A very warm welcome today to Andrew Leon Hudson, who’s here to talk about his novel The Glass Sealing. You know, I always feel like the best speculative fiction reflects the real world and makes us think, and it sounds like Andrew feels the same way . . .
Why was this a book you needed to write, or only you could write? What parts of the premise, plot, or characters speak to who you are as a person, your life experiences, or the things you want to see more of in fiction?
Andrew Leon Hudson: I don’t know if I’d claim to be the only one who could have done anything (that kind of thing always sounds a bit Matrixy, and I doubt I’ll ever save the cheerleader or the world), but that fits since one of the themes of The Glass Sealing is the power of groups against the power of individuals, and the weaknesses of both. The same person can be a hero to their supporters and a villain to those they oppose; a state’s use of strength can either protect its citizens’ rights or persecute them; and for every peaceful sit-in there is a riot… though the balance probably weighs in favour of burning cars, not incense.
I live in Madrid, Spain, and in 2011 the legacy of the Occupy Wall Street movement reared its head almost on my doorstep. For about a year, protesters held their ground in the city’s centre protesting the Spanish government’s austerity measures, and they’d probably still be there if it wasn’t for a visit from the Pope in 2012—the kind of thing that motivates authorities to clear the streets! When I learned about the Darkside Codex—the Steampunk shared world project my novel is a part of—all this was still fresh in my mind, and the result was relocating OWS to my version of the industrial revolution and the Luddite protests. Steam-powered robots won’t take our jobs!
However, I didn’t want to set up a battle between evil fat-cats and noble workers, since the world is rarely so easy (although the two sides in the financial crisis looked pretty stark, I’ll admit). Rather than pure heroes and absolute villains, I wanted to present leaders and followers on both sides of a conflict who have mixed, even questionable motives but which spring from good intentions, at least from their own points of view. Lofty ideals are useful: they offer great heights to fall from.
Why was this a book that you couldn’t write—why did it force you to grow as an author? What terrified you along the way? What parts of it stretched you, made you think, made you research? What parts were you most afraid of getting wrong?
There are some great female characters in fiction but there are also pit-falls to be watched for, and one concern I had was of seeming patronising. The pseudo-Victoriana of Steampunk is often used as a frame for female liberation, the casting aside of gender repression, and one of my two protagonists was created in this vein, but it would be very easy to go two-dimensional. I’ve tried to present a strong personality that gradually reveals its flaws, just as I have for the male character who stands in opposition to her goals—but gender is not an important part of that dynamic, and it is really via her personal relationships that I’ve tried to present her challenge to conventional social expectations. I told myself while writing that it would be interesting to seek out a feminist analysis of the character and story to see how well, or how poorly, they both comes across in that context. So far I’ve chickened out, but I’m open to requests!
Give us an excerpt from The Glass Sealing:
One of the workers was watching the yard, and Ben heard him whisper, “Here they come,” in an oddly unafraid tone. That changed when the man got a better look at what was coming. “Gavin,” he hissed, “fellas, look at this!”
The workers turned, and Ben spotted their bearded leader immediately. “That’s him, boss,” he said. “The big one in the middle.”
“Of course it is,” Black Tom murmured and then raised his voice as the gang spread out. “Hello, gents. Nice night for a walk, eh? But you know, this here is private property. I’d suggest for you to go walking somewhere else, but oh, you’ve only gone and knackered the gate lock coming in here.” The gang formed a loose semi-circle, fencing the cluster of workers in against the factory doors. “That makes this ‘breaking and entering’, and that’s a crime. And crimes call for a little punishment in polite society, don’t they?”
“This is none of your business,” said the leader, Gavin. “Leave us to ours.” He hefted a long-handled spanner that probably weighed as much as Ben did. Give the man credit, his deep voice didn’t waver. Ben wouldn’t have been so bold if faced by twice his number.
