The Malice Cycle: Interview with Bruno Masse

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By: Karla Fetrow

Necropolis… A shivering trip into a world without light, a world without hope, a world so destroyed, the rules of society are reversed.  Morality is viewed as the pursuit of pleasure.  Philosophy is an art freely engaged in, as long as it contributes to inertia.  While reveling in their decadence, they do so with the determination to never again repeat the structure and motivations of the past that they are sure contributed to their downfall as a civilization.  That is, until Malice comes along.

Book 1 of The Malice Cycle carries the reader into a surreal future where faith, light and hope are relinquished to forget everything except the collapse of the Old World, using it as a model of what to avoid if they did not wish to see the destruction of their own limited society, where community is declared false and nothing more than a conservative gesture to defend that which would hold us hostage.  Malice, the youngest of the Morbid daughters, a family held in high esteem, begins to question if there was something more than just the dark existence of their lives, replete in fineries, self-indulgence, sexual promiscuousness, but lacking in curiosity and inventiveness.  She is accompanied by the “Shadow”, who compels her to question the rituals that would hasten her father’s death, and to explore the edges of the void, a hostile land of poisonous insects and hallucinogenic plants, in search of a sister who has disappeared and is rarely talked about.

 

Malice’s journey into self-awareness is a lyrical account that strips back both the layers of personality that define her motivations for stepping away from the society that has molded her and the fabric of society itself, holding up its flaws and poking holes in its weaknesses until the society itself begins to unravel.  The author, Bruno Masse, already has a few remarkable accomplishments.  At twenty-nine, he is an author, researcher, musician, activist and publisher. He has written several novels and poetry collections, as well as five plays, four of which were enacted during the annual International Anarchist Theatre Festival of Montreal. He was the  co-founder and active part of such collectives as The End of the World Comittee, La Foret Noire, Liberterre, the Anarchist Writers Bloc and Anarchistes Anonymes, and remains an active contributing author at Subversify.

 

I asked Bruno about his day job in environmentalism and if it had been an influence for choosing the stark, barren background for his Malice Cycle series.  Apart from his job as coordinator for the Reseau Quebec Ecologist Group (RQGE), he has also worked also worked on urban agriculture projects and collective gardening, and was a university researcher.  He answered, “that was mostly “brain-mercenary” contract work and I don’t really boast it. I don’t mind if you use stuff from my work or make reference to it, to be honest it generally never overlaps and most people I work with have no idea of my novels or artwork on the side, and I don’t really mind. I wish it was all in sink but it’s sometimes quite contradictory, but that’s self-evident. Just to be clear, the official positions of the RQGE are not the ones I distribute on my own time, even though we’re in the same fields and agree on the basic key principles (a solidarity society, a better natural environment, etc.).

Now, my inspiration for Dystopia is a culmination of my experiences as an anarchist (and precisely, part of the anti-civ or anarcho-primitivist movement), various hypothesis about the fall of Civilisation, mainstream anthropology and a collection of theories on utopias and social change. That, and of course my interest for gothic/dark aesthetics (as manifestations of negative/critical thinking and nihilist philosophy, but something I’m also drawn to quite irrationally). My main idea is that of a utopia in practice that is one exactly because it strives consciously not to be one, which explains why they called it Dystopia. If people who claim to be perfect are the usually the worst, if you actually try to be imperfect, you have a better to chance to be more humble and not give in to totalizing thoughts and practices (which lead to totalitarianism). In a way, it’s a system that most mainstream environmentalists would hope for: a city that is 100% sustainable, supported by permaculture gardens that require little work, and most time is spent on leisure. But by mimicking a model born from the Neolithic revolution, I aim to illustrate that the “roots” with necessarily reproduce the Civilisation process (i.e. Morbid’s takeover). The reasons for that are a population so vast that immediate relationships are not constantly possible, and such emphasis on culture (Dystopians prize literature, music, debate, art, etc.) will necessarily distantiate people from one another, introducing mediations that will enable class divisions.

I delve into gothic/horror/noir themes because they carry a mood of loss and contemplation I think is inherent of the human condition and wish to undertake fully. To me, it’s more honest and liberating than the “dictature of happiness” we seem to live in, where frowning is pretty much forbidden, medicalized and shunned, and so is critical thinking.

The people of Dystopia see themselves as rebels who escaped Civilisation as it collapsed and have tried, as best as they could, to make sure the mistakes of the past would never be replicated. I wanted to do a sort of tribute to the nobility and the courage of such devotion, the kind I have seen in anarchists but also a lot of people with radical ideas and practices. In such a sunless and depressing world, they’re paying the prices for mistakes they aren’t responsible for, and that’s a clear reference to the fact that life conditions in this day and age are receding and that’s something entirely new to mankind, since the industrial revolution. But I also wanted to go beyond all that that and illustrate how difficult it can be not to reproduce the sick schemes of domination and authority.

