Rod Rees’ debut novel The Demi-Monde:Winter (on sale now) should be on everyone’s “must read” list for 2012. First published in the UK—to much acclaim—this novel is generating a lot of buzz. BookReporter.com called it “a brilliant, high concept series that blends science fiction and thriller, steampunk and dystopian vision.” And likened it to “If Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, James Rollins, and Clive Cussler participated in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, the result might be something akin to the dark and ingenious madness of Rees’s The Demi Monde: Winter.” Interested yet?
Read some of THE DEMI-MONDE: WINTER here. And here’s our Q&A with the author.
Q: In The Demi-Monde you introduce a myriad of religions that are loosely based on ones that exist today (e.g. UnFunDaMentalism, HerEticalism etc.). Why did you decide to incorporate these into the story?
When I was first designing the Demi-Monde I wanted each of the four books to be set in one of five different Sectors so that there was something new and unexpected in every instalment to intrigue the reader and keep the story fresh. As the DM is a war zone I decided there would be ‘Areas of Tension’ that would provoke the Sectors to be continually at each other’s throats. And the Areas of Tension I chose were those I thought would be simultaneously the most fun for me as a writer to explore and the most provocative: to paraphrase Mr. Bennet, what are the foibles of the human race for, if not to be made sport of. So I finally decided to make the inter-Sector antagonisms stem from differences in race, religion, gender and sexual orientation … and the greatest of these was religion.
The religions I developed for the Demi-Monde – UnFunDaMentalism, ImPuritanism, HerEticalism, HimPerialism, RaTionalism, nuJuism and Confusionism – are merely the religions of our world stretched and distorted to breaking point, my belief being that only by showing a belief system in extremis is it possible to see it as it really is. Reductio ad absurdum and all that. I’d love the Demi-Monde series to be remembered for its satirical aspect. Satire is the way a belief system is stress tested.
Q: How does a nice guy like you come up with a high-concept, absolutely nightmarish book concept like this?
I’m a qualified accountant!
Q: Ella, your jazz-singer protagonist/heroine, must be an homage to your wife? In what way do you envision a jazz artist equipped to save the world …even/especially if it’s a cruel, pseudo-steampunk-cyberworld?
Believe me, Nelli could sort out any world, cruel or otherwise! As you say, Nelli’s a jazz singer and as her manager I got involved with helping her write material and choose songs. This necessitated me reading a lot about the golden age jazz musicians and the conclusion I came to was that these people were gifted left-field thinkers, so it was natural when I was looking for a template for Ella that I should think of her as a jazzer. I mean, if people like Billie, Dizzy, Charlie, Louie et al. could cope with the prejudices and antagonisms our world threw at them, dealing with the Demi-Monde would have been a snap.
Q: The Demi-Monde is really a place where testosterone was allowed to run free—yet your two most heroic figures are both females. Can you explain the dynamic at play?
It’s a difficult question to answer: having three (they all get to be heroic in the end) rather feisty girls as lead characters just seemed the right thing to do. I suppose as I wanted one of my characters to be ‘in peril’ at the beginning of the story it was a natural (tho’ somewhat clichéd) inclination to make her female, but then to have made the character male would have changed the dynamics of how I planned to have the story develop. The trouble with this rationale is that all the new, heroic figures in later books also tend to be female (UnScrewed Liberationist, Odette Aroca in ‘Spring’ and Fresh Bloom, Dong E in ‘Summer’) so I guess this is just a subconscious nod on my part to the fact that this is going to be a century when women take the reins of running the world (and not a moment too soon in my opinion!).
And, of course, having two smart, tough and very ambitious teenage daughters probably had something to do with this thought process (though I’m not going to be drawn as to which personality traits belongs to which character; Kit and Ellie know where I live!).
Q: The Dupes: how much fun did you have re-envisioning the most criminal, the most evil, humans in history, and how did you select the ones that you set loose (in their alternate personas) within the Demi-Monde?
There are eighteen PreLived Dupes (digital duplicates) loose in the DM; these über-psychotics of history intended to provide ‘aberrational leadership’ to the thirty-million Dupes who inhabit my virtual world.
