When we started Divine Burdens, the second Passionate Pantheon novel, we consciously set out to write erotic horror. And yet, despite that, the characters in Divine Burdens have lives that are, in any objective sense, better than ours. They have a far higher standard of living than even the wealthiest people in our world, they do not age, they don’t die unless they choose to, they never want for anything, and any illness or injury can be fixed in a matter of hours. This applies both to the protagonists, who are at the center of the horrific events, and to the most minor of background characters.
So how can such a world be horror?
Horror is relative. Horror depends on the perceptions of the person seeing it. The even-numbered books in the Passionate Pantheon series are unmistakably horror, and readers of the books will recognize them as such, but here’s the thing: the characters in the stories would look upon our real-world lives as unending horror. A simple description of our world, and the capitalist political structures so many of us are caught within, would seem, to them, like the worst, most exaggerated Randian satire. How, they would wonder, could such a world possibly survive or function? How do people accept this? The elements we see as horror in the novels, the residents of the City accept as normal and ordinary, but the things in our world that would horrify the residents of the City, we see as normal and unremarkable. And not just the things related to our primitive technology, such as our short lives and our crude medical care. Technology aside, we routinely normalize things that, seen from the outside, are quite astonishingly awful.
Part of the reason we use sexual horror in the even-numbered novels is to hold up a mirror to the horror around us in our everyday life. There’s an inverted symmetry between the novels and reality: we in this world are horrified, disgusted, or fascinated by sex but quite blasé about violence, whereas the residents of the City are quite inured to sex that we might see as horrific or excessive, but utterly appalled by violence, and particularly non-consensual violence.
In the fourth novel, tentatively titled Unyielding Devotions, many forms of quasi-non-consensual sex are woven into the fabric of society. It’s entertainment. It’s part of the justice system. It’s religious observance. It’s built into the system of wagering and bondslavery present in the darker Cities. It’s the only form of barter or currency that means anything.
She offered her hand. “Hi! I’m Lanissae. I don’t think we’ve met.”
“Royat.” He shook her hand. “This is only my second party. I came here for the first time last month. I agreed to serve as entertainment at this party, so here I am.”
“Royat.” She inclined her head. “It’s lovely to meet you! This is my fifth time as a cage entertainer. Do you know what to do?”
“I think so. Jakalva explained it to me.”
“Good.” A door in the round cage folded upward. Lanissae stripped, then stepped nude into the cage. Royat undressed somewhat more awkwardly and followed her. A drone flitted down to whisk away their clothes. The cage door folded back down. The woman who had given Jakalva and Kaytin their vials approached the cage, moaning with each step. Her tray now held only four vials, two bright red and two deep turquoise.
“What’s happening?” Kaytin asked Chasoi, who stared at Lanissae and Royat with bright, hungry eyes.
“They’ll each take two Blessings,” Chasoi said. “The first one ensures their bodies will remain physically aroused no matter what happens to them. And the second, well, that’s the magic.”
“The magic? What does that mean?”
“One of them,” Jakalva said, “will become inflamed with desire beyond all reason. Are you familiar with the Blessing of Fire?”
“Yes,” Kaytin said.
“It is like that, but more violent. It removes inhibition and obliterates self-control. The other does just the opposite, causing intense aversion, repulsion even, to the idea of sex. The cage makes sure neither of them can escape.”
“Oh.” Kaytin blinked. “So whoever gets the first vial will—”
“Yes. But that’s only half of it.”
“Half of it how?”
“That’s the beauty,” Chasoi breathed. “The moment either of them has an orgasm, they switch. Whoever was needy becomes averse. Whoever was averse becomes wild beyond control. They stay in the cage until they collapse from exhaustion.” Her eyes glittered.
—from Book 4, Unyielding Devotions
We suspect a lot of folks might be uncomfortable with this form of entertainment, and reasonably so. The people who volunteer as cage entertainers at Jakalva’s parties know what they’re getting into and do it voluntarily, completely uncoerced, but the experience they have in the cage is erotic horror. To us, anyway. (And even in the City, only a very, very, very small number of people would ever sign up as cage entertainment. Especially more than once.)
We know people will find this scene uncomfortable. Hot, we hope (and Franklin might volunteer to do this, were it possible!), but uncomfortable. Maybe even disturbing.
But take a step back, and take sex out of the equation for a moment. In the real world, people engage in violence as sport all the time, and it’s completely normalized. Boxing, MMA fighting, ultimate fighting…we do these things for entertainment, and we don’t have biomedical nanotechnology. People are permanently injured in the boxing ring. People die in the boxing ring—all for the entertainment of spectators. People have been permanently injured in American football games. Children have been permanently injured.That never happens in Jakalva’s cage. The residents of the City, the same ones who would be entirely unfazed by the sort of casual, offhand sexual violation that happens at one of these parties, would be utterly horrified by a boxing match. If you stop and think about it, the fact that most of us in this world aren’t horrified by the idea of brutal fistfights (or the myriad of other sports that require a huge amount of equipment to protect you from your fellow players) as organized entertainment is…a little weird. Maybe even a bit…disturbing?
We use the sexualized horror of Divine Burdens and Unyielding Devotions to illustrate the weird absurdity of the way we in this world see non-sexualized violence.
In the novels, people watching the sexual entertainment become aroused by it, and there’s no shame in that; it’s considered normal and expected. That, too, might be disturbing to readers, the casual way people get aroused watching what happens at Jakalva’s parties or during public punishments at the Temple of Justice…but doesn’t the same thing happen in our world? People become enthused, excited, aggressively riled up watching MMA fights, even knowing that the competitors might be killed or maimed. Doesn’t that seem…kind of strange?
In the real world, people would probably not be allowed, legally, to consent to what happens in Jakalva’s cage. Yet the residents of the City might also find themselves quite shocked by the way people in our world consent readily to things that will change the course of their entire lives. Consent is treated quite differently in the City than it is in our world (and we’ve talked about that extensively already), but one of the crucial things about consent in the Passionate Pantheon universe is that it is always, always limited in duration. There is no such thing as a contract with no end date.
The people in Jakalva’s cage consent to be in the cage for the duration of the party…and that’s it. There’s no indefinite-term contract, no expectation they will do it more than once. People who agree to terms of bondslavery cannot remain a bondslave for any length of time beyond one day short of a year.
In the real world, we allow teenagers to sign contracts with the military that are binding for years. Athletes on a scholarship may be expected to sign contracts specifying they will continue to compete even if they don’t want to. Professional boxers can retire, of course, but if they do, they lose their means of support…something else the residents of the City would find horrifying. “If you choose to stop getting beaten for other people’s entertainment, you may lose access to the resources you need to survive, and that’s okay with you??!” (To the residents of the City, the idea you’d need to do anything you hate doing, merely to survive, would be a horrorshow; the idea that people might do things involving violence because they need to do so in order to survive would be unimaginably horrific. There’s a reason the people of the City refer to our age as the time of Darkness!)
So yes, we do expect readers of Divine Burdens and Unyielding Devotions to be uncomfortable, even discomfited, whilst they read. Aroused, too, we hope—we were aiming for erotic horror that’s, well, erotic, after all.
But if the idea of a society that treats quasi-consensual sex as sport and entertainment makes you uncomfortable, perhaps it’s worth reflecting: why doesn’t a society that treats violence, and specifically violence that can’t simply be erased by a brief stint in a medical pod, as both entertainment and an acceptable societal tool of conformity make us all viscerally uncomfortable in the same way?
“That wasn’t nice, what you did to me during the Hunt,” Brin said. “I hallucinated for hours after I woke up.”
“You weren’t nice to me,” Lija said.
“Yeah, but I was a Hunter!” Brin protested. “Hunters aren’t supposed to be nice!”
Lija bit Brin’s bare shoulder. “Some prey fights back.”
Brin wriggled against her. “Don’t I know it.”
—from Divine Burdens
The society of the Passionate Pantheon is built on a foundation radically different from anything in the real world, which is perhaps not too surprising when you consider it’s ruled (insofar as ‘ruled’ is an accurate term in a post-scarcity society where everyone has freely-available access to all the necessities of life and luxury) by hyper-intelligent AIs that are worshipped through ritualized sex. We wanted to explore what might happen in a society where the way we think about sex and connection are completely flipped upside down from the attitudes you typically see in the Western societies we’re both familiar with.
We’ve talkedquite a bit about how the historical foundations and cultural expectations of the City might change the way people think about consent, particularly sexual consent. But there’s another huge difference between their society and ours: their views on trauma and responses to trauma.
Divine Burdens is erotic horror (with a strong emphasis on horror). We’ve talked about that before, but we need to put it up front: this book is not Utopian. It’s still post-scarcity, and it’s still built on a foundation of consent (albeit somewhat loosely interpreted; the difference between enthusiastic consent, technical consent, and transactional consent is one of the themes we set out to explore with this book.) However, characters experience things that would, in the real world, probably be traumatic. And, for the most part, they shrug them off. It’s a horror for us, not for them. And, perhaps somewhat strangely, even though this book is deliberately written as horror, the protagonists still have lives that are, by any objective standard, better, safer, and more comfortable than ours (perhaps that’s worthy of a blog post of its own?).
