“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.
On August 30 we will publish The Spark by Susan Jane Bigelow–the third novel in the Extrahuman Union series, a dystopian future science fiction novel with superheroes trying to survive under a totalitarian regime. The Spark is maybe the most politically charged of the novels and today, Susan tells us a little bit about the Inspirations & Influences behind that particular novel.
Please give a warm welcome to Susan Jane Bigelow, folks!
Do you believe in revolution?
In early 2011 I sat at my desk, refreshing Twitter, following the #Feb17 hashtag. Not long before I’d followed #Jan25, the hashtag of the movement that had taken to the streets of Cairo to protest the suffocating rule of Hosni Mubarak. They’d met with violence and brutality, but in the end, they’d won. Mubarak fell, just as Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had fallen after street protests in Tunisia.
Now it was Libya’s turn. There were protests in Green Square in Tripoli. People were tweeting live. It seemed for a breathless moment that the power of the people, united in peace, would drive out one of the most ruthless dictators in North Africa.
And then Muammar Gaddafi sent his air force to bomb the people, and a civil war began.
I watched the horror unfold as P.J. Harvey played on the CD player behind me.
So I talked to an old man by the generator
He was standing on the gravel by the fetid river
He turned to me and answered, “Baby, see.”
Said, “War is here in our beloved city.”
I closed my eyes, and began to write.
During and after the Arab Spring plenty of commentators in the West drew comparisons to other revolutions, both peaceful and not-so-peaceful. Some thought it was like 1989 in eastern Europe, when creaking Communist governments collapsed out of fear and exhaustion. Most of those were peaceful in the beginning–with Romania being a cruel exception.
But the better comparison, they eventually agreed, was to Europe’s earlier revolutionary year of 1848, when the people took to the streets and made their monarchies tremble, shake, and fall. 1848 seems more apt now, sadly, because none of those revolutions succeeded. They all ended in blood, failure, and disillusionment.
So it was with the Arab Spring. Libya fell into chaos, even after Gaddafi was defeated and murdered. Syria turned into a nightmare. Egypt flirted briefly with real change before the political overreach of the Muslim Brotherhood allowed the heavy hand of repression to return. Other, smaller revolutions were similarly crushed–only Tunisia managed to keep reactionary forces from reasserting control.
2011, then, was a failure. Or was it? 1848 wasn’t entirely unsuccessful, not in the long run. The ideas that began there lived on to flower much later. That’s happened before. It’s easy to frighten or bomb the people into submission, but it’s nearly impossible to kill an idea. There’s always the chance that the ideas that began the Arab Spring will return someday.
We could also see it have more ripple effects in ways we can’t predict. Comparing one time and place to another is often a chancy thing. Europe is not North Africa, and 1848 is not 2011. People, situations, and historical forces are always different.
And yet the more I read about oppression and revolution, the more I hear a single quiet song of resistance tying together all of these years, all of these movements, all of these disappointments. Beyond fear, beyond fury, beyond uprising and terror and failure, is that simple song of dignity, love, friendship, understanding, and hope.
I hear that song now.
The world is full of things we can do little about. Dictators will growl and strut and roll, the Trumps, Farages, and Putins of the world will spread lies and fear, hate and chaos and violence will simmer and explode. Money will flow, deals will be done; economies will climb high only to crash down again. But it’s frustrating. We want to do something. We want to act, to make the world better. How do you resist in a world that seems darker and darker by the day?
How do you believe in revolution when all there seems to be is hate and oppression and anger?
The book I wrote in 2011 was called THE SPARK, and it’s about fire. Dee, a young woman, is an extrahuman, or a person with what amounts to superpowers. She and her kind have been locked away, hunted down, murdered, and driven underground by a ruthless authoritarian government. This government has its boot on everyone’s neck, until, one day, people begin to resist.
I wrote the book with the songs of P.J. Harvey’s Let England Shake on constant repeat. The album is about war, and about the ordinary people caught up in war. I let that music sink into me as I wrote. When I read the book again now, I hear it still
Dee faces her own oppressions as well as the choking grip of an all-seeing, repressive state. I wanted to write about resistance, both on a large and a small scale. I wanted to write about how resistance can succeed and fail, and what success and failure really mean. There’s a line in the book that feels true to me: Live free in your heart… and take your chances when they come.
That’s what I want to do. Living free in my heart means, for me, being kind to those who need it. It means finding peace inside myself, it means allowing myself to feel that grief and impotent anger but not letting it consume me whole. And it means doing what I can do listen to and lift up my friends, my family, and all the people around me.
It also means that when my chance comes to change things, I will take it. I’ll write. I’ll speak. I’ll march. I’ll vote. I’ll do what’s necessary, and what’s right.
That’s the song of the resistance of ordinary people. And, more than guns and violence, that’s the revolution I believe in. That’s what will, in the end, change the world.