|Posted by Mark Cantrell on December 30, 2014 at 12:20 PM|
Silas Morlock presents a dark story of redemption in homage to the power of literature
Mark Cantrell explores some of the themes contained in his macabre urban fantasy novel, Silas Morlock, published in paperback and digital editions by Inspired Quill...
IMAGINE a future where the printed word is dead. It shouldn't be too difficult – we often hear it's on the edge of obsolescence, after all – but dare we envision a world where print's digital successor has also met its demise?
The idea is almost sacrilegious, but that's the world waiting for us in Mark Cantrell's dark urban fantasy, Silas Morlock, published by Inspired Quill (IQ): it's a world in the grip of a digital Dark Age, where books were burned and conventional technological progress forsaken in the pursuit of a higher 'post-human' purpose.
But it shouldn't be thought of as a post-apocalyptic tale; it presents a functioning – albeit disturbing – urban society.
The great conurbations and megacities of our time have become subsumed into the last great city state of human civilisation, Terapolis. A global sprawl of organic skyscrapers, it is a city trapped in perpetual gloom, where billions of people eke out their lives in the unearthly glow of its bio-luminescent radiance.
Here, in a city haunted by the ghosts of humanity's faltering potential, the population dwells in ignorance of an ancient struggle between good and evil that is nearing its climax. This is a conflict between knowledge and forgetting, between light and a darkness that seeks to consume the inner spark of awareness illuminating every conscious soul.
Humanity is lost. People exist unaware of the hunger that surrounds them; it pervades their every waking moment, seeps into their darkest dreams, but they seek solace from their macabre reality with an insatiable need for hedonistic release.
In a parody of our culture today, it's a society based around living for the moment, a place where thought is discouraged, understanding disdained, knowledge slowly forgotten; humanity merely skims the surface of living for the sake of immediate gratification.
Terapolis is a city grown on humanity's sordid desires to lose the mind in the pleasures of the flesh: drink, drugs, sex, vice, anything and everything that permits escape – however fleeting – from the nagging awareness of conscious existence, and of the darkness that is closing in to consume them.
But, no, humanity isn't entirely lost. There are always those, even now in this twilight of the soul, who crave more, who seek a higher purpose than those momentary pleasures of the flesh.
For many of them, the answer to humanity's redemption is found within the Gestalt, an esoteric technology that some mistakenly believe to be a form of virtual reality – the last gasp of a digital culture supplanted by the hybrid nano-tech/bio-technology that gave rise to the city's physical presence and its alienesque infrastructure.
Others, however, perceive in the Gestalt the means to unlock the very secrets of creation; in its mysterious realms it is said there is found the gateway to a new state of being, a place beyond the shadows of death, where human consciousness can unfold beyond the limitations of matter.
In either view, the Gestalt is Silas Morlock's crowning glory, his final gift to Mankind. The billionaire recluse, head of the last great tech company, MorTek – the 'Conqueror of Silicon Valley', as he was once known – is determined to save humanity from itself.
With his technological feats, beyond even the wildest dreams of the most fervent TED gurus of today, he offers humanity redemption – and the salvation of a post-human future.
As Lorelei, one of Morlock's underlings tells her troubled lover, Boris – the genius bringing the final phase of the Gestalt to completion – this miraculous technology offers:
“Transcendence, Boris. To leave this place behind. To live forever beyond the Gestalt. To be ourselves and break free of limitations. To complete our evolution. We won’t be trapped inside these greasy post-apes any more – but Gods.”
Yet Morlock's vision is not without challenge; there are those few who offer another means of salvation for a species drowning in shadow. The Incunabula pushes the most powerful drug used by Mankind; a subversion of every aspect of life in Terapolis – and a poison to the Gestalt – books are their promise for a future reborn.
Deep in the hidden places, the Incunabula hoard the cultural artefacts of a lost world. Their mission is simple, to find more like-minded souls, to preserve the products of human imagination, to nurture the last crucible of the creative spirit for a day when it might once again illuminate human existence.
An easy task, you might think, in a world of solid-state memory, electronic information systems, and digital archiving, but that world is dead; where the chain of technological evolution has been broken, the Incunabula has turned to the products of a supposedly obsolete technology to keep the light of literature alive.
So, with a nod towards Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Silas Morlock is a homage to literature – in its widest sense – and the place storytelling and the written word has both within our culture and in our 'spiritual' awareness of ourselves as a species. Of course, this being a work of dark fantasy, you should expect it to take a turn towards the outlandish and the macabre.
For the Incunabula, the physical book is their greatest strength – and their greatest weakness – but in a society such as exists in Terapolis, they cannot rely on the fragility of human recollection, as the author reveals early on:
In that universe, the world of Montag and Faber and the Salamanders, the preservationists remembered the book. Word for word, they committed each precious volume into the fickle database of solitary human memory.
They had no choice. To keep the book alive, they needed to retain each one as a neurological will ‘o the wisp. In this reality, in the world of the Gestalt, he knew that the book must be preserved in its physical form. The fight was to retain its tangible qualities, its three-dimensionality. Trust not to fickle memory, he knew, for they lived in a world of sensual gratification and instant experience where memory struggled to stay alive.
Silas Morlock is a metaphor of two seemingly competing technologies, at their heart something timeless preserved and transmitted from one generation to the next; both depend ultimately on the physicality of their form, but their function remains an echo of the fragility of ephemeral memory.
In this struggle, the light of human understanding and memory, set against the darkness of ignorance and amnesia, the endurance of the message comes to rest on the resilience of the medium. And ultimately on something more: the stamina of the human spirit.
The choice is ours, to embrace the books – whether on the printed page or digital screen – and let the dead generations speak to those as yet unborn, or throw them aside and abandon any hope of growing as a species. The book is the light and life of our collective self-awareness.
Heavy stuff, maybe, but it's set in the framework of a battle between good and evil – the light and the dark – to present a story about guilt and redemption, love and betrayal, and the human urge to reach out for the stars. The scene is set, then, and the players are assembled:
- Caxton, a man so haunted by his past he seeks solace in the most powerful drug known to man, but driven by guilt he sets in motion events that will darken the lives of everyone and everything he holds dear…
- Marla Caine, shaped by a betrayal that cut so deep it drove her mad, she will stop at nothing to realise her revenge…
- Otto Schencke, a cold killer lost in a tangle of conflicting loyalties, he will do anything to survive…
- Elzevir, a man so obsessed with preserving the treasures of a dead world it will cost him his soul…
- Laura, the orphan who found a home guarding books, her torn feelings will take her on a journey towards her worst fears, found in the very heart of darkness…
- Adam, the misfit dreamer pulled into a conflict beyond his understanding, yet he might just find the courage to deliver us from all the appetites of evil…
Awaiting them is a conflict fought in the shadows: a struggle fraught with intrigue, where nothing is quite as it seems, but at the centre of the web waits Silas Morlock. And the answer to the question – what is it that he really wants?
One way or another humanity faces redemption. And it may turn out to be a fate worse than death. Dare you read the book to find out how?
23 March 2013
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