Sunday, October 30, 2016

Guest Post with author Taylor Houhlin

The Cloud Playlist by Taylor Houhlin

I like writing, and I like music. This is my excuse to talk about both at the same time.

Now let's get to the playlist.

House of Heroes - Remember the Empire

Here they threaten with murder and bribe us with peace.

Here they treat us like slaves and convince us we're free.
There's no turning back once enough is enough.
We can't, but we must, so
Stand! Stand up!
What choice have they given us?

The big conflict at the heart of this trilogy has always been Ethan and the crew of the Marian against HydroSystems Worldwide. Sure, there's the Priesthood and the Empire and Those Beyond, but so much of what happens in the series is driven by these little smugglers against the big corporation. This is the book where the crew stops reacting and attacks the Goliath head on. I won't talk at all about their plan, in case you haven't read The Hunted yet, but it's drastic, risky, and the only option they have.

John Mark McMillan - Love at the End

Out of the gaslight

Off the roads we've traveled on
Down by the wayside
Against the sheen of a Babylon
I've seen an empire
Taste the tempest of a gathering strong
But I found love at the end of the world

In writing The Cloud, I've realized how much the post-apocalyptic genre ties in with my own view of the human race. There's this built-in assumption in the genre that, in the absence of authority to keep everyone in line, people will be awful to each other. If there's no one to enforce laws, people will steal, kill, and otherwise abuse each other. There's just an instinct in people that leans that way.

But that's not the end of the story. There's another built-in assumption that the world isn't supposed to be a wasteland where the strong take advantage of the weak. Even if laws and rules occasionally fail, there is something intrinsically good that they're trying to achieve. And so in the midst of the fall of humanity, there's always a need for community and for justice. Even at the end of the world, as impractical and silly as it can be, love matters.

Remedy Drive - Wings of the Dawn

Justice in the hands of the ordinary 

Frustrate the plans of the dignitary 
If we didn't know then we wouldn't have to care, would we?
But i saw it with my own eyes over there

The crew of the Marian isn't a highly qualified group of superheroes. They're all good at their jobs (well, except Lester, but he gets a pass), but at the end of the day, they're just ordinary people. I didn't go into writing this series specifically wanting ordinary people to be my heroes, but the more I think about it, the more I'm glad I did it the way I did. They just wouldn't have been as compelling as government officials or otherwise "important" people. There's something special about a regular person who sees something broken and then goes to great, sacrificial lengths to fix it, and that's exactly what these characters are.

Project 86 - Evil (A Chorus of Resistance)

Deep in the recess of every man
Is a thief, a robber, a criminal
Below the surface of every hero
Is an envy, a restless evil
And though I try to resist, I find the thing is this
Until I get it, there's no satisfaction

So, if you want to get technical about it, this song is about the Christian doctrine of humanity's sin nature, but, at least in a few places, it describes the effects of the Cloud on people pretty well. Once it gets its claws in you, it's nearly impossible to escape. When you read The Cloud, you'll see just how dangerous it can be to expose yourself to that dark power and how hard it can be to tear yourself away from it.

Tenth Avenue North - Losing

Oh, Father won't You forgive them?

They don't know what they've been doing
Oh, Father, give me grace to forgive them
'Cause I feel like the one losing

The deeper I've gotten into this series, the more I've realized how many of my characters are holding grudges against each other. It's been a long journey, and with so many people with so many different motivations all thrown together, toes were bound to get stepped on. As much as I like having multiple sources of conflict to up the tension, I've found that too many grudges make it hard to write about camaraderie and teamwork. More and more, the crew of the Marian has been feeling fractured. More and more, it feels like their common goal is all that's been holding them together. As I realized this, I knew I had to make forgiveness one of the themes running through The Cloud. With so many grudges being held, I had a real opportunity to look at forgiveness, unforgiveness, and the effects of each on community and individuals. I tried not to hit it too hard on the nose - and hopefully I succeeded - but it's definitely in there.

I've always liked how this song talks about forgiveness in comparing it to losing. Because that's what happens. You let someone else have the last word. You give up your right to even the score. You lose...and somehow, that's good.

About the author:

Taylor Hohulin is the author of the The Marian Trilogy, a post-apocalyptic pirate series. He lives in Iowa with his wife, where they are owned by a cat and a dog.

About The Cloud:

When the bomb dropped, everything changed.

Even worse than the mountains of salt where oceans used to be, worse than the armies of mercenaries, worse than HydroSystems Worldwide’s rise to power, was the Cloud.

In the area closest to the bomb’s blast, the very fabric of reality was damaged. The air there can steal a person’s humanity, even as it gives great power. The Cloud is home to a deadly cult and nightmarish creatures, and it is fifteen-year-old Ethan Denby’s only hope of survival. If he ever wants to make it home, he’ll have to go where he always knew his journey would end. He will have to go into the heart of the Cloud.

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