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THE DEMI-MONDE: SUMMER LAUNCHES! Interview with Rod Rees

This week, to mark the release of The Demi-Monde: Summer, we’ve got an interview with Rod Rees for your delight and delectation. Curious about the man behind the cyber-hell that is the Demi-Monde? Read on, read on . . .

What is the working title of your next book?

The Demi-Monde: Summer it’s the third title in the Demi-Monde series and it’s out in the UK at the end of December.

The guys at Quercus have just sent me a mock-up of the paperback cover (which won’t be out until mid-2013) and I think they’ve done a terrific job capturing the flavour of the book.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

I designed the Demi-Monde (which is a virtual Victorian-esque dystopia) so that I could have some of my favourite characters from history come out to play. In The Demi-Monde: Summer these include Empress Wu (the only female Empress of China), Mao Zedong and Lucrezia Borgia.

What genre does your book fall under?

Difficult to say; it’s a bit of a mash-up of genres with cyber-fiction, steam-punk and even vampires making a house-call. Basically though it’s a science fiction thriller. The Demi-Monde series has been described as ‘Discworld’s savage noir cousin’ which I think is about right.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Toughie this. In a world without temporal boundaries my picks would be:

• Ella Thomas (feisty African-American): I’m leaning towards Zoe Saldana, though maybe Dorothy Dandridge would be in with a shot.
• Vanka Maykov (a Russian rascal: utterly immoral and without conscience): it has to be Errol Flynn.
• Trixie Dashwood (English aristocrat and spoilt brat): Vivien Leigh.
• Burlesque Bandstand (English low-life, pimp and petty criminal): Oliver Hardy.

Give a one sentence synopsis of the book.

Impossible, so I’ll cheat. ‘Set in 2018 the Demi-Monde is the most advanced computer simulation ever devised, a virtual world locked in eternal civil war – thirty million digital inhabitants living and dying in Victorian cyber-slums and led by some of history’s most vicious tyrants – Reinhard Heydrich, the architect of the Holocaust; Beria, Stalin’s arch executioner; and Aleister Crowley, black magician and ‘the wickedest man in the whole world’ – but something has gone badly wrong and the US President’s daughter has become trapped in this terrible world – it falls to 18-year old Ella Thomas, black student and sometime jazz-singer, to rescue her – once Ella has entered the Demi-Monde she finds that everything is not as it seems, that its cyber-walls are struggling to contain the evil within and that the Real World is in more danger than anyone realises.

All that and only one full-stop!

How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I guess I spent a month researching the historical characters I was going to use and then another couple of months reading up on the elements I needed to incorporate into the story: artificial intelligence; the origins and spread of the proto-Indo-European Language; the ironclad battles of the American civil war; the concepts under-pinning radical feminism and so on and so on.
This world-building lark ain’t easy folks!

Once I had all this organised I started to write. I generally aim to average 2,000 words a day, so a 200,000 word first draft will take three months. Then I spend another three months reworking, remodelling, reshaping and getting rid of the crap I’ve written the only purpose of which is to slow the pace of the story. So … from start to finish, nine months, a natural gestation period, methinks.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The trouble I have with this question is that (shamefully) I read very few contemporary novels, but ‘The Demi-Monde’ has been influenced by any number of books – we all stand on the shoulders of giants – so incorporated into the DM’s DNA are:
The First Men in the Moon: in my humble opinion Wells was the greatest SF writer of all time. ‘Etirovac’, which features heavily in ‘The Demi-Monde: Fall’, is the antipode of Wells’s ‘Cavorite’.
The Man in the High Castle: Philip K. Dick’s masterpiece was the first time I encountered a counter-factual story and I guess the idea of bringing disparate historical characters together came from this book.
The RiverWorld Series: Brilliant story and marvellous storytelling, the only regret is that Philip Jose Farmer got to Richard Burton (the Victorian explorer and linguist, not the film actor!) before I did. I’d have loved to have featured him in the Demi-Monde.

Who or what inspired you to write the book?

As an admirer of the writers of Classic SF and fantasy, I have always thought that attempts to update, or, as Tim Burton would have it, to re-imagine these stories have invariably been poor. But the nadir had to be the BBC’s ‘Jekyll’ which managed to eviscerate the story whilst simultaneously making it risible. Worse: it didn’t ‘honour’ the story. Sitting watching that muddled mish-mash I had the same feeling every writer since the dawn of time has had at one time or another: I can do better than that!
What else about the book might pique the readers’ interest in it.

As the books have a Victorian feel to them, for ‘Spring’ I’ve included plate illustrations of the various fashions sported by those living in the five sectors of the DM. Here’s one of them.

This is what the dissolute and erotically-charged citizens of the Quartier Chaud are wearing this season.

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