Wilcox Editing

Serve Beimeni, Live Forever: An Interview with Raeden Zen

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Raeden Zen, Wilcox Editing client and author of The Phantom of the Earth, a hot new science fiction series, the first two books of which are available for free download. A transcript and mp3 are posted here. Please enjoy!

Erin Wilcox: Hi, I’m Erin Wilcox and I’m here with author Raeden Zen, who is a client of mine and the author of the Phantom of the Earth series. How are you, Raeden?

Raeden Zen: I’m doing well, how are you?

EW: Excellent, and I’m very excited to be talking with you today about your books. Would you run down, just very quickly, what are the titles of the five books that you’ve written?

RZ: Sure, so there are five books and the first book is The Song of the Jubilee, the second book is The Gambit with Perfection, the third book is The Synthesis and the Animus, the fourth book is The Descent into the Maelstrom, and the fifth book is The Restoration of Flaws.

EW: And all told, how many pages have you written? Or words, or however you want to measure?

RZ: In total it’s about 415,000 words or about 1,650 pages.

EW: Wow. So it’s this huge big-canvas story, and there’s just a whole lot of great world stuff, and there’s always that question about how are we going to enter this world and find a way in. So I’m curious, and I’m sure our listeners are also curious, who is the main character that we meet first in book one?

RZ: The first main character is Johann Selendia, and he is the son of the resistance leader. Initially, the conflict begins where the government has apprehended his father and Johann must act as leader of the resistance in his father’s place.

EW: And he is the resistance leader for what movement? What conflict is Johann engaged in?

RZ: So the conflict is called the Evolutionary War and it’s basically a decades-long guerilla war between the Liberation Front and the government of Atticus Masimovian. Johann’s father and his mother founded the movement, although at the time of the story his mother has already been killed by the government, and his father at the start of the story has been taken captive. So Johann has to make a choice when his older brother unexpectedly arrives at his inaugural celebration, and he delivers new intel. His name is Zorian, and he lets Johann know he has new intel and schematics to the prison where he tells Johann that their father is being held.

EW: Okay, so the plan is prison break—and spring Dad. Alright, very good, and where is all this happening?

RZ: So it’s happening inside the earth. It’s really a three-dimensional setting, but the main setting is 2,500 meters deep inside the earth. That’s where the main commonwealth lies, and then the rebels are sort of holed up in a shallower depth of 300 meters, but all of the story … most of the story … is inside the earth.

EW: The rebels and the resistance leaders are one side in the Evolutionary War, and would you outline the other side?

RZ: Yeah, so the main other side is the commonwealth—it’s the Great Commonwealth of Beimeni. It’s led by Atticus Masimovian and his wife, Isabelle Lutetia. Basically, it comes down to a vision for how to lead humanity in this sort of advanced world where everyone can live forever. If they serve the government, the government will allow them access to gene therapy that will enable them to live forever, and it’s sort of a conflict between how to handle that kind of technology, how to handle immortality. The government handles it one way, where if you serve them you get it and have access to it, and the rebels don’t feel that’s the way the world should be run. They think everyone should have equal opportunity to basically live their lives the way they want, and that’s essentially what the battle is over.

EW: So, if I were immortal, I’m not sure I would choose to live underground. Why did they make that choice?

RZ: It wasn’t actually a choice. There was a synthetic organism called Reassortment that had escaped containment, and there was a hundred-year-long war leading to what’s called the death wave, and that was when this organism escaped containment. At the time of this story, throughout the solar system there’s around 25 billion humans living on earth and in various stations around the solar system where they’re mining natural resources. That’s sort of the crux of the issue here in this world—that the earth’s economically viable natural resources have run out and humans have turned to synthetic biology, and they’ve turned to asteroid mining. So in the process of this war, this organism was created. It’s not exactly clear why it was created at the initial beginning of the story, but it was created, escaped, and it only kills humans, so the surface is regenerated, and it’s also seeping underground. So that’s why they had to go further underground.

EW: Alright, and you mentioned that there are a couple different depths in this setting, or at least that it’s a three-dimensional setting. Could you talk a bit more about the other depths that it goes to?

RZ: Yes, so there are some scenes on the surface, and the surface is, while beautiful and regenerated with all sort of plant life and trees, it’s deadly for humans. So most of the scenes on the surface entail clinical trials and research into the Reassortment strain, where humans have to wear what are called biomats to protect themselves from the Reassortment strain. At 300 meters deep, it’s called the Polemon Zone, and that’s for the Beimeni Polemon, which is another name for the Liberation Front. That depth is where the rebels live, and that’s where they’re hiding from the government. Then at 2,500 meters deep—the idea is that you dig deeper to escape this Reassortment strain because the deeper you are inside the earth the less habitable it is to most life—so at 2,500 meters deep is where most of humanity has terraformed their commonwealth so they could escape the strain and still survive.

