“The beauty of Brave New World by Aldus Huxley shows us that a dystopia can be packaged as a utopia” – S.G. Senan
I recently reviewed Senan Gil Senan’s excellent dystopian thriller, Beyond the Pale, and subsequently asked whether he would be open to sharing the concepts behind his book. This interview is the result, and I believe that you will find it as fascinating as did I.
One of the surprises that awaited me in Senan’s responses was the fact that his perceptive and subtle depictions of the American southwest were based solely on his explorations on the Internet and other sources, so without further adieu, here here is a behind the scenes glimpse into what informed and motivated Senan Gil Senan’s creation of the world he conceived and portrayed in his debut novel.
Q: Your latest work, Beyond the Pale, is a dystopian thriller. What appeals to you about this genre?
A: Dystopia is not a well known word in the United Kingdom; I have had to explain its meaning to many people. Although imaginary in concept, it is usually associated with the oppression of the citizens of a state. Dystopian principles exist in our modern society, as they always have done throughout every known civilization. They are usually associated with the abuse of control in order to achieve order. There is a spectrum of control which runs from disorder and anarchy, through to the excesses or Orwellian control of 1984. We want to be there somewhere in the middle, protected against anarchy, and undisturbed by excessive control. However authoritarian control is too damn convenient and comfortable for any government and dystopia becomes a natural leaning and curse of society.
For a writer it tends to be an efficient tool as a back drop for a plot, in order to introduce intrigue, and point out that which needs to be changed.
Q: At the same time, as books of this type go, Beyond the Pale is not particularly dark in its presentation of life inside the Citadels. Ideal, no, but as compared to (say) modern American society, one might conclude it’s an improvement rather than a descent into an Orwellian hell. The major contrasts seem to be drawn between the antiseptic life lived within the cities and the consciously spiritual existence of the outlanders living off the land. Did you feel any temptation (or obligation) to make civilized life seem more oppressed in order to conform to reader expectations?
A: We see extreme dystopian regimes as an anathema. Whether they are overt dictatorships of banana republics, or extremely orchestrated like those of the Nazi Gestapo, or the Stasi state police of communist East Germany; we see them as something to be torn down as in 1984 and V for vendetta.
Since the dawn of the internet, and particularly since the turn of the century, control has become more covert. It is subtle and very much in the background. The automated processes of gathering and analysing personal data seem less intrusive, than the oppressive information collating of the Gestapo and the Stasi.
Josef Goebel’s cherished practice of inventing an enemy within, and an enemy without (also exemplified in 1984), is now enacted in a much more subtle way. We now fight spooks abroad, and hunt ghosts at home. Not many of us have a problem with Homeland security apparatus using and accessing our technology and data to hunt down jihadists, drug cartels, and paedophiles. That is until we fall on the wrong side of the fence as individuals we pursue changes and liberty. Then the modern technological apparatus can expunge or discredit our whole identity, and we become the enemy of the state.
The herd instinct prevails, and everybody turns the other way when the system identifies an enemy of the state. We all want to retain our cherished place in the middle of the herd. We want normal, and shun the extremists. This is Freudian psychology cleverly adapted to make us police ourselves. We help build and maintain our own dystopias, and they can often be quite comfortable places as long as we behave.
The beauty of Brave New World by Aldus Huxley shows us that a dystopia can be packaged as a utopia. This is where we are bound by civic responsibility, ambition is allowed but curtailed, and entertainment is provided and controlled. People are conditioned to the loss of their individual rights in favour of the good of society.
Is this a bad dystopia? Well the answer is not clear cut. It creates an ordered polite society, but does not allow the individual the liberty to pursue their own path to happiness.
This is the elitist pyramidical society represented in Beyond the Pale, where the people are content, but perhaps misled.
Q: Your book is vividly and convincingly set in the American Southwest. I see from your page that you live in London. Were your depictions based on first-hand exposure to the Four Corners area, or did you absorb all that local color from on line sources?