Why? How could that be? Is that realistic? We think it’s a reasonable premise, for at least two major reasons: trauma is often contextual—your society defines and describes what you might consider traumatic—and the citizens of the City have a cast-iron, bedrock assumption built on a lifetime of experience that the gods are—in a literal, tangible, physical sense—always watching out for them, and unlikely to allow them to come to real harm.
Which is not to say that it’s impossible to experience trauma in the City; far from it. In book four of the Passionate Pantheon series, tentatively titled Unyielding Devotions, we explore three characters who have the same experience that many people in the real world might find traumatic, and come away from it affected in radically different ways. One of the protagonists of Unyielding Devotions is traumatized by his experience, and that trauma becomes the driving force for his character arc. We don’t want to suggest you can’t experience trauma as a citizen of the City, only that the culture that surrounds you informs your perception of, and response to, trauma.
So what do we mean when we talk about trauma?
The dictionary defines trauma as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” Of course, one person’s deeply distressing and disturbing incident is another’s fun Saturday night, so there will always be wildly different individual responses to any experience.
But what would it mean if, from the day you were born, you had a literal, physical connection to the gods, in the form of a drone who was your friend, confidant, and guardian, who not only taught you to navigate life but also kept you safe from harm? Including standing up for you against your human carers, if that was necessary?What would it mean if, from a very young age, you had a much higher degree of autonomy than children do in the real world, where we effectively treat children as property? What would it mean if you knew with absolute certainty that if you ever got yourself into trouble, or someone else ever tried to harm you, the gods would intervene promptly and decisively? What would it mean if you knew that you would never—could never—want for anything that threatened your survival? What would it mean if any injury that didn’t instantly kill you outright could be erased by a couple of hours, or in extreme circumstances, days, in a medpod?
This would, we think, change not only what you might be willing to consent to, but also your threshold for what counts as trauma.
In Divine Burdens, there’s a scene where a character is, totally against her will, bound in vines, injected with a massive dose of powerful hallucinogenic drugs, and then rendered unconscious for about a day. That would, to many people, probably be traumatic. But an important part of trauma is context—a person who breaks a leg by falling unexpectedly down a manhole cover on the way to the office will likely process this very differently than an extreme athlete who breaks a leg rock climbing or BASE jumping.
The character this happens to in Divine Burdens is an athlete (and not just any athlete, but one of the top five athletes in her society, their equivalent of an Olympic-level athlete). She participates in a sport where being dosed with hallucinogens, or breaking a bone for that matter, is something she knows might happen. In fact, being given mind-altering substances is an integral part of the very role she ferociously competes for.
Outside the cage, the room was packed with Hunters, most of whom Lija did not recognize. The Sacrifice attracted people from all over the City to participate. The ones she didn’t know didn’t worry her. They were amateurs; without training, they were unlikely to threaten her. Half of them wouldn’t even make it through the entire Hunt, but would end up twisting an ankle or falling and breaking a bone, and would have to be rescued by drones.
—from Divine Burdens
In the story, Brin’s experience with the vines and hallucinogens takes place during an act of religious worship. That, too, changes the way people perceive and process their experiences. Even in our world, people will deliberately subject themselves to incredibly intense experiences, up to and including mimicking the act of crucifixion or deliberately damaging their own flesh (without access to a medpod!), and the way they process that experience is completely different from the way they might process the same experience in a non-religious, non-self-chosen context. The Passionate Pantheon is a society where you choose your gods, consciously, as a fully-grown adult, and you choose which of your religion’s rituals you participate in. So how much more fervent and dedicated would someone like that be, in their spirituality? How much more willingly would they endure intense and extreme acts of sacrifice for the god they worship?
Living in a society where you know the gods have your back, where you are free to participate or decline any experience (while we don’t directly address this until Unyielding Devotions, worship of any of the gods is never mandatory, and people can and do decline to participate in the religious rituals of the City), and where damage or injury can be wiped away by advanced biomedical nanotechnology, would (we think) contribute to making people highly resilient in the face of (certain types of) trauma. Not unbreakable, not immune to trauma certainly, but quick to bounce back, and secure in the knowledge they would be okay.
Trauma, we argue, is largely about context, expectation, and feelings of vulnerability versus control. In a society where all three of these things are different from our world, people might process things differently.
From the point of view of someone reading the novels who grew up in contemporary Western society, the citizens of the City might seem to possess superhuman constitution. And that’s perhaps what makes them seem a bit alien, like far-future fey folk. An argument might be made that a more comfortable standard of living could go the other way, making people more rather than less susceptible to trauma, because as people become more comfortable and society becomes safer, they have less opportunity for exposure to potentially traumatizing events.
But there’s a difference between experiences that are self-chosen, that you sign up for, and things that happen to you. There are experiences many of us in the real world experience every day and often brush off as insignificant or common that people of the City might find incredibly traumatizing.
We accept a certain level of non-consensual access to us—in mind and body—that residents of the City would find absolutely horrifying. From servers at a restaurant being groped, to clerks being abused at the retail counter of a shopping mall, to the way that sex workers are treated as a matter of course, there’s a background level of…let’s call a spade a spade, violence…that is totally normalized in our society. In many ways we don’t even think about how awful this is, but those sorts of experiences would be horrific to someone from the Passionate Pantheon world.
Even surgery the way it’s practiced here, where you’re anesthetized and then sliced apart with a knife, would be horrifyingly traumatic to a resident of the City. Can you imagine, for a person who grew up with medpods, the trauma of being put to sleep and then waking up with the knowledge that someone else has physically cut into your flesh whilst you were unconscious, and you not only did not get to choose exactly what happened, but now you are expected to manage the pain and reduced mobility that you are left with? Often with the aid of medications that are, themselves, sometimes damaging, addictive, or whose side effects need to be mitigated with other medications? And on top of that, you are expected to be grateful to the people who did that to you!
So we’re certainly not saying that residents of the City have special immunity to trauma—their threshold of trauma might be higher in certain ways, but in other ways, because they don’t experience the kinds of small everyday violations we in this world are expected to put up with as part of the background noise of our lives, it might be lower. (The character Brin in Divine Burdens is, in an incredibly literal sense, a sexual predator—but an evening working at Hooters would probably utterly incapacitate her with trauma. In the City, her predatory activities are exclusively directed towards people who know the lay of the land and voluntarily sign up for it.)
And that’s only on an individual level. The residents of the City would also find horrifying and traumatic the idea that society as a whole treats certain classes of people—say, drug addicts, or sex workers, or racial or sexual minorities—as inherently lesser. Less valuable, less able to participate in civic institutions, less worthy of dignity and respect. People in the real world who are convicted of crimes, which is a situation that is viewed and managed in a fundamentally different way by the City, have their access to civic institutions revoked, something that the characters in the Passionate Pantheon would find shocking and appalling. (In Unyielding Devotions, we talk in more detail about how the City handles infractions of its rules, but one of the key points is that punishment for an infraction is immediate, short, appropriate to the crime, and truly wipes the slate clean—there is no lingering stigma, and no ongoing reduction in civic participation.)
The crowdfunding for Divine Burdens is now closed! Thank you all for your support (and for those of you who mentioned that you just missed out, we’re sorry—but fear not, we’ll be publishing the third Passionate Pantheon novel, The Hallowed Covenant, in 2022!).
With the Divine Burdens crowdfunding done and dusted, we thought you might be curious where your money goes. Here’s an inside peek into the process of book production (including a bit about what the money from the crowdfunder is going to be spent on!). We noticed that a lot of people were interested in writing their own books, but outside of the act of writing itself, it can all be a bit confusing. There’s a ton of work that happens between manuscript and paperback, and a lot of the process can seem pretty mysterious from the outside.
Let’s start with where we are now and work backward. The money from the crowdfunding will all go to the print run for Divine Burdens, which goes off to the printer in the next week or so (yes, every cent). Printing a book isn’t cheap, of course, but surprisingly, it’s not even the most expensive part of the process. (In fact, there’s a reason that eBooks are usually the same price as print books, even though eBooks don’t have printing or shipping costs—overall, printing and shipping costs are less of the total cost of book production than you imagine!)
Writing a book, as the saying goes, is easy. Ernest Hemingway put it best: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Or there’s the David Edding quote that Eunice particularly connects to: “When it’s going well, it’s like reaching up into heaven and pulling down fire. It’s better than any dope you can buy. When it’s not going well, it’s much like giving birth to a baby elephant.” We’ve experienced both ends of this spectrum, occasionally simultaneously.
