In 2014 Ben Peek published his big fat fantasy novel The Godless. I really enjoyed the characters and world the story is set in. But the thing that drew my interest initially, and which made it of interest to a lot of people, was the fact that The Godless was peopled with a super diverse set of characters. The second book in the series, Leviathan’s Blood promised to be as diverse. So when I got to pick a topic for a guest post, I immediately jumped on the chance to have Ben talk about the multiculturalism in his book and how his fictional world mirrors his everyday world. Enjoy and remember to check out Leviathan’s Blood tomorrow when it is published.
Multiculturalism in Leviathan’s Blood
A second world fantasy novel is a strange fictional creation. It is, on one hand, a vision of a world unlike our own. It does not need to adhere to the physical and environmental laws that our world does. Its rain need not nourish the ground. Its sun need not cause the plants to grow. Its people do not speak in any language we know and they act in customs and dress in fashions that we have not seen. In addition to that, personal hygiene is of a much higher standard than you might expect for the time period.
But, even as a second world fantasy is not of our world, it is still of our world. The author writes it in a language that you and I understand. The strangeness of it is deciphered and filtered through an understanding of the world that is born in intentional and subconscious interplay with the page.
I was quite conscious of this fact as I wrote Leviathan’s Blood and I paid a special attention to the interplay of racial representation in the book. In part, I did that because I believe in equality, and I wanted my book, and indeed, my whole trilogy, to present a multicultural society. I wanted to do that because I live in a country where racism is like blood in the veins: a force that cycles through the body and bubbles to the surface when it is scratched.
It is impossible to live in Australia without feeling the weight of the Stolen Generations. It began in the early 1900s when the then Australian Government began to remove the children of Indigenous families forcibly. It was a practice that went on until the 1970s and resulted in generations of men and women who were placed in orphanages, sometimes adopted, and broken from their culture. It was, I assure you, nothing short of a horror, a governmental act of genocide that, for generations to come, will run like poison throughout all of Australia. At the same time – as if the racism of the Stolen Generations could be confined to one people – Australia continued to vilify Chinese immigrants, beginning the first of what is still an ongoing xenophobia about the Chinese taking Australian land. The White Australia policy found a comfortable home during this time, and it took years, as it always does, to politically destroy it, though the echoes exist. You only have to apply for residency in this country to see it.
Australia is also the home of the Pacific Solution. The title, as all governmental titles that have the word ‘solution’ in it, echoes the worse of historical atrocities, though Australia will never be able to match the sheer numbers. Yet there is no denying that an atrocious racism motivates governments who put refugees into detention camps on two poor islands off Australia. There, men and women and children who are fleeing persecution in Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, to name but a few, are kept in tent cities while Australia tries to find a non-first world country to settle them in. Yes, you heard me right: a non-first world country. After denying medical attention, education, and putting these men, women, and children in conditions where they are raped, beaten, and die, the government then tries to send them to countries like Cambodia. They argue – and people believe this argument – that should desperate people be allowed to live in a place that respects them and provides them with opportunities, that ‘people smugglers’ will be able to advertise that to them. As if, of course, fleeing war and torture is not motivation enough to risk your life.
It is awful, and it is a stain on the nation of Australia, but the truth is, my day-to-day life is not that in Australia. Almost as if it is in defiance of the country, my life is one of multiculturalism. It is one of refugees and migrants and their descendants who have been given a chance.
My mother and her parents migrated from Britain to start a better life. My neighbours are from the Philippines, Lebanon, India, and Egypt. My friends have parents who are from Malta, Cambodia, the Netherlands, and Sri Lanka. The students I teach come from Samoa, China, Vietnam, and Pakistan. They have all come here as my mother and her family did, to start a better life. They have all come here to be part of multicultural Australia, one built on respect, and which, on a day-to-day basis, forges a society where people work for unity and inclusion.
I made a conscious decision to present this second view in my book, Leviathan’s Blood. I wanted my second world fantasy to represent the multiculturalism I see around me. I wanted it to be part of the very fabric of the book. I didn’t want to have to explain it to you, or to tell you that it was good, or that it was the way of the world. I was not interested in the excuses for why it should not be in the book, either. It was not hard to write a multicultural second world fantasy. It was not hard to imagine a society built on the principles of equality. I had no desire to echo the unpleasant nature of my own country. I wanted to present a vision of a strange, alternate world, where our dreams of equality, our march towards it, was realised.
I wanted you to see the part of Australia that I saw, and not that part, I am afraid, that is so often on display to the world.
Bio: Leviathan’s Blood is published by TOR UK on Thursday, 7 April. BEN PEEK has been shortlisted for the David Gemmell Award for Best Debut Fantasy and the prestigious Australian Aurealis Award. He lives in Sydney with his partner, photographer Nikilyn Nevins, and their cat, Lily. You can follow him on Twitter @nosubstance and find him on his website.