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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Guest Blog: Marian Perera

Today, I'd like to introduce you to Marian Perera. I don't remember how Marian and I met, but I've been following her blog for quite a while. 

Marian is an amazing person, especially once you get to know her and realize how hard she worked to get where she is today. I love reading her blog because she's so articulate and thorough--which I suppose is second nature for someone studying medical laboratory technology.  :grin:

Please say hello to Marian, and do give her excerpt a read. I think you'll really enjoy it.

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Slavery in fantasy

What does the word “slaves” make you think of right away?

For me, a movie and a book come to mind. The movie is Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments and the book is Alex Haley’s Roots. Both portray slavery vividly (if not exactly accurately in the case of the Biblical epic). For a long time, they shaped my view of the “peculiar institution”, so when I started writing fantasy, the slaveholding society was evil and the land to which my slaveborn protagonist escaped was naturally good.

But eventually I started wanting to do something different.

Slavery can take different forms. Many of these variations – chattel slavery, debt slavery and so on – are mentioned in this essay, but in fantasy there can be many more. For instance, what about a world where humans have enslaved elves? That would be a twist on traditional fantasy. And if the slaves were the usual antagonists – orcs, trolls and so on – it could present some questions of ethics.

Especially if the human characters take this as the natural and just order of things. They may not see too many moral differences between enslaving the orcs and slaughtering them by the hundreds in battle.

It’s more common to see humans as slaves, but if that’s done, their masters shouldn’t be automatically ugly or evil. I have plans for a world where a war between intelligent wolves and human colonists ends with the surviving humans becoming slaves to the wolves, who benefit even more from the access to opposable thumbs.

There’s also a science fiction story where a blind alien uses a human as a seeing-eye dog. And Isaac Asimov had a scenario where plants were the ones in charge, using animals under their control to defend them and carry out pollination.

That’s a good reason to keep slaves, because they perform a function that their masters can’t accomplish either on their own or with existing technology. It would also be a reason to keep the slaves in good condition, rather than whipping and starving them 24/7.

And slavery doesn’t always have to be a degrading, lifelong condition – if people have reasonable expectations of being released once they are naturalized into a new land and no longer foreigners, they might see slavery as just another rite of passage.

A few more caveats :

1. Broad sweeps of the morality paintbrush

Slavery is almost as much of a hot-button topic in speculative fiction as in the real world, so it has to be handled carefully no matter which side the characters are on. But masters don’t have to be clones of Simon Legree. I don’t think dogs have the same legal rights as I do, but if I owned one I would take good care of it. Someone who owns slaves might feel the same about their property.

2. I am Spartacus

One of my pet peeves in fantasy is the slave population which is utterly downtrodden until the protagonist either rescues them or gives them the idea that they can be free. Or where slaves in the past have twentieth-century attitudes about liberté, egalité and fraternité. Slaves who prefer the idea of being in charge and having slaves themselves may be more realistic for those times.

3. Slave revolt = happy ending

The slave revolt in George R. R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords led to some of the former slaves murdering their former owners. And the heroine, who freed the slaves, found herself responsible for a huge number of people in need of food and defense, people she couldn’t turn away even when her own resources were strained.

The vast majority of people would agree that freedom is a good thing. But the best things may have consequences and side-effects that are not welcome, and even freedom can come with a price. Let individual characters, rather than twentieth-century values, decide whether that’s worth it for them.

Links

To my blog 

To my book

To the first chapter of my book

Bio :
Marian Perera studies medical laboratory technology (final year of college!) when she isn’t writing. Her first novel, a romantic fantasy called Before The Storm, was just released in paperback, and she blogs about writing, publication and every step between the two at Flights of Fantasy.

Blurb :
In Dagran society Alex is a "mare", a woman used by the nobility, until her owner gifts her to his greatest enemy, Robert Demeresna. Robert wins her trust, but this mare is a Trojan horse, her owner's weapon in the battle to come. A battle fought with steam engines on the fields of Dagre, and psychic magic in the arena of her mind.

18 comments:

Mason Canyon said...

Marian, your take on slavery does get one's mind to working. There are so many aspects of 'being slaved.' Your book sounds intriguing and I have to wonder if Robert can win Alex's heart while winning her trust. Congratulations on the paperback release.

Maria, thanks for introducing me to a 'new to me' author and a very interesting book.

Mason
Thoughts in Progress

Bookewyrme said...

There's also the rings within rings type scenario for slavery. The apparent masters can be slaves to another race/class/etc. A very interesting series by Anne McCaffrey poses that scenario. In the end, the "masters" and their human slaves have to band together against the few who are the true masters and win their freedom all together.

Anyway, very interesting post. Congrats on the new release again, Marian! ^_^

~Lia

Joanne said...

What an interesting premise to bring to a fantasy book. The two subjects together, slavery and the fantasy genre, seem just unexpected enough to really work well together.

Krista D. Ball said...

Great post.