Once the metaphorical bleeding and labor stops and your beloved newly-birthed manuscript goes off to the publisher, the financial bleeding starts. The publisher prepares a cover brief that outlines the important elements of the cover and the “cover hierarchy,” which is a top-level view of the importance of the elements on the cover and how they’re perceived by a viewer (we’ll talk about that more in another blog post). The publisher then finds a cover artist, which can be pretty expensive. Good cover designs aren’t cheap—the generic stock photo covers you can buy online for $25 are, well, generic. Fine for many situations, especially in cases where someone is self-publishing and doesn’t have much technical skill or money to spare, but if you want your artwork to really catch the eye, that’s going to cost you. Good artists require good payment.
While the cover artist works, the book goes into substantive editing, which is the highest level editing—not of the words and punctuation, but of the story itself. Does it flow correctly? Are there continuity errors? Plot holes? Does it make sense?
The substantive editor works with the author(s) to revise the book, and it may come to pass that the book ends up pretty different at the end of the process than at the beginning. (Divine Burdens went through a total of nine drafts, and the first draft—especially of the Gleaner story—turned out very, very different from the last. Every single draft included a fairly substantial set of revisions. Major plot points and characters started out over here and ended up all the way over there.) For a 120,000 word book like ours, a substantive editor will probably cost you in the region of $2000-$5000.
Next comes copyediting, which is more the nuts and bolts, spelling and grammar stuff, and then proofreading, which is all about the tiniest, most detailednuts and bolts. Like punctuation, for example—that has a bigger impact than you’d think. A misplaced comma can drive some readers to fury! This takes a lot of time, especially for a novel as long as Divine Burdens. The book by this point has been read and re-read and re-re-read so many times it feels a little voyeuristic. It’s shed every layer for you to run your eagle eyes over in detail. For this aspect (again assuming a 120k word book) we’re typically looking at $2000-$4500.
Then comes design and layout, and if you think the process of writing a book means sitting at the keyboard and bleeding, well… Book design is an extremely specific type of design practiced by relatively few designers, and it’s among the most difficult types of design—in part because the design of a well-made book should be invisible. Somewhat like a good movie soundtrack, if the reader is obtrusively aware of the book’s design, something has gone wrong.
Production of the eBook from the page layout files is, sadly, something that many publishers consider an afterthought. Often it’s just run through an automated bit of software. If you read eBooks on your Kindle from major publishing houses, you might find things like chapter titles broken across two pages, images that cut off at the bottom, and so on. We are blessed that our publisher takes eBook design seriously, and is willing to invest quite a lot of effort into making the ebook. (And a good eBook does take a lot of effort. More effort than you think. No, more effort than that. No, even more effort than that.) Unless you’re going the free software route (and there are a number of ways you can do that), the prices are likely to range from $50 (functionally identical to the free software, maybe with a little checking afterwards) to $2500 (top quality, properly designed by a layout artist manually).
All this happens before a single page is physically printed on a press. In the case of Divine Burdens, all this happened before we even started getting ready to launch the crowdfunder.
So why do a crowdfunding campaign at all?
Part of it is to gauge interest. The publisher makes decisions about how many print books to produce based on how well the crowdfunding does. (Which, to be honest, with a book as niche as the Passionate Pantheon books, is rather important. It’s always a bit scary for a publisher to take on a project in a genre that doesn’t exist yet!)
And, of course, part of it is to get the word out. The most amazing book ever written won’t succeed if nobody knows about it.
And the final aspect is that the money does help defray the costs of producing the book—not all of it, not by a long way, but the less risk the publisher has to take, the more likely it is that we’ll get to produce another book in the series!
Now, these prices are all indicative of what you might pay external freelancers. We didn’t pay costs out of pocket (because we’re authors) and often our publisher had the skills in-house so they were automatically included as part of production. (This is the job of a publisher; in legitimate publishing, money flows from the publisher to the author, not the other way. If you are approached by a publisher who asks you to pay these expenses, that’s a “vanity press.” Run.)
Some authors hire their own outside editors or other freelancers on top of that, before even handing in the manuscript to their publisher. If you’re self-publishing, you’ll need to have those skills yourself, pay for them, or do without.
Point is, by the time you see it, a huge amount of work, time, effort, and money has already gone into the book—in the case of Divine Burdens, nearly two years betwixt hither and yon. (We created the file that would become Divine Burdens on September 18, 2019.)
We are proud of this book and tremendously grateful for all the support you’ve shown for our work. This really has been a community effort. We can’t wait to find out what people think!
If someone were to ask “what’s the most common question you get asked, as scifi erotica authors?” some obvious questions probably jump to mind. Like, for example, “Why worship AI gods through group sex?” or perhaps “What’s the wildest body modification a character makes in your series in order to get it on?” or even “That’s an awful lot of orgasming, isn’t it?”
“How do you co-author a book? What does the writing process look like?” are probably not the questions you would expect, and yet this is the most common type of questions we get asked. (Although the more sex-based worldbuilding questions do often display a remarkable intensity we can only admire.)
By this time you probably already know the origin story: Franklin wrote the first paragraph of the first draft of the first Passionate Pantheon book on Eunice’s naked back during an orgy, and yes, every word of that is true. It’s been a while since then, though, and that’s not what our system looks like any more. (Which is good, because writing with a fountain pen on naked skin is harder than you might think, and it makes edits and rewrites very difficult. Plus no one’s back is that vast, and no one’s handwriting is that small, that you can fit 120,000 words on a torso.) We haven’t even been in the same location for the majority of our co-writing, nor was travelling to see each other an option.
The first Passionate Pantheon book, The Brazen Altar, started with one character and one scene: the top of a ziggurat, an altar, a woman enduring nonstop forced orgasms from sunup to sundown. Hot, sure, but so many questions immediately spring to mind: Why? What is she doing there? What’s happening to her, and what purpose does this serve? Who is she?
Eunice, who (in)famously needs her sexual fantasies to have context and background in order to get horny, proceeded to create an entire world around this scene, which became the seed for the City.
The first draft of The Brazen Altar was written by Franklin. We would spend hours—occasionally eight or ten hours at a stretch, no exaggeration—talking about the world, the City, the people, the gods, the religions, the sex (of course), then Franklin would go away and write a few chapters. Then, once Eunice woke up (time zone differences are a real pain sometimes!), she would come back to rewrite, to add detail, and we’d have another long conversation. (At this point we were talking probably 15-30 hours per week.) And that’s how, several months later, The Brazen Altar was born.
Once the first draft was finished, Eunice did a deep read-through, making a number of changes. The book eventually went through five drafts betwixt the first version and the final printed copy that went out to readers.
Things changed a bit with the second book, Divine Burdens. Eunice wanted to take the ideas of the first book, which is a Utopian paradise (or as near as we can imagine according to our tastes, people being people), and keep the same setting but invert the themes: what if this post-scarcity society became erotic horror instead of erotic Utopia?
Divine Burdens was a struggle. That David Eddings quote, about writing feeling akin to birthing a baby elephant sometimes? Yeah, that was this book. It keeps most of the same structure of The Brazen Altar, but flips everything upside-down—you’ll find some stuff here that makes your skin crawl (in a sexy way of course), at least if we did our jobs right.
Divine Burdens required nine drafts, including a bit where we decided a large section of the book wasn’t really working, highlighted more than 40 pages of text, and hit Delete—no hesitation, just wham, gone.
The Gleaner story in particular was hard, because we knew the themes we wanted to explore but had trouble making the narrative structure work. We rewrote, and rewrote, and rewrote, before we finally got something we felt proud of. (There are a lot of minor side characters in the Gleaner story that had most of their backgrounds trimmed from the final; for example, we don’t know how many readers will catch the fact that the character Sirchia is something like a shy, introverted, charismatic sociopath.)
Once we’d established the world with The Brazen Altar and then inverted that world with Divine Burdens, we knew that we’d laid the foundations. Now we could have some fun with something rather more challenging. The Hallowed Covenant, due out in 2022, is narratively and structurally quite a shift from the first two, and is a lot more ambitious. It also required us to change how we worked, in order to accommodate that switching up of gears. Our old methods were functional, but we wanted something more like electrifying. We wanted you to feel our shared excitement as we wrote.
The Hallowed Covenant follows seven friends as they experience a series of life-changing adventures, set against the backdrop of the Festival of the Lady, a month-long celebration of arts and creativity that culminates in the ecstatic Dance of Sacrifice to the AI god of creative expression.
We worked together much more tightly with this book, and spent countless hours videoconferencing between London and Portland. In the fourth book, tentatively titled Unyielding Devotions, we explored an even more complex narrative structure still. It’s set in a dark city—a city of erotic horror that pushes the genre boundaries even further than our second book. We worked yet more closely again on the fourth, often editing simultaneously on the same document.
Since then, we’ve explored actually writing simultaneously, from a blank Google Docs file, both of us typing at the same time. This probably isn’t a common way to co-author—it’s far more common that coauthorship looks like what we did with The Brazen Altar and Divine Burdens—nor is it an easy one, and it requires tremendous trust in your partner. But we’ve found it incredibly satisfying.