A: Online, I am afraid. I would really love to visit this area, but finances say no! Thanks to the many Americans who have uploaded their dashboard camera footage to YouTube, as they drove through the countryside of Colorado, I was able to piece together a feel for the land. Google Maps and Google earth were equally helpful. Then of course, the second hand observations from a friend from Seattle who visited the Mesa Verde cave dwellings in Colorado helped influence my description of Avana in the book.
Q: You write very sensitively and perceptively about Native American culture; I was particularly struck by the fact that you were aware that many Native American cultures from the Southwest are quite comfortable spending time with people without speaking (which would feel odd and perhaps uncomfortable to many Caucasians). How did you acquire that level of familiarity with Hopi culture?
A: The story of Beyond the Pale could have been set in any location really. However the outlanders needed to be based on a resilient culture that had inherent links with the land. I considered different aboriginal cultures throughout the world, but felt that the Hopi, the Navajo, and the Ute were the best suited. The communities of outlanders that live beyond the pale had to be of mixed ethnicity and cultural background. The Hopi have a tradition of open receptivity to others, and particularly to non native cultures. I heard about how the Hopi had welcomed and helped to integrate urban exiles since the late 1960s. I also found the origin myths & legends of the Hopi and related Navajo tribes quite fascinating.
The Citadels had to be built atop known underground bases to avail of their underground tunnel connections. So in the south west I considered Phoenix, Los Alamos-Albuquerque, and Denver International Airport.
When I chose Denver, I realised that this was the territory of the Lakota Sioux and Ute tribes. For me the Ute were preferential candidates, because of their connections to the Ute pass which was the only natural pass through to the four corners area.
So I realised that the outlander community of Avana had to be hidden somewhere within the Ute pass, and share a mixed culture. I had to imagine what this mixed culture might entail, and the best way of doing this was to empathise with the different tribal cultures, and imagine how they might meld together. Once you have researched the history and beliefs, environment, and mythology & lore of a different culture, the best way to empathise with them is to listen to the way they talk and communicate. Fortunately I was able to find speech recordings online, and empathising helped me fill in the gaps. As Martin Luther King said, “to understand me, you must walk a mile in my shoes.”
I looked into some of the existing ‘new age communities’ which have developed in the Four Corners area. Their new age beliefs were a gestalt mixture of eastern beliefs, Judaic Christianity, and kabala. I thought the human chakra system of the bodies energy points, not only coincided with the Sephirot of the Hebrew Kabala, but was common understanding to Buddhists, Hindus, as well as New age practitioners. So I looked for overlapping similarities from the Native American animistic religious beliefs, and I found many similarities. Therefore the religious nature of these communities has developed along spiritual lines of consensus between these shared beliefs. Why? Because I feel that when a community is cut off from the rest of society, and has no access to international mainstream entertainment and muses such as television and music, then it usually develops a strong spiritual identity of its own, and its members usually adapt and rein in their personal beliefs to suit the consensus view of the community.
Q: In my review, I drew a variety of parallels to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Was that classic portrayal of a soulless, controlled society a conscious (or unconscious) influence on you as you wrote Beyond the Pale?
A: Brave New World was a prescient piece of literature. Much of what Aldous Huxley envisaged in the 1960s has become reality in our present time. I read that book thirty years ago, and thought it profound then. So the answer is Yes; that book was a strong unconscious influence on me as I wrote Beyond the Pale.
Now that I have just revisited Brave New World, I can see there are more than a few similarities. The segregated five class system of Huxley’s world, to which people are conditioned from birth, and the premise that knowledge and power is only granted conditionally to the limitations of your caste. Although I don’t consciously remember reading that, I can see the similarity to the separation of classes in Beyond the Pale. The difference being that Citadel law restricts the means of all conception to fertilization clinics, where the rich are allowed to pay for genetic manipulation of their unborn children’s intelligence and physical attributes. Thus ensuring that these children surpass the abilities of the children of poorer parents; Thus they can gain entry into a professional caste system at early teenage, which will guarantee them employment, social status, and equivalent remuneration and lifestyle throughout their life.
I envisaged this ‘glass ceiling’ class system, based on how I perceive the natural progression of the genetic advancements that transhumanism is currently on the threshold of delivering.
