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Currently Reading: The Undivided by Jennifer Fallon

Friday, October 8, 2010

Meeting author Peter V. Brett

I don't know if I'm obliged to do this, but in fairness I think I should point out that I was not interviewing Peter V. Brett, I am simply sharing and in every case paraphrasing some of his reflections on his two published works, The Painted Man and The Desert Spear. And it's all good.

Peter V. Brett - the life of George
R. R. Martin's party

One of the highlights of Aussiecon4 was meeting and talking to Peter V. Brett. In fact, it’s fair to say that for me he was the star of the Con. Although George R. R. Martin is a bigger name and meeting him evoked more fanboy glee, Peter (Should I call him Peter? I’m going to…) was humble, very approachable, and it didn’t hurt that he participated in my favourite panel. He was also at the party which I enjoyed the most (ironically, thrown by George R. R. Martin fans).

On the first day of the Con, after Peter’s signing, I had the chance to talk to him for ten minutes or so. It took me a while to get past gushing about his work, but eventually I got around to asking him about what I saw as one of the more controversial aspects of his books. I brought up the representation of Krasia in The Desert Spear (reviewed here). Those who have read The Painted Man and especially The Desert Spear (its sequel) would have noticed parallels between the Krasians and certain Middle Eastern cultures (at least, historical iterations of these cultures).

Maintaining momentum in fiction -
best panel of Aussiecon4

Peter replied to my rambling that he was indeed expecting to need to defend himself, but there had been virtually no backlash. I was glad that was the case, given that in my opinion he set out to make the Krasians as sympathetic as possible in the minds of Western readers. Yet there will always be those who get a sniff of controversy and jump on it.

As a history teacher in Australia I dedicate a lot of effort to helping students to empathise with Australia’s indigenous people. In particular, I try to teach students about aboriginal culture prior to contact with Europeans. Successfully encouraging students to engage with a thoroughly foreign culture with alien ideas is one of the most difficult aspects of my job. Through tremendous story-telling I believe that Peter succeeds in pulling his readers into the potentially unsympathetic society of Krasia in a way that causes them to understand, if not fully accept, this alien culture.

What is particularly interesting is that Peter is not only American but a New Yorker. As a History and English graduate (and now a History teacher) my education has been saturated with the concept that a writer’s experiences and biases will inevitably bleed into their work, be it fiction or non-fiction. One can’t help but wonder how the events of 9/11 impact on Peter’s writing, especially his efforts to depict the Krasians.

The humble Peter V. Brett reads
from The Great Bazaar

I managed to ask some sort of question along those lines. Peter explained that really the biggest effect that 9/11 had on his work was reflected in The Painted Man rather than The Desert Spear. He has lived in a city gripped and almost immobilised by the sort of claustrophobic fear that the nightly demon attacks create for the people of his fictional world. The major theme of The Painted Man (reviewed here), he said, was the different ways that people will respond to potentially overwhelming fear.

I was really impressed by Peter, just as I have been impressed by his writing, and I’m certain I’ll be a long term fan. Bring on The Daylight War!

P.S. Pathetically, I forgot to bring up one of the more controversial aspects of The Painted Man when I was talking to Peter – the depiction of the character Leesha, in particular her sexuality. Stop reading if you haven’t read The Painted Man. Leesha is very protective of her virginity and virtue throughout the story (she shows a bit of an attitude that no man is good enough for her) until she is tragically raped. Shortly after the rape she essentially throws herself at Arlen, the eponymous Painted Man. I found this behaviour incredibly unbelievable and a bit disturbing. Members of my Goodreads group had obviously felt likewise and posed the question. Peter replied that he had done some research into the response of rape victims to their sad situation and that in many cases victims seek out a consensual experience very shortly afterwards. As astounding as I found this fact, it demonstrates Peter’s capacity to approach his subject matter thoughtfully and sensitively.

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