Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Guest Post by Tony Ballantyne

It's a two-fer Tuesday! Today on the blog I've got a very special guest for you - Tony Ballantyne, author of Dream London and the very recently released follow up, Dream Paris. You may not be familiar with Tony - yet - but trust me, you want to be. His work is a blend of sci fi, snark, and plain old weird! Take, for example, his fabulous short "If Only..." (published in Year's Best SF 18 edited by David G. Hartwell) in which a mother is banned from all science (it's a FABULOUS story, go find it and read it) or "The Waters of Meribah" (in 21st Century Science Fiction also edited by David G. Hartwell) where a criminal's punishment is to be turned into an alien. (There's more to it than that.)

And then we get to the Dream books, wherein a city is transformed into something that baffles the imagination. It began in London, but the people revolted and prevailed against their invaders. Unfortunately, that wasn't the end. Here's a bit more about Dream Paris from the publisher:

The geography-warping invasion that took over London has been defeated, but thousands of Londonders are missing...

Anna is doing her best: there are plenty of parentless teenagers living alone in the ruins of London, and she’s done a good job of keeping the dreams away so far. 

But then a tall, dark stranger with eyes like a fly enters her life. He claims to know where the missing people of London have ended up. He might even know the location of Anna's missing parents. Anna can help, but to do that she will have to let go of what little normality she has and journey into the heart of Dream Paris, where the revolution never ends...

And now I'll hand things over to Tony Ballantyne!

I've written elsewhere about how I listen to music when I write - especially when I'm in the opening stages of a novel. I choose music to get me into the right frame of mind, I choose music that reflects the landscape I'm trying to describe, I sometimes even choose music as a treat to get me to sit down at the keyboard.

When I wrote Dream Paris I imagined I'd be listening to chansons and cafe jazz, to Faure and Poulenc. What I actually ended up listening to was Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony.

Now, I've not really listened to Tchaikovsky since I was a teenager. But I listened to the Sixth Symphony a lot when writing Dream Paris. Something about "Pathetique" seemed very appropriate. But what?

I should point out, via a quick quote from Wikipedia that:

> The Russian title of the symphony, Патетическая (Pateticheskaya), means "passionate" or "emotional," not "arousing pity," but it is a word reflective of a touch of concurrent suffering.

Dream Paris was not intended to be explicitly Pateticheskaya in any of the above meanings of the word, although I like to think there is passion, emotion and pity in the book. So what was it about the symphony that kept making me put it on to play when I sat down to write?

It took me a while to realise that it was the middle movements that really did it for me: the 2nd and 3rd movements.

Someone brought up on prog rock should have realised the second movement was in 5/4 a lot sooner than I did. I remembered that movement as a waltz, as something in 3/4 time. It still is in feel. It's a Dream Parisian waltz. I've often imagined that the brass bands who marched at the end of Dream London would march in 5/4 time. I've even figured out how the steps to do it. So that was one link. The music that the children marched to at the end of Dream London would be a little like this. That insistent dream beat and the falling strings that will later die to nothing in the 4th movement...

But what about the third movement? Why did that strike a chord? In Dream Paris Anna, the narrator, is teenager. She marched into the parks in Dream London, she thinks she sees the world for what it is, in reality she's not even aware of herself. One of the themes in Dream Paris is that appearances never match what's underneath.

I've got a friend - I suspect we all have a friend like this - who says that she's "alright" when she's quite clearly not. She wears a brittle smile, insisting that all is okay while her world is slowly collapsing around her. The worse things are going, the happier she insists that she is.

And that's the third movement. Bright and happy on the surface, you can hear the emptiness behind it: the empty duelling between the strings and the woodwind before the movement's climax. It's full of hot air and false bravado, the way the melody rises higher but can't get away from the tonic.

What's being said isn't what's really going on. Just like in the Dream World, the music is just a mask over the real feelings. The Dream World is a mask over our world, but we only perceive our world as a mask over the real world beneath.

Tchaikovsky got there a hundred years before I did.

About the author:  Tony Ballantyne is the author of Dream London, the Penrose Series and the Recursion Series, as well as numerous short stories. His work has appeared in Interzone, Private Eye and Analog, and he has been nominated for the BSFA and Philip K. Dick awards. Tony lives in Oldham with his wife and two children. His imagination is completely spent as a result of writing Dream Paris, and he now spends his time staring at blank walls, subsisting on a diet of dry crackers and distilled water.

Big, big thanks to Tony for being here today! And big thanks to Solaris for setting up the guest post. Dream London and Dream Paris are both available now in paperback. For more on Tony Ballantyne and his work you can visit his website here. You can also follow him on Twitter

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