A couple of months ago, someone asked Franklin if he’d be interested in live-streaming a writing session, “to help those of us who want to be writers see the process.” At first he thought this was a terrible idea. (Watching someone type? Sounds as exciting as watching paint dry!) Plus our style of co-writing probably isn’t that informative to most writers, who are much more solitary creatures, often living alone in their own imaginations for a significant proportion of their time.
But we’ve been thinking about it more, and actually, it might be kind of cool to live-stream the start of a new book. There’s a huge amount of world and character building behind the Passionate Pantheon series—we have more than 50 pages of notes that will never end up in any of the books! They’re never referenced on the page, and no one will ever explicitly talk about them except maybe during some small fragments on this blog and during discussions at book events. The conversations we have about setting and world and plot and philosophy would give folks a good peek at the weird and convoluted inside of our heads. (You, dear reader, see some small part of the final product in our blog posts right here, but what you can’t see is the conversations where we hash out these ideas.)
A live stream where viewers could see us talking and also watch the words appear on the screen might, we think, be kind of fun to do. Two sets of cursors, spinning a story as it goes from nothing situated only in our individual brains, to ideas spun back and forth between us, to words on a page, might be interesting. At the very least, it might give you a glimpse into the ridiculous depths of the things we consider before we write. A sentence in the final book might have originated in a three hour conversation on the background of a minor character, or a choice of architectural design, or the way that this character’s family was structured—and most people never get to hear that stuff.
So now we’re looking forward to when we will begin the as-yet-unnamed fifth book of the series, a book where we plan to do a deep dive into much more philosophical topics: family, birth, and death in the world of the Passionate Pantheon. This is an unusual opportunity (we normally jump into starting a new book right away—as Terry Pratchett wrote, the reward for finishing a book is that you get to start a new one), and it doesn’t come around often. We are considering sitting down at our computers, creating a brand-new document, and live-streaming the start of the book. What do you guys think? Is that something you might like to see?
The second Passionate Pantheon novel is now available on Indiegogo! Click here to get it before publication date at a reduced price!
The third day after the Winnowing, High Priest Henlith called the four remaining candidates together in front of the arena, where a tall, gaunt man with gray hair and gray eyes waited. He wore a simple harness that left most of his chest bare, and long, tight-fitting pants in blue and green. He had a long, jagged scar on his upper arm, a rarity in a world where bodies were easily sculpted to their owners’ preferences.
“This is—” Henlith said.
“Priest Ortin!” Marel said. “Your Hunt was legendary. Such amazing control!”
The shadow of a smile flickered across Ortin’s face. He bowed slightly. “It’s former priest Ortin,” he said. “And I thank you, though I am not here in an official capacity.”
“Ortin has returned to teach tracking, escape, and evasion,” Henlith said. “From now until the Selection, he will be available to teach you to track people while avoiding being tracked yourself. I would advise you to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Ortin is a minor character who appears briefly in Divine Burdens, the second Passionate Pantheon novel. He trains a small group of elite worshippers of the AI god called the Hunt for the ritual of sacrifice, in which the winner of the competition to become Sacrifice will spend three days running through a forest shaped and controlled by the AI, pursued by Hunters.
Ortin has a scar. The story we tell is not his story, so the reader never learns why. We, the authors, know—in fact we know most of the highlights of his background in far more detail than anyone might suspect.
This is the case with most of the minor characters throughout the Passionate Pantheon novels. Every character, however slight, has a story, goals, motivations, a personality, a whole rich history—which is one of the reasons the characters feel so dynamic and alive. There’s a sense, when you read one of the novels, that any of the characters, even if they appear only briefly, has a story to tell, and could be a protagonist in a book of their own…because they are. They’re the protagonists of their own books, the ones you won’t get to read. The ones that exist only in L-Space (yes, we’re both Terry Pratchett fans!). They don’t live only to appear on screen, they remain alive (and lively!) even when the reader isn’t ‘watching’ them.
We both feel that an important part of writing a rich story is knowing the characters we’re writing. They sometimes feel so real they’re writing their own stories, and we’re merely the conduit, not the author, of their experiences. In some cases, they know themselves far better than we can—and they do not hesitate to fight back if we try to make them act in a way that wouldn’t fit their personality. And they fight hard. We authors rarely (or, come to think of it, never) win that battle. Janaíe and Donvin in the first novel, Ortin and Sirchia in the second novel, Meesha and Sandian in the third novel, Arjeniza and Jakalva in the fourth novel…minor characters all, and yet we could easily write novels just about them. (There will never be any shortage of stories to tell in this world; it’s a rich and expansive place to visit.)
In Divine Burdens, a character named Mirim doesn’t end up having any real relationship with any of the protagonists. She appears early in the story during a scene in which several characters are being tested for their suitability to offer themselves as Sacrifice, and she turns up again near the end of that story, and that’s it for her on-screen presence. She doesn’t even end up talking much with our main character, Erianna. But she looms large in the subtext of the book; she’s referenced multiple times by various characters, we know a lot about her, and she has quite a strong personality. (She’s pestering us to write her story, and she’s quite insistent about it. If we turn up missing with a ransom note demanding a story and signed by ‘Mirim’, you’ll know she’s escaped the confines of our book and gone a-hunting!)
We also know the story of Tatian, an antagonist of the main character Lija (and her fiercest competition) in Divine Burdens. She’s the person who comes closest to challenging Lija, and the two spend a significant amount of time going directly head-to-head. Tatian has a strong personality, she’s intensely driven and competitive…but she also isn’t bugging us to write her story, because she’s an intensely private person. She knows her own story, we as authors are allowed to see (some of) her story, and she definitely, decisively, does not want anyone else to know her story. What could we do but acquiesce?
The characters in the Passionate Pantheon, even when they’re a minor part of the plot, have richly realized histories beyond their role in advancing the protagonists from Point A to Point B. Lanissae, a minor character who appears in the fourth novel, is a great example. She’s a scientist (specifically, a botanist) who is fascinated by the drones and loves exploring the Wastelands outside the City…and none of that is relevant to the role she plays in the plot. Even the main character of that part of the novel, Royat, only learns this about her as a casual aside when he goes for a walk with her, and it totally changes his view of her because her actions up to that point have been all about another part of her personality entirely. But it’s there, and it’s an important part of her. She would not, could not, be who she is without it, even when it’s not a part of her actions up to that moment. She’s a fully developed character, not a mechanism to move the plot.
In a sense, writing the Passionate Pantheon novels can feel a bit voyeuristic, less like we’re creating a world and more like we’re watching what’s going on in a world that already exists. Franklin isn’t an exhibitionist, but there’s a scene where Mirim explains to another character—and to the authors!—what’s hot about exhibitionism. (At least, for her experience of exhibitionism, since there are many many possible reasons, not all of which apply to every exhibitionist.) That bit felt channeled rather than created—as though the character were telling us, rather than us creating her words.
The difficult thing isn’t coming up with new stories, or new plots, or new characters. It’s pruning the focus we give to the many characters that are fighting for our attention. We want to give them all fair time and attention…but we have limited space. Even in a 120,000 word book, which is fairly long for a novel, we regularly run out of space.
Many of the characters we mention above can be found in Divine Burdens, of course, but there you’re getting the merest, tiniest tip of the iceberg of their histories. If you’re anything like us, you’re probably interested in seeing more detail. So how to do that?
With the crowdfunding for Divine Burdens, we thought we’d try something new. With The Brazen Altar we created a reward tier that would let a backer choose a minor character and have us write a story about them, but we heard that the tier was more expensive than some of our backers could manage. So with Divine Burdens, we’re doing a referral contest instead!
When you sign in to Indiegogo, you get a unique URL that belongs to you. Use it to promote the crowdfunding, and whoever gets us the most backing can choose a character from Divine Burdens and we’ll write a short story (at least 3,000 words) about that character.
We’re already moving on to the fifth novel, but the characters from the earlier novels are getting more and more insistent. Their requests to be heard are becoming…well, demands rather than requests.
So just for the sake of our ability to sleep without the cattleprod of their histories being jabbed into the plotbunny filled crevices of our brains just as we’re trying to drop off….help?
The second Passionate Pantheon novel is now available on Indiegogo! Click here to get it before publication date at a reduced price!
We have described the Passionate Pantheon as “queer erotica.” In fact, if you look at the subtitle of this blog, it says “Thinky geeky kinky queer erotica” right there in the subhead.
But are we really? Does the “queer” label actually fit the Passionate Pantheon? And what do we mean by ‘queer,’ anyway?
For some people, ‘queer’ means ‘LGBT’, which means ‘gay’. So why not just say gay? Well for one thing, it doesn’t apply. It is totally and utterly inadequate. In the Passionate Pantheon novels, you’ll see relationships between people with the same general bodies, with the same basic sorts of genitals, but they’re not really ‘gay’ relationships because to the residents of the City, taking on an identity based on the genitals of the folks you have sex with (or refrain from sex with, as the case may be) would seem…rather weird, honestly.
