Bright, intellectual, and outspoken, Ben Peek is a Sydney-based author with an attitude. His knife's-edge provocative fiction has appeared in the Leviathan, Agog, and Polyphony anthology series, as well as the Year's Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is the author of the award winning Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth which was published by Wheatland Press. Ben says "The cover won the award." :-)
One thing's sure -- Ben's got a helluva distinctive voice. Be sure to check out his stylish and opinionated blog and his MySpace page.
When I asked Ben to talk a bit about his intense novel Black Sheep (Prime Books, March 2007), that presents an unusual SFnal take on the issues of racism in Australia, take a look at what he had to say.
"...Charged with the crime of multiculturalism and sentenced to Assimilation..."
1) If you were pitching Black Sheep to Hollywood for a major motion picture, what would you say?
Just gimme the money and piss off.
The book is a dystopian novel built around monocultures and racism, so really, the last thing it needs is the Hollywood treatment. I can imagine it now. All the Asian characters could be replaced by copies of the Movie Star of the Moment. Instead of being turned white as punishment for being multicultural, they could be, I dunno, turned Arabic and told to drive taxis and turned into black men and women and told to carry bags and not stand next to the endless line of the star...
Probably wouldn't exactly be a dystopia then, though.
2) What one character quality about your protagonist makes him or her irresistible to the reader?
Well, a lot of bad things happen to Isao, what with living in a dystopia and all, and he doesn't once manage to sit around and think about killing himself.
I'm not sure what happened there.
3) Whatever in the world gave you the original idea for writing this book?
The idea, originally, came from the rise of Pauline Hanson, a politician in Australia who wanted everyone to beware of the yellow wave. She was, y'know, fucking insane, and uneducated, full of stupidity, and for a moment, she made a party based of her racist little ideas. Eventually she got kicked out of the party, and she has since become a B grade celebrity, which in itself, is rather tragic. Racism shouldn't be rewarded with a spot on Dancing with the Stars.
However, that's Australia for you. It's a country that has always had a problematic relationship to race, and in its mainstream culture and politics, has always been a little forgiving of it. Our Prime Minister plays the race card every election and it gets eaten up by the media and a lot of happy, rich white folk. He's currently playing it to the tune of Save the Aboriginal People, after ignoring the very real problems that have existed for over ten years. But it's an election and them black people haven't assimilated properly, and so fuck them, lets treat them like bad, bad children, and make sure they spend their welfare cheques properly.
You want to know the tragic thing? When I began writing the book in 1999, I thought it would date quickly and horribly.
Yeah, joke's on me, innit?
4) Pretend you are a reader reading your own book for the first time. What impression will you come away with?
At least, that's what the publisher's who turned it down in Australia said. It's too intense. Relentlessly intense. It could do with a little humour, though Darkness at Noon and 1984 weren't very funny books. Yes, I am quoting. Can you tell?
5) What comes next? Will there be a sequel?
I like to do different things. The book my agents are currently shopping 'round is a mosaic novel about Sydney. It deals with portraying a multicultural city, which is what Sydney is, despite what the television will tell you. The novel I'm currently writing is, however, a revenge novel. A weird, bush ranger, red sun, sweaty thing about finding the killers of your brother and fucking them up.
Also, it's about what happened to Aboriginal culture when the Europeans came and invaded.
Because I'm like that, it seems.