Interview 111, Noah Lemelson, author of The Sightless City

This week we are talking with Noah Lemelson, author of The Sightless City.

Airship Ambassador: Hi Noah, thanks for joining us for this interview. Readers may know you from your previous work, including the short stories published in Allegory, Space Squid and the Outsider’s Within Horror Anthology. Now, your latest book has been published. What is The Sightless City about?

Noah Lemelson: It follows a private investigator named Marcel Talwar, as he discovers that he has been unwittingly at the center of a conspiracy with world-threatening consequences, all orchestrated by a man he considered a friend and patron, Lazarus Roache. As he discovers the truth, he makes common cause with others who have been Roache’s puppets, including a mysterious warmonk, and a beastwoman engineer.

AA: You’ve written quite a journey of discovery for the characters. To create their world, why did you choose steampunk as one of the aesthetics used?

NL: It came as a natural extension from the sort of story I wanted to tell, fantasy, but in with a closer to modern level of technology, early 20th century. It’s arguably at the edge of steampunk, veering into dieselpunk, or a fallen steampunk civilization mixed with some post-apocalyptic trappings. There are a glut of novels focused on a fantasized version of medieval Europe, I wanted to explore themes that are a little more modern: environmental destruction, corporate corruption, the risk of humanity’s self-annihilation. Steampunk and dieselpunk are also just really, really cool-looking.

AA: I definitely have to agree that steampunk is very cool-looking, and I could imagine a number of the devices and mechanics in the novel having exactly that look. With that mix of themes you just mentioned, how does The Sightless City express your vision of steampunk?

NL: The Sightless City very much a mixture of genres, steampunk dieselpunk, post-apocalyptic fiction, fantasy, and noir. Its veers away from Victorian optimism and adventure, in a world that has paid the cost for its technological advancement, and yet remains dependent on it. It plays and subverts conventions of various genres, like pulp noir, westerns, and even the magic-school subgenre. Its focus in on presenting a coherent world that can find the overlap between these elements.

AA: The recurring references to the pulps was really interesting, and felt realistic about their placement. On one hand, not only are they antiques and hard to come by, and in a post apocalyptic world, a lot of things are going to be scarce, but on the other, the stories are still pulp stories. Still, people collect them, search for them, and bond through the stories. What was the inspiration for creating The Sightless City? Was there a subsequent “What if…”?

NL: The setting came first, and the characters came from an exploration of the limits of the setting. An idealistic war hero with buried trauma. A monk with an unknown past, half avuncular mentor half unhinged berserker. An atheistic beastwoman trying to become the one thing she can never be, an engineer. I tried to find characters from wildly different backgrounds and ideologies, and figure out what threat could force them to work together. That threat, of course, is Lazarus Roache.

AA: As readers, we get to see the characters unfold and develop in natural ways, without rushing the revelations or insights. Having touched on the characters and setting, what are the key themes in The Sightless City?

NL: Political corruption, discrimination, the cyclical nature of violence, and the way ideology can blind people to the unpleasant truths around them.

AA: You also show that ideology comes in many forms and can be temptingly persuasive. What can you share with us about the personality traits, motivations, and inner qualities of the main characters – Marcel, Sylvaine, and Lazarus?

NL: Marcel can come off as a hardened gumshoe, but the truth is he’s the idealistic type. He has a deep desire to do the right thing, but can be willfully blind when the world reveals its moral grays, particularly in relation to his actions during the war. Sylvaine is inquisitive, intelligent, and hardworking bordering on obsessive, but bears a deep sense of self-loathing based on years of discrimination which she has internalized. Both are hardened in some ways, but quite naïve in others, and bear scars of past trauma. It’s both that naivety and trauma that Lazarus Roache preys on. He sees himself as the ideal businessman, affable, intelligent, shrewd, and beyond any sense of morality.

AA: Lazarus does seem to have the clearest perception of himself and what he wants. How does this trio change throughout the story, or does the world change around them, instead?

NL: Both have their worlds ruptured by Lazarus Roache, first by a tempting promise, not of wealth or power, but an affirmation of their desired identity. When this is pulled from them they have to grapple with this new reality, both of what Lazarus has done to the world around him, and what his trickery has revealed about themselves.

AA: In pursuing and validating that identity, all the characters are more than a single adjective or “role”. Each one has strong points as well as flaws. How did both of those shape the character and your writing of their story?

NL: In some ways both Marcel and Sylvaine are playing an artificial role in their own self-narratives, trying to be their aspirational versions of themselves, while stuck being their, well, normal selves. It pushes them to try and achieve things that they might not have the guts to otherwise, but it’s also the source of their main fragility. I think the most interesting traits are those that are both strength and weakness, Marcel’s idealism, Sylvaine’s desire to succeed, and the rest of their characteristics and actions comes as natural evolutions of their drives and the contradictions therewithin.

We need to break here in our Interview with Noah.

Look for part 2 where Noah talks more about the characters and the details of their world.

Keep up to date with Noah Lemelson’s latest news on his website and on Twitter.

You can support Noah Lemelson and our community by getting your copy of The Sightless City here.

Published in: on January 27, 2022 at 8:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

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