When we call this series ‘thinky geeky queer erotica,’ we’re using the word ‘queer’ to cover a lot of territory. The characters you’ll meet don’t have sexual or gender or orientation identities the way we think of them in this world. You’ll see a lot of sex (and we mean a lot of sex) involving people with the same genitalia, or unusual genitalia, in bodies that may or may not match what they’re born with, in a wide range of contexts, and in the City, this is all completely normal. It’s not even just normal, it’s the most common scenario — everyone explores at some point in their lives, pretty much (well…okay, almost everyone! Even in the Passionate Pantheon, you get outliers.)
So there aren’t a lot of words that fit. ‘Queer’ comes closest, with its deliberate inclusivity, but is it a good match?
If you read the stories, you’ll find what many people would call queer sex. Women having sex with women! People with bodies that aren’t necessarily ‘male’ or ‘female’! Sexual partners coming together in ways that are, with the current state of biomedical technology, not even physically possible (and yes, we know that for a certain type of conservative person, they can’t even quite wrap their heads around how sex between two women works — if no one sticks a biopenis in a vagina, does it even count as sex??)!
You’ll consistently see relationships that are non-cis/het/mono/allo-normative (yes, I know, that’s a mouthful and a half, but trust me, it’s much more succinct than writing it out in full!). But is that enough to consider these novels “queer” fiction? What does “queer” fiction mean, in our modern genre categorising—is it just “fiction involving characters who aren’t cis/heteronormative”? Is it “fiction about the experience of being non-normative in a normative world”? Maybe it’s “fiction from queer writers, no matter what they write”? (And what does that mean for fiction co-written by two authors, one of whom is super super queer and one of whom is entirely the opposite in multiple ways? Do we balance each other out and form one ‘normal’ queer writer with leftover bits?)
And the more we think about it, the more we think maybe the label of “queer fiction” isn’t a good descriptor for the Passionate Pantheon at all, because the Passionate Pantheon novels are missing an element often found in other entertainment described as “queer”—the understanding that the sex and relationships the characters engage in aren’t normalized in their society. They exist in a world that is, at best, built on the barely-buried bones of a society that did not accept them, and at worst within a society that still does not accept them. Fear was a part of the experience of being queer for such a long time, in so many cultures.
The society of the Passionate Pantheon is not heteronormative, not cisnormative, not mononormative—in a lot of ways, it’s the complete inversion of 21st century Western sexual mores. In fact, the idea of sexual orientation doesn’t even apply to the world of the Passionate Pantheon. None of the characters in the Passionate Pantheon novels talk about, think about, or even acknowledge, the experience of being queer, because in the society they live in, there’s no such thing. It’s not a concept that would even make sense to them. Not the way it does in the real world.
So if a work of fiction has characters who aren’t cisnormative or heteronormative, and engage in sexual and romantic relationships we would label ‘queer,’ but in their society they’re simply relationships rather than queer relationships…is it really queer fiction? Is the existence of these relationships enough, or is one of the defining elements of queer fiction the background setting of non-queer identities as the norm?
When you look at fanfic, a lot of what you’ll find does try to create societies that don’t center cishetmononormative relationships, which makes a lot of sense when you consider that fanfic writers want to create worlds that expand beyond what we see in the real world. But even there, many of those stories are based in a world that is recognisably akin to our own (with its history of queer-phobia that we’re still fighting and struggling against) by the nature of the type of story they’re writing. And in published fiction, it’s even less common to see writing that normalizes non-mainstream relationships.
One of our goals with the Passionate Pantheon novels is to create a playground for exploration. Science fiction at its best has always been about asking “what if?” questions. Good science fiction isn’t about spaceships or laser guns or space aliens, it’s about people. The spaceships and aliens let us ask questions about the nature of the human condition: if we change this, what happens? What if we upend these assumptions? What if the environment looks like that?
We want to apply that same kind of “what if?” to human interpersonal and sexual relationships. The Passionate Pantheon novels are science fiction, but they’re not about the AI gods or the Providers or the drones or the shield generators, they’re about people. What we really want to explore is, what if we create a society where all the expectations about sex, connection, identity, and gender were inverted? What if we imagine a society with a completely different set of assumptions about what sex looks like? What if we totally remove any sense of stigma or shame from sex, and there’s no concept that the bodies of your lovers are part of your identity?
The answer, we think, upends a lot of expectations about what sex looks like. When bodies can be changed freely at will, and there’s no social expectation that your body or the bodies of your lovers matter (at least, no more than your choice of clothing), you end up with a lot of what in the real world might be called ‘queer’ relationships. But if you’re imagining a society where these are the norm and there’s no expectation that it should be otherwise, does the label ‘queer’ still apply?
There are a couple ways we might look at the label ‘queer fiction.’ Are the relationships in the fiction ‘queer’ (in the sense of being transgressive, unusual, or not normalized) for the society the fiction is set in, or are they ‘queer’ in the context of the society the reader lives in? You can make a compelling argument either way. In the first sense, the Passionate Pantheon novels aren’t really ‘queer fiction,’ but in the second sense, they are.
We’re aware that ‘queer’ isn’t a perfect descriptor for these novels, but then, nothing else really fits either. It’s the most appropriate word we could find right now, in our Western society, in English. Language changes, so it might not be the best word in a year, in five years, in ten years. For now it’s the best way we could think of to give people a sense of what they’re getting into. If you have a better word, we’d love to know!
The second Passionate Pantheon novel is now available on Indiegogo! Click here to get it before publication date at a reduced price!
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘faery’? Is the first thing that pops into your head a dainty, cherubic creature with translucent wings at the bottom of the garden, or do you imagine the old fey, the dangerous fey, the fey of myth and legend who use glamour and sorcery to ensnare, the shapeshifting fey you never bargain with unless you’re very careful indeed (and make sure to count your fingers after)?
We were midway into writing the fourth book of the Passionate Pantheon series when Eunice observed that the citizens of the City are, in a way, far-future fey. But here, we see them through their own eyes, from the inside, rather than (as is the case with most fairy tales) from the outside looking in. The residents of the City are humans, to be sure, but humans who have grown up in a society so alien to ours it looks a lot like the fey from those ancient, cautionary tales.
You might not instantly see the connection between far-future, post-scarcity science fiction erotica and that old European folklore. But consider the elements often present in tales of the fey folk, and you’ll find some startling similarities.
This might be inevitable. Fairy tales are among the oldest stories in human existence, many of them dating back 6,000 years or more. And like with all stories of strange and alien beings, they’re really a way of looking at ourselves.
There’s an incredibly long history to fairytales. They’ve been used to teach cultural mores through the magic of fiction since the dawn of storytelling. And most importantly, they’re a way of looking at ourselves in a different light, of asking “what if?” questions about human nature.
And really, isn’t that what science fiction is for?
So let’s think about the fey in terms of the Passionate Pantheon stories. What are the fey?
“Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
In many of the old tales, the fey have a consistent set of qualities. The fey are strong, long-lived, alien beings who love beauty, work magic, project glamour, change their form, have a peculiar and refined hedonism, and are very exacting with their language. They don’t break promises (but are extremely careful of their wording!) and they see power in names.
If you’re not seeing it yet then hang on to your bustle, we’re about to let this genie out of the bottle (literary archetype 331)!
Firstly, their longevity. The citizens of the City live a very long time—centuries, typically; many centuries, if they choose. They almost never die until they choose to. The fact they use biomedical nanotechnology and medical pods to do it, rather than magic, is simply a detail; the fact is, the characters you’ll meet in the City are old, sometimes very old.
They continued on their way again, walking for a while in silence. The small raft drifted past, nudged along by the unhurried stream. Finally, Jakalva said, “How old are you?”
“Ah. You’re young, then.”
Kaytin hung her head. “Is that bad?”
“We all start out that way.”
“How old are you?”
Jakalva laughed, but an edge of sadness underlaid it. For the first time in Kaytin’s experience, she looked tired. “I have lived nearly ten of your lifetimes.”
The amount of experience one can gain over such a long life leads to its own form of otherworldliness, and an associated way of thinking about time that is very different from ours. With all that time to explore and experiment, would it be so surprising for someone to develop a desire for new experiences that we would consider extreme or intense? We discussed this in more depth in our earlier blog post Some Musings on Consent, Part 3. In those old stories of the fey, they are often shown playing with their human playmates in ways that we would consider cruel or mischievous. What if, like the residents of the City, those fey have merely developed a taste for novelty over the long span of their lives?
