Today I’ve got a new guest on the blog – Tom Fletcher has kindly provided a guest post to whet appetites for his latest novel, Gleam. If you aren’t familiar with the title, here’s the deal:
The gargantuan Factory of Gleam is an ancient, hulking edifice where those at the top know everything and everyone else just does as they are told.
Surrounding it are the wilds of the Discard, where the rest of the population eke out a living. But as millennia have passed the population has decreased, and now only the central district is fully inhabited and operational. This decaying, lawless zone was the birthplace of the clever, arrogant, and perpetually angry, Wild Alan.
Now, after years in the Factory, he has to go back to the Discard to protect his wife and son. There Alan finds himself on a mission to save them both from a threat they don’t even know exists. But is he about to uncover more than he bargained for?
*Announcer voice* And now, it’s over to Tom to tell us more!
Amongst the Discarded
The Discard is called the Discard because that’s what the Pyramidders call it, and those that live in the Discard are mostly either exiled Pyramidders, or descended from exiled Pyramidders. They’re the Discarded, and they eke out an existence amongst the ruins of Gleam – an endless superstructure, the purpose of which nobody remembers – and the detritus of a long-gone civilisation. The Pyramid, which rises up through the middle of Gleam like the gnomon of a sundial, is the only truly impervious shelter around; but once you’re discarded, you’re Discarded, and the Pyramid won’t ever take you back.
If you ask a Pyramidder, the Discard is worse than death. It’s hell. It’s where they send all the undesirables, after all. The evil, the deviant, the rotten, the useless, the deformed. And it was already full of monsters; the desperate cannibal offspring of the last generation’s exiles, animals warped by magic, the demonic horned men and women of the rising swamp.
If you ask a Discarder, well, the Discard is…maybe not quite as bad. But it’s still pretty bad. There’s no law. There’s not much in the way of medicine. It’s no place for the sick, or the old, or for children. If you can’t protect what you’ve got, then some bastard bandit will take it from you. You probably won’t starve; there’s no shortage of snails to flame or moss to suck. But you might die of a venomous sting, or a long fall from a rusty gantry, or a weird parasitic infection. Or disease, or addiction. Crocodile bites, knives in the dark, toxic moonshine, sweat from the wrong kind of toad. Basically, there are lots of ways to die in the Discard.
But there’s a warmth in the Discard too, which the Pyramidders just don’t understand. There’s camaraderie. There are taverns. (Well – dive bars). And there’s also freedom. In the Pyramid, life moves to systems as regular and immutable as the clockwork of the most perfect clock, and inhabitants are not only required to attend their Stations without fail, but give their blood to the alchemists and astronomers who rule them. You can’t choose how to spend your days – your life – or even choose your partner. In the Discard, you can do what you want. There’s space – limitless space – and you can disappear. Your life might be precarious, but it’ll be yours. You can explore. You can become a transient, and move from place to place, foraging for enough to get by, and if you do well at it (easier if you hit upon some of the Discard’s particularly potent mushrooms, or lichens, or roots) you can trade your findings for bugs; the varnished bodies of an extinct species of beetle that money-minded Discarders use for currency. You can become a Biker, if you pass the initiation. You can become a Hermit; a loner who lives inside a giant snail shell that they keep strapped to their back. You could do as Alan did, and exchange services for a room in the House of a Thousand Hollows. You could live in Glasstown, if you don’t mind the red glass dome between you and the sky. You could join the Pilgrims, down at the Sanctuary, and do your best to heal the Afflicted – that is, if the stories of the swamp don’t scare you too much.
One thing you couldn’t do is become a Mapmaker. The Mapmaker tribes have made it the work of generations to map the entirety of Gleam, and they are trained from birth for the task. Discarders don’t agree on much, but one thing they’ll all tell you – just steer clear of the Mapmakers. There are none more dangerous. Thankfully, the Mapmakers steer clear of everybody else. They don’t get involved in the petty affairs of others. They don’t go rogue. (Until one of them does, of course – and you’ll meet Bloody Nora soon enough).
The Discard was inspired partly by Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake. Partly by Mad Max. Partly by the film Labyrinth, and really that whole trippy, prog-rock-cover-art kind of 80s / 90s fantasy that Labyrinth was a part of. And partly by the music of Tom Waits. Living in the Discard is a bit like living in a certain kind of Tom Waits song. Yes, you might end up bleeding to death all alone in a wooden shack up by Tanglepipe Junction after a mushroom deal went bad. But on the other hand, if you can catch that black swan that’s been spotted swimming in the rooftop canals, then you can gather your friends around the bucket fire, fry it up, and eat it! And wash it down with a bottle of Dog Moon whisky. For breakfast. While the moons set. And nobody’s going to say a word. Because you’re in the Discard. And in the Discard, there’s a mutual understanding – you take what you can get.
Tom Fletcher has published a number of his short stories as well as three novels with Jo Fletcher Books – The Leaping, The Thing on the Shore and The Ravenglass Eye. He lives in Cumbria with his wife and son. You can find him on Twitter @T_A_Fletcher.
Gleam is Book 1 of The Factory Trilogy, and will be released in ebook and hardcover on 4th September 2014.