We are delighted to welcome Jon Wallace back to the Gollancz Blog to share some insight into his brand new novel, Steeple out now in trade paperback and eBook. Steeple is the compelling sequel to Barricade (out now in paperback and eBook). Return to the Kenstibec’s stunning world . . .
Kenstibec, the main character in my new novel, Steeple, was created a ‘Ficial’ – an emotionless, superhuman species, made near invulnerable by the nanotechnology pumping through its veins. The Ficials were intended to drag humanity back from the brink of disaster, but things didn’t work out that way. There was a bloody conflict with humanity. Kenstibec was captured and infected with a virus that destroyed his nanotech. Now he’s vulnerable as any man, and emotions are creeping at the edge of his consciousness. The book opens with him living among his human enemy, trying to come to terms with his new condition.
In Steeple I wanted to explore Kenstibec’s fledgling feelings, and it felt right that they should develop in fits and starts. I thought his first warm, positive emotions might well focus on an animal before progressing to a person. So it is that new character, Pistol, entered the story. In Steeple, Kenstibec goes to great trouble to adopt this small, black terrier.
It felt right that he should because, like many isolated people, Kenstibec is comforted by the utterly uncomplicated nature of a dog’s companionship. Relationships between people are full of hidden signals, bizarre conventions and complex negotiations – a whole dance that Kenstibec struggles to learn. A dog has none of the inner turmoil that troubles human minds. A pooch doesn’t trouble itself with the meaning of its existence. It simply lives, with a purity of purpose (sleep, food, walks, sex) that serves as a kind of substitute for the certainty that Kenstibec enjoyed as a Ficial. Pistol teaches him a lot about the crazy risks love can make people take, and helps him begin to view life as something fragile, precious and worth preserving.
Dogs don’t always have this effect of course: See Hitler and trusted companion ‘Blondie’, or Bercowitz and demon hound, ‘Harvey’. Still, dogs are faithful, life- affirming companions to the widowed, to the homeless, to the blind, and to me too – oftentimes I have sat looking over a great, silent fell in the company of two dogs and felt a tremendous sense of peace, or joy at their boundless enthusiasm, energy and joy. I can’t think of another animal better suited to drag Kenstibec towards the light, and humanity too.
I’m really pleased with Pistol and the crucial part he plays in Steeple, and I thought to celebrate his arrival I might list a few of my favourite fictional pooches:
Groo the Wanderer: Rufferto
The ultimate proponent of the faithful hound who could never see his mater’s flaws – Rufferto worships Groo, even though he is a universally feared, brainless force of destruction.
The best possible interpretation of how a dog would speak English if given the means. “I have just met you and I love you”.
Sherlock Holmes: Toby
The inspiration for dogs like ‘Jerry Lee’ (K-9) and ‘Dog’ (Colombo), Toby is the original scruffy hound that while poor in appearance is highly skilled in the police arts.
I Am Legend: The Stray
OK, so this is probably the most depressing fictional dog I can think of, but I have to include it as a powerful incarnation of isolation and lost hope, in a great work of science fiction.
The Heart of a Dog: Sharik
A surprisingly funny satirical use of the ‘dog takes human form’ story in Bulgakov’s satire on the New Soviet Man.