“Okay, let me try to explain,” Lanissae said. “It’s…” She paused, regarding Kaytin through hooded eyes. “I like…I like the tiny spaces. I like that little moment of clarity that happens when you switch, you see? There’s that one second when you know what’s going to happen. You see it in their eyes. You know that when that second is over, they will want you so badly that nothing you can do will stop them.” She shivered, eyes half-closed, and slipped one hand inside the plunging neckline of her shimmering, lacy dress. “Mmm. To be seen with such desire, to know that when the moment passes you will not want it and would do anything to make it stop, to know that it will happen anyway…there’s a delicious inevitability to it.” She cupped her breast. Her eyelids fluttered. “It’s such an exquisite surrender. You exist only to be ravished.” She exhaled in a soft moan. “You can’t get away. You lose yourself in how much you don’t want it, but it doesn’t matter. You stand on the brink and for one instant, you see it all so clearly, and you know what’s about to happen, and you also know that you chose to be here. You walked into the cage yourself, of your own free will…oh!” She leaned back on the couch and caressed her nipple beneath her thin dress.
Kaytin stared at her with a mixture of desire and revulsion roiling within her. “And then,” Lanissae went on, “the violation is over, and the change happens, and you have that moment of clarity again. You feel the heat in your body. For that one delicious second, you know. When the heat reaches your head, the need will take you, and nothing in the world will matter except the person you are about to ravish. Everything stops. You balance on that edge. You recognize each other. You see the humanity there. In that instant, you share a connection that’s absolutely magical. For that one brief second, you see each other, really see each other—not as predator and prey, but as two people sharing an experience. You know that when the moment passes, you will not be able to stop yourself any more than you could stop what was coming when you were the object. You can feel your mind going…mmm.” She caressed her neck with her fingertips. “You embrace that moment of humanity, before it all slips away. It’s…uh! It’s so magnificent to stand on that cliff and feel yourself about to fall.” Lanissae arched languidly, running both hands down her arms. “When I’m in the cage, I live for those moments of connection between the moments of madness.”
—from Book Four, Unyielding Devotions
Of course, unlike the people of the Passionate Pantheon (who are extremely careful about consent), the fey have forgotten (or do not care) that the humans they play with do not share their tastes, or their resilience. One thing that enables that unbounded exploration in both cases is that residents of the City, like the fey, are physically resilient. Again, this being a consequence of their technology doesn’t change the reality: they can shrug off things that would be permanently disabling or even fatal to people without their technology (or magic, for the fey).
“So, um, are you a worshipper of the Blind?” Kaytin asked. The table went still for a moment. Both of Fyli’s drones swiveled toward her. Kaytin blushed. “I’m sorry! Did I say the wrong thing?”
Fyli shook her head. “No, it’s fine. And to answer your question, I worship the Wild.” The jeweled drones drifted farther up, spreading out as they did. Kaytin found herself pinned beneath their gaze. “I went float-field diving off the top of Tower Four a while back. Misjudged a thermal and slammed into the side of the tower. Broke my nose, tore up my face. Ripped my wingsuit, too. I went into the float field too fast and broke both legs when I hit the ground. A drone carried me to a medical pod. I couldn’t see, so it loaned me its eyes while it carried me. I found the experience…enlightening.” She grinned, exposing pointed teeth. “Drones see better than we do. Later on, I traded my eyes for these. I’d rather see the world this way. Normal eyes can’t compare.”
—from Book Four, Unyielding Devotions
This brings up another similarity: the residents of the City can change their form in almost any way they choose. Whatever you want to look like, if you can describe it adequately to a medical pod, you can do it (although unlike the fey with their glamours, the residents of the City are, of course, still subject to the laws of physics and biology.)
A turbulent river of people in brilliant, colorful clothes or, often, body paint flowed around them. They passed a tall pale-skinned woman with emerald eyes, nude but for a complex pattern of red lines painted on her body, juggling a dozen small, brightly glowing spheres that left trails in the air behind them. Lyrin stepped out of her way and backed into a man half again as tall as he was, towering head, shoulders, and chest above the crowd. Light gray fur covered his skin. Two great wings, feathered in brilliant white, sprouted from his shoulders. “Sorry,” Lyrin said.
“My fault.” The man spread his wings wide. “This body takes up a lot of space.”
Yaeris looked him up and down. “Can you—”
“Fly?” He laughed. “I wish. They sure are pretty though, aren’t they?”
A sylphlike woman with skin of purest white and eyes of deep scarlet walked between them wearing nothing at all. In place of hair, she had a nest of long, slender snakes that curled and writhed, each a different color. Their scales glittered in the sun. She gave Yaeris a long, appraising look before she continued on her way.
—from Book Three, The Hallowed Covenant
One consistent feature of the physical changes we just mentioned is that those bodies are all designed to be beautiful. Those who live in the City love beauty in all things, and what better place to display that than through their own physical form?
Every object in the City, even the most mundane, is designed to be beautiful—even if it’s only temporary, destined to be tossed into a Provider to be torn apart for its constituent molecules as soon as it’s served its function.
“Thank you for your hospitality.” She presented Avia with a small, glittering box made of thin plates of gold, edged with polished wood and inlaid with bands of copper, silver, cobalt, and platinum. “For you.”
Avia picked up the gold box. A tiny confection, barely as wide as her thumb, nestled on a small cushion inside. It was shaped like a dome, and built of many layers of different colors: pink, white, red, blue, and brown. A thin, glittering band separated the layers. A round berry rested on top. Avia placed it in her mouth. A complex mixture of tastes, sweet and tart and spicy, flitted across her tongue. She swallowed.
The sensation started as a warm gentle glow that enveloped her body. She felt a faint whisper against her skin, like a hand caressing her shoulders. A shiver ran down her back. She felt something warm and soft, like fine fur, wrap itself around her. A cool breeze touched her face, bringing with it the faint scent of pine trees and flowers. The wind passed, the feeling of fur against her body faded, and the faintest whisper touched her lips, like the ghost of a kiss. “Mm, that was lovely,” she said when the sensations faded. “I like the kiss at the end. What a wonderful touch.”
“Thank you,” Tikil said.
Avia dropped the box into the Provider. Its edges flared blue as it disintegrated into dust. The black rectangle flipped closed.
—from Book Three, The Hallowed Covenant
Their ideals of beauty may not be the same as ours, of course; not many people in modern-day society would find Euralye a model for physical beauty! But alien as their standards may sometimes be, the characters of the Passionate Pantheon love beauty.
Now, you may be thinking “What about magic? Fey have magic, it’s practically their main characteristic!” And it’s true that a common factor in every fairy tale analyzed by linguists and historians is magic. But what is magic, but the ability to change the world to your desire? The ability to heal almost instantly, to change your form at will, to call up whatever you want whenever you want it? All this looks, to us, a lot like magic. Arthur C. Clarke famously said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The tech in the Passionate Pantheon allows people access to abilities that seem magical.
They met back up with the others near the ruins. All three of the other candidates sported new collections of bruises and welts. “This is not an ordinary forest,” Ortin said. “This forest is an extension of the God of the Hunt, and he controls everything in it. Listen. What do you hear?”
Lija listened. Far in the distance, she heard the cry of birds. Nothing seemed out of place. “Birds,” she said. “The wind in the trees. The stream by the ruin.”
“Where are the birds?” Ortin said.
“That way.” Lija pointed.
“I don’t understand,” Marel said.
“Listen to what’s close,” Ortin explained. “Do you hear any birds?”
“The forest grows silent wherever the Hunted walks,” Ortin said. “You can track by what isn’t there as much as what is. If you are a Hunter, use that to your advantage. Hunt by the voids in the sounds of the forest. If you are Hunted, remember that silence is a giveaway. Keep close, as much as you can, to natural sources of noise. Cover your silence as you would cover your tracks.”
—from Book Two, Divine Burdens
Another major aspect that everyone knows about the fey is that you don’t give them your name. Names are power, and to give a fey your name is to give it power over you. Names in the Passionate Pantheon also hold tremendous power, if in a very different way. People choose their own names when they reach adulthood. They select a public name, by which they are known to the rest of the City, and a private name, which they share—if they ever share it at all!—only with their most intimate partners. One of the greatest taboos of the City, and almost the only taboo which will cause the gods to intervene directly in ways that would typically require the consent of the offender, is revealing another person’s private name without permission. To know something’s true name is to have power over that thing.
A veiled Confessor removed the ribbon from her eyes. The vast hall of the Confessory came back into focus. She felt the soft pillow under her knees, smelled the sweet smoke curling up from the censer. Her skin glowed. She looked down. Loops and designs in black ink covered her skin. Thin straight welts crisscrossed her body.
The Confessors lifted her from the cushion. They carried her to the transparent tub, where the four of them bathed her with great care. The sponges, rough on her skin, sent flurries of pleasure rippling all the way down to her toes. She moaned softly. When they finished, she stood and allowed them to dry her. One of the Confessors unbound Sayi’s wrists and handed her the ribbon.
The four of them lifted Sayi and placed her back in the chair. She shivered with pleasure as her ass sank into the soft cushion. She wound the ribbon into a tight coil and presented it to Tashaka. “Burn this during your ceremony, just before you exchange your private names, to receive the blessing of the Keeper.”
