lost city of the Ancients but in recent weeks has taken on the guise of a former Deputy Sheriff tasked with the unenviable responsibility of saving the world. I love my Muse, though I am, to use the lingo of this era, his bitch. I'm lucky that I get to pour my coffee in the morning before I hear his fingers snapping, motioning me toward the lined page and pen or laptop for whatever deadlines and adventures await. I'm also lucky in that my Muse and I play extremely well together, that we have since our introduction on a muggy, stormy July night in the summer of my fifteenth year on Spaceship Earth when I figured out what I wanted to do with my life in one of those Eureka! moments that forever changed my world and, yeah, saved me. I love to write. I am a slave to my muse. I am among the luckiest human beings who've ever walked the planet.
Not so the slaves who inhabit such fourth-dimensional shadow realms like Moosejaw, Wire City, and the other hopeless landscapes where humans are forced into hard labor in alien mining enclaves explored in author Chris Kelso's grimdark universe, Slave Stories: Scenes From the Slave State, published by the fine folks at Omnium Gatherum. I was one of several scribes who received a personal invitation from Kelso, a young writer from the UK whose brilliant star is on the rise, to contribute to his shared-world experience. After reading up on the Slave State Primer, I had the opening for my story, "The Coin-Operated Man" -- about a hired gun who shepherds two refugees deep into Moosejaw territory, where a particularly valuable substance is being extracted as part of the mining operation. My foray into Kelso's sandbox left me immersed in a world of nihilism, betrayal, sweat, and pain. And I had more fun in his fourth-dimensional world of horrors than I initially thought possible.
The book is stunning, with cover design by Terence-Jaiden Wray and gorgeous interior illustrations by Robert Thomas Baumer (Soussherpa Art). Many of my fellow authors who also played in Kelso's world were kind enough to share the back-stories behind their stories.
Simon Marshall-Jones on "Shatterdemalion": "I suppose, like most
creative people (and writers and artists in particular), the inspiration for
stories or images can be found anywhere. In this instance, the springboard for
my Slave State story is two-fold, a
concatenation (or, perhaps, a collision) of two influences -- the very human
need for spiritual salvation, and the darker end of the mystical pool from
which ‘saviours’ appear to surface on a regular basis. Desperate people are
malleable; provide them with promises of an end to their existential sufferings
and a reward for their endurance, and they will gather. The aromatic honey of
that desperation will often bring the worst type of the charlatan to it:
unscrupulous monsters willing to denude those who have already suffered enough
for their own personal gain, and in the process subverting the definition of what
it means to be human itself. The saviour here is a cipher of that erosion of
the soul such charlatans enact. The title came to me whilst travelling on a bus
-- a combination of tatterdemalion (a person wearing ragged or tattered clothing) and people whose lives have been unknowingly shattered.
Hope you enjoy it!"
Roger Lovelace on "Wax Worx": "I’ve
always wanted to write a story with the idea of setting it in a wax museum.
This goes back to my love for old horror movies. The vintage Universal logo
with the plane circling the globe was my late night North Star. When my good
friend, fellow writer and sometimes co-conspirator Gio Clairval suggested I
submit a piece for consideration, I immediately dropped what I was doing and
churned out a story. I was familiar with Chris Kelso’s work and wanted a chance
at being a part of this project. Chris’s response was positive, but he was
looking for something different. I picked back up the as yet untitled wax
museum story and molded it into something that I hoped would fit into this
exotic, dark world he had created. I saw the Wax Worx as a pit inside an
already stygian world. It is a place entered through a fractured revolving
door. A haven revealed to be worse than the polluted city surrounding it. Marie
Antoinette is a stained adult toy and Marco a misshapen Caligula of a moldy
kingdom of ages. Did I have fun writing about masochistic pimps, cardboard
torture and ‘happy’ trash? You bet."
Violet LeVoit on "To Imagine Disaster is to Invoke the Same": "Despite all my
efforts to the contrary, I am irrevocably American in character, and the way
that most often manifests in my behavior is a slavish desire to believe in
contemporary mythologies. We Americans enjoy self-delusions about clean slates
and new frontiers: California dreaming, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,
the synthetic rebirth of Times Square as a corporate-funded simulacra of
itself. But despite all the churches in the Bible Belt promising a fresh start
after being ‘born again’, the
South is still where the bodies are buried, literally and figuratively. The
tumult rises to the surface every now and again, as it just did, messily, in my
hometown of Baltimore a few weeks ago, and sinks back down into the sweetly
perfumed mire. I wanted a story that could span those two polar truths about
the American South while addressing the Disneyland impulse for newer and better
ersatz experiences, while also still staying humble in light of how the
contrast between antebellum gentility and bloody secrets isn't new territory
for writers. To that end, I paid homage to those who had gone before me with a
title that sounded like it could have come out of Flannery O'Connor."