Black Tom obviously felt the same. “My my, you’re a one,” he chuckled. “So look, if you all line up facing the wall there and give us no trouble, we’ll send you off with just a tickle.” Then the smile left his voice. “Or we can scrap over it, and you can crawl home.”
The nervous workers shifted their feet, each brandishing heavy hand tools, but Gavin just squared his jaw. “We’re not here to be cowed, and we’ll leave when we’re finished.”
“You’ve got that right, mate.” Black Tom shrugged. “Fair warning, have at ’em.”
The gang began to close in, swinging their clubs. In the face of chanting strikers they’d have yelled, but in the night’s quiet their silent approach was even more unnerving. Then, in the brief moments between the end of the talk and the start of the fight, Ben heard something else in the dark—from behind them.
At first he saw nothing but the empty yard, the high walls, the open gates, and the dark of the street beyond. Then figures began to emerge from the gloom, each one carrying a tool.
“Tom,” he said. “There’s more.”
Black Tom took in the building crowd outside the yard, barked an order, and the gang stopped before they’d so much as landed a blow. A few watched the first group while the rest turned to face the newcomers. They kept coming in through the gates, and the yard started feeling a lot less empty. There were more than just the thirty-odd from the alehouse—at least twice that. Ben hoped his earlier estimate of the gang’s capabilities was a conservative one.
Black Tom slipped a short-barreled revolver from inside his jacket. A slender knife dropped from one sleeve into his free hand. Ben had the sudden, highly unwelcome realization that he was the only man in sight not armed with anything.
The last of the workers were inside the yard now, the Roughnecks outnumbered by at least four-to-one and with opponents front and back.
Black Tom turned to Gavin. “There’s still time for you to leave it at this and go home,” he said, utterly brazen in face of bad odds—but that was always a basic requirement of rising to the top in the Southwatch underworld.
“Your position’s a bad one, mister,” Gavin’s voice rumbled back. “Maybe you’re the ones who should be going quietly.”
Black Tom yanked off his hood and threw it on the ground, making sure everyone got a good look at him. “You know who I am, I hope,” he called, loud enough for all to hear. “Think twice before you start a fight you won’t be finishing.”
“Our fight is with Longstone and what’s in there.” Gavin jerked a thumb at the factory doors and raised his voice to a shout. “Make a gap, lads!” Waving them to either side, he had the mass of workers part down the middle, leaving a passage between them to the gateway.
Black Tom fumed, fingers flexing around gun and knife. Ben could see he was weighing up the balance between the lot of them getting out clean and the blow a retreat would be to his credibility with the rest of the Roughnecks. One way or another, he’d have a fight on his hands soon enough. The question was, which would he be most likely to win?
Before he made a decision, the quiet was broken by an echoing bang and the factory doors shook on their hinges. They burst open under a second great impact from within, knocking the nearest workers off their feet. Something moved inside. Flickering lights glowed. Then, in a cloud of smoke, to the grinding of metal, it moved out from the shadows and into sight.
Finally, give us a funny or unusual piece of trivia about yourself.
All right… I once had a job sandpapering Sylvester Stallone’s armpits. Probably you feel that statement needs qualifying. Reluctantly I concede that, in fact, it was only a slightly larger-than-life-size fibreglass statue of Rocky and not the man himself, but in fairness to the let-down there were about twenty of them and I had to apply that sandpaper from head to toe. Later we got to decapitate them all. That was a fun nine weeks.
Thank you so much, Andrew! The Glass Sealing is is available through the following retailers:
Barnes & Noble
Musa Publishing (publisher’s own website)
Andrew Leon Hudson is an Englishman in Madrid and has been writing full-time since 2012, partly in an attempt to appear as unemployed as everyone else in the country, partly in an attempt to lead a fulfilling life. In preparation for this he has worked in fields as diverse as prosthetic make-up, teaching, contact lens retail, “intoxicant delivery” and the services (customer and military). He used to have his own company, but it died. He never tweets as @AndLeoHud, and you can fall in love with him further on his pseudonymous website, andrewleonhudson.wordpress.com.