Peering Into the future with Ben Templesmith

In 1956, Ray Bradbury stated in his seminal work, The Circus of Dr. Lao and Other Improbable Stories, that “[s]cience fiction is the most important literature in the history of the world, because it’s the history of ideas, the history of our civilization birthing itself. … Science fiction is central to everything we’ve ever done”. What was true 60 years ago,is still true today. Science fiction, as a genre, can reveal to us our dreams of our possible futures, and act as an allegory to reveal to us where we came from. When science fiction is at its best, it offers us a glimpse into ourselves and allows us to peer into the crystal ball of what we may someday be.

Now a this great literary tradition welcomes a new entry, Blackholers by by the ingenious Ben Templesmith, whose series is a fantastic look into humanity, war and politics. I had the honor of interviewing Templesmith about his self-published series.

Blackholers is about a distant future in which humans find themselves in an uneasy alliance with a multitude of alien species. Tensions run hot when it comes to the Teuthidians, or “Squid,” whose new leader threatens to reignite a war with the humans. The series focuses on pirate captain named Furia, who was raised as a slave girl by these same Teuthidians. What follows is an action-packed look at society and politics.

While Templesmith is best known as the artist behind well-known works such as 30 Days of Night and Fell, he has taken on both the writing and artistic duties for Blackholers. I am always curious how an artist writes for himself.

“Chaotic, stream of conscious really,” he responded. “I don’t ‘write’ any traditional scripts, just rough plot outlines, then straight into dialogue, then I just break it all down into the needed page counts as layouts, then draw, since I only actually write for myself, never anyone else. Yet.”

In the first issue, Furia thinks, “You elect one conservative crazy…”.  I asked Templesmith if he viewed his series as an allegory for our current state of politics.

“Hmm, not exactly. Though I mean possibly in some ways,” he hedged. “You have a crazy, warmongering, power-mad general attempting to overthrow an already militaristic empire in order to go to war with ‘his greatest foe,’ while the outlaws are actually the ones working to keep the peace by stopping the guy through back channels and ‘official/unofficial’ types to avert a bloodbath for both sides. It was all written before Trump’s America, so there’s no commentary there really, besides the usual point that conservative ideology is usually about taking rights away from someone to make someone else feel comfortable. If anything, the book has a fair amount of racism in it — specism I guess? — where humans loath Squid people, rightly or wrongly, and so do the Squids to the humans. But that gets dealt with a little by the end.”

Another facet of Blackholers is that the humans are not the pure-hearted innocents that they are often portrayed as in other series. Templeton’s humans are xenophobic and I wondered if they weren’t intended to be the good guys, or if morality was left as an ambiguous concept in this universe?

“The Free Humans Systems are the diehard libertarian types of the galaxy,” Templesmith responded. “They just hate centralized authority and take it so far that they don’t want anyone else coming in to ‘take their freedom.’ The main portion of humanity lies in the Solar Federation which makes a big appearance. They have things like cheap, government-run health care and taxes to pay for their military space fleets. There’s plenty of melting pots within the galaxy, but with a few big wars under their belts, there’s no love lost between humans and Squids at least. Both think the other is absolutely inferior, down to a genetic level.”

What drives the book, ultimately, is the character of Furia. She proves to be fascinatingly complex and a rare strong female lead. I wanted to know if more will be revealed about her backstory.

“Oh yeah. Well, a bit more beyond the opening pages. But I might expand upon more of her previous life story in the next series,” Templesmith said. “She’d rather like to murder the being that removed her eyes via torture and kept her as a blinded slave on a mining asteroid. Isn’t that motivation enough? Besides which, galaxy-wide war is bad for business, especially when your ship is actually one commandeered from the alien side. She’s a pirate, merc and ‘problem solver’ so she has many friends and enemies in low places.”

Furia’s antagonist is the upcoming Teuthidian leader and badass, Admiral Nesis. His deep-seated hatred of the humans drives him to want to declare war against humanity. I asked Templesmith about this character’s motivations.

“He takes his species’ rather natural cultural hatred for humans — and most other species —  to a new level on account of previously having the crappy job of being a mining slave administrator,” he explained. “He thinks he’s destined for bigger things and far more power within the Teuthidan empire. Like most egomaniacs, he’s not a billionaire businessman or anything like that though. Like all Squid, he served in the military and earned his way up through the hierarchy. He’s just a particularly horrible being, like most folks who try to seize power via violence usually are.”

 What can readers look forward to in future issues of Blackholers?

“Hmm. Homicidal management and workplace relations issues. Gift giving of body parts. Secret feminist technologic religious orders. Sexually harassing giant slugs and a race to avert an impending war that’ll cost billions of lives.”

I asked Templesmith how readers can pick up a copy of this phenomenal series.

“For now, only via my Patreon when the issues are initially printed. They get nifty wax sealed ‘Squidpacks’ with prints and extra things as well as the books, and any leftovers go up later on my public web store,” according to Templesmith. “Though it should be a big collection at some point, and perhaps find a regular publisher once that’s all wrapped. And every page should be up at as well, in blog format. Book #4 is being printed right now, #3 is due to go up for the general public when I can find all my stock after a recent move, and I’m almost finished with book #5!”