The Big Idea: Stephen Deas
The truth hurts. And sometimes, you’re not the only one hurt by it. Author Stephen Deas explores the consequences of telling the truth in the Big Idea for his newest novel, The Moonsteel Crown. Read on to see how some secrets are perhaps better off staying that way.
The Moonsteel Crown (Angry Robot, February 2021) will be approximately my twenty-second professionally published novel (approximate because of uncertainty in how to count collaborations and ‘that fringe publisher who in hindsight was possibly a mistake’). This is long enough for patterns to emerge that say more about me as an author than they do about my individual protagonists. I apparently have a penchant for female characters, for example, who will stab you before they ever allow themselves to be a victim (Zafir in the Memory of Flames series, Liss and Alysha in the From Darkest Skies trilogy, Myla in The Moonsteel Crown). My protagonists are, almost without exception, relentless motherfuckers who don’t stop digging at something even when they probably should. While this probably says more about the basic nature of protagonists than it does about me as an author, I’ve noticed a change in what they’re looking for. In my earlier works, there was a tendency towards seeking validation (Zafir again, Berren in The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice). Now, they tend to be looking for the truth (Keon in From Darkest Skies, William Falkland in The Royalist, Nicky in I Know What I Saw, and Seth in The Moonsteel Crown).
Sure, there’s a whole bunch of other things going on. Everyone is a multi-faceted and complex three-dimensional human being, yadda-yadda… In The Moonsteel Crown, Seth might be searching for the truth, but Fings surely isn’t, and Myla is mostly looking for forgiveness. Nevertheless, the thematic shift is there, a reflection of my own growing alarm that the concept of “truth” is slowly being destroyed by lies, fake news and propaganda (we can get into one about how there’s no such thing as objective truth, only statistical truth, but neither of us has had enough beers for that right now).
Of course, being a writer, I immediately undermine myself: the truth in my fictional worlds is a sword with two edges. In From Darkest Skies (which really is a story about confronting the unknown, although it’s very much a story about grief as well), Keon spends three whole fucking novels trying to get to the bottom of what happened to Alysha when, frankly, if she wanted him to know, she could just have left him a note. But he does it anyway, and even I couldn’t tell you whether he ends up in a better place than where he started. Nicky does better in I Know What I Saw. That’s probably down to me being kind: she really didn’t want to go on that journey in the first place.
These are stories of hunting for a deeply personal truth. The sort of truth that’s kept from you ‘for your own good’ by friends and lovers and partners because ‘you’re better off not knowing.’ Secrets kept out of a genuine desire to keep you from harm, but how often is that really the right thing to do? Is it ever? If I know something, and you’re my friend, and I know that that something will hurt you, do I tell you or do I hide it? If I hide it, is that a betrayal? I can say, from personal experience, that having to weigh up that decision, especially when the ‘thing’ is a big thing (an infidelity, say), sucks. The person I was twenty years ago would advocate a Policy of Truth. Now? Well, let’s just say I’m glad it’s mostly a question I get to explore in fiction rather than reality.
There’s another common kind of truth-hunter in fiction, though: the character who’s set upon unravelling an institutional conspiracy of silence. The journalist setting out to expose a government cover-up. The detective rooting out corruption in their own department. That sort of thing. Almost without exception, the secret being hidden is something dark that will bring powerful men crashing down if revealed. It’s the story of the plucky investigator who goes up against the system, threatened with overwhelming force as soon as they threaten the status quo. I suppose, the ‘big idea’ of The Moonsteel Crown and its sequels is… what if it’s not like that? Yes, there’s a vast, all-encompassing institution, and yes, there’s a secret they’re protecting but… what if it’s catastrophically bad for everyone for this secret to get out? What happens when your truth-seekers reach that final revelation? Do they turn their coats and join the conspiracy they’ve been fighting all this time? Or do they see it through, and risk literally ending the world?
It’s been done before. The movie Deep Impact explores this a little in its first act. I’m sure there are many other examples… Oh, wait, yes: Watchmen. Ah well, we all stand on the shoulders of giants, right?