I envisaged an atheistic society such as Orwell’s 1984, but replaced the constructed Huxley religion of ‘Fordism,’ with an opium for the lower tiers of the pyramidical structure of society in Beyond the Pale. This opiate is a culture of recreational sex, fuelled by an open burgeoning sex industry, recreational drugs which are sensory rather than mental stimulants, and gambling and betting. When I look at modern society, I see many people seek escapism into these worlds to dull the angst of living and over working. I understand how these vices dull the mind, and dampen a person’s spirituality.
This to me is the definition of soulless automatons which the spiritually minded outlanders refer to as the inhabitants of the citadels.
It is not by accident, that the vast majority of the Native American populace living within the citadels form the lower parts of the social castes and hence their spirituality is dampened on purpose. The sequel will explain the reasons for this in more detail.
Q: You include several quotes before and after the text of your book, and allude to one of them on your Amazon Author Page. Can you tell us a bit about them, and about what led you to build upon them to develop the concept and execution of your book?
A: The Hopi only have an oral tradition in which their knowledge, myths, lore, and traditions are passed inter generationally. Frank Waters who lived among them in the 1970s, interviewed tribal elders concerning this accumulated knowledge and with their blessing wrote it down. The link to his 1978 book is below.
I took two quotes from this book but there were many others which I could also have used.
“Only those who return to the values of the old ways will be able to find peace of mind. For in the Earth we shall find relief from the madness that will be all around us. It will be a very hard time for women with children for they will be shunned, and many of the children in these times will be unnatural. Some being from the Stars, some from past worlds, some will even be created by man in an unnatural manner and will be soulless. Many of people in this time will be empty in Spirit they will have Sampacu. No life force in their eyes,” The Book of the Hopi
This quote is from an age old future premonition of our world in the final days of the 4th world age. According to most Native Americans from both the north and south continents, this is our current age which is approaching its renewal into the 5th world age. The timescale for this prediction is non specific, and hence unknown.
This quote talks about a world generation that has fallen out of sync with the natural world. Because of this division between man and the earth, the animistic link between the planet’s soul and our own has been broken.
The Hopi believe that the Creator [great Manitou] gave them a special responsibility and task to discharge for the benefit of a future generation which will be the last one of the 4th world. This is exemplified in this further quote:
“Before the Great Spirit hid himself again, he placed before the leaders of the four different racial groups four different colors and sizes of corn; each was to choose which would be their food in this world. The Hopi waited until last and picked the smallest ear of corn. At this, the Great Spirit said:
‘It is well done. You have obtained the real corn, for all the others are imitations in which are hidden seeds of different plants. You have shown me your intelligence; for this reason I will place in your hands these sacred stone tablets, Tiponi, symbol of power and authority over all land and life to guard, protect, and hold in trust for me until I shall return to you in a later day, for I am the First and I am the Last.’” Hopi myth.
Therefore this is the reason why the Hopi have always extended a willingness to help and guide people from other communities who wish to join or commune with their own. The creator later explains that it will be their responsibility to protect the human gene, and the human spiritual link to the earth, in the final times when all others have become altered and corrupted. They believe that the seed is within their genes, and surprisingly, recent genetic studies included their people amongst certain native populations who have unique DNA.
[not bene: In the story, this is the back ground reason to why the main character exhibits different inherent abilities which appear to be in further evolved at this time.]
Another quote in the book is from Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former US National Security Adviser to Jimmy Carter, and current ambassador to Sweden. In this quote from a prescient book which he wrote in 1970, called ‘Between Two Ages’, he envisaged a future society in which technology would be used to control the masses. He envisaged that the accumulated collation of personal data would be used to develop a mesh that would allow no secrets to be withheld from the controlling elite, and would be used as a leash against each and all citizens.
There was another quote which I failed to find but which I alluded to which obviously heavily influenced me many, many years ago, and this was in an out of print book containing the dream interpretations of the American seer Edgar Cayce (known as the sleeping prophet)
He stated that he had seen the world at an unknown future date where dramatic earth changes had occurred which had caused inundations of the sea across the planet. He said that many coastal cities had been deserted and new walled citadels had been built to protect the remaining populations. He said that order and control was strongly implemented in these citadels and that freedoms were very much curtailed including the freedoms to live outside of these walled cities. Despite this, he said that he saw many smaller communities who chose to live outside to be free from control, but that their lifestyle was austere.
This in a nutshell is the story of the community of Avana, and the walled citadel of New Denver and the other 249 citadels across the globe. However, this is purely from a 25 year old memory from a book which I have hunted for ever since but not been able to find.
Q: How would you summarize the message, or ethos, that you were trying to portray in your book about life, human relationships, nature, spiritualism and society?
A: I do believe that all these aspects are related but cannot go into depth here because if I do, I will provide a major spoiler for the sequel to Beyond the Pale. All I can say is that I can perceive an underlying reason why society is structured the way it is. This sounds pretentious on my part, and I apologise for that. However, for most of my life I have been able to understand society, history, and human psychology from a holistic perspective. This is similar to the way in which a dyslexic mind such as Einstein’s, was able to only understand concepts, if he did not break the larger issues into components, but saw them as wholly inter-related.
I think humanity has ‘lost sight of the wood for the trees’. That we are conditioned to be preoccupied with work, fuelled by necessity of ambition and greed, and are intrinsically lost unhappy souls. I believe that under the hood of the physical body is a complex electrical-magnetic ethereal body powered by photon energy which is emitted by every living cell in our body. This energy which the Chinese call ‘Chi’ is meant to flow in a specific path throughout the body. The traffic controller is our emotions, and there are seven main ports (or chakras) which this energy flows through. For the same reason that lightening must ground its electrical charge into the earth, I believe as many others do that our universe is awash with cosmic photon energy which must ground itself into the energy port at the crown of our head, and that this must pass down a double helix path of 33 route ways until it can connect to the ground. There it meets and merges with this planet’s own immense store of energy.
Because our life styles are so artificial and removed from nature, the flow through the seven major ports or chakras is disturbed and broken. Thus we lose our inherent and natural spiritual understanding, which in turn corrupts and breaks our emotions.
Then when our emotions are out of kilter, our thinking follows down that path and physical problems follow as an inevitable result.
On a darker level, each chakra energy port has a distinct purpose. Thus when we live a lifestyle that is unbalanced, this also causes a break down in the natural flow and system. For instance, some of us can live too much in the head, and lack grounding. Many people are overly influenced by their base needs. They suffer addictive personalities to food, comfort; while others are imbalanced by the over saturation of the base energies of sex and aggression.
Q: The last few chapters of the book clearly lay out the premise and promise of a sequel. Do you have that reality of that book fully fleshed out in your mind, or just the overall concept of it?
A: Yes the sequel is only at concept stage, but that concept is growing more detailed. It will follow the same pattern as this book, which is that the conceptual ideas will all get researched, until a background picture is complete. Then the story gets written in full in a bullet point draft, similar to the ones which literary agents request so as to understand the flow of a story/book. Then the first draft gets written. You know the score from there.
Q: When might we expect to be able to read it?
A: Hopefully written and published by June 2015
Q: What would you have liked to have achieved with this story?
A: Most ambitious: A film with Will Smith cast as Nathan Carlson
Less ambitious: The opportunity to visit Colorado and in particular, those places which I wrote about.
Realistic: For readers to reconsider how the transhumanist revolution that is slowly unfolding around us might affect different aspects of our lives.
Legacy: For a fuller study to be made into whether the kissing camels at the Garden of the Gods are in fact ancient carvings of a griffin/thunderbird and a basilisk lizard, and for further studies into the ancient usage and purpose of Spaulding’s Cavern directly below them.
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Beyond the Pale is available in eBook form at Amazon and other on-line outlets. The following links should be of interest:
Beyond the Pale blog: http://senangilsenan.wordpress.com/
Essays blog: http://sieveoftruth.wordpress.com/
Facebook scapbook: facebook.com/sieveoftruth