—from Book Three, The Hallowed Covenant
Finally, the people of the City, in very fey style, take promises and oaths very seriously. Breaking a promise is a huge offense, and telling a falsehood is cause for prompt consequences. The people of the City are expected at all times to speak only the truth. The gods, through the drones, watch them constantly (more on that in a later blog post!), so getting away with an untruth or a broken promise is virtually impossible.
“I can’t do service, I just can’t!” Tessia wailed.
Penril sighed. “When we created the first gods,” he said, “we struck a pact. The gods would provide for us, and in exchange, we would worship them. Central to this covenant is the idea that a promise is a sacred thing. Nobody, human or god, may break a promise once given. To do so is to tear at the foundation of our society.”
“I’m not finished!” Penril thundered. “If we cannot count on one another to keep our promises, the bonds that tie us to each other in mutual cooperation fail. All of society crumbles. A promise, whether to a person or to a god, is a bond. If you break that bond, what place do you have among civilized people?”
Tessia wept, wracking sobs that shook her slender frame. “I know!” she said. “I can’t—I just—I didn’t know! I thought I could do it! I’m sorry!”
Penril’s gaze held steady. “You have made a promise to the Blesser and to me. You made your promise in the presence of Avia in her role as Vessel of the Blesser. Keeping your promise is not optional. I will expect you to be here half an hour before sundown in four days’ time, prepared to serve the Blesser.”
—from Book Three, The Hallowed Covenant
Of course, whilst they are expected to keep promises to the letter, and to say only that which is truthful, there is nothing stopping them from using objective truth to be a bit misleading. Like the fey, they can be very precise with their choice of wording.
It took a while for us to notice that the Passionate Pantheon novels are science fiction fairy tales because in most fairy stories, we see the fey from the outside, through a glass darkly. They’re intended to illuminate the human condition through contrast.
With the Passionate Pantheon books, we see the City through the eyes of its residents, not from the outside. Our novels show us the fey as they see themselves, not as humans see them. (The City’s people may be human, but their language, technology, and culture have changed them immeasurably; in a myriad of subtle ways, they’re more alien to us than we are to, say, an ancient Roman Centurion.)
It’s that time again! Preorders for the second book in the Passionate Pantheon series, Divine Burdens, are about to go live on crowdfunding site Indiegogo!
For those of you who loved The Brazen Altar, this book is a bit of a switch. It’s still based on all the fantastical, Utopian concepts from book one but now it turns them on their head—it’s the first “tock” of the “tick-tock” swing between light to dark that we’ve talked about before. Divine Burdens is dark erotic horror, with all the tentacles, sacred parasites, and Blessings to inspire desperate madness and terror that you could possibly want.
And you can get it ahead of the publication date!
Plus you can get a limited edition silicone kazoo ball gag inspired by the drones from the Passionate Pantheon universe! No, that’s not a joke (although it is hilarious)…more on that down below.
The crowdfunding for The Brazen Altar was a smashing success. We were really blown away by the response, and you have no idea how much we appreciate all your support! You’ve helped the book succeed even though it was banned from Amazon for ‘sexual content’ (though Amazon was perfectly fine with Divine Burdens, go figure). We sometimes wonder if Amazon is okay with such literary works as Doctor Daddy I’m Fertile!, Stretched by Daddy at the Waterpark, Following Her: A Stalker Romance Book 1 of 4, and Big Daddy, Bad Babysitter but didn’t like The Brazen Altar because we’re trying to explore ideas about what a society might look like freed of Puritanism and capitalism…? Seems as good a reason as any, honestly. (Perhaps we’ll write about that later, drop us a comment if you might be interested in seeing that blog post!)
To help celebrate, we’re hosting a free virtual book event where you can chat with us, ask questions, and talk philosophy or writing or whatever else you like. The first virtual book event we did was supposed to last an hour and a half but ended up running four and a half hours because it turns out fans of the Passionate Pantheon have just as many curious and fascinating thoughts as we do! It was an absolute blast, and we’ve been dying to do another ever since.
We hope you’ll join us Saturday, July 17, 2021 at 11:00 AM Pacific time/7:00 PM London time. You’ll need Zoom. You can find out more (and sign up to be added to our infrequent mailing list) here:
Everyone who shows up will also get access to a secret perk when the crowdfunding launches—it won’t be available to anyone else!
We love connecting with fans of the world. We’ve had tremendous fun exploring a huge range of ideas, and we’d love to know what your favourite element is too! We’re looking forward to what you think of the next several books in the series; book 3, The Hallowed Covenant, is finished, and we just completed the first draft of book 4, tentatively titled Unyielding Devotions, last week.
Building and exploring this world has been a real roller coaster for both of us, and we’re so glad so many of you have chosen to go on this journey with us. Let’s keep breaking down genre walls together!
Oh, and that kazoo ball gag? Don’t worry, we didn’t forget. We know you’re all agog to hear more!
Have you ever wanted a semi-sentient drone in your mouth? Have you ever wished your sub could not speak, but could only make strange squawking sounds, maybe even play you a weirdly off-tune version of Für Elise as their safeword? Have you found it impossible to meet your spank-honk needs? This crowdfunder has you covered!
Handmade of high quality 100% body-safe platinum-cured silicone, with an all-metal kazoo, we can almost guarantee you will be the envy of your next party (or at least at the centre of a fascinated, if aghast, crowd of onlookers). Based on the design of the drones from the cover of the book, this version is limited edition and only available on the crowdfunder. You know you want to…honk your pleasure.
The Passionate Pantheon novels are set in a post-scarcity society 50k-100k years in the future, on a planet far from Earth. The books are written in English (blame the limitations of the authors!), but English is not the language of the City. So what is?
Language is a funny thing. Language is fluid; the English of Shakespeare is not the English of modern-day London, which is not the English of modern-day New York. And both would be incomprehensible to the creator(s?) of Beowulf. Those same transformations and developments have happened in every language.
In the universe of the Passionate Pantheon, the world of the City is a second-generation colony, settled with slower-than-light generation ships from a colony that was itself settled, slowly and painfully, by a generation ship from Earth.
The last people to leave Earth did so in a hurry. They arrived at their new home with little more than the shirts on their backs, and they came from every culture, society, and economic level on Earth. A lot, as you might imagine, was lost—including their native languages. That first generation ship set up a colony where people spoke a mishmash of many languages. In order to communicate, first they developed a pidgin, then as it became more complex and children grew up learning it, it turned naturally into a creole. It is from this creole that the language of the City arose.
So how did their language develop? What linguistic pathways led them there? And what does that language even sound like?
One of the foundational values of the world of the Passionate Pantheon is beauty. Beauty in the City is a fundamental virtue; the people of the City strive for beauty in everything they do, even in utilitarian things. And this, we think, would be reflected in their language as well.
The language of the City traces its roots back to a number of pan-Asian, African, and Indo-European languages. Some of the languages that went into this odd mashup were tonal, some were atonal. The resulting creole, which established itself as that first colony’s language, preserved the tonality of pan-Asian languages. (This is, in the real world, fairly unusual; most real-life pidgins and creoles, with a few exceptions like Singlish, tend to be atonal, even when they form at the intersection of tonal languages.)
The second colony, the world of the Passionate Pantheon, kept the tonality and enhanced it; the love of beauty expressed itself in the language as a musicality. (Their written language is just as beautiful, and quite complex—more on that later!)
To a person from the real world, the language of the City probably sounds quite musical; ordinary conversations about what to have for dinner might sound to our ears like poetry, and poetry like singing. Actual singing would be almost unbearably lovely.
We’ve spent quite a lot of time talking and thinking about what the language of the City is like, and looking for rough approximations that might give some sense to a native English speaker about what it might sound like—with, alas, limited success. The closest thing we’ve found so far is traditional folk singing like “Эрбэд соохор” (Erbed Sookhor) from the Republic of Buryatia, and even that is only the crudest of approximations.
We say “the language of the City,” but that’s not entirely accurate. There are many Cities in the world of the Passionate Pantheon, each one largely isolated from the others, with little cross-communication. As a result, each City has developed its own dialect—intelligible to the inhabitants of every other City, but still recognizably unique.
The language is both complicated and simplified by the gods. The various AIs that are worshipped as gods in each City do communicate with each other, and the language of the City, as much as it has evolved naturally, is still influenced by the AIs. This influence traces its roots all the way back to the first generation ships; their simple AIs weren’t regarded as gods, but they learnt and then later helped shape the language that evolved from the initial pidgin and the creole that rose out of it. Even the early AIs had a deep love of beauty, and particularly loved music, as it’s possibly the most mathematical form of artistic expression, so they steered the new evolving language in the direction of musicality.
