the stories I’m writing and the goals of them.

Elements of the world that I built for the Oranje and what was going to be the September series, and now morphed into the United novels, were constructed to reflect the world today and issues going on. The Commonwealth as the literal embodiment of the glorious past so many politicians are trying to drag us back to and never really existed as people remember. The Contracts, seen in Oranje, the decades long signing over work in return for education and safety, reflecting the insecurity of the job market, zero-hour contracts, and the ever increasing cost of education.

So with the world going topsy-turvy I felt like I needed to push that side of the story more, so the whole setting and background has gone through some changes, changes I definitely feel will make what I write better.

And I want to have more hope in my writing. With so many changes going on, and lots of freaking scary rhetoric being thrown around, I think we could all use some hope. That’s what the first book will be called, Hope, and it is the central theme of it. There are dark times ahead, and there needs to be more light. It can come from activism, getting involved in politics, donating to causes you believe in, and we need more stories that lift people up, maybe inspire them.

A grand goal for me to be aiming for, especially so early on in my writing career, but fuck it. It’s what I want to write, it’s what I feel like I need to write (myself, not speaking for anyone else), so it’s what I’m going to do.

Aim is for the book to be out before the end of 2017, we’ll see how that goes.

Oh, and hopefully more blogging too, I let that slide as well, and that should change. I find writing on here useful, it helps to give shape to what I’m thinking, so more of this too. Until next time, have a great 2017.

I hope it is a year filled with light and hope for you all.

We Could Be Heroes

This week saw the deaths of two greats. On Monday morning I woke up to the news that David Bowie had died. I had to read that headline a few times before the reality sunk in. For someone who felt so timeless it was weird to hear the news of his passing, especially given the amazing scope of his influence on music, fashion, and culture. Not just in his constant reinvention driven by his curiosity, but also in how he played with gender and challenged the norms of the day. It took me a while to get into Bowie but when I did I realised just how many of his songs I knew, how much they’d been part of my life for so long. He was simply a genius.

And then to top the week off was the news of Alan Rickman’s passing. Also 69, also from cancer. I find it hard to decide what his best role was. The Sheriff of Nottingham in Prince of Thieves. Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest. The Metatron in Dogma. All fabulous to watch. My wife and I celebrated his life by watching Dogma and then Prince of Thieves. Any of them we could have watched and equally paid tribute to him. For many others he was Professor Snape from Harry Potter, though personally I didn’t enjoy the films. Nothing to do with the quality of them, I know there are millions of people out there who love and adore them. The films vision of Hogwarts just didn’t mesh with my internal one from reading the books and I found it off-putting.

Their deaths have left a lasting impression on me. not just because of what amazing people they were, but also in relation to a lot of other celebrity deaths there have been over the past few years. Robin Williams, Christopher Lee, Leonard Nimoy, and my favourite author of all time Terry Pratchett. Some have been talking about all these deaths as a passing of a generation, a group of unique people and talent we won’t see again. That we won’t see these people who dominated a genre or genres creatively.

I’m not sure I agree with that entirely. Okay yes, there will never be another Bowie, or another Pratchett. Their creativity, the way they connected with people, came from who they were, and no one can be like they were.

I do think it’s less likely we’ll see people who so totally seem to dominate an era, who speak to millions in such a way. Sure, there will be some, but I think our changing world will work against that.

One of the changes I think has happened over the past few decades, and which is accelerating thanks to the internet, is a broadening of niches. There are a lot more creators out there, whether they be writers or artists or musicians, who are much more able to connect with a fan base that is incredibly passionate about their work. That fan base may not be as large as the millions for Pratchett and others, but its one that will morn the loss of their favourite authors just as much.

I think about Amanda Palmer and the almost 25,000 fans who helped fund an album of hers for $1.5 million. I think of the birth of Patreon and the many comic artists and writers that can create more thanks to the money given by fans who are interested in what they make.

There are going to hundreds if not thousands of people out there all with their own curious followings making a living doing what they want creatively. The internet has allowed that connection to flourish and grow, and for artists to stand more and more on their own. To the point I think we’re entering a golden age of creativity.

With more and more ways for people to share their work, and to make money off of what they create, I think more and more people will. It makes me want to create too.

Thinking about the impact people like Bowie and Pratchett have had on peoples lives, I can hope to come close to 0.1% of that if I’m lucky. All I really hope for, and aim for, is that one person reads something I’ve written and lets me know they’ve loved it or that it’s had an impact on their life.

I think that’s a good thing to aim for, for myself and others. Have an impact on one life. Sounds good to me.

Who knows, it could even be your own.

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