Love Kolle on "Doctor Sector and the Song of the Artificial Transmatizer": "When
I was first approached by Chris Kelso about writing a piece set in the slave
state literary universe, I immediately jumped at the chance. I had admired his
writing for quite some time before the offer, and as Kelso and I have similar
influences -- I am referring to Burroughs and Dick in particular -- I felt
right at home in his Slave State setting (both as a reader and a writer). The
very first artistic decision I took had nothing to do with plot or characters,
but style. There is this experimental, daring
side to Kelso's work that I find really inspiring, so that I had to try to
honour. The idea for the actual story -- a piece called ‘Doctor Sector and the
Song of the Artificial Transmatizer’ -- came as I read ‘Transmatic’ as
preparation. One particular scene featuring a rather eccentric supporting character
named Dr. Sector struck a chord that resonated with me on a subconscious level,
and made me ponder the metaphysical constitution of Kelso's literary universe. Then,
a few days later, during a sudden flash of inspiration that came out of nowhere like a burst of
spontaneous transmatica, I wrote it all down in one sitting."
Seb Doubinsky on "Ruins": "Chris Kelso had asked me to write something for an upcoming
anthology set in his Slave States universe. I had said, ‘yes, of course’ and
immediately forgot about it, as I was fairly busy with different projects. A
few months later, Chris asked me if I had written that something for him. Of
course, I hadn’t and I felt really bad about it, as I am a great admirer of
Chris’s work and grateful of his unflinching support. What’s more, I was stuck
in a crazy schedule that completely prevented me from sitting down and writing
a story. Fortunately Chris had eyed some of my recent poems, which dealt with
the desperation and angst of youth. He asked me if he could use those, and I
realized that, indeed, they would fit well. After all, isn’t adolescence all
about living in a permanent Slave State we call ‘society’?"
Richard Thomas on "From Within": "With my story, I tried to use the new voice I'm
working on where I replace death at the center of my fiction with love. I have
a habit of killing off a lot of people, using it as a bit of a crutch, so I
wanted to make sure that neither of my main characters died. But that doesn't
mean there isn't a threat. And world domination, slavery, at the hands of these
beasts, well, it's kind of a fate worse than death, right? I thought about what
the father's greatest fear might be in this new world, something I've been
doing ever since I took a class with Jack Ketchum, and the obvious thing to me
was that his boy would be taken from him. It's bad enough they have to work in
the mines, but to have him taken away, never to be seen again? That seemed like
the worst thing that could happen. I also wanted to give the boy a chance to be
the hero, and if you pay close attention early on in the story, you'll see that
I plant a seed toward the front, the old Chekov concept that, ‘One
must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off.’ Can
you spot the gun?"
John Palisano on "Dodge and Midge Escape the Silo": "It’s
been a long, crying time since I met Midge, deep in the Slave State -- hopeless
purgatory fuck-all. I swung an electro-hammer beside him, smashing stacks of
dried shit bricks of the Drivers. We reeked of burnt cherries and milk-bone. There
was one decent Driver. Chris Kelso. Instead of fetid bricks, he fed us
wildberry pies laced with Scorpion powder. Stuff makes two rocks about the same
size look like the sexiest thing you ever saw. Those rocks’ll turn into planets
and you’ll be in outer space. That’s where Dodge bonked me upside the head. I
was busy tripping my balls off when this spritely wad of energy found me. ‘You?
Yes! You’re good and ripe, and ready to hear how me and Midge rode the floods
and took down the Silo?’ A frowning oaf of a man stood nearby. Dodge giggled
like a nervous schoolboy. ‘I don’t think he’ll have any problem taking this in
and spewing it out later, will he?’ ‘Don’t think so,’ Midge said. He was right.
I was open . . . on a plain they say . . . when Dodge sat, cleared his throat,
and didn’t shut up for twenty minutes."
Laura Lee Bahr on "Black Out in Upper Moosejaw": "Once Upon a Time I worked
corporate. I had good and bad masters. My last corporate master almost
broke me. I kept my heart alive by
writing emails to myself of story fragments, thinking up rap lyrics, and fantasizing
about different relationships with co-workers beyond the mechanistic robotic roles
we enacted daily. There is power in what we tell ourselves that we love, even
if we know it can never love us back. Acting upon that love can be an act of
sabotage. It can destroy you, the other, or even the hive itself."
Gio Clairval on "Escape From the Slave State": "The idea of my
story came from my pyromaniac tendencies. I already blew up an anthology when I
was invited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer to contribute to The Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, a gathering or weird objects.
In that story, the protagonist went and burned down the good doctor's cabinet,
along with the stuffed dodos and an entire box of ampersands, which is why my
story was the last on the Table of Contents. So, when Chris Kelso elbowed me in
the ribs about The Slave State (I was
already going to accept because he's the haws, but I let him try to convince me
anyway -- I'm bad like that), I started to plot the new bonfire. It's all set
now. Ignore the billowing smoke. Keep turning the pages. You'll find my story
at the end, and it will scorch your eyes."