At 4,000 meters deep, you have what’s called the Lower Level Zone or just the Lower Level, and this was the level that was initially created as sort of a fail-safe should the Reassortment strain seep into the Beimeni Zone, but as it turns out that zone is being used for other less worthy purposes. And that’s something that’s interesting, because at each level there are secrets, and throughout this saga you learn more of the secrets as the story unfolds and as the characters develop.

EW: Yeah, true. Well it is a very interesting setting—sort of a Jules Verne post-apocalyptic. What were your inspirations when you were reading, or in terms of other literature or books that you enjoyed that have fed your imagination?

RZ: I think the main one was City of Endless Night. It’s by Milo Hastings, and in that story it’s post-apocalyptic, it’s underground. It’s Berlin, and the year is 2041. There’s been another world war, and the Germans are fighting the “world state.” And it really intrigued me how Mr. Hastings was able to sort of look into the future and see—the book was released in 1919—and he was able to see that there was going to be this second major conflict, and that there was also going to be a rise of socialism and Communism—a rise and fall—of socialism and Communism. It begins with the main character being underground, and he’s trying to break into Berlin. It’s a very intriguing opening, and I thought the setting was very intriguing, and the storyline were very intriguing. So that was kind of the main one. Though Journey to the Center of the Earth also was clearly an influence here, and that story was in the back of my mind during a lot of the scenes in this book. And I think those are the two main ones from the fiction side.

EW: Yeah, those are great ones. I love the idea that the post-apocalyptic from a hundred years ago is still inspiring readers today and the accuracy with which he was able to pull that off. That’s fascinating.

So what’s your favorite thing about science fiction, as a reader?

RZ: You know, I think it’s the thought-provoking aspects of it, and the fact that as a writer and even as a reader you get to sort of see how humanity is thinking, or how someone is thinking that humanity is thinking about the world going forward. I think that’s what makes speculative fiction so special among all fiction is that you have someone who is really trying to look into the future and project what the world would be like in the future, but ultimately that projection turns out to be what the world is like in the present. And I think it’s just very intriguing to try to navigate those worlds that science fiction authors create and experience those worlds with the characters that populate them.

EW: Excellent. There’s an essay with many similar thoughts by Ursula Le Guin in The Left Hand of Darkness, as a matter of fact, in the introduction. Well we’re winding down on time, and so I just wanted to make sure that we get in there that the books are released, correct? All five of them?

RZ: Yes.

EW: So where can readers find these books?

RZ: The first two books are available for free basically anywhere on the Internet. They’re e-books. All of them are e-books. And the third, fourth, and fifth books, and the omnibus, which combines all the books, are exclusive to Amazon.

EW: Okay, and do you have a website? A social media presence? Twitter?

RZ: Yes, I’m on Twitter, I’m on Goodreads, Tumblr, Facebook, and then I have a website, raedenzen.com. There’s a lot of really cool stuff there. All the artwork is there from the concept artist I worked with.

EW: Oh yeah, let’s dip in there for a second. Tell me about the artwork and the artists you pulled in on your team.

RZ: Sure, well I worked with two concept artists. One, his name is Juan Carlos Barquet. He’s from Mexico City, and he created all of the settings—each book includes one scene-specific render. So in book one, it’s Hydra Hollow, that’s where the rebels live. In book two it’s Planet Vigna, that’s where the main character travels to. In book three, it’s the Harsailles Menagerie, that’s the prehistoric garden that one of the main characters creates. Book four, it’s the water mine on the dwarf planet Ceres, that’s where one of the main characters has to compete during an exam. And in the last book it’s the Tomahawk Facility, that’s basically a laboratory.

And the other artist I worked with, his name is Dan, and his credits include the 300 movie and Arkham Origins video game. He created Beimeni City, which is the primary setting for this world, and he created it from the Fountain of Youth. And he also created Livelle City-State, which is the historical country that the Great Commonwealth of Beimeni emerged from.

EW: Yeah and it’s beautiful. I’m looking at it right now, and you’ve got some great artwork here. And you gave them a lot of good source material to work with in terms of the concept, the science, the setting … and as much setting as a writer creates, there also needs to be a great story. I’m just impressed and very pleased with how you were able to weave in intergenerational family dynamics, family conflict, with macro conflict between governments and movements within the populous and also personal stories and characters that we care about, strong women with agency and powerful, power-hungry people on both sides and very flawed, interesting characters I think readers will enjoy rooting for. So the website again, could you just spell out the URL?

RZ: Sure, it’s www.raedenzen.com.

EW: And your Twitter handle?

RZ: It’s just raedenzen.

EW: @raedenzen, okay.

RZ: It’s @raedenzen, yup.

EW: Excellent.


Erin forces me to think about the underlying meaning of the story. This helps me add layers of real-life complexity to my fiction.”

Dinesh Pulandram,
"Damaged Goods," "Evangeline Vicare"

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