Also, since I’m bilingual, in a province that seems to strangle itself with split cultural identities, I thought it would be interesting to imagine a people who clearly used to speak a different language and lost it completely, and make the reader feel a bit estranged from all the French dialogue, and show them how it feels at first to encounter cultural references you can’t understand, but moreso, to show how much it doesn’t matter in the end, because we’re just humans after all, who love and laugh and hurt and die like any.

The main character of Malice, besides all her human qualities which I hope are as poignant and vivid as they are to me, is basically a play on the concept of Chaos. She possesses something nobody has, some love her for it, most despise her, and a lot want to use her. She’s like a sort of exotic life form sent into an indigenous habitat, or a sort of technological leap that dwarfs everything else in the field. She’s a paradigm shift, and I want to illustrate how devious power can be, and her tragedy in a way is to echo what happens to anyone who’s opressed when they’ve had enough and finally fing a way to escape. Like the French revolution. The oppressed feel such anger and rage that it has no choice but to come out in a traumatic way, it’s an ugly, violent thing, and it’s a normal natural response to aggression. In that way, she is liberated and beautiful, because we see that the people who hurt her had the very best of intentions, but acted in really horrible ways regardless, and have to answer for that. I wanted to show that sometimes freedom is a “by any means necessary” kind of thing, but that it’s not the answer to everything, and that’s a notion Malice will learn at her own expense.

Also, there will be a sequel and a third book. It’s meant as a whole, the structure itself was done even before I started book 1. I’m currently writing book 2.

As to how much of my background I’ve used for the book, for the setting and the world itself I can say that I’ve had to delve extensively in my knowledge as a forest technician, and as a geographer, if only for the physical, environmental aspects of the Island. But I also drew from years of study into sociology, anthropology, psychology and philosophy – of which I draw mostly from nihilist thinkers like Cioran, Nietszche, Schopenhauer, but also from the Frankfurt School, primarily Adorno. For the critique of civilisation I take a lot from John Zerzan, who’s influenced me a lot (the opening quote is his) and whom I actually know. He has made reviews of all my English novels.

To conclude I’d say I draw a lot from the style of Frank Herbert in his Dune series, because to me any political discourse cut from its setting is absurd, while any storytelling devoid of incisive critical thinking is a waste of time. By trying to weave a compelling narrative and include ethical questions and layers of philosophical complexity, I try to make a read that will entrance and challenge the reader and perhaps help him or her grow in a meaningful way, even if that means feeling angry or depressed at first, because we live in fake world that’s making life agonizing and quickly threatens to take most of the planet in its fall. The logical response is revolt, and that’s what I write about. Like Karl Klaus said: it’s not so much what we create that matters, but what we destroy.”

“Do you plan, at some point”, I asked, “ to use a model of a society in your series that strikes a happy balance between the extreme of totalitarianism and dystopia, or to some viewers, what might be considered decadence?  Or do you think human nature doesn’t make that possible; that it has a tendency to veer from one extreme to another; never arriving at a middle ground for long?”

Bruno answered, “I don’t plan on using an ‘affirmative’ model that I would deem ideal. The island of Dystopia is a failed utopia, many aspects of it (little work, no technology, few social mediations, balance with nature) are true ideals to me, its flaws become apparent as the novel progresses (namely, the roots of civilization). Questions are really what I want to draw. Ultimately, I want people to think for themselves, and that is precisely how I see society getting any better – if at all. But I don’t believe the problem lies in human nature, empathy and solidarity are natural for the vast majority of us (minus those 1-2% psychopaths, who’d hunt you for sport). Culture is the problem, and not just one or the other, but culture itself, which is negation of nature, and is getting increasingly complex. The result is broken ecosystems, pandemic’s, weakened bodies, famine, mass psychological distress, to name a few, and of course, having to be in school twenty years to find a place in the system.”

The book certainly draws questions and the failed Utopia becomes a painful examination of cultural failure as the traditions that rooted themselves into this anti-civilization become the very thing that imprisons these survivors of catastrophe. “I also wonder a little about the environment you place around Dystopia,” I told Bruno.  “The natural environment outside the catacombs and cities seems to be a hostile one with limited resources, yet you symbolize a brighter world with a yellow flower.  Is my perception a result of the darkness around the story itself?  Is Dystopia an inclusive society with no connections with an outside world that might in fact, be radically different, or is it part of an overall disintegration of the cities, with a random rural society that has reverted back to basics?”

“Good question!”  Answered Bruno.  “The Collapse did leave endless spans of land desolate and lifeless, which the denizens of Dystopia call the Wastes. But I’ll leave you guessing. Those points will be addressed in the next two books.”

Bruno Masse’s “Necropolis, Book 1 of the Malice Cycle” is scheduled to be released this year to the general public.  Tangled in a twilight zone that slumbers between science fiction and fantasy, with bold, poetic strokes, it paints a haunting background and an unforgettable character in Malice.  Be among the first to collect the beginning of what is bound to be considered classical anarchistic fiction from a very memorable writer.

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