History shows us so many types of slavery, not just the Transatlantic trade. I've always been drawn to the particular kind of multi-layered slavery found in Roman times.

Maria Zannini said...

Mason: Marian is fabulous. You'll like her.

Bookewrym: Absolutely. And I had forgotten about McCaffrey. Good observation.

Joanne: I've always been fascinated by the different kinds of slavery in fiction. It's a lot more complex than people realize.

Krista: I predict we'll be seeing more Roman stories. It's a market ready to be tapped.

Margo Benson said...

A really interesting post and loads of food for thought,brilay thank you. Slavery is a subject full of potential literary riches. I remember Wilbur Smith's River God, told from the point of view of the slave Taita, which was fascinating.

I love the sound of your book, Marian, many congratulations on the paperback.

Maria Zannini said...

Welcome, Margo! Nice to have you visit.

Marian Perera said...

Thanks, Maria, not only for the opportunity to guest blog but for suggesting this topic. Looks like it's a hit. :)

Mason - Glad you liked the excerpt! And you're right, this is a many-faceted subject, to say the least.

Bookewyrme - Good point, and that would lend another dimension to the often black-and-white depiction of slavery.

Joanne - That was a great idea on Maria's part. :)

I think that too often writers take certain things about slavery for granted - that it's a lifelong and degrading condition, that good people don't own slaves and so on. Especially in fantasy, though, there's room to devise something different.

Krista - The depiction of slavery in Colleen McCullough's well-researched historical novel The First Man in Rome came to mind while I was writing this. Caesar's and Sulla's slaves weren't treated as equals, but they weren't abused and downtrodden either.

Margo - Thank you! And I'm going to look up the book you mentioned.

Kaye Manro said...

Wow! What an intriguing story. The cover is fantastic. Congrats on this release,Marian.

Maria Zannini said...

Marian: Thanks for agreeing to stop by my blog. You are always welcome!

Kaye: I think the artist for Marian's cover did fantastic. It's absolutely luscious.

Marian Perera said...

Thanks, Kaye! I think of it as the Ferrero Rocher cover. :)

Jenny Schwartz said...

Marian, the concept of slavery fascinates me, too. And reading/writing fantasy opens up so many possibilities. I hadn't ever considered non-opposable thumb sentients ruling humans, but it's interesting.

After the global financial crisis (though I'd argue we're still in it) I started thinking about all the people who don't really want to be citizens. No voting (which is compulsory here in Australia), no jury duty, tax paying, no interest in current events. Well, would they prefer to opt out entirely, enter into seven year contracts where the "slave owner" looks after them entirely for seven years and in return their labour is owned? At the end of seven years the contract ends, they receive a lump sum payment and freedom. How many would contract again to be slaves? and is a seven year contract, freely entered into, slavery? In American and Australian immigration history there were indentured servants coming out with the colonists. Were they slaves?

Kaz Augustin said...

That's a great thought-provoking post, Marian. I love posts that make me think! And that cover is luscious! Congrats on your new release!

catie james said...

Ah, so many wonderful possibilities to contemplate Marian! I'm a huge fan of stories that take well-worn tropes & twist them in new directions. Can't wait to purchase a copy of Before the Storm!!!

Ted Cross said...

It's true that there is no valid reason to treat a slave-owning fantasy society as being inherently evil. Slavery is rightfully condemned as evil today, but for most of human history it was not, and often the grandest empires in the world saw slavery as absolutely normal. I think readers today too often view things through a modern lens when that is not always proper.

Marian Perera said...

Jenny - I have plans for a land which operates on much the same terms you outlined. If people want to migrate there, they can do so - but to achieve full citizenhood, they need to be enslaved to a native of that country for a few years.

That's intended to separate the wheat from the chaff, as well as to ensure that immigrants will eventually speak the language, know the laws and pay lip service at least to the land's religion. In turn, slaveowners are screened by a special office of the government to make sure they're unlikely to abuse their temporary property. And of course, slaves (or indentured servants, which may be more appropriate) get room and board while they adapt to their new homeland.

It's not entirely a bad system, though I can see my protagonist trying to speed up the process - and making matters worse. But that's definitely a different story.

Thanks for commenting!

Marian Perera said...

Kaz - Thank you! I'm very pleased with the cover artist's work.

catie - Me too. Cliches were made to be flipped. :) Hope you enjoy the book!

Ted - "I think readers today too often view things through a modern lens when that is not always proper." You're right. It's not easy to put aside our beliefs, especially when it comes to morality, but to fully recreate a sense of a different time and place, we need to look at it through the characters' eyes instead.

Angelina Rain said...

Hello Marian, your book sounds interesting and I love the cover. The topic of slavery brings up interesting points. I could never read Roots, every time I tried I would cry my eyes out and the words would become a blur. I tried watching the movie series, thinking I could get through with that, but I still cried my eyes out and couldn’t watch it. My mom says it was an amazing book and movie, she actually got through it, although there were a lot of tears involved.