Risingshadow has an opportunity to feature a guest post by Noah Lemelson, who is the author of The Sightless City.
In his own words:
"A short-story writer and novelist based in LA. I write Science Fiction, Fantasy, Surreal-Horror, "Insert-Adjective-Here"-Punk and all sort of weird nonsense.
I received my B.A. in Biology from the University of Chicago in 2014, then made a hard pivot into the world of fiction. Since then I have completed my MFA in Creative Writing at CalArts in 2019, and am about to publish my first novel, The Sightless City. I have also published short fiction pieces in online magazines such as "Space Squid," "Literally Stories," "Silver Blade," and "Allegory.""
The Slickdust Trilogy #1
by Noah Lemelson
Those are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to actions some will take to protect their interests in æther-oil, the coveted substance that fuels the city of Huile.
As both veteran and private investigator, Marcel Talwar knows this firsthand, and he likes to think he’d never participate in such things. However, that naïve idea comes to a crashing end when he takes on a new case that quickly shatters his world view.
Guest post: The World of The Sightless City by Noah Lemelson
I starting creating the world of The Sightless City back in high school. As we all know elaborate and obsessive fantasy worldbuilding is just what normal, well-adjusted teenagers do. It wasn’t the first setting I ever came up with, but it was the one I stuck with, for reasons that are still unclear to me. But I do remember what part of the universe I started with: The Wastes. A massive region that once had been the center of civilization, now ruins and desolation. Haunted by the mutated husks of pre-Calamity fauna, and terrorized by raider gangs, the Wastes are a dangerous and wild place. I made the decision early on that not everything would be the Wastes, that civilization would have survived the near-apocalypse of the Calamity, but the Wastes wouldn’t be some distant forgotten thing either. That’s why the Wastes are placed in the very center of the continent, a massive scar that cannot be forgotten or ignored.
On one edge of this continent sits the United Confederacy of the Citizens’ Resurgence. On the opposite edge sits the Imperial Principate. Two nations that were once one, their differences as great and impassible as the Wastes that separates them. One supports freedom and autonomy, the other order and authority, though neither are as quite pure to their ideology as they would claim. It was their war that created the Wastes near on a century ago, and it is their conflict that still shapes the world of The Sightless City.
This world is one that is based on a resource called “æther-oil.” This magical substance not only fuels the vehicles and machinery that allow this industrialized fantasy world to survive, but also powers Ætheric Engineering. Engineering isn’t what you’re used to here on earth. Ætheric engineers are able to use the power of mechanical æther to infuse their machines with near-supernatural abilities. Individual engineers are even able to use manipulate metal and machineries from a distance with a simple snap of their æther-gloves. Ætheric engineers create technology that might be familiar to us, such as autocars and rifles, but they can also craft also far more exotic machinery as well. Massive iron and steel æroships float in the sky, humanoid automotons called golems work in factories, and an innumerable intricate inventions of destruction skulk the battlefield. There are no wizards in The Sightless City, but with the majesty of the engineers’ creations, why would one need magic?
The engineers are organized in a great Engineer’s Guild, whose capital of Icaria was once an æroship the size of a city. Now it is, like most things, ruined, crashed into the side of a mountain after the æther-fueled Calamity that produced The Wastes. In ideological opposition to the Guild is the Church of the Ascended. These priests combs the lands for relics of a past civilization, ruins they believe built by the first children of The Demiurge. Their considerable political power is supplemented by relics of such mechanical complexity that even the cleverest of the Engineers cannot made heads or tails of them.
Humans do not live alone, and the cities around the Wastes are filled with a number of Other-folk. First off are the Kortonians, short and square-headed. Though few in number they are gifted engineers, and many live in Icaria. Then there are the Ferrals, beast-people covered head to foot in fur. They live mostly in the Nemori Forrestlands of the east, though a number have moved to the UCCR, where they face discrimination. Then there are the slender and vicious pirates known as the Malva, whose hair gleams with metallic tints. Their slaves, the Salvi, are gray-skinned, horned giants. They actively fight their Malvan oppression, many fleeing the Thalassocracy into UCCR lands. And finally, there are the Mutants, people who have suffered mutagenic maladies during the Calamity, skin crimson, eyes yellow, horns bursting from their skulls. The Principate kills them on sight, and even the UCCR offers only a begrudging sanctuary.
This setting informs the plot and characters of The Sightless City. Marcel was a soldier of the UCCR, and is dedicated wholly to their cause, unwilling to see the hypocrisy of the Confederacy even when it’s starting him in the face. Sylvaine is a Ferral with dreams of becoming an engineer, and yet, despite her efforts, cannot manipulate æther. The monk Kayip is a true believer in the Ascended, wielding relics given to him by an order he now lives in exile from. And then there is Lazarus Roache, an æther-oil tycoon with big plans for Sylvaine and Marcel.
The world of The Sightless City is not a pleasant one. Violence and desperation are common. The triumph of humanity’s survival in the face of near-apocalypse is tempered by the unfortunate truth that the conflict which spawned the Calamity rages on still, even as people fight amongst the ruins of past glories. Yet there are still some who try to do the right thing, try to break the cycles of violence and domination that define their history, or at least survive those cycles. And there is a certain beauty to desolation. The cry of a skragger, the grunts of taur herds, the evening wind whipping through the Wastes, the crackle of a campfire in the shadow of some ancient, rusting structure. There is still life, and there is still hope.