In today's post, I asked author Michael John Grist to tell us about the themes he returns to again and again in his stories, and why. Because theme is the heart of a story. It's where authors become philosophers, where we battle for our own existential stakes. What Michael John Grist said is good, really good. It'll make you want to read his book.
The fate of the world is written in scars. In a bleak industrial city where marks in skin are a sentence to death, Sen is a child condemned. Cursed with mysterious scars carved by his own mother's hand, he leads a fearful hidden life in the city's last abbey.
Then the King's brutal Adjunc attack, and Sen barely escapes with his life. Lost and alone in the city's dark hinterlands, he begins an exhilarating race to find the truth behind his scars. In stinking black sewers and the lava-buried ruins of an ancient civilization, he uncovers a truth far stranger than he ever imagined, laid out by his long-dead mother: an apocalypse god is rising, and only the legendary hero Saint Ignifer can stop it.
But Saint Ignifer is dead.
Revolution rocks the city. The blood of all castes runs in the streets. With a storm of new faith raging out from the barricades, Sen must embrace the terrible fate his mother wrote in his scars- in the volcano's caldera, at the end of the world- before the black jaws of the apocalypse descend. For the Rot is coming, and the Saint must rise.
Self-sacrifice is the BIG ONE (for me, at least)
If I ask you to think of the greatest story ever told, what comes to mind? Perhaps the epic of Gilgamesh? The labors of Hercules? Maybe something by Shakespeare even...
One that may certainly come to mind is the story of Jesus. Now, I'm not talking about this in a religious way, because I'm not really religious and have no agenda. Neither am I saying it is the greatest story ever, in the whole of the world. But I do think it is a truly great story, that has changed the world. And at it's core is the theme of self-sacrifice.
I cannot escape this theme in my fiction. It endlessly engages me, probably because it burrows deep down to something wonderful in our genetic code (uh, soul?). That of the desire to help others, to see others as an extension of the self.
In the story of Jesus, he did that for people he didn't even know. People that were different from him, people that hated him, even the people that were killing him. There is something deeply beautiful and powerful about that. This man (in the story at least) was able to see through all the differences between himself and others, and overcome them with forgiveness.
Wow. This kind of fellow-man/womanship has got to be one of the most laudable things about us humans. what drives someone to leap into the road and push someone out of the way of an oncoming bus, only to die themselves, even if they don't know the person they've just saved.
I'm talking about heroes/heroines. I love to explore what makes up these people's minds. I want to dig down to it and put it on display, blow it up and out so people will get to see it more, be moved (and maybe even influenced) by it more.
As a kid I read the British writer of heroic fiction, David Gemmell. The first book I read by him, and his best, is called simply 'Legend'. It tells the story of Druss, a famous aging axeman in a fantasy land, where a horde of barbarian tribesmen called the Nadir are sweeping down to attack a legendary fortress, on their way to destroy a civilization.
Druss goes to the fortress and he fights. He holds the line though he's old and in pain every step of the way. He leads even when he's dying, and excruciating poison seeps through his veins. Then in one of the most moving scenes, he comes back after he dies and fights again, as a ghost at the entrance to the fortress, because nothing will stop him from doing what he can to save who he can.
That is a hero. It's also what I've tried to put into my fantasy book, Ignifer's Rise. A boy named Sen is set on a path where he must raise an ancient hero, Saint Ignifer, to life, to fight off a coming apocalypse god. The Saint is just like Druss, a legend who laid down his life to save his city. Sen is just a boy, but he too must make self-sacrifices, and sacrifice even more than himself, to save the whole.
I wanted to ask difficult questions in this. Self-sacrifice is good, but is it ever alright to sacrifice others to save even more? How far is it possible to go before it stops being heroism and starts being villainy, reviled and hated? And even if it is reviled and hated, is it not still heroism if it worked? Is it not heroism to take on that massive burden of guilt, to save the world?
I love Ender's Game for this same reason. the only problem with Ender's Game is Ender takes on his built
without knowing it. If he'd known it, then the choice to do so becomes much more powerful- in my view at least.
Self-sacrifice of heroes runs through many of my books and stories. I can't help but return to it, like some wannabe story geneticist, trying to get to the root of these acts and find out just what they are, and why they might be done. Does that fascinate you too? Then join me for the ride, and we'll explore these dizzy depths together.
An Excerpt from Ignifer's Rise
Avia fled through the ash-smothered streets of Aradabar, and the Rot's fiery black tongue swept close behind.
Moths and Butterflies thudded to ground around her, bursting on cobbled stone, their broad wings seared away by the Rot's ashen touch. Avia ran on, down burnlit streets through rushes of mounding dust, as agonized screams rang out from behind.
They were all going to die.
Through breaks in the city's skyline of library towers she glimpsed the column of flame rising from the horizon, like a brilliant orange flower painted on the sky. The mountain was erupting; one last defense against the Rot, and soon Aradabar would be gone.
She sped down the narrow alleys of the outer bookyards, striding over bodies already half-buried in volcanic dust, holding her newborn son close. The wounds in his face were scabbing now, lines she had carved with her own hand that would save or damn them all.
"Help us, please!" voices called from a burning hut.
She glimpsed children trapped inside, hay-stuffed pillows tamped over their heads against falling rock. She couldn't help them, and ran on.
At a canal she came upon a thronging exodus of carriages and barges, filled with frantic denizens shouting to one another through the scalding ash. She slipped between their carriage wheels and ran across their jumbled barge decks.
"Lady Avia!" a Man of Quartz called out, but she only pulled her hood tight about her head and continued, leaving them behind.
"Where is King Seem?" he called after her. "Where is our King?"
Moments later, his cries joined the eruption's cacophony as the Rot found him.
About the Author
Michael John Grist is a 34-year old British writer and ruins photographer who lives in Tokyo, Japan. He writes dark and surreal science fiction and fantasy, inspired by authors such as David Gemmell and Orson Scott Card.
In his free time he explores and photographs abandoned places around the world, such as ruined theme parks, military bases, underground bunkers, and ghost towns. These explores have drawn millions of visitors to his website: michaeljohngrist.com, and often provide inspiration for his fiction.
You can buy Ignifer's Rise here on amazon.com or amazon.co.uk. Sign up for his releases newsletterhere and, friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/mjgwrites.
Michael will be awarding an autographed print copy of Ignifer's Rise to a randomly drawn winner. Follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here: Goddessfish Promotions Blog
Angela Shelley, herself.
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