Like probably many others reading this post, I’ve been reading and enjoying sci-fi/fantasy literature since I was a kid. Also, possibly like some folks reading this post, non-fiction writing has been both a big part of my job and a passionate hobby throughout my adult life. I knew I was pretty good at non-fiction writing, having received awards for my work in two different fields, physics and horology. So whenever I read a sci-fi/fantasy novel I often had one of two reactions: either, “Gee, I wonder if I could ever write something that good,” or sometimes, “Wow, I’m sure I could do better than that!” These thoughts had been teasing me for many years, when finally, the perfect story to see just how good a novel I could write struck me. I knew I had to act on it. Each reader will have to decide for his or herself how well I did.
So what made the Gennebar Rising story so “perfect” for me? Well, I have always loved history, but in particular, I have always had a special historical interest in First Century Palestine. Why, well for one thing, because of my Jewish heritage, the mythology that surrounds that period and place has had a profound, and largely negative impact on my ancestors. The antisemitic edge of that mythology has been ground down in many places, now, although it is still visible in plain sight in Christian scripture if one has but clear eyes to see it. But for well over a millennium, the predominant lore which has come down to us from that time and place was used as the pretext to persecute and not infrequently, to murder people like my forebears, who refused to accept the Christian radical reinterpretation of their faith. That same body of Christological myth permeates every aspect of our western, and in particular, American culture, often with negative consequences for everyone, not just religious minorities. So I thought that writing a hopefully engaging fiction story about a time and place very similar to First Century Palestine might be an opportunity for me to tip some sacred cows that needed tipping and to poke some holes in that body of myth, keeping readers engaged while I was doing it.
That brings me to my second, and equally important motivation for writing this story. I am both a career scientist and a Jewish atheist. (No, that’s not an oxymoron. Jewish identity is complicated. It is an ethnicity (actually, several!) as well as a set of religious beliefs. One can have one without the other.) When I declare I am an atheist, I don’t mean I would claim categorically that no god exists. I just don’t care. I can’t possibly know whether a “god” exists, or what such a supreme being, if it exists (it certainly doesn’t have a human gender), could possibly want from me. But I am absolutely convinced that the organized, scripture-bound religions are childish anthropomorphic conceits developed to help humans cope with their own mortality. (That’s a great trick if you can suspend disbelief and make yourself fall for it. The problem is, I am cursed with a rational mind.) I would say further that if a supreme intelligence does exist (lurk?) behind existence, then it “speaks,” if at all, through the laws of physics alone.
Fortunately, I speak physics. So I inserted a rational person with a modern, scientific sensibility many centuries ahead of his time into my story to act as my spokesperson in the novel. I refer, of course, to the “kozem,” Bernarro. ( Kozem is the Hebrew word for “wizard,” in case you were wondering, and Bernarro is derived from Bernard, the paternal uncle, after whom I, Clint Bruce Geller, am named. My uncle “Buddy” was a career US military officer who was KIA around the time of the Korean War. He left behind a wife and three terrific gold star daughters – my cousins, so it was a pleasure to weave him into my story in some way.)
My interest in advocating science over faith-based “knowledge” systems is why I went out of my way to ground the special powers that some of my fictional characters possess in science, rather than magic. As I have Bernarro himself say at one point, science is the very antithesis of “magic.” Science is an unrelenting war on ambiguity and ignorance. It proceeds from the assumption that the universe is knowable based on rational principles and the powers of observation possessed by all human beings, whereas magic posits that reality is inherently mysterious, fundamentally incomprehensible. Science and magic (which is a form of “faith”) are mortal, irreconcilable enemies! (This is not to say, of course, that fantasy stories full of magic can’t be a lot of fun to read. I love them! But religious fantasies full of magic and make-believe are something else entirely.)
I made some deliberate choices in the novel to make it very clear to the reader early on that I was making no claims to historical accuracy. Apart from the individuals in the story with special abilities that are plausible, but of course, entirely fictitious extensions of some ideas in modern physics, I also made the priesthood of the High Temple female. I had two other reasons for doing this as well. First, as long as I was going to place the High Priest “in bed” with the Roman authorities, which is historically accurate (Caiaphas, who was despised by most of his countrymen, was a Quisling appointee of Pilot), I decided to actually place her in bed with the Procurator (i.e., the “Viceroy”) literally as well as figuratively. Second, I wanted some strong female characters in my story, and the real First Century Palestine was uniformly and depressingly patriarchal. For similar reasons, I assigned anachronistic modern ranks to the officers in both the Drenarian (read Roman) and Zemaki (read Zealot) armies. No decani, centurions, or tesserarii, (though a legatus does make an appearance), but sergeants, lieutenants, colonels, commanders (a naval rank) and generals. My use of these modern ranks was a flag that once again, I was making no pretenses to historical authenticity, but rather, it is up to each individual reader to decide for his or herself whether my deliberately and manifestly imperfect historical “analogy” makes valid points.
One other thing: I set out to write the kind of fiction story that I myself would most like to read. I believe I have succeeded in that. I very much hope you like my story too.
I expect to have the third and final part of my story out this summer. The cover art is in progress. So I sincerely thank all who have stuck with me this far and wish you a very enjoyable read of Books II and III. I’d love to hear from you, and you can message me here! Just follow the links. Cheers.