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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Guest Blog:Toni V. Sweeney: Entertainment vs. Social Commentary - Translating a Regency Novel into Science Fiction

Recently, my editor commented on my current novel she was reading, “It sounds more like a Victorian novel…”

Attentive lady! I intended it that way. Whereas the first novel, Three Moon Station, was considered a “futuristic Western,” being set on a station (or ranch) on a pioneer planet where the people lived like mid-18th century Terrans, The Finer Gentleman is set on the planet Arcanis, where society is presently in a Regency-Victorian frame of mind though their technological advancements are miles ahead into the future.

I meant it that way. I like Regency stories, and I like Westerns, so put them together, toss in a futuristic setting, stir well, and…

Wanting to show the hero’s reaction to a place in complete opposition to where he’s grown up and lived all his life, I felt a time period encompassing mid-18th century England was the right one. Taking an individual from one culture and plunking him down in another has been done before…look at Gulliver’s Travels or Visit to a Small Planet or that wonderful but short lived TV series, Hard Time on Planet Earth. Practically any SF story featuring an alien (think of Mr. Spock’s deadpan criticisms of Earth—that single raised eyebrow could speak volumes!) makes a commentary on life on Earth. I wasn’t writing a satire but decided to employ this satirist’s staple to point out the foibles and failings of the Arcanian society. And believe me, it definitely has a lot of failings!

OK. Got my characters, got my situation, got a plot. I was on my way…somewhat…

Taking a quote from Marcus Aurelius, “He would be the finer gentleman that should leave the world without having tasted of lying or pretence of any sort, or of wantonness or conceit,” I asked the question: Exactly what’s going to happen to my hero? Like the Old West, Tritomis-2 is a primitive place. Men carry guns to protect their property and their families. They have computers and drones to fly from place-to-place in emergencies, but otherwise, they use horses and wagons. They ride into the little town, Zero, on a Saturday night and head for Larkin’s Saloon, to drink and let off steam…and above all, they say what they think and treat everyone as equals.

Got it! It’s going to involve more than a little chaos at the ol’ homestead…namely, Craigsmere Manor, as Sar barges into the kitchen to prepare his homesick wife’s breakfast and then invites the cook to share it; the servants are scandalized when he breaks down Katy’s bedroom door because the idea of a married couple having separate bedrooms is “just plain crazy!” And when he meets the king?
Who would think His Majesty would enthusiastically indulge in a drinking contest and even break out some illegal cigars for the occasion? Enthralled by his new cousin, the Margrave of Arcanis joins Sar in guzzling Scotch whiskey until both men are so snockered they have to hold each other upright in the reception line…while the Margravine looks on with a disapproving eye.

Back to the main idea… If you’re doing a commentary on society, that society has to have problems.

So what’s the matter with Arcanian society? Plenty! Plain and simple, they’re now hypocrites. Once a barbaric people, guzzling mead and gaining property by sword as they marauded about the countryside, they’re currently on the upswing of the pendulum. They’ve become civilized!So civilized they’re now complete prudes, hypocritical in their public natures…hedonistic in their private ones. A pregnant woman is expected to stay at home, hidden away until she gives birth, that very condition so forbidden to even mention that a physician hesitates to speak of it to the lady’s husband—and Sar certainly plies his own with pointed questions on the subject, while that learned gentleman turns red and stammers his answers. Yet this same gentleman may be found at the local tavern with a barmaid on his lap after he closes his offices for the way. Arcanians have fantastic sex lives, but don’t expect to get one to admit it. For a man to declare himself in love with his wife is a scandal, as Sar discovers that when he’s invited to the local Pleasure Dome and gets laughed at when he refuses. His reason: “I’m a happily married man.” His friend’s answer: “So are all the other men who go there!”

All very…dare we say it… Victorian?

Having read the Inspector Pitt and Thomas Monk series of mystery novels written by Anne Perry, which are loaded with historical facts and background—and if reading them doesn’t raise your 21st century hackles, nothing will!—I was all too aware of the double-nature of that period of history, and I felt transposing it to the aristocratic society on another planet would do what I wished perfectly. Now I was really into the story, contrasting the life Sar had left—a friendly, down-to-earth, equality-laden pioneering community much like the mid-18th century Mid-West, with the hypocritical, repressed, and at the same time thoroughly sensual and libertinistic lives of the aristocrats whom he’s now expected to emulate. They considered themselves “gentleman” by right of birth but laugh at Sar, who’s a gentleman because he was raised that way.

The continuing battle between mores and morals.

Sar ends up in big trouble, mainly because of his trusting nature, and…because he’s a gentleman…a gentle man, and, in that sense, also a trusting one, wishing to see the good in his fellow men…and women. It’s that very gentle nature which will earn him the title of “the Finer Gentleman” before he’s through with the Arcanians, for Sar truly lives up to Marcus Aurelius’ criteria.

The Finer Gentleman is available from Class Act Books,


Paris said...

I love the way you've used the double standards employed in most periods of history to develop conflict in your stories. I'm looking forward to reading them:)

Molly Daniels said...

Sounds awesome Toni:)

Sandy said...

Toni, a very interesting concept for a story. It sounds right up my alley.

jean hart stewart said...

Great comcept and just your description of the book shows how much thought and work you put into it...Goes on my TBR list immediately...Jean

Mona Risk said...

Oh my, what a great idea. This is a book I'd love to read.

Bianca Swan said...

I read Three Moon Station and loved it. Can't wait to read Finer Gentleman. All of Ms. Sweeney's books are refreshingly imaginative and original.

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