In selecting them I tried to steer away from the obvious—Hitler and Stalin for example—as they have become a little hackneyed in the fantasy stakes. I tried to pick the lesser-known of history’s b******. Some I knew from my history lessons at school—Heydrich, Shaka Zulu and Robespierre for example. Beria I read about when I lived in Russia in the early 90s. Crowley I remembered from the Dennis Wheatley books. Archie Clement (what a find!) I stumbled on when I was researching Jesse James and the rest from Googling ‘monsters’ and ‘psychotics’. I did have trouble finding female Singularities though and this is what ultimately led to my idea for the series denouement.
Q: Is it plausible that any government is working on a Demi-Monde of its own at this very moment?
I pulled this off today’s web:
The Army wants to develop a massive virtual world populated by 10,000 avatars that are managed by artificial intelligence and operate over a 32-mile square simulated landscape. Officials at the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s Simulation and Technology Training Center said they want a systems integrator to put together a virtual world that includes soldiers, vehicles and weapons that can move around a landscape built from Defense Department digital terrain elevation data.
The Simulation and Technology Training Center also said in its request for information that it wants to incorporate technologies used in massively multiplayer online games and offer classified and unclassified versions. The Army is looking for the contractor to create avatars that have the same kind of Web 2.0 communications found in the real world, including chat, instant messaging and links to smart phones. Based on the requirements, the Army is likely to choose a closed world open only to its personnel, and not a public world such as Second Life, which is open to everyone, said Dan Frank, managing partner for Three Wire Systems , a virtual world developer in Vienna, Va., which placed first in this year’s Federal Virtual World Challenge.
Now I hope the similarities with my Demi-Monde end there, ‘cos otherwise we’re in deep, deep, shit! The funny thing is that in the early days of my website I had a lot of hits from the US military: I wonder if I should demand royalties?
Q: Prior to your career as a writer, you did quite a bit of traveling around the world. How did this, if at all, directly affect your perception while writing this story?
As you say, I’ve got a lot of mileage (air-mileage as it happens). I lived in Tehran during the final days of the Shah, I was in Moscow when Communism crumbled and I’ve worked in Nigeria, Somalia, Burundi and several other of the more mal-managed, mal-nourished and mal-f***ed countries of the world so I’ve seen and experienced chaos at first hand. Walking through the streets of Lagos at night informs you in a very visceral way about what life might be like in a world like the Demi-Monde.
But there is more to it than that. Living and working throughout the world has convinced me of one thing: that all men are created equal in their duplicity and their ability to say one thing and do another. Duplicity is a theme running through The Demi-Monde … as is my questioning of whether there is intelligent life on earth.
Q: There’s a great map included in the front of the book. I saw an earlier version of it on your Facebook page as well. How did you decide which cities to include in each of the regions?
Generally they were cities I knew – London, St. Petersburg, Paris, Harare, Istanbul, Cairo, Venice. It’s so much easier to write from experience than from the imagination.
Q: Do your books have a soundtrack, and if so, what’s the soundtrack for this one?
I’m listening to an album by Cachaito (Cuban bass player) at the moment (brilliant) whose playing I’d love to think my writing emulated (fluid, effortless, spellbinding … I wish) but if I had to pick an album that encapsulates the book I’m currently struggling with I’d pick Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew: inspired in parts but the whole thing is teetering on the brink of collapse. I’m also putting together Nelli’s second album (she’s a nuJazz singer): I’ve just posted some of her stuff on YouTube (The UnFunDaMentalists, featuring Nelli Rees).
Q: Are you a keen researcher – and has that research ever changed the course of the story?
Yeah, I do a lot of research. I might write about fantastic worlds but I want them to have a coherency that persuades my readers to suspend disbelief. And yes, as I have a number of historical characters popping up in the Demi-Monde I have to regularly tweak the story when I realise that their public persona doesn’t quite match the reality unearthed by my research. Percy Shelley was a case in point: what a wuss …
About the author: Rod Rees has spent his life traveling throughout Africa, the Middle East, Bangladesh, and Russia, and consequently found himself living in Qatar, Tehran, and Moscow. He has built pharmaceutical factories in Dhaka, set up a satellite communication network in Moscow, and conceived and designed a jazz-themed hotel in the UK. Now a full-time writer, he lives near Derby, England, with his wife, Nelli, and their two children.