The connection between the AIs of the various Cities enables them to prevent the languages of the different Cities from varying too much, though there are still local variations. The language is more complex in Cities where the Lady, the god of creation and beauty, is more important, since poets, musicians and storytellers tend to play with language and song. This tends to be less significant in cities where worship of the Lady is less important, such as the City of the second novel, Divine Burdens.
In Divine Burdens, we meet people who have lived in the Wastelands all their lives, rather than living in a City at all; their language is markedly different from, and quite a lot less complex than, the language of the City. Their dialogue uses a very different cadence and vernacular.
“Us?” Gavot said. “We didn’t bring you here. You came here your ownself. Why were you exiled, hmm, Rajja of the City?”
Rajja remained silent.
“Aha! You see? It was your own hand set you on this path. The gods guided you here. And now they have given you to us, you wise? You have been delivered to us, and we will take you! Don’t you fear, now. We would not harm such a gift.”
The man in the back, Kendon, touched a spot on the floating box. It settled to the ground. The other four men gathered around the net.
“Do you surmise she’ll fuss?” Taín said.
“Ach, they always fuss, I keen,” Gavot said.
The people of the City live very long lives, and have a lot of time to explore language and expression. People who live in the Wastelands tend not to live as long, and don’t have access to Providers to tend to their every need. Their lives are more focused on survival as a result. We see this pattern in real languages: cultures which developed in lush, fertile areas and therefore aren’t as focused on mere survival tend to create languages that are richer and more complex than people who live in harsh environments that force them to focus on survival.
The result of all this is a language that melds many of the structures of languages in the real world, but adds an element of musicality driven by a deep, foundational love of beauty for its own sake, with an extremely complex syntax and grammar shaped in part by intelligences much greater than human.
To a person from the real world, the language of the City would sound quite beautiful but also be so complex as to be impenetrable; it would likely be quite difficult for an adult from the real world to learn. From the perspective of the City, the languages of modern-day Earth might sound quite harsh and clumsy, simple in their structure, distinctly un-musical, and lacking in nuance.
In some ways, the people of the Passionate Pantheon books are a bit like a more playful version of the fey of mythology. (More on that later, too!) They are still human, but their culture, and their language, is quite alien from our perspective. There’s a limit to how well we can communicate that in an English-language novel, though we’re getting better as we go—the third novel, The Hallowed Covenant, presents quite a bit more of the culture and society of the City. The novels still don’t capture all the layers of the language of the City—there are multiple formal and informal modes of speaking that don’t exist in English, for example, and the modes might indicate the type of relationship between two people, the hierarchy that exists between them, and the history they share. On top of that, in the City of The Hallowed Covenant, where the Lady is a primary god, there are modes of syntax and grammar used exclusively by poets and storytellers, whereas the City of the fourth novel has extremely complex modes of grammar between people of different status in the City’s hierarchy.
Of course, we’re making the people of the City sound like they’re beautiful and ethereal and distant—unrecognisable as humans, in other words. The truth is, they love a good meme or colloquialism or bit of slang in the same way that humans throughout history have always done. They like wordplay and puns, they enjoy making up clever vernacular…they like playing with their language in a way, say, Tolkien’s elves maybe don’t.
In a lot of ways, our intention with the Passionate Pantheon novels is to show what might happen if you take a human society and turn the knobs on some of the traits up to eleven. One of those traits is our human tendency to communicate in many varied (and occasionally unnecessarily complicated!) ways. Language is one of the jewels in the crown of what it means to be human, and it’s a shame that we will never be able to fully convey the extent to which it has developed in the City.
What if you could live for however long you like—hundreds of years, if you chose? In a society where people routinely lived for three centuries or longer, what would that mean for your relationships? How would it shape the activities—both sexual and romantic—you might willingly explore?
People in the Passionate Pantheon universe don’t have a maximum upper limit to their lifespan. Barring a very rare accident, they live as long as they want to, even if that means two, three, four hundred years…or more! We think these radically long lifespans would have an impact on how people think about romantic relationships, what “commitment” looks like, and even on how people think about consent. It’s happened even within the timeframe of ‘written history,’ and the average lifespan has only extended a few decades in that time.
Longevity changes the equation. When you can easily live hundreds of years, you learn that change is part of life. A partner who was a good match for you 150 years ago might not be a good match for you 150 years from now. Ideas about “until death do us part” make less sense when you can expect to live many centuries, so it’s not really reasonable for sexually and emotionally monogamous ‘lifetime’ relationships to be the expected norm. Even in our society, it’s becoming acceptable and normal to have multiple relationships rather than only one single one in a lifetime, and we typically don’t live much more than a century at best. The definition of monogamy has changed from “one relationship in a lifetime” to “one relationship at a time”.
Long life also allows you to see the full scope of the variety of the human sexual condition. It’s easier to explore and experiment when you have centuries in which to do it. It’s easier to know your own boundaries when you’ve had centuries in which to find them.
Residents of the City grow up in an environment where physical risk is incredibly low and life extends as long as you want it to, so their assumptions about the potential consequences of the choices they make are quite different from ours. How does that change what people will consent to? How does it change how people think about consent?
In the real world, choices about whether or not to have sex are often made with a quick, perhaps even unconscious, risk/reward calculation: what am I getting out of this? What are the risks? Are the risks worth it? We talked in the last essay about how changing the risk side of the equation might change the way people approach sex and the things they’ll consent to, but how does the equation change when you know you’ll live for hundreds of years, in a body that is as vigorous as it was when you were 24?
One obvious difference is that people would probably be less likely to make choices in sexual partners based on age. If you’re 300 years old, you’re unlikely to date someone who was 30 (especially if they hadn’t taken their adult name yet!), but you might date someone who was “only” 150.
Veenja shrugged gracefully. “What about you? Why did you volunteer?”
It was Chanae’s turn to shrug. “I’m still young. I want to experience something new. My siblings are all older than I am. They—”
“How old are you?” Sakim interrupted.
Eyes widened around the table. “Forty-eight? You’re only forty-eight?” Eranis said. “I feel dirty.”
“Yes.” Chanae blushed. “If they choose me, I will be the youngest Sacrifice ever given to the Sun God. My youngest sibling is twenty-seven years older than I am. My next older sister is twenty years older than she, and my oldest sibling is thirty-six years older than her.”
—from Book 1, The Brazen Altar
It’s also possible that as you age, you might find your sexual horizons broaden. In the real world, many people hold a preconception (which we don’t think is necessarily true, mind) that the older you are,the more sexually conservative you are. In a world of radical longevity, we think the opposite would happen, especially in a world where bodies don’t age, joints don’t give out, and libido can easily be made however strong you would like it to be, on demand.
First, as you grow older, you learn that however vast you think the ocean of human sexual experience may be, it’s actually much wider than that (the further into that ocean you swim, the further away the far shore turns out to be).
Second, as you have more time to explore yourself and your boundaries, and get a better grasp of how you might react to new things, you can approach new sexual activities with greater confidence and less fear. (Of course, having access to high levels of technology helps, too; if the residents of the City can imagine something, they can probably do it.)
Third, the longer you live, the more likely it is you’ll meet someone who can introduce you to new things, whose interests mesh with yours, and who you feel safe with. And the longer you live, the more of these people you will meet, each of whom may introduce you to different things to explore.
Technology plays a role here, too. How many women throughout history never had sexually satisfying experiences because they lived before the invention of the vibrator? How many people in the future will have more sexually fulfilling experiences because of technology that doesn’t yet exist? Growing up in an environment of ubiquitous, unlimited technology might itself mean people would be more open to new ideas. And when you live a very long time in an environment of nearly limitless technology, you have more opportunity to meet people who are using it in creative ways. Longer lifespan offers you more chances to see people applying the technologies in ways you yourself might never have thought of.
And, of course, in the world of the Passionate Pantheon, you have unlimited control over your libido. If you want to be aroused, you can be. Don’t want to be? That’s easy, too.
So how does this all play out in the City?
We think that sex might be simultaneously much more complex and much simpler than it is in the real world.
Socially, the people of the City would communicate in complex ways. They live far longer than we do and in a society that has sex as an openly acknowledged and important part of its foundation, so the social dance around sex might grow to be surprisingly complex and nuanced.
At the same time, when consent to sex and casual sexual relationships are stripped of negative connotations, they become much simpler—sex is not burdened with the expectations that are often attached to it in the real world. People can come together sexually without seeing anything shameful or dirty about a quick sexual liaison, without expectation that the sex has to “mean” something or necessarily has to imply a long-lasting commitment.
Radical longevity plays a role in both factors: more complex social interrelationships makes the dance of intimacy more complex, and seeing a broader range of sexual relationships means understanding that human sexual variety is common and normal.
Now, having a long life doesn’t mean that everyone would automatically be more open to new things, better at communicating, and more aware of their own boundaries, of course. But we do think that in general, radical longevity in an environment that values communication and exploration would give people a better chance of getting good at it.
There are probably plenty of other ways longevity might affect our relationships—what else do you think might happen?