Science fiction often reflects the time at which it is written. But in the following email interview about her new post-apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy novel The Silver Scar (paperback, Kindle), writer Betsy Dornbusch explains that while this story may seem rather prescient, it was originally written (though not finished) long before our current political climate became so volatile.
Let’s start with the basics: What is The Silver Scar about?
The Silver Scar is about a Christian soldier and a Wiccan trying to stop a crusade in 2160.
It’s set in Boulder, Colorado Territory. The nation has been balkanized and certain regions are controlled by the church. Trinidad was raised Wiccan but converted as a child after his parents killed themselves in an ecoterrorist attack. He is a soldier for the church now, one of the highly trained and regarded archwardens. But when his Bishop shows up with a silver scar that she says is proof of angelic orders to crusade, he alone knows the scar came from no angel and the idea of people dying for it sickens him. So he has to find a way to prove her wrong and stop the crusade, even though proof requires committing heresy and accusing her without it is committing treason against the church…both grounds for execution for archwardens.
Where did you get the idea for The Silver Scar and how different is the finished novel from that original concept?
Several years ago the University Of Colorado’s football field, Folsom Field, was enlarged and I thought one side of it looked like a prison. I started wondering in what sort of world would it actually be a prison? I knew it would be the future, rather than an alternative past, so I went from there, taking all the things Coloradans worry about, like global warming — which is really affecting our landscape here in Colorado — air quality and pollution, and getting along amid our rather mixed bag of citizenry. There’s a unique personality that lives here that seems to bridge us despite our differences, and I tried to show that in the book. But, of course, without conflict there is no story. While Coloradoans often fight over land — we have a deficit of livable land in general — I turned around the fight to be over a fictional land: a graveyard reached only by lucid dreaming.
Incidentally, I now spend my Saturdays all fall at Folsom Field, cheering on the C.U. Buffaloes.
The Silver Scar seems to be a medieval fantasy story, but one set in a post-apocalyptic world. Is that how you see it, or are there any genres, or combinations of them, at work in the story as well?
You know, I refer to it fondly as a science fiction fantasy future post-apocalyptic religious thriller.
For this book, I really just took a lot of symbols and props I frequently use and put them in a new setting. I love sword and sorcery. I like writing people who fight with swords. Nothing against guns in fiction, but I think it’s realistic that they don’t always fight with guns in this world. They have them and use them, but ammo is expensive in a world with diminished production capabilities. As far as the cloaks and attire for the archwardens, yeah, I just like guys in cloaks. But the church is generally traditional in style and symbol. Think of the Swiss Guard who wear uniforms based on Renaissance style. Tradition rooted in antiquity indicates stability and strength and wisdom. The church in my book is no different.
I envision The Silver Scar world as one where the knowledge is not lost, but the means to use that knowledge is much reduced. It’s realistic to believe that in that world, some of that old knowledge would become nearly myth, which heightens the power of belief. And that does open the door for other beliefs to take center stage, hence the focus on religion in the culture.
Now, The Silver Scar is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Silver Scar but were not influences on your earlier books?
I read S.M. Stirling’s Dies The Fire a year or two after drafting The Silver Scar. I wouldn’t call it an influence as much as reassurance because here was a different futuristic story with some similar elements.
But while that series starts with a climactic event and is about the recovery of the people in the wake of it, the characters in my story are very firmly entrenched in their world and don’t know a different one. If balkanization happened more than fifty or sixty years prior, it still would have an impact on the world they live in without the event of balkanization being in the forefront of peoples’ minds. If it happened 100 years prior there’d be no one left alive who recalls a United States of America, and without formalized education, everyone would have a different knowledge about the U.S. The book is set 150 years from now so there’s lots of room for that history, and the falling down of knowledge, though, the story doesn’t delve into it. It does, though, play into the world they live in.
But today’s influences, I’d say, are more powerful on the final revision. It’s an interesting time for the book to be released. The Federal government in the U.S. in the process of solidifying power, the States are starting to push back. We just saw impactful laws run through California’s legislature, for instance, with the Feds pushing back with a lawsuit on net neutrality. I think California can win that one. It’s one of the greatest economies in the world and really only relies on the Feds for border control and armed forces. Closer to Colorado’s issues, I just heard about the U.S. Administration setting up a group to study negative effects of marijuana. I wonder if they’re anticipating the fight it will take to make it illegal again in Colorado. I don’t like to predict the balkanization of the United States. But I do think there’s only so much pressing the Federal government can do before States start to take action.
How about movies, TV shows, and video games; are there any of those that had a big impact on The Silver Scarand if so, what and in what ways?
Probably Kingdom Of Heaven, if I have to pick a movie. I’m not that into films and the ones I like I tend to watch over and over.
Though, honestly, I drafted the book nearly a decade ago, so I’m not sure what I was watching at that time. During this last revision, I’d say the news has the biggest impact. It’s as if a story that I wrote as a fantasy years ago now feels like it could come true in some shape.
As you know, fantasy tales and post-apocalyptic sci-fi novels are sometimes stand-alone stories and sometimes parts of larger sagas. What is The Silver Scar?
It’s a stand-alone. Honestly, I’m not sure where a series would go from here. It’s about a climactic event in the lives of the characters and the church, and I’m currently content to let readers work out what might happen next.
Of course, I thought the same thing about Exile and it turned out there was a lot more to Draken’s story, a trilogy’s worth. So never say never.
Earlier we talked about the movies, TV shows, and video games that were an influence on The Silver Scar. But has there been any interest in making a movie, TV show, or game based on it?
My work is always shopped to Hollywood, but no word yet.
I like the idea of a television show adaptation that doesn’t focus on the crusade but perhaps the general world and problems people encounter in it. Trinidad and Castile also have powerful backstories that might make good television fodder. But that might be because I don’t always prefer movies, particularly adapted from books.
If The Silver Scar was made into a TV show, who would you each like to see cast in the main roles?
I’m really crap with actors and knowing who is who, so I won’t attempt this one. Besides, that I think readers putting their own faces on characters is an important part of the reading experience. I always say a reader brings half the story to the table.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Silver Scar which of your other novels would you each suggest they read next and why that one?
I’d say if a reader leans toward urban fantasy then Archive Of Fire would be best. If they like epic fantasy, the Books Of The Seven Eyes series [Exile, Emissary, and Enemy]. But of course I want everyone to read everything I write.