Sixteen-year-old Spartak Jones was the center of attention at my debut public reading of The Chronicles of Spartak–Rising Son. He is the protagonist, a teenage icon for freedom in the 22nd century as well as being photogenic and a strong silent type in the superhero Hollywood tradition (as shown in the photo on my deck). Only he has no superpowers, just grit, athletic prowess, a young man loyal to family and friends as he fights for the return of democracy and freedom in America. A reluctant warrior with values and magnetic appeal.
The debut reading happened at the beautiful James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center at the Main Library in San Francisco. The Center celebrated its 20th anniversary in April and received warm kudos for its pioneering leadership in gathering, archiving and celebrating lesbian and gay achievements and history. And it continues to do its work for the transsexual, intersex and broader queer communities however they define themselves. When it opened in 1996, it was the first archive of its kind in a civic institution in the United States. As someone who was President of the San Francisco Library Commission when the New Main was built twenty years ago, and having played a role in the creation of the Center, it was thrilling returning there to premiere my first novel. And just as thrilling to see so many visionary leaders in the audience who played such a vital role in the campaign to make the Center a reality.
I was introduced by the talented and dedicated Karen Sundheim (shown in the photo with me behind her) who is Director of the Hormel Center and is doing her part in preserving this important segment of history.
The room is round, the sustainable hardwood bookcases filled with important fiction and nonfiction works gathered from the collections throughout the library. Several exhibition cases and photos are also part of the experience. The domed ceiling is painted in the finest trompe l’oeil tradition, heroic figures looking up Into the Light (the title of the work) and down at us below with books flying toward heaven. The figures are important LGBT figures from history. It was painted by the creative muralists Charlie Brown and Mark Evans.
I conceived Spartak as a remarkable, likeable young man living in a world we created. It is action-adventure, a little sci-fi, a touch of fantasy, with a serious political undercurrent. I was trying to do three things:
First, give a page-turning adventure story, a fun read about a teenager facing staggering adversity while retaining confidence in himself and the world he wants to protect. I wanted him noble but with flaws, someone searching for love who stumbles and triumphs in a reality that might crush those with less inner strength.
Second, I wanted to create a world that made us think. It is fiction set just a century in the future in San Francisco. It is near enough that we can hopefully see the decisions we make today will impact our great-grandchildren, and hopefully give us pause. Looking the other way, getting so self-obsessed we don’t even see what is happening or even willful self-delusion and other realities in our time have consequences. Someone born today will likely be alive in 2115. And important to me is knowing that heroes arise in nearly all circumstances, all sexual identities. The most average person can step forward and lead. And Spartak is far from average–an Olympic bound gymnast, pianist, street fighter and thief.
Third, I wanted a hero with a fluid sense of sexuality. Nearly all mainstream literature has male-female love interests and I wanted to see if the broader market could handle something less traditional in this kind of novel. I am seeking to find audiences within my own community and beyond. Sexual options other than boy-girl have been mostly suppressed for much of history. But sexual minorities have been gradually coming in the light for decades. Gay and lesbians can marry and serve openly in the military. As a gay man serving as a draftee in the military during the Vietnam War, that has special resonance. And I am a married man, with the same wonderful man for forty years. The march toward equality comes in many forms, all important no matter how much one might wonder about the seriousness and honesty of some battles and the lack of understanding or compassion. I give you the transsexual bathroom wars as an example. Spartak is openly bisexual and in the 22nd century, nobody cares. Even conservative religious groups accept homosexuality and fluid sexuality as part of God’s plan. The novel mentions a former transsexual President of the United States. Am I being optimistic? No, it just makes sense. And when you meet Spartak, you can understand why such issues of sexual identity are irrelevant.
Some of the early reviews have been promising.
Here is a sample from various forums.
“Steven has this new genre (‘new’ because it avoids all the usual trappings of sci-fi novels and focuses on striving to make the future a better place rather then simply a rubble pile filled with odd creatures) down pat. If he continues this direction of writing he will be not only entertaining us with creative stories brilliantly written but also creating superheroes of substance–and very fine attributes!”
Grady Harp, Amazon (Top 100 Reviewers)
“The book is really intellectual, fast-paced, has a lot of action, good characters, and I really appreciated the way a young queer athlete and a slave becomes a symbol for a revolution.”
“If you love The Hunger Games, and you want a bit more gritty and adult feel, you may love Rising Son.”
BA Brock, Queer Sci Fi