Let’s put PILGRIMAGE to one side for a moment. What inspires anyone to write a book? What motivates anyone to devote most of their waking hours (and by that I mean those hours unencumbered by life’s everyday survival tasks - you know the sort of thing: work, paying bills, maintaining a social life…) to such a task? Of course, the question can be applied across all genres but I’m talking specifically about speculative fiction here.

There now. I’ve gone and said it. Speculative fiction. Impressed? No, me neither. I’ve only used it because agents and publishers seem to love it. Personally, I hate it. “Esoteric” is the word I’d use to describe it; its true meaning known only to a privileged few, no matter how many Venn diagrams they might set before the rest of us.

But I digress. Why would anyone submit themselves to extended periods of solitary confinement, when the prospect of any financial solace for their labors is but a dim distant speck on a murky horizon? This, to create new worlds; complex new worlds; complex new worlds peopled by intriguing mufti-faceted characters; complex new worlds peopled by intriguing mufti-faceted characters woven into tortuous plots. And I don’t have to mention to anyone who has subjected themselves to this refined form of masochism that those characters and those plots have to be unerringly consistent. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
I suspect though that the basic answer isn’t complex. It’s reasonably simple. Yes, we’re all sad bastards, of course, but I’m after something a little more refined than that. Fame and fortune? We’re not that deluded, are we? But give me a little credit, I’m trying to look beyond those twin realms where, unlike me, few of you will ever get to tread. No, I think that it’s something embedded into our psyches; something that stems from an earlier time when stories were our lifeblood, predating even the written word. Those stories, much like our own, would be of heroes and villains, of gods and demons, and would stir the souls of many who listened; those of a less pragmatic nature whose minds were prone to wandering; those more inclined to shun the constant embrace of everyday life. I think that by our own imaginings of faraway places, of distant times, of alien cultures that exist at the very extremities of darkness and light, we’re trying to stir our own souls, and, hopefully, the souls of others.

For PILGRIMAGE, read all of the above. And some humor (well, I think its humor – you can make up your own mind). But please note, there’s something extra in there as well. It’s called anger. Let me explain.

I had two starting points really. The first was a series of articles from various sources regarding the importance and function of a planet’s magnetosphere and what might be likely to happen should it cease to function – as in the case of Mars. Environmental catastrophe on a colossal scale! The second was an article in “Smithsonian” about ancient texts. In antiquity, when parchment supplies were limited, it was common practice to remove the old ink from manuscripts using either pumice stones or exotic chemical concoctions, and then to reuse them. The resulting double-text is called a palimpsest. It occurred to me that this could be an effective way of concealing crucial information from prying eyes, if enough credible clues were left in place: information regarding a solution that had been left in place thousands of years earlier that would deflect the worst of the aforementioned catastrophe.

Was this a credible plot? Why would it be necessary to conceal such information? What manner of person would seek to destroy it? And this is where the anger came to bear.

Just look at our own looming climate catastrophe and then take another look at the vested interests arrayed against doing anything about it. I recently alighted on an intriguing definition. I was scanning through “The Myth of Human Supremacy” by Derrick Jensen when I came across it. It went something like this:

“Imagine, if you will, feeling no concern for another human being. No guilt. No shame. Never once regretting a single selfish, lazy, cruel, unethical, or immoral action in your entire life. Nobody matters except you. Nobody deserves respect, equality or fairness - imagine what you could achieve: where others set boundaries, you will cross them, unhampered by any moral constraints or pangs of disquiet, any rules or ethics.”

This is a definition of sociopathy. Ring any bells? Not that I’m trying to put any names into your head. Names like Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orban, Recep Erdogan, Boris Johnson, Scott Morrison… just to pull a few out of the ether, you understand. It’s so good to know that in such troubled times, where environmental disasters, coronavirus and rabid inequality are rampant, that we have such upstanding characters ready and able to step up to the plate and act as an inspiration to us all.

Let’s not equivocate here. These people have it in their power to make huge contributions in the fight against climate change, yet most of them deny that there is even a problem in the first place. For them, it is all about power as they seek to subsume the normal operations of government into their cult of personality. A major factor in this is maintaining the status quo, pandering to the fossil fuel industry and crushing environmental initiatives at every available opportunity. Not for them a green and pleasant land for the world’s children and their childrens’ children.

And that’s where the anger arises in PILGRIMAGE. Or is it frustration perhaps? In a democracy, the chief executive is understood to be a public employee. In an autocracy, he presents himself as a public benefactor, even as he uses public power for his own personal ends, becoming ever more difficult to dislodge, as we’ve readily seen. So, not only have these in-your-face narcissistic individuals risen to positions of supreme power, but now we can’t get rid of them either. It’s anger and frustration.
Note that I’ve deliberately refrained from using “she” in the above rant. Well, why would I? As far as I’m concerned, it’s all about ageing entitled white men and their continuing abuse of power.

And so, my initial qualms were put to rest. Credible plot? Of course, it’s a credible plot. What manner of person? It’s obvious isn’t it? They’re all around us.