It is important to always keep your eyes on the road when driving. But while writer Paul Jessup admits in the following email interview that he doesn’t always follow that rule, it was because of this moving violation that we now have his new sci-fi-infused dark fantasy novel, The Silence That Binds (paperback, Kindle).
To start, what is The Silence That Binds about, and when and where does it take place?
The basic plot is this: A sisterhood in the woods are trying to save the world from a curse. Recently, their leader Naomi has gone missing. The seers Mazi and Talia have set off to find her, and bring her back home. They travel through bone labyrinths, an infected city, and more.
As for where it takes place…this is a complicated question. This is dark fantasy in the same way something like Gene Wolfe’s New Sun books are, or Jack Vance’s Dying Earth books and short stories are, or the way [the French animated series from the ’80s] Spartakus And The Sun Beneath The Sea was back in its day. It’s a far future landscape, where everything is changed so much it appears to be fantastical. This is on a far future planet, landed on by human generation ships centuries ago. They terraformed using nanomachines and started a new life, a new civilization, but as they terraformed they created what eventually came to be known as the curse. The curse mutates, changes people, transforms them and destroys them. It infects landscape itself, mutating and making beautiful horrors of everything we see. The curse itself is actually the terraforming nanomachines going haywire, trying to make everything “more beautiful, more perfect, more transcendent.”
Where did you get the idea for The Silence That Binds?
This one came to me as a sole image, very powerful, that I kept running through my head over and over again. At first, I thought it might be a short story, but I wasn’t sure. I used to drive an hour to work and back every day, and during this time on the freeway I saw woods lining along the interstate, long stretches of pine trees on rolling hills. And in my mind’s eye I saw these two women with bows and arrows, searching for something, and hunted by something. One had a spiral scar on her chest leading out across her face, and the other had burn scars all over her body. When they fired their bows at the shadow creatures that hunted them, I saw the arrows as silvery light. I wanted to know who these two women were, why they were scarred, and what they were searching for. And that’s why I started writing this novel, to find out.
As you said, The Silence That Binds is a dark fantasy tale. But is there more to it than that?
I would say dark fantasy is fairly accurate, but it can be more complex than that. There are elements of science fiction, for example, and even some elements of hard science fiction. There are also elements of surrealism, of dark horror, of magical realism, of body horror, and the like. And these moments of horror and brutality, I wanted to create an energy of transcendent beauty. Picture it like the early medieval depictions of the Catholic Saints, or something like that, where in that moment of awfulness, there is a haunting beauty that sees beyond the pale of death and into something else, something that ties humanity together. In a way, this is not a religious novel, but in another way, it is a very spiritual novel. In much the same way a biologist can feel a spiritual experience when seeing turtle eggs hatch for the first time.
Prior to The Silence That Binds you wrote poems, a ton of short stories, and a novel called Close Your Eyes, Open Your Eyes. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on this story but not on anything else you’ve written?
There were a lot of influences on this book, but the primary ones were Gene Wolfe’s The New Sun books, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Tombs Of Atuan and Tehanu, and Samuel R. Delany’s novel Nova. The New Sun was primarily an influence on the setting, the strange worldbuilding, the far future landscape, the weird cross over with fantasy and science fiction, and the way it approaches world building through immersion and lack of explanation. Atuan and Tehanu are blueprints for the characters in the book, especially with the sisterhood of seers, and how they approach the world that the live in. Nova‘s main influence was on the structure of the novel, and how it moves between past and present, and the way that deepens character relationships and how it ties into the narrative drive of the story.
What about non-literary influences; was The Silence That Binds influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Yes, it was influenced by Princess Mononoke, especially the idea of the curse and how it affects people. It was also influenced a lot by the visual language of a lot of anime, the way things move and appear, the subtext and the text both. As above I also mentioned the influence of Medieval art, and the book also bears the fingerprints of the films La Strada, The 400 Blows, and Fellini’s Satyricon.
Now, it sounds like The Silence That Binds is a stand-alone story…
It is, but exists in the same wild far-future universe as my novel Close Your Eyes, Open Your Eyes and several short stories like “The Sea of Dead Around Her,” “Postflesh,” “A Dissected Heart Displayed Under Glass,” “A Futile Gesture Toward Truth,” “and “Sunsorrow.” No sequels are planned, but there might be other stories that appear in the same surreal far-future universe. It all depends on what I feel like writing.
Earlier I asked if The Silence That Binds was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. I assume it’s too early to ask if anyone has inquired about turning The Silence That Binds into a movie, show, or game, but which form do you think would work best and why that one?
Nothing I can talk about now. Let’s just say there is some interest, and leave it at that.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Silence That Binds, what dark fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
I would say if you liked The Silence That Binds and want to read similar books check out Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion, Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon The Ninth, Gene Wolf’s The Book Of The New Sun. You should also check out VanderMeer’s Area X trilogy, Borne, and The Dead Astronauts, as well as J.P. Oakes upcoming book The City Of Iron And Dust.