Consider this quote from Duke Ellington: ‘By and large, jazz has always been the kind of man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with’. Now substitute ‘science fiction’ for ‘jazz’ … see, it still works! And the reason for this is simple: SF has never been able to shake of the reputation it gained in the days of pulp SF that it was somewhat inferior … the genre has always been seen by the literary establishment as a little infra dig.
I guess it was this somewhat disreputable image that drew me to writing SF. That and the fact that SF (good SF) has the ability to transcend rules and regulations and to boldly go where other genres are too nervous to explore. I’ve never been big on rules and regulations given that they’re a simply a substitute for common sense.
I love jazz (some jazz; ragtime I can live without) and having a jazz singer as a wife I’ve become steeped in the stuff so it was natural that when I sat down to write my book I looked to jazz for inspiration. From my experience of sitting through numerous gigs I believe that the key to jazz is the ensemble: musicians being able to play together but also having the confidence in each other to solo. At its best the jazz combo is the perfect amalgam of the group and the individual. And from the word go I wanted the Demi-Monde to be an ensemble piece, with multiple characters having their time in the spotlight but then having to cede their place in the story … and all the while the story arc is maintained and driven forward.
But it isn’t just the style of the book that apes jazz music, there are more overt references too. As the opening book in the Demi-Monde series – Winter – is set a virtual dystopia populated by twelve million Dupes (digital simulacra of living people) and ruled by Reinhard Heydrich (the monster who gave us the Holocaust) I needed a lead character who would be able to handle the perverse racialism and bigotry she would meet there. Making her a young black jazz singer was a snap: if Duke, Dizzy, Miles and Ella could survive and flourish in the face of so much racial hostility, then so could a tough cookie like my Ella Thomas.
But having drawn the character of Ella the temptation to go further was irresistible. I augmented the evil Singularities (recreated doppelgängers of historical personages) I feature in the book with a few good guys and the one I had to include was Josephine Baker. For a black girl from St Louis to conquer 1920’s Europe armed only with a skirt made from bananas, a beaming smile and a bucketful of talent showed just what formidable character she really was. I had a lot of fun seeding her into the Demi-Monde. Other jazzers are referenced in later books: Cab Calloway is responsible for the ‘ReBop’ jive talk used by NoirVillians featured in ‘The Demi-Monde: Fall’ and I also managed to sneak in a reference to the great Miles Davis.
So I guess you could say that ‘The Demi-Monde: Winter’ is a jazzy sort of book and that being the case I’ll leave you in bebop fashion